Pharos EZ Road Pocket GPS Navigator
Best known for solutions for PDAs, Pharos introduces its EZ Road Pocket Navigator ($499), a full-featured GPS system and MP3 player that can be mounted in your car or carried around in your pocket. On the outside, the unit looks identical to the (both units are housed in the same PDA case), but the EZ Road gets the edge for its mounting hardware and its superior mapping software. Measuring 4.7 by 2.8 by 0.6 inches and weighing just more than 5 ounces, the silver and black Pharos EZ Road Pocket GPS Navigator slips easily into a pocket or bag or can be attached to your belt using the optional belt case ($14.95). The 3.5-inch touch screen shows 65,000 colors and has a 320x240-pixel resolution. It's crisp and bright when viewed head-on but loses sharpness and color tone when viewed from an angle. It's also difficult to read in direct sunlight. Six function buttons to the right of the screen employ yellow backlighting for easy nighttime viewing, as does the four-way rocker panel. The function keys are used for map zooming, scrolling through the navigation menus, viewing recent destinations, returning to the main menu page, and powering the unit. The rocker panel lets you pan the map in four directions and is used as an Enter key to select menu options.
On the upper-left bezel is flip-up patch antenna with a port for an optional auxiliary antenna, and there's an SD/MMC memory card slot built in to the left side of the unit. Along the right side are a volume control and a headphone jack for listening to MP3 files, but you'll have to supply your own headset since Pharos doesn't include a pair in the package. The bottom edge of the unit contains a power connector and a USB port for attaching to your PC. Two USB cables come in the box (one for charging, one for transferring data), as well as a DC charger and CDs containing U.S. mapping software and Microsoft's ActiveSync, which is also needed to transfer files. Other goodies include a 128MB SD card for storing maps and two mounting devices to attach the unit to your vehicle's windshield or AC vent. The windshield mount uses a suction cup and is sturdy and easy to install and remove, but the AC vent mount is shaky and easily dislodged on bumpy rides.Unlike the Mio 136, the Pharos EZ Road has some PDA functionality, such as a calendar and a contact database, but the biggest difference between the two is in the software and user interface. We like the fact that when it comes to choosing maps to upload to the SD card, the Pharos Ostia software lets you choose only the specific regions or cities that you'll be traveling through (with their points-of-interest data), rather than having to upload an entire predetermined region that may contain maps you'll never use. Loading maps is a breeze; simply select the region(s) you wish to download, and Otsia Mapfinder tells you what cities are included and how much memory they use. You can then upload your selections directly to the EZ Road via the USB cable and ActiveSync software. A detailed map of the New York City metro area, including Manhattan, Long Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Yonkers, required 23.9MB of storage on the SD card. Unfortunately, it took more than five minutes to transfer the map to the EZ Road via the slow USB 1.1 port. Detailed maps of the entire state of California require approximately 205MB, so it makes sense to have at least one spare SD card on hand for the long hauls.
The Otsia software lets you use semitransparent icons to access menu options, or you can use a Windows-style toolbar for creating routes and finding points of interest, address locations, and intersections. Once a route is created, you can follow the voice directions while viewing the route on the map (highlighted in blue) or change to a split screen with text directions on one side and a simplified graphical map on the other. The EZ Road will automatically zoom in before each anticipated turn, then back out to your previous zoom setting. Although you can check your battery life and the GPS signal status by invoking the tools menu page, we'd rather see indicators along the bottom of the screen, as is the case with the Mio 136. That said, we liked the inclusion of an onscreen compass.
The software has icons for Smart Navigator functionality, a Web-based wireless traffic and weather update service, but the EZ Road has no wireless or Bluetooth capabilities. However, if you subscribe to the service ($7 for one month, $18 for three months, or $66 for one year), you can upload the latest traffic data from your home PC before hitting the road, but without real-time data, you're better off tuning in to the local radio station for updated traffic and weather information.
The Pharos EZ Road lets you choose between several map views, including a 3D bird's-eye view, and you can have the unit calculate the fastest or shortest route. If you prefer a slower driving pace, the EZ Road gives you the option to avoid highways. The use of multicolored smiley-face icons to indicate satellite strength is cute and handy, but you can go to a GPS screen if you want more detail, such as your coordinates, your heading, and your speed.We were generally pleased with the Pharos EZ Road's tracking performance as we drove around New York, but it suffered from occasional signal loss, although not quite as often as the Mio 136. The first time we fired it up, the EZ Road needed just 45 seconds to acquire a 3D fix (four satellites) and took closer to 30 seconds thereafter.
In Manhattan, satellite tracking remained strong until we hit the lower downtown region, but we expected as much due to the narrow sky view. Out on Long Island, signal strength remained strong in all but the most heavily wooded areas. Thankfully, the receiver managed to regain a 3D fix quickly whenever the reception was lost or became too weak.
The Otsia maps were clear and easy to read, and our location on the map was correct. Voice and text driving directions were accurate too, although we would have liked more advanced notice of upcoming maneuvers. As a pedestrian GPS device, the EZ Road did a fine job of finding nearby police stations, museums, transportation centers, and hospitals, but we were disappointed that it lacked a restaurant search.
The EZ Road's lithium-ion battery lasted for 4.5 hours before running out of juice, which means you'll have to plan your walking tours accordingly. If you're looking for a portable GPS with extended battery life, you may want to consider the Garmin Quest, but you won't have the luxury of SD card storage for your maps.