Test. Sometimes less is more, and that seems to be the approach Pharos is taking with its Pharos Drive GPS 250. The entry-level in-car GPS offers simplicity and ease of use with a minimalist design and interface, and all the basic navigation features are there, with the bonus of text-to-speech functionality. That said, it falters a bit in the performance department when compared with competing portable navigation systems. General response was a bit sluggish, and the GPS receiver had trouble acquiring and locking onto our position. For that reason, we'd recommend the Mio C230, which offers a similar feature set and better performance for less. The Pharos Drive GPS 250 is available now for $299.95.
The Pharos Drive GPS 250 is simple in design. At 4.8 inches wide by 3.3 inches tall by 0.9 inch deep and 7.2 ounces, it's nice and compact to transport between vehicles or to take along with you on a trip for use with rental cars. There's a slight bump in the back for the integrated GPS antenna, but it's not too obtrusive.
On front, there's a 4.3-inch touch screen that displays 16.7 million colors at a 480x272 pixel resolution. In general, maps looked clear and bright with enough contrast, but we did notice a bit of pixelation and didn't find it as sharp as some other systems. The touch screen is responsive, and the user interface is pretty intuitive, though not quite as aesthetically pleasing or streamlined as a Garmin or TomTom. The main menu icons are large and clearly marked, but the onscreen keyboard is a bit cramped. Fortunately, there's an included stylus on top of the unit to help with more precise text entry.
The left side holds an SD card expansion slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a mini USB port, while there's a power button and a reset hole on the right side. The Pharos Drive GPS 250 comes packaged with a car charger, an AC adapter, a protective carrying case, a USB cable, an SD card, reference material, and a vehicle mount. The latter is windshield-only, though; we wish Pharos would have thrown in an adhesive disk for the dashboard, especially since the use of windshield mounts is prohibited in California and Minnesota.
The Pharos Drive GPS 250 is all about navigation and that's it. No extras, such as multimedia or Bluetooth. The system is powered by a 20-channel SiRFstarIII receiver and comes preloaded with Navteq maps of the United States and Canada and more than 1 million points of interest (POI). There are several methods to plan a trip. You can enter a specific address; select a point of interest; choose a destination from a list of recently visited locations or favorites; or use your address book. You can also pick any point on the map and navigate to it from your current location.
The POI database includes all the major categories, including restaurants by cuisine type, gas stations, and ATMs, and more specific interests, such as casinos, performing arts centers, and parks. Overall, we found the POI catalog to be pretty comprehensive and up to date, and there are phone numbers listed with the business names for easy reference.
Once you've entered your trip information, you can get directions by quickest or shortest route; with or without highways, toll roads, and so forth. There is also a pedestrian mode. Maps are presented in 2D or 3D view with a Night Mode option that automatically changes the map colors for better visibility at night. There are icons for zooming in and out of maps, and the bottom of the screen will show such information as the current street name, remaining time and distance, and speed. A pop-up box will also appear onscreen to show you the direction of your next turn.
In addition to turn-by-turn directions, the Pharos Drive GPS 250 offers text-to-speech voice-guided directions, which means you'll hear actual street names instead of more generic directions. We're happy to see that more entry-level systems are including this technology, since it's a useful and handy safety feature.
We tested the Pharos Drive GPS 250 in San Francisco, and from a cold start under clear skies, it took the unit 5 to 6 minutes to get a fix on our location, while subsequent starts took less time. Once locked on, the system did a good job of tracking our location with accuracy. However, the receiver did lose its lock on a couple of occasions, including once when we were in a place with a clear view of the sky, which was a bit disconcerting. The good news is the Drive GPS 250 was able to reacquire the satellites almost immediately.
In addition to using it to track our location about town, we also entered our standard trip from the Maridio (Marina/Presidio district) to CNET's downtown headquarters. Compared with other systems we've tested, the Drive GPS 250 was a bit sluggish in performance. There was a slight lag from the time we pressed an icon or entered information to the time the system actually registered the command. It also took a while to come back with a calculated route. We're just talking about a matter of about 15 to 20 seconds, which isn't that long, but again, it seemed slow when pitted against other in-car GPS.
We looked over the list of turn-by-turn directions and found them to be accurate. On the road, we missed several turns to test the route recalculation rate, which was fairly swift--fast enough to instruct us before our next maneuver. The volume of voice directions was ample, but we found the text-to-speech pronunciations to be robotic and choppy. The Pharos Drive GPS 250's 1,200mAh lithium polymer battery is rated for 5 to 7 hours of continuous use.