Editor's note: Portions of this review were taken from our review of the Palm GPS Navigator Smartphone Edition, as the products share the same mapping software.
Treo owners can probably tell you that the smart phone has helped them be more productive on the go, giving them the freedom to check e-mail, view office documents, and much more, all away from the office. But how about a little help while you're actually on the road--as in hitting the pavement driving to client meetings and beyond? Announced at CTIA 2007, the Palm GPS Navigator Car Kit is designed for the newer Palm Treo 680 and the Palm Treo 700p and provides voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions; it also serves as a hands-free kit for phone calls. It's an improvement over the previous model, the Palm GPS Navigator Kit Smartphone Edition, with a better, streamlined design. The GPS receiver is now integrated into the cradle so you don't have to connect to or carry an extra Bluetooth GPS receiver. We still think it's pricey at $299, especially since standalone in-car GPS units are coming way down in price. That said, the easy setup and accurate directions still make it an attractive option to Treo 680 and 700p owners who are constantly on the road.
As we mentioned earlier, the Palm GPS Navigator Car Kit features a much improved design over its predecessor. First, it does away with the Bluetooth receiver and integrates a SiRFIIIstar GPS chip right into the vehicle mount. This is a huge improvement, since you don't have to worry about carrying around any extra parts or finding a place to put the receiver in your car. Also, the actual cradle that holds the Treo in place is stronger. Previously, we worried that the plastic parts on the Smartphone Edition would break off since they felt weak, but not this time around. A pin slot is located at the bottom of the mount that connects with the smart phone's multiconnector port, and for extra security, there's a sturdy hook, or claw, at the top of the apparatus to hold the smart phone in place. To release the Treo, simply lift the lever and remove the device. Other components of the cradle include a built-in speaker, a power connector port, a jack for an external antenna, a 2.5mm headset jack, and slots for attaching the cradle to the vehicle mount arm on the back.
The entire contents of the Palm GPS Navigator Car Kit include the cradle, the cradle arm, a dashboard mount, a car charger, a 1GB miniSD card preloaded with maps, a memory card reader, a TomTom Navigator 6 software CD, and reference material.
The good news is that's about the hardest part about using the Palm GPS Navigator Car Kit. If you've ever used a TomTom navigation system before, the GPS Navigator's interface will look familiar to you. Even if you haven't, the menus are easy to understand and intuitive with large icons and clear identification. Plus, the Treo's touch screen and QWERTY keyboard make it easy to enter commands and addresses. If you already know where you're going, you can use the Navigator's map browser for a general overview map and keep track of your location. Otherwise, you can enter a specific address, city center, intersection, recent destination, POI, or name from your Contacts list and receive driving directions. There is also an Itinerary function where you can add other destinations and waypoints into your current route. Under the Preferences menu, you can instruct the Navigator to calculate routes by shortest distance, fastest route, surface streets, and so on. You can even plan by bicycle or walking routes.
Maps are presented in 2D or 3D view. If you select 2D mode, you can also choose to either have north always face the top of the screen or the direction you are traveling. There's also a night mode that changes the color of the maps for better night-time viewing, or if the default settings don't suit you, you have the option of changing the color schemes under the Preferences menu. For driving directions, you can choose to have them presented as text or images. The main driving view will give your current position, the name of the next major road, next instruction, and information about your trip (remaining trip time, remaining distance, and estimated arrival time). In addition, you can zoom in and out of maps. And though the GPS Navigator Car Kit has voice-guided directions, it does not feature text-to-speech functionality, which speaks actual street names.
If a point of interest has a phone number associated with it, you can dial it directly from your Treo--great for, say, making dinner reservations or calling ahead to see if there are any vacancies at a hotel. You can also access traffic information, safety camera warnings, and more via TomTom's Plus services. However, it will cost extra; you can find more information about subscription fees here. Alternatively, if you don't want to pay for traffic info, the GPS Navigator has automatic route recalculation should you go off the prescribed route to avoid traffic and road construction.
As we mentioned earlier, we used the Palm Treo 680 with the Palm GPS Navigator Car Kit and took it for a test drive in San Francisco. Overall, performance was good. There were a couple of occasions in which the cradle didn't recognize that we had inserted the Treo, as a result, the search for a GPS fix never began. This was, however, quickly resolved by simply reinserting the Treo 680 into the slot. From a cold start, it took a solid 10 minutes to get a satellite fix under clear skies. Subsequent starts were faster, though still a bit sluggish compared to other dedicated portable navigation systems.
Once locked in, it was able to keep a steady and accurate lock on our position as we drove throughout the city. We also entered a specific destination, and the TomTom Navigator software quickly calculated our route and provided reasonable directions that got us to our end point. During our drive, we also purposefully took some wrong turns to test the speed route recalculations and we were satisfied with the response. The GPS Navigator Car Kit was able to get us back on track, and with adequate time before reaching our next turn. In addition, making and receiving calls with the kit was easy. We were alerted to incoming calls, and you can also set the system to automatically answer calls immediately, after one ring, two rings, or not at all.