For those who want a lot of buttons and flash, look elsewhere, because the Pharos Traveler GPS 525 is a delight of minimalist design. The navigation controls consist of a power on/off button, four shortcut keys (GPS, Today screen, and two customizable buttons), a voice-recorder activation key, and a five-way navigation joystick. The Traveler GPS 525's 2.8-inch screen is second best compared with larger displays found on other geoaware PDAs and dedicated mapping machines. Plus, the touch-sensitive display is not as responsive as those of other handhelds we've tested, so you'll always want to use the metal stylus for best results. The 65,536-color output and the 240x320 resolution make for bright, crisp, and clear text and images, but we found it necessary to squint to make out map details. The system's spoken directions could have helped, but the unit's audio quality is abysmal, with the voice constantly breaking up. Below the single speaker on front of the device, you'll find a headphone jack and a recessed reset button, but there's no dedicated button for rotating the screen.
Pharos packages the device with everything you'll need to hit the road, including a vinyl case, a windshield arm, a headset, a USB cable, and a 512MB Secure Digital flash card with mapping data for American highways and top urban areas. Happily, the Pharos Traveler GPS 525 includes AC and car power adapters but, like the A636, does without a desktop sync cradle, so it's really meant for those who spend more time on the road than at the office or at home. Fortunately, the USB cable can power the unit and move data, but it can take 10 hours to charge the device via the cable when it's turned on. Be careful, because the Traveler 525 has a tendency to turn on when jostled in a bag (a hold switch would have helped), so make sure it's in its case before leaving on a long trip.The Pharos Traveler GPS 525 is a midrange Windows Mobile 5 PDA mated to a powerful SiRF GPS receiver that can work with the 24 global-positioning satellites orbiting the earth. Central to the Traveler GPS 525 is Pharos's Ostia 7.5 mapping application and the trio of digital map CDs that cover the 50 states but not Canada. It helps that the card comes preloaded with all the maps, but most people probably won't ever need all of them. You can use ActiveSync software to move the maps you need to the device or copy them directly with a flash-card reader on to a Secure Digital data module. The included 512MB card is adequate for this but leaves little room for music or other files, so we recommend getting a larger card and taking it all with you.
Accurate and up to date, the Pharos Traveler GPS 525's mapping software has an extensive points-of-interest database, including locations for thousands of restaurants, cash machines, and restaurants. Press the GPS button, and Ostia opens with your position marked on the map; you can press it again to view the satellite connections and their signal strength. If you push the button a third time, you'll get longitude and latitude readings, as well as altitude (if you're getting data from at least four satellites), speed, distance, and a large compass. The interface's predictive entry streamlines adding addresses, and to zoom in and out of the action, you just draw a diagonal line across the screen. The device can simulate a 3D overhead view, and you can also choose to avoid highways to create the fastest or shortest trip. However, it lacks integration with a GM-10 receiver for instant traffic updates. Pharos periodically updates the map database and offers it for free to registered users.
Under the skin, the Pharos Traveler GPS 525 is a midrange PDA with a 300MHz Samsung SC324 processor, 64MB of RAM, and 128MB of flash ROM, 111MB of which is user-accessible. It's a wireless data machine with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi (802.11b), and infrared communications covered. The 1,100mAh battery pack is smaller than the one used on the A636, but it yields the same amount of time between charges. Like other Windows Mobile 5 PDAs, the Traveler GPS 525 comes with the standard mobile versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player 10 Mobile to satisfy your multimedia jones.Despite its basic hardware, the Pharos Traveler GPS 525 is a powerful PDA that can compete with more expensive devices. We were impressed by the Traveler 525's results on Spb Benchmark tests (319.95), which was 20 percent better than those of the HP iPaq hx2790, and its ability to synchronize faster than an HP iPaq rx1950. On the downside, the device's CPU index was one-third off the pace set by the rx1950. In our CNET Labs battery tests, the device ran for just less than 9 hours, putting it on a par with either iPaqs or the Asus MyPal A636 but doubling the power output offered by the Mio 168RS.
Over the course of trips in and around Hartford, San Francisco, and Tampa, the Pharos never let us down, and it worked just as well on our dashboard on the open road as in our hand while walking in urban areas. Based on SiRF's Star III GPS architecture, the Pharos Traveler GPS 525 got a GPS fix in less than 30 seconds from being turned on and only momentarily lost contact. The routing software is efficient and never sent us on a wild goose chase, but it annoyingly chimes when you need to turn rather than saying turn. Miss the turn, and it takes upward of 20 seconds to figure out a new itinerary. The Wi-Fi radio's 90-foot range was acceptable, although we've seen PDAs with twice as much range.
CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo contributed to the performance analysis.