The first thing you'll notice when you unpack the Road Angel Navigator 3000 is how compact the packaging is. Inside its black and blue box, you'll find a slim instruction manual, the unit itself, a small holding caddy, a car arm and an in-car charger. Those looking for thick product manuals, SD card cases or anything else will have to look elsewhere; the Road Angel 3000 joins a growing number of no-frills GPS units aimed at the entry level market. In the same price bracket, and with largely the same feature set in mind, you'll find the , Navman F20 and , to name just a few.
The Road Angel 3000 unit uses a touchscreen, but that hasn't stopped Sentinel from putting more than the usual number of buttons, switches and sockets around the unit's body. On the left hand side you'll find the SD card slot (the map SD card comes pre-installed, just in case you're looking for it when unpacking), microphone and USB sockets. The right hand side houses a thin stylus just underneath the socket for the optional external antenna, volume rocker, on/off switch and the DC power input. The Road Angel ships without a DC power adaptor, though, and won't charge via USB either. So you're restricted to in-car power when you first buy it.
The Road Angel 3000 moves away from what we've come to expect in a GPS: there's no little Sensis badge on the side, instead the map data comes courtesy of Navteq. Aside from that though, the internals of the Road Angel 3000 mirrors that of its contemporaries -- a 400Mhz processor, SiRF Star III GPS satellite receiver, 64MB of ROM and RAM and an SD card slot for holding all the map data. It also doubles as an MP3, MP4 Video, JPEG and e-book player. Although you'll need to do more than a touch of SD card swapping to fully realise the Road Angel's capabilities. There is free space on the supplied SD card but the Sentinel GeoSystem's Web site suggests that this might not be the best idea -- having your map data corrupted by a dodgy MP3 of Barbie Girl doesn't seem like a very good idea to us, either, on multiple levels.
We've commented before that the Road Angel series of GPS systems are, on the whole, very good navigators with painfully obtuse interfaces that take far too long to learn. It seems that Sentinel GeoSystems has finally got the message, as the Navigator 3000's interface, while still reminiscent of previous models, is far more streamlined and easier to use. We took the Road Angel on a road trip of just over 1,200km -- from Sydney to the sleepy fishing village of Iluka -- to test the system out over a long drive through both city and bush. For the most part we were very pleased: navigation lock was achieved extremely quickly, and when we did veer off the suggested path, re-routing was done was virtually instantaneous. We were also pleasantly surprised when the Road Angel offered up slightly quicker routes than with the Sensis-based GPS systems we've tested before.
Our major bug-bear with the Road Angel 3000 is that it won't charge via USB and there's no AC adaptor provided. Initial charging takes up to five hours, and when it's still charging it will incessantly chirp at you that the battery power is low. Our fully charged unit ran for just over three hours and it warned us the battery was low at random intervals, however when it did run out of power there was no warning beforehand!
The multimedia side of the equation also left us unsatisfied. A standard digital camera photo card was recognised, and we were able browse our photos -- albeit slowly -- but we were never able to get the Road Angel to recognise the music and video files on the same card. The instructions with the Road Angel were of no help here; they just say to "transfer files to your SD card on your PC". In fact, at the time of writing, no USB driver was available for the Road Angel 3000, and our Windows Vista system couldn't recognise it as a standard USB host.
We're not sure how many consumers want their GPS systems to double as photo frames and music viewers -- we suspect not many. If that describes you, then the Road Angel is an excellent buy, albeit one in a field that's pretty darned competitive. For the same price you could get the slower but more PDA-centric, or the very easy to use -- but less feature-packed -- .