Garmin StreetPilot i-series
In-car GPS devices have come a long way in terms of usability and affordability, as intuitive plug-and-play systems infiltrate the market and prices fall below the $1,000 mark. However, Garmin takes it one step further with its new Garmin StreetPilot i series. The whole family--the Garmin StreetPilot i2, the Garmin StreetPilot i3, and the Garmin StreetPilot i5--is aimed at first-time buyers with its basic navigation capabilities and affordable price points. You won't find any advanced features, such as a touch screen and text-to-speech functionality, but they have all the essentials for getting you from point A to point B: text and voice-guided directions, automatic rerouting, and most important, a strong and accurate receiver. For our tests, we reviewed the midlevel StreetPilot i3 ($428), but if you can do without the color screen, take a look at the StreetPilot i2 ($321). Or if you don't mind spending a little extra money to have maps preloaded on to the device's hard drive, check out the StreetPilot i5 ($535). A first glance, the Garmin StreetPilot i3 looks more like a kiddie toy than a serious in-vehicle GPS device--that is, until you plug it in and take it for a ride. Weighing just 5.3 ounces, the unit is roughly the size of a tennis ball (2.74 by 3 by 2.15 inches) and resembles a shrunken version of the model. The case is black with a blue bezel surrounding a bright, backlit 1.3-by-1.7-inch, 32,000-color screen. Despite its diminutive size, the screen did a good job of displaying maps and text in all lighting conditions, but screen redraws took a little longer than we expected, especially when compared to those of many of today's larger, high-resolution displays. We also noticed image fading when the screen was viewed from an angle, but the display remained readable.
The Garmin StreetPilot i3's lower bezel contains three buttons: a power switch; a return button that brings you to the previous or main menu pages; and a wheel for scrolling through and selecting menu options, map zooming, and entering text via an onscreen keyboard. A TransFlash memory card slot and a USB port are positioned on the right-hand side of the unit, along with a compartment that holds two AA batteries, alkaline or nickel-metal hydride. The USB port also accepts an included 12-volt car adapter, and there's a jack for connecting to an optional external antenna. A small but powerful speaker is integrated into the rear of the device, providing voice-guided driving directions and alerts without distortion. The i3 can be attached to your vehicle's windshield using the included suction-cup mount, or you can opt to secure the device on your dashboard using an adhesive-backed mounting disk, which is also included. Be aware that the dashboard disk is a permanent installation, so be sure to position it correctly, since removal will most likely cause damage to the dashboard.The Garmin StreetPilot i3 may not offer all the features of the more expensive GPS systems--such as a touch screen, a remote control, built-in maps, multirouting capabilities, and text-to-speech technology--but it has enough features to satisfy most drivers. Turn-by-turn voice and text-based driving directions, fast route calculations, a 6 million points-of-interest (POI) database, and a strong 12-channel, WAAS-enabled receiver are only part of the package. If you wander off course, the i3 will recalculate a new route to get you back on track, and you can create a detour if you're unhappy with your current route. You can adjust how much map detail will be displayed, choose between 2D and 3D map views, and save frequently visited destinations to a Favorites folder by pressing the scrollwheel.
The Garmin StreetPilot i3 comes with a 128MB memory card and Garmin's MapSource City Select North America disc, which includes detailed map coverage of the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The software is easy to use--simply connect the i3 to your PC via the included USB cable and click the states or regions you wish to upload. As you click a region, a dialog box reveals information about your selection (which states and interstate highways are included), and a status bar tells you how much memory you have left on the card after selecting your regions. The memory card will suffice for most trips, but if you're planning a long haul, additional cards may be needed to store maps. For example, we squeezed maps of California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon on a 128MB card. Likewise, the card held East Coast maps of upper and lower New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
All navigation and system settings on the Garmin StreetPilot i3 are accessed through a simple menu system. The main page consists of three selections: Where To, View Map, and Settings. Where To lets you create a route by entering addresses, cities, or intersections, or you can use the POI, favorites, and recent-destination menus. Routes can be created based on the fastest time or shortest distance, and you can avoid the use of toll roads, unpaved roads, highways, and carpool lanes.
Once you've established a route, select View Map to locate your position and follow the highlighted roads and direction arrows that will guide you to your destination. A bar at the top of the screen informs you of upcoming maneuvers, and you can hit the Back button to review the entire route and all associated turns. While in navigation mode, two small boxes on the bottom of the screen display the estimated time of arrival to your destination and the distance to your next maneuver. Of course, you can just follow the audible directions, which are available in 12 different languages. Finally, the Settings menu lets you adjust speaker volume and screen brightness, as well as choose map views and amount of detail, day or night screen colors, and units of measure (statute or metric).Performancewise, the Garmin StreetPilot i3 proved to be a worthy road companion. We had to wait 4 minutes to obtain a 3D fix (four satellites) the first time we powered it up, but subsequent starts took just a matter of seconds. More important, route calculation was swift and precise, as was rerouting when we strayed from our original course. The receiver and built-in antenna did an admirable job of tracking our position; we maintained a strong signal throughout most of our journey, losing it only when we traveled through a heavily wooded area in the mountains of upper New York state. Voice directions were clear, providing plenty of warning as we approached an upcoming turn, and our location on the map was accurate.
We like the fact that the Garmin StreetPilot i3 also runs on replaceable batteries, enabling you to use it on foot as a city guide or hiking navigator. Two alkaline batteries gave us 5.5 hours of power--just short of the rated 6 hours--before they ran out of juice.