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Editor's Note: Portions of the Design and Features sections were taken from our review of the Garmin StreetPilot c550 as the two devices are nearly identical. Exceptions are noted.
There are a lot of new players in the world of the portable navigation systems, such as Averatec and Alpine, but one company that's been a constant in the industry is Garmin. With 18 years in the biz, Garmin has got the navigation basics down, but it's also looking for ways to build on top of those core functions. Enter the Garmin StreetPilot c580. The c580 is a high-end GPS device and is very much like its sibling, the Garmin StreetPilot c550, offering accurate directions, Bluetooth integration, text-to-speech functionality, and multimedia capabilities. However, the StreetPilot c580 also now can provide dynamic traffic and weather information as well as local gas prices and movie showtimes, thanks to its partnership with MSN Direct--the same service behind smart watches.
The service is easy to access, as the MSN Direct receiver is integrated right into the car charger, and you get a complimentary year-long subscription to the service. We found this added functionality to be very useful and helpful, though not without its faults. Also, the service isn't available in all areas, so make sure your city is covered before taking the plunge. The Garmin StreetPilot c580 will be available this month for $799.99. We should note that the StreetPilot c550 is only $50 cheaper, so if you can swing it, you might as well spring for the c580 and enjoy a free year of the MSN services.
Like the rest of the StreetPilot series, the Garmin StreetPilot c580 won't take up much room in your car. Measuring 4.4 inches wide by 3.2 inches high by 2.2 inches deep and weighing 9.0 ounces, it's easily transportable for multiple vehicle 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 c580'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 c580's menus are easy to navigate, thanks to large icons and an intuitive interface. A new icon for the MSN Direct services, marked by the familiar MSN butterfly, has been added to the bottom of the home screen for easy access.
Aside from the aforementioned windshield mount, Garmin packages the c580 with a carrying pouch, a car charger with an integrated MSN Direct 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 c580 offers many of the same great navigation tools found on the Garmin StreetPilot c550. It's powered by a WAAS-enabled 12-channel receiver, and all 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.
The unit's interface will be familiar to previous StreetPilot owners, though new users will have no problem working the c580, since the menus are intuitive and easy to use. From the main screen, you have two choices: Where To and View Map. The Where To icon takes you to another screen, where you can select locations in your immediate vicinity, in another city, or closest to your final destination. You can search by address or use the POI icons to locate hospitals, auto services, transit hubs, and other points. Once the c580 lists the available locations, simply press Go, and a route is calculated from your current position to your chosen destination, complete with text and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. You can read more about these features in our StreetPilot c550 review.
The main difference between the Garmin StreetPilot c550 and this unit is the addition of the MSN Direct services. With it, you can receive real-time traffic conditions, and you can even avoid the congested areas before hitting the road, as the unit provides directions around the traffic. Alternatively, if you happen to hit traffic as you're driving, the c580 will automatically look for alternate routes. With all that driving, at some point you'll need to refuel, and the cool thing about MSN Direct is it can pull current gas prices from stations close to your current location, so you can find the best deal. The same applies for finding movie showtimes. MSN Direct will send local showtimes for movies directly to the c580, and you can even search by title or theater; once you've decided on a location, you can simply press Go to get directions to the theater. The final service provided by MSN Direct is weather; you can get current weather conditions as well as a three-day forecast for your area with information about high/low/current temperatures, chances of precipitation, humidity, pressure, wind, and alerts. As we noted earlier, you get a year-long free subscription to MSN Direct; afterward, you'll have to pay $49.95 per year to continue the service or a one-time charge of $129.95.
The StreetPilot c580 also has integrated Bluetooth, so you can pair the unit with your Bluetooth-enabled phone and make hands-free calls through the system's microphone and speakers. You can transfer your phone book to the c580, and the device alerts you to incoming calls; just tap the screen to answer. You also can dial any number listed in the POI database (check for your phone's compatibility on Garmin's Web site). We had no problems pairing the unit with the Palm Treo 750 and we successfully transferred contacts and made calls using the c580.
Finally, the c580 also retains the MP3 playback and an antitheft lock found on the StreetPilot c550. The c580 supports only MP3 files, and you can either store them on the device's internal memory or keep them on an SD card. The c580 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 c580 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and overall, it was a solid performer. From a cold start, it took about 3 minutes to get a GPS fix under cloudy conditions, which can sometimes hinder satellite reception. Subsequent starts were much faster. Once locked in, the unit did a good job of tracking our location as we drove around the city. On a planned trip, the StreetPilot c580 provided accurate directions. The text-to-speech directions were great (though it mangled the pronunciation of some names); we could just listen for specific street names rather than having to look at the screen and take our eyes off the road. Route recalculations were also lightning-quick.
When you first access the MSN Direct services, the c580 warns you that it'll take several minutes and up to several hours (for movie times) to get all the information. True enough, it took our unit about 10 minutes to come back with traffic, weather, and gas data, while it took a good 30 minutes for movie showtimes to appear on the device. Once we had the information, we found it to be very useful. We did notice, however, that sometimes the names of gas stations weren't provided on several listings. That said, you still can get directions to the unknown service station just by pressing the Go button. The StreetPilot c580 is rated for eight hours of battery life.