With 16 years in the biz, Garmin knows a thing or two about making GPS devices, and the Garmin StreetPilot c550 is proof of that fact. The c550 offers the same great navigation features as its more economical cousin, the Garmin StreetPilot c330, but adds a number of great improvements, such as Bluetooth integration, text-to-speech functionality, and traffic information. More important, it performs these functions well. It's a bit on the pricey side ($857.13), but for the money, you get a great all-around portable navigation device.
The Garmin StreetPilot c550 won't take up much room in your car. At 4.4 by 3.2 by 2.2 inches and 9.5 ounces, it's easily transportable for multivehicle use and comes with an easy-to-install windshield mount. Garmin also keeps things simple, with minimal controls. There's a volume dial, a USB port, and a power button on the right. We especially like the external volume control since you don't have to fiddle with the menus to change this setting; we did notice, however, that it's a bit sensitive and jumps several volume levels if you're not careful. On the left side, you'll find an SD expansion slot and an external antenna port, while the power connector and the mic-in and audio-out ports are located on the back.
The rest of the functions are handled through the StreetPilot c550's 3.5-inch-diagonal responsive touch screen. The antiglare display is excellent, with a sharp 320x240-pixel resolution and bright colors, and it's even readable in bright sunlight. In addition, the c550's menus are easy to navigate, thanks to large icons and an intuitive interface.
Aside from the aforementioned windshield mount, Garmin packages the c550 with a carrying pouch, a 12-volt adapter/FM Traffic Message Channel receiver, a USB cable, and an adhesive disk to attach the mount to your dash instead of your windshield. Optional accessories include a five-pack of changeable faceplates ($25) and SD cards preloaded with maps of Europe ($182.13 to $407.13).
The Garmin StreetPilot c550 offers many of the same great navigation tools found on the Garmin StreetPilot c330. Maps of North America with 2D and 3D map perspectives are preloaded onto the device. You get text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, as well as text-to-speech functionality, automatic recalculation, and a comprehensive points-of-interest (POI) database. You can read more about these features in our StreetPilot c330 review.
Adding to the c550's value as a vehicle aid are the new traffic capabilities. Garmin smartly integrated the traffic receiver into the included car charger, so you no longer have to buy an optional unit. It receives traffic information from Clear Channel's Total Traffic Network, and you get three months of free service with the purchase of the c550; afterward, it costs $60 a year to continue. (Also, be sure to check the coverage map to make sure the service is available in your city.) Once connected to the unit, a Traffic icon appears onscreen and alerts you to the road conditions--traffic, accidents, closures--then plans a new route around the affected areas.
Also new to the StreetPilot c550 is integrated Bluetooth. This allows you to pair your Bluetooth-enabled phone with the c550, then make hands-free calls through the unit's microphone and speakers. You can transfer your phone book to the c550, and the device alerts you to incoming calls; just tap the screen to answer. You can also dial any number listed in the POI database (check for your phone's compatibility on Garmin's Web site). After a couple of failed attempts, we were able to pair the Nokia N91 with the c550, and we successfully transferred our contacts and conducted phone calls. Audio quality also wasn't bad, thanks to the unit's dual-speaker system.
There are two other additions to the StreetPilot c550: MP3 playback and an antitheft lock. The c550 supports only MP3 files, and you can either store them on the device's internal memory (about 700MB) or keep them on an SD card. The c550 will even display album art, and it automatically mutes music during voice prompts and phone calls. It does not, however, offer iPod compatibility like the TomTom GO 910. Finally, Garmin Lock prevents the unit from performing any functions until you enter a user-defined four-digit PIN or take it to a predetermined location.
We tested the Garmin StreetPilot c550 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and overall, it was a solid performer. When we first fired up the device, it took about 2 minutes to get the required four satellites for a 3D fix. Subsequent starts were much faster, but there were a couple of occasions where we lost a signal, and it took 5 to 10 minutes for the c550 to locate our position. Once locked in, the unit did a good job of tracking our location and provided accurate driving directions. It was a lifesaver on one road trip when we got off course, getting us back on track to our destination. Also, the text-to-speech directions were great; we could just listen for specific street names rather than having to look at the screen and take our eyes off the road. The StreetPilot c550 is rated for eight hours of battery life if you want to use it on foot.