Garmin Street Pilot III GPS
The StreetPilot III is a self-encased, portable (1.4 pounds) vehicle-navigation system that sits on the dashboard of your car and has a sharp, 16-color display (3.4 by 1.8 inches; 305x160-pixel resolution) that's viewable in direct sunlight. The unit comes with built-in base maps that include data for state highways, interstates, local thruways, and secondary roads throughout North and South America. You also get a MapSource City Navigator CD-ROM and a 32MB data card, as well as a USB cable that's used to upload street-level maps (complete with voice-prompted turning instructions and text-based driving directions) from the City Navigator CD to the data card.
Installing StreetPilot III is a relatively painless process. Instead of using the included mounting brackets, we went for the optional beanbag mount ($35), which keeps the unit secure while allowing you to transport the StreetPilot III from car to car without any installation woes. The included 12-volt adapter also houses an external speaker and plugs into the cigarette lighter.
Entering street addresses and point-of-interest information (ATMs, restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and more) is also relatively painless--you simply use the rocker switch to scroll through the alphanumeric choices. Other buttons allow you to zoom in or out on the map, mark waypoints, call up stored routes, and enter the menu pages, where you can adjust map detail or switch display options to view trip odometers, speed, satellite strength, and compass heading.
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The StreetPilot III's 12-channel receiver is extremely accurate and fast; we were able to acquire a 3D fix (four satellites) in less than a minute the first time we powered up. Once the unit located our position, we used the Find button to locate a destination and had the system plot the fastest route to our destination (shorter-distance and off-road choices are also available). We purposely made wrong turns and took different roads, but the StreetPilot III immediately recalculated our route each time, directing us to our destination with voice prompts, which alerted us to upcoming turns and intersections. It even displayed the passing street addresses of the road we were traveling on.
Really, the only problem we had with the product was that we felt Garmin should have included more street-level maps, particularly when you consider its lofty price tag (the manufacturer lists $1,272 but you can find it for less than $1,000). The City Navigator CD-ROM contains 10 district-coverage-area (DCA) maps, which cover different portions of the country. However, Garmin lets you unlock only one DCA map (a code is required) via its Web site. That may be OK if you don't plan on traveling outside your home region and neighboring states. But to unlock additional DCAs, you'll have to pay $99 for one or $279 for the whole catalog. (Note: The 32MB data card that ships with the unit holds only one DCA. An optional 128MB data card is available, but it costs around $400.)
That gripe aside, we came away really impressed with this unit. Certainly, it's not cheap. But other vehicle-navigation systems, such as Magellan's 750M, cost more and aren't as portable or easy to operate. The fact is, if you get lost using the StreetPilot III, you shouldn't be driving.