The Good The Garmin StreetPilot i series benefits from ease of use, an accurate GPS receiver, and affordability.
The Bad A downside of the Garmin StreetPilot i series is its small screen.
The Bottom Line Don't let its diminutive size fool you--the Garmin StreetPilot i series is a powerful, feature-rich GPS system with an extremely user-friendly interface.
Garmin StreetPilot i
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 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.
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