Pharos is best known for its GPS add-ons for PDAs and smart phones, but it's also making a name for itself with solid stand-alone solutions such as the Pharos EZ Road Pocket GPS Navigator. The company's latest model, the Pharos Drive GPS 140, is aimed at mobile professionals who want a sleek all-in-one portable nav system that can keep up with their road warrior tendencies. In addition to the standard navigation tools, the unit offers integrated Bluetooth for hands-free calls, accurate directions, multimedia capabilities, and the option to add traffic updates. It's all a good value at $549.95. That said, the GPS 140 does suffer from sluggish performance, and the interface could be easier. So for our money, we'd go with the Magellan RoadMate 2200T or the Garmin StreetPilot c550.
The Pharos Drive GPS 140 features a nice portable design (5.8x1x3.5 inches; 9.5 ounces) for easy transport between cars, and it's slim enough that you can use it as a portable video player if you're in an absolute pinch. (See Performance section for more.) It's also very sleek with its touch-sensitive controls, which line the right and left sides of the screen. Like the LG Chocolate phone, these controls, which comprise shortcuts to the main menu page, video player, and music player on the left, and volume up/down keys on the right, light up with a cool red backlighting and feature a nice, concave groove that makes it easy to touch with your fingertips. There's also a quick-launch button for the navigation app and a speaker on the lower left- and right-hand corners of the screen.
The center of attraction, however, is the 4-inch diagonal touch screen. It has a sharp 320x320-pixel resolution, shows off bright colors, and was responsive to our commands. The display was also still readable in direct sunlight. Unfortunately, we found the menu interface for the navigation app not as user-friendly as some of the other systems we've tested, such as the Navman F20. It's not immediately apparent where you should go to start entering addresses to get directions and so forth, but from the main map view, there are two tiny icons on the bottom right of the screen that read Go and GPS. The latter is more obvious as it brings up a page that shows the status of the GPS receiver and current satellites. Tapping the Go icon launches the section of submenus where you can enter destinations, find points of interest, view text directions, change preferences, and more. Adjusting any of the settings takes multiple taps, rather than checking off boxes or selecting from a list. There are a lot of extra steps to accomplish any task, and we think it could be simpler. In addition, there's a Power User option that brings a drop-down list of more advanced features. It's all a bit confusing, so we strongly recommend reading the user guide before heading out on a trip.
Also, the onboard keyboard is a bit cramped, so we were thrilled when we found a stylus included in the box, but we weren't happy about the fact that there's no holder for the stylus on the device. These skinny sticks are already hard to keep track of, so without a placeholder on the device, we're sure to misplace them.
Along the left side of the unit, there's a headphone jack and a power connector, while the right spine has an SD card expansion slot and a port for an optional FM transmitter. To turn on the device, there is a power button on top of the system, and a mini USB port, the main on/off switch, and a reset hole on the bottom.
The Pharos Drive GPS 140 comes packaged with a healthy set of accessories, including a vehicle mount, an AC charger, a car charger, a USB cable, a wired headset, an SD card preloaded with maps, and reference material. A note about the car mount: Pharos includes only a suction-cup windshield mount, and not a dashboard option, which is problematic for California and Minnesota drivers where such apparatuses are prohibited in cars.
The Pharos Drive GPS 140 is equipped with a 20-channel SiRFstarIII and uses Ostia maps of the United States and Canada, which are preloaded on the included 2GB SD card. Like the Pharos EZ Road, you choose your region first, then you can start planning your trip by entering a specific address, intersection, point of interest, or waypoint (favorites or recent destinations). You have the power to determine how the system provides directions, whether by fastest or shortest route, with or without highways or toll roads. Text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions are provided, but sadly, there's no text-to-speech functionality. The GPS 140 supports 2D and 3D views, day and night map modes, automatic route recalculation if you veer off track, route demos, and multistop trips. Speaking of which, the system has a substantial POI database that includes all the major attractions and more specific categories, such as cultural centers, golf centers, and embassies.
The Pharos Drive GPS 140 also offers a Smart Navigator feature (found under the Power User menu), which is a subscription-based service that provides traffic updates, new maps, a POI finder, and a Follow Me for tracking other members in your group--all wirelessly. Pharos is offering a free one-month trial of the Smart Navigator service; after that, it costs $18 for three months or $66 for a one-year subscription. Of course, to take advantage of these services you need some way to get onto the Web, so how do you exactly do that with the GPS 140? Glad you asked. The Pharos Drive GPS 140 has integrated Bluetooth so that you can connect to the Web with your Bluetooth-enabled phone as well as make hands-free calls.
Finally, the versatile Pharos Drive GPS 140 comes equipped with a video and music player for those times when you want to entertain the little rug rats in the backseat or need a little diversion yourself (of course, no video while you're driving). The GPS 140 can play MP3, WMA, WAV, MPEG, and MIDI files. The media players are pretty rudimentary in their functionality. For example, you can shuffle and repeat songs, but there's no way to manage or create playlists, and there's no equalizer for tweaking the sound. Also, the full-screen mode on the video player still leaves about one-fourth of the screen unused.
We tested the Pharos Drive GPS 140 in San Francisco, and it took only a couple of minutes for the unit to get a GPS fix from a cold start. Subsequent starts were faster, and the device was even able to pick up a signal indoors, which was impressive. Even better, the GPS 140 accurately pinpointed our location as we drove around the city. Unfortunately, things hit a snag when we started planning a specific trip, as the system had a hard time keeping up with our demands. There was a noticeable lag as we entered addresses, and it took a while for the device to compile the POI list. That said, the GPS 140 did offer accurate driving directions and quick route recalculation.
We had no problems pairing the unit with the Cingular 8525 and were able to make hands-free calls, with relatively good call quality. Music playback through the unit's speakers sounded a bit blown out, and video quality wasn't the greatest. The picture was really pixelated, though if you're in a pinch, it will serve its purpose. Also, this isn't a unique problem to the Pharos device. We have yet to see a portable nav system that does multimedia well. The Pharos Drive GPS 140's battery is rated for 4.5 hours.