Dual NavAtlas XNAV3550
Dual Electronics is certainly no stranger to aftermarket car tech, offering plenty of audio and video solutions, such as the Dual XDVD8182. However, it's pretty new to the GPS game, and judging by its Dual NavAtlas XNAV3550, it still has some things to learn. Dual NavAtlas has its highlights: basic navigation features like text- and voice-guided directions, automatic route recalculation, and an excellent points-of-interest (POI) database; multimedia features; and a nice design with innovative turn indicators. However, the map interface can be confusing, and the system responds sluggishly at times. Plus, there are some omissions that may seem minor--such as the lack of a dashboard mount and a USB port--but when compared with other similarly priced systems, they become major omissions and make quite a difference when deciding which to purchase. That said, at $499, we think you can find a better value in the Magellan RoadMate 2200T or the Averatec Voya 320.
Upon first glance, Dual NavAtlas XNAV3550 looks to be a relatively attractive portable navigation system, save for two nubs that stick out on the left and right side and detract from the overall streamlined look of the device. Despite being an eyesore, the nubs are there for good reason, which we'll get to soon. The XNAV3550 measures a compact 5.2x3.3x1.2 inches even with a flip-up GPS antenna on the back, and it weighs a light 6.8 ounces for easy portability between cars.
The Dual XNAV3550 features a 3.5-inch diagonal, 16.7 million-color touch screen with a 320x240 pixel resolution. By the numbers, the color output and resolution are on par with other top in-car GPS devices, but we found the XNAV3550's display just slightly washed out and not as sharp the others. It was generally fine for viewing maps, however, and we were still able to read the display in sunlight. Surrounding the screen are four buttons that allow you to go to the main menu, turn the display on or off, and zoom in or out of maps. The controls are large and tactile for easy operation. We wish we could say the same about the onscreen keyboard, but it's actually quite cramped, so save yourself the trouble and use the included stylus on top of the unit to input addresses.
As we were checking out the interface and overall usability of the Dual NavAtlas XNAV3550, we couldn't help but think that we've seen this device before. We then realized it was the same interface as the Delphi NAV200, which makes sense since they both use Navigon software. This wouldn't be such an issue if the map screen was easier to understand. As we noted in the Delphi review, the navigation page is overwhelmed with tons of information and unidentified icons. You can hide some of the information, but it still can be very confusing. You'll definitely want to give the user's guide a thorough read and spend some one-on-one time with the unit before heading out on the road.
On the left spine of the unit, you will find the power button and a 3.5mm jack that accepts Walkman-style headphones, while there is a volume controller and power connector port on the right. Now, as we promised earlier, we'll tell you about the two nubs that adorn the left and right sides of the XNAV3550. They are actually turn signal indicators, and each one will light up to indicate the direction of your next turn. We've never seen this on a portable navigation device and we quite enjoyed this feature. Sure, you get text- and voice prompts, but the extra visual indicator is a welcome addition.
We were pretty disappointed by the accessories that are packaged with the Dual XNAV3550. These include a 1GB SD card preloaded with maps of the United States, a windshield mount, a carrying case, a car charger, a DVD with additional maps (Canada, Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico), and reference material. First, the vehicle mount is only for windshields; there is no dashboard option like the one provided with the Delphi NAV200. In California and Minnesota, it's actually illegal to use windshield suction mounts while a vehicle is in use, so drivers in those states, or anyone who wants to mount the unit on their dash, will have to purchase the adhesive disc as an optional accessory. Also missing is an AC adapter. Sure, this is largely an in-car device and a car charger is part of the deal, but if you're trip-planning at home or using the unit's multimedia capabilities, having that extra power source is key.
The Dual NavAtlas XNAV3550 is powered by a 12-channel SiRFIII GPS chip and a 400MHz processor. All maps of the United States are preloaded on the included SD card, so you can start navigating right out of the box. If you want to add maps of other territories, such as Canada and Hawaii, you'll have to use the map database DVD to transfer those regions onto the device. We should note that, unfortunately, the XNAV3550 doesn't have a USB port, so you can't make direct transfers from your PC to an SD card or the device. Instead, you'll need an SD card reader--how inconvenient.
The XNAV3550's feature set is almost identical to the Delphi NAV200. To start planning a trip, you can enter a specific street address, an intersection, a point on a map, or a location on your Favorites or Recent Destinations list. You have the option to get directions by fastest or shortest route; with or without interstates and toll roads; and in vehicle, pedestrian, or bicycle mode. The Dual XNAV3550 also supports 2D and 3D map views, day and night modes, detours, and automatic route recalculation. Unfortunately, the system does not provide you with text-to-speech directions, so you won't hear actual street names when given voice-guided directions. Also, unlike the Delphi NAV200, the XNAV3550 doesn't offer the option of receiving real-time traffic updates.
The Dual XNAV3550 contains a 2-million points-of- interest database with all the major attractions (gas stations, hotels, ATMs, and so forth) and more specialized categories (shopping centers, museums, golf courses, and so on). One advantage of the Navigon software is the excellent POI system. It does a great job of naming specific POIs, and the entries are fairly up to date. For example, as we were driving through downtown San Francisco, we were able to look at the map screen and see upcoming ATMs by bank names, grocery stores by brand, and it even identified CNET Networks--pretty cool.
Though it isn't the main selling point of the device, a media player/image viewer comes with the XNAV3550, so you can use the gadget out of the car or to entertain any munchkins in the backseat. The media player supports MP3 and WAV files and AVI video formats, and you can view JPEG, GIF, and PNG images. Again, you'll have to use an SD card reader to get any of these files onto a memory card or the device. Other extras include a calculator, a world clock, and a game.
We tested the Dual NavAtlas XNAV3550 in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the unit about 3 minutes to get a GPS fix under cloudy conditions; subsequent starts were much faster and it was able to hold onto the signal. On everyday drives throughout the city, the XNAV3550 did an OK job of pinpointing our location, although on several occasions it was half a block off the mark. On a specific trip, the system provided us with accurate directions. We should note that the voice prompts didn't sound all that great through the unit's speakers. At the highest volume level, audio was blown out, and even when we turned the volume down the voice still wasn't as clear or smooth as we've experienced on other systems. Also, route recalculations were not as fast as we would have liked. We missed several turns on purpose to test the feature, and the XNAV3550 gave us a new route just before we had to make a turn.
General system performance was quite sluggish. We often watched the hourglass icon turn round and round when launching certain applications, which wasn't very entertaining. Multimedia performance was what we expected from a GPS device, which is to say, audio and video playback wasn't the greatest but suitable if you're an absolute pinch. Battery life is on the low side. On a single charge, the Dual XVAN3550 is rated for only 1.5 hours of use--for navigation, as well as audio and video playback.