It's been almost two years since Dash Navigation first announced its Dash Express portable navigation system, and we're happy to say that you can now finally get your hands on this device. The Dash Express is unlike any other portable navigation system on the market today because it offers two-way connectivity (cellular and Wi-Fi), giving drivers access to a whole new world of information via the Internet and the network of other Dash-connected users. You can conduct live (and more relevant) Web searches via Yahoo Local search; get real-time traffic data; wireless send addresses to the system; and much more. It really adds value to portable navigation devices, and it's the type of innovation that we think will take GPS to the next level--so much so that we even gave it a Best of CES 2007 award.
So did it deliver? Was it worth the wait? Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that we absolutely love what the connectivity brings to the device. We found great use and value in being able to conduct live searches, look for gas stations by lowest fuel prices, view traffic flow, and more. The Send2Car feature also worked flawlessly. The bad news is the unit was a subpar navigator. It was consistently off the mark when tracking our location, which ultimately affected route guidance. Now, Dash says the Express is for commuters and drivers who typically know where they're going and want the new features. OK, that's all well and good, but we're sure there will be times they have to venture to new places. And come on--the Express is still a GPS device, and it should be able to perform the core navigation functions well, especially if we're paying $399.99 for the thing. If Dash irons out those kinks, the Express will be a force to be reckoned with. The Dash Express is available starting today from Dash and Amazon.com, and includes three months of complimentary Dash Service. Afterward, you will have to purchase one of their plans, which range from $9.99 a month with a two-year plan to $12.99 per month for month-to-month.
The reaction has pretty much been the same from every passerby who has laid eyes on the Dash Express: "Whoa, that's a big device." At 4.8 inches wide by 4.1 inches high by 2.8 inches deep and weighing 13.3 ounces, the Dash certainly is a beast and harkens back to the days of older devices such as the bulbous Garmin StreetPilot c550. Dash says the extra bulk is because of the integrated wireless radios, which we understand, but we still think the company could have streamlined the design better, particularly the protruding backside, which is an eyesore.
On front, there's a 4.3-inch WQVGA color touch screen with a 480x272 pixel resolution and antiglare technology. You can adjust the brightness manually or turn on the ambient light function, which will automatically adjust the backlight depending on your environment. As with most portable navigation systems, there's a mode that will also automatically switch the map colors for daytime and nighttime. The display is sharp and maps are bright, but we wish the street names were in a slightly larger font.
We found the Dash Express to be quite simple to operate. The Dash has an intuitive user interface, and we were able to start planning trips and conducting searches without cracking open the user manual. Still, we recommend checking out the reference material and playing with the device before hitting the road for the first time, since the Dash has a lot to offer.
There are two touch-sensitive controls on top of the unit: one allows you to adjust the volume, while the second (labeled Menu) toggles between the main menu and the map screen. We had no problems with the volume control, but the menu button was a bit temperamental. For the most part, it always registered our touch, but there were a couple of occasions where we had to tap it a couple of times to switch screens. Finally, there is a power button on the right side and a mini USB port on the left.
The Dash Express comes packaged with a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a mount arm extension, a car charger, an AC adapter, a soft carrying case, a USB cable, and reference material. The car mount has various knobs and buttons for adjusting the angle of the device and securing the entire apparatus to your windshield or dash. Despite the heft, the mount did a good job of holding the Dash in place while driving about town.
There are a number of features that make the Dash Express special and unlike any other portable navigation system on the market, starting with the Internet connectivity. With a built-in Wi-Fi and cellular radio, the Dash can use a Wi-Fi or GPRS connection to provide you with live content in the car. This allows you to perform more relevant and up-to-date searches with Yahoo Local search rather than relying on a stagnant points-of-interest database.
To start, just tap the search option from the main menu page, then enter a search term, and Yahoo will retrieve results closest to your location or in another state or city. Remember, this isn't like your regular POI catalog, you can really drill down and search for specific items. For example, let's say you're out shopping for bicycles. Just type in "bicycles" and Yahoo will find any relevant businesses as well as provide star ratings for the business based on user reviews. Once you have the search results, there are options to route to the location, save it, map it, or add it to your Favorites list. In addition, Dash Express provides current movie times and filters gas stations by real-time fuel prices. Sadly, at this time, there's no way to use the Dash as a hands-free speaker system to make or receive calls.
The Internet connectivity also allows for a couple of other features. One is called Send2Car, which lets you send addresses from your computer straight to the Dash Express. All you have to do is log onto the MyDash Web site where you can then enter an address, add notes about the trip, and then hit the "send to your car" button. If a family member or friend owns a Dash unit as well, you can share addresses with them by typing in their Dash ID. A pop-up window will appear on your Dash unit to let you know that a new address has arrived for you. There's a nifty "MyFeeds" function too that works like an RSS feed. Our demo included a feed to someone's favorite surf spots along the California coast with updated surf reports, which was very cool.