Longtime mapmaker Rand McNally may have taken the long route, but it's finally made its way to the land of portable navigation systems. The Rand McNally GPS Navigator ($499.99) is the company's first in-car GPS device and includes many of the standard features of other nav systems, such as text- and voice-guided driving directions, automatic rerouting, an extensive points-of-interest (POI) database, and a 3.5-inch touch screen with 2D and 3D map views. The company also throws in a couple of extras, including a hard copy of Rand McNally's Road Atlas & Travel Planner and 26 Best of Road trip itineraries with staff-recommended attractions, restaurants, and shops--great for those who love taking long road trips or for family vacations. That said, we found the system's maps and interface to be a bit confusing--with a few refinements, it could certainly hold its own against competitors such as theand the .
The Rand McNally GPS Navigator's design is basic and functional. Like most portable nav systems today, it's compact and light (4.5x3.2x1.4 inches; 7 ounces) so you can move it from one car to another. On the right spine, there are controls to power the unit on and off, launch the navigation app, and increase and decrease volume. Be warned, when you adjust the sound, the female (or male, depending on which option you chose during setup) voice prompt will say "Louder" or "Softer" as you adjust the sound. Though we thought this was cool at first, we grew tired of it (and the stares and snickers from onlookers) after the first couple of tries and would have preferred a visual prompt instead.
On front of the unit is a 3.5-inch QVGA touch screen. It displays 65,000 colors and is still readable in direct sunlight. The display was also responsive to our commands, but we found the onscreen keyboard small and cramped. Fortunately, the Rand McNally GPS Navigator comes equipped with a stylus (located on the lower-right side), so you don't have to struggle as you enter street addresses. In the user interface, the main menu pages are pretty straightforward, with large icons and clear identification. However, the map screen can get confusing because the information bar isn't clearly marked and the icons don't necessarily match the function. As such, we recommend you give the quick-start guide a read before heading out on your trip.
On the bottom of the Rand McNally GPS Navigator is a reset hole, a mini USB port, and a main power switch, which you have to fiddle with only once to initially turn on the unit. The SD card slot is located on top of the device. Rand McNally packages the GPS Navigator with an SD card preloaded with maps, a copy of the Road Atlas & Travel Planner, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a car charger, a USB cable, software CDs, and reference material.
The Rand McNally GPS Navigator is equipped with an integrated 20-channel SiRFstarIII GPS receiver and comes with maps of North America, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands preloaded on an SD card. The unit is a plug-and-go solution, so all you have to do is insert the card into the expansion slot and start navigating once you have a GPS fix. You will, however, have to go through several quick and easy setup questions (selecting language preference and regional map, for example) the first time you turn on the device.