One year after the pleasant surprise that was the Spirit 687, Mio is back with the next version of its high-end sat nav, the Spirit 697 LM. Among the advantages is unlimited GPS map updates.
Unlimited Map Updates & Dated Accessories
Technologically identical to the Spirit 687, the Spirit 697 LM has the same glossy black facade and mid-range plastics as before, giving it a similarly unflattering finish. Fortunately, the matte 5-inch touchscreen (it's resistive, not multitouch) has 480 x 272 resolution, which is a step up from last year's model with a bright and overall pleasing display.
The suction cup mounting bracket is just as disappointing as last year's. It holds onto windscreens well, but it isn't particularly easy to put on and take off.
The Spirit 697 LM's selection of maps is stored in the internal memory (4 GB). It covers all of Europe and the UK, including 44 different countries. The LM model comes with map updates for the lifetime of the device, which we think is so cool we gave it four stars instead of three. It's just too bad Mio doesn't include a MicroSD reader in case you want to store your maps on different memory cards.
The Mio Spirit 697 LM next to the TomTom GO LIVE 1005 (5"), Samsung Galaxy S3 (4.8") and the iPhone 4 (3.5")
Unfortunately, the sound hasn't improved at all on this model. The speaker saturates just as quickly and has a rather unpleasant, overly metallic sound.
DESIGN & BUILD
Clear & Understandable Interface
Another of the strengths of Mio's latest sat navs is that the interface is minimalist and user-friendly with large icons in the homescreen. There are two physical buttons to the left of the screen: the top one brings you from wherever you are back to the homescreen and the bottom one adds your current GPS location to your favourites.
POI (Point of Interest) screen
You can plan and simulate travel routes on the Spirit 697 LM. It has the same system for selecting itineraries (shown below) that we liked so much on the Spirit 687 (and the Navigons). With this system you can choose between four different routes: the 'fastest', most 'economical', 'easiest' and 'shortest'. The 'easiest' selection is designed to favour motorways when possible, even if it means increasing the distance and travel time. This is a good way to avoid small backroads that can often be more perilous than main roads and take more time than they actually save.
This feature is no miracle solution, but it's certainly an added plus that allows you to quickly see what the route entails so you can make a more educated choice. IQ Routes calculates itineraries based on historical data of speeds travelled on the roads in question to give you a more reliable estimate of how long they will take.
The Mio Spirit 697 LM includes voice recognition for all the major commands and for address searches. Unfortunately, the poor quality of the microphone makes the feature basically impossible to use correctly. It works well with certain commands, such as regulating the volume and screen brightness, but it's essentially useless for address searches. It's poorly designed (you can't double-check at each step of the process to make sure the GPS recognised the location correctly) and often has trouble understanding what you say.
The interface still lags here and there, which seriously degrades the overall experience. It also takes longer to calculate and re-calculate routes than our ultimate reference in GPS processing, the TomTom GO LIVE 1005.
However, in navigation mode the maps are just as clear and understandable as always, with a zoomed-out view that lets you see the whole route clearly and a good choice of colours that emphasises the different routes.
The Spirit 697 LM has a minimalist interface, but not at the expense of basic info: one-way road signs, traffic lanes, accurate turn signs, etc. You can have the GPS warn you when you exceed the speed limit with an audio tone and a visual alert (the display goes opaque every time you exceed the limit). Unfortunately, the feature that warns you about 'dangerous zones' doesn't help much—we ran into several of them while driving that the Spirit 697 LM didn't pick up.
There's a second version of the Spirit 697 LM, the Spirit 697 LM Truck, which RV and truck drivers should appreciate. Mio doesn't guarantee perfect reliability, but it's designed to at least stop trucks from ramming into low bridges and going on roads where large vehicles are prohibited. However, as we didn't test the Truck version, we can't attest to how effective it is.
Bluetooth & A Rear-View Camera
The Mio Spirit 697 LM features Bluetooth, which allows it to double as a hands-free car kit that displays your phone's contacts on the screen. The downside is the poor sound quality. Voices come out more or less understandable on the other end, but the sound is metallic, with hissing and other blemishes.
There are no online services for this model, but there are CitySeekr travel guides that provide textual information for a number of big cities. You can also buy an optional rear-view camera that relays the image from your back bumper to the GPS screen (we did not test this function).