If you've ever thought, "Gee, it would be great if Nascar's Dale Earnhardt Jr. could ride with me everywhere I go, giving directions and being awesome," then Rightway GPS has just the navigation device for you.
The Rightway Spotter Dale Jr. Edition is a fairly basic portable navigation device (PND) with a fairly standard feature set, but it adds prerecorded turn-by-turn directions by Dale Earnhardt Jr. The unit also includes photos and videos of Earnhardt that can be played back directly on the device with its built-in multimedia player.
However, while Earnhardt may be quick on the track, on the road we found that getting rid of his voice and using the hidden text-to-speech function made navigating much faster and much easier.
The Rightway Spotter adopts the standard PND design, with a 4.3-inch LCD touch screen dominating the front panel. The display's resolution is 480x272 pixels. The screen features an antiglare coating, which reduces glare when used outdoors. Direct sunlight proved to be too much for the unit's backlight, resulting in washed-out colors.
Along the Spotter's top panel are an on/off switch, buttons for Menu and Sleep, and a raised hump where, presumably, the GPS antenna lives. A hidden stylus is recessed into the top left corner. Down the left side are a headphone jack, a power adapter port, a mini USB port, and an SD card slot. The unit's speaker is located on the back panel.
The unit features 64MB of RAM and no internal memory, so all the data for maps, points of interest, and media is preloaded onto a 2GB SD card that ships with the unit. The CoPilot navigation application will not even launch if the SD card is removed or the "copilot" directory on the card is damaged, so be careful.
The Spotter ships with a 12-volt power adapter, suction cup mounting cradle, an adhesive dash mounting adapter, and instruction manual.
The Rightway Spotter, Dale Jr. Edition's most distinctive feature is the use of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s voice for turn-by-turn directions. To accomplish this, Rightway recorded Earnhardt saying about 80 phrases such as "Hang a left" and "Back her down, you've gotta turn around."
In addition to Earnhardt's voice, the Nascar star's likeness appears on the unit's boot screen and the menu icons and vehicle position indicators feature Earnhardt's related imagery. A set of custom POIs called "Dale's Favorites" that lists restaurants and businesses frequented by Earnhardt himself. Additionally, the unit ships with an SD card preloaded with photos and videos of, you guessed it, Earnhardt.
The Spotter features turn-by-turn directions spoken in three English dialects (American, U.K., and Australian) with 17 selectable voices. Six of these voices are computer generated text-to-speech voices that read street names aloud. Earnhardt's is not one of them.
An itinerary feature allows users to fairly easily plan complex routes with multiple stops.
Outside of navigation, the Spotter features MP3 and WMA audio playback; AVI, WMV, MPEG, and MOV video playback, a TXT file e-book reader; and a photo viewer that displays JPEG and BMP files.
Unlike the competition from Garmin and TomTom, which boot directly into custom firmware, the Spotter's navigation software runs on a Windows CE operating system. This means that when the unit is powered on, the OS must first load, and then the user has to launch the CoPilot navigation application, followed by even more waiting for the app to load then acquire its GPS position. In a head-to-head test with a Garmin Nuvi 205W, we found that the Garmin could power on and acquire a satellite lock nearly twice as fast as the Spotter could.
We thought that we'd be able to cut down on boot times with the sleep mode. However, after holding the Sleep button to put the unit into standby, we were unable to get it to wake up without cycling the power switch, prompting a full reboot and defeating the purpose.
Once the unit is up and running, the navigation interface is fairly snappy. Trip routing lags behind the competition from Garmin, but is about on par with TomTom. POI search--on the other hand--can be dreadfully slow, as all of the data is read directly from the SD card.
During our testing in downtown San Francisco, we ran into quite a few issues with the Spotter's routes and positioning. While the spotter didn't lead us down any one-way streets, it didn't seem to be aware of turning restrictions and subsequently kept asking us to make illegal left hand turns. If we ignored the unit and pressed onward, a safer route would be recalculated. Fortunately, recalculations were super quick, which is a plus.
Additionally, in dense urban corridors, where the road is flanked on both sides by tall buildings, the Spotter had issues with the accuracy of its positioning, occasionally putting us ahead of or behind our actual position on the map or thinking that we'd missed turns that we'd taken and vice versa. These small inaccuracies were always sorted out within moments, but the unit's constant second guessing went a long way toward shaking our confidence in its abilities.
On clear roads with open skies and on trips that involved mostly highway driving, the Spotter's performance was considerably better.
The Rightway Spotter Dale Jr. Edition is a passable GPS device. Its interface and hardware may not be as slick as the competition from Garmin and TomTom, but it will certainly get you from point A to B.
The unit's design is pretty average as PNDs go, but we had to dock a few points for the lack of internal memory and for a slightly complex interface. The feature set is quite limited--there's no Bluetooth integration, lane guidance, or traffic data reception--but we gave the Spotter credit for its text-to-speech capability, even though this feature is turned off by default. However, we were disappointed with the Spotter's performance, particularly with the long start-up times and inaccurate tracking in urban environments.