In this day and age, buying a standalone GPS device isn't the only way to get navigation help. If you have a cell phone or smart phone, you can add software or GPS accessories to turn your mobile into a handheld navigation device. One such solution is the Garmin Mobile 20. Unlike some of the other car kits we've seen, such as the Palm GPS Navigator Car Kit, the Mobile 20 works with a number of Palm and Windows Mobile devices (Garmin also offers a separate accessory for BlackBerrys) and offers turn-by-turn text- and voice-guided directions and acts as a hands-free speaker system. The setup and hands-free integration isn't quite as sophisticated as the Palm accessory, but it delivers accurate directions as well as some nice extras, such as traffic alerts and weather updates. The Garmin Mobile 20 is available now, but it's on the pricey side at $299.99.
If there's one area where the Garmin Mobile 20 falters, it's in the design and setup. Unlike the Palm GPS Navigator Car Kit, where all the pieces are neatly integrated into the cradle, the Garmin Mobile 20 requires a bit of assembly and doesn't boast quite the same streamlined design as the Palm kit. On the one hand, Garmin conveniently built the GPS receiver, speaker, and car charger into the cradle, but then you have to attach six different plastic pieces to the backboard of the cradle that act as the arms for holding your smart phone in place. It's not particularly hard; you just have to slide the posts along the left, right, and bottom edges. It just requires a bit more setup time, and it doesn't look as pretty as the Palm GPS Navigator Car Kit, but it's certainly not a deal-breaker. Plus, the Garmin Mobile 20 accommodates a number of Palm and Windows Mobile smart phones, whereas the Palm accessory only handles the Treo 680 and Treo 700p.
In the box, you get the mount with integrated car charger, a package of six standard posts, four extra posts to accommodate larger mobile devices, a vehicle mount (windshield and dashboard), an SD card preloaded with maps and software, and three adapter cables to charge your handset. There is also a volume dial on the right side of the cradle that you can depress to activate hands-free operation.
For our tests, we used the Garmin Mobile 20 with the Palm Treo 700p. The cradle easily accommodated the device, but we had to readjust the upper left post so it wouldn't hit the volume buttons. We also had to shift the bottom post to plug the power adapter cord into the connector on the bottom of the smart phone. The windshield suction mount securely held the cradle and smart phone during our test drives, and it features a lock mechanism to reinforce the seal between the suction cup and windshield.
Garmin makes things easy by preloading street-level maps of North America and nearly 6 million points of interest on the included SD card, so you just have to insert the card into your smart phone's expansion slot to get on your way. You'll find the application under Mobile XT on your smart phone, and if you're familiar with any Garmin products, you'll recognize the interface and features, as it's very similar to the company's standalone in-car GPS units. Even if you're a newbie, the software isn't particularly hard to navigate or master, as all menu options are clearly identified and self-explanatory. There is also a built-in help section if you run into problems.
You can start planning a trip in a number of ways, including entering a specific address, picking a point of interest (POI), selecting a recently entered location, or choosing a name from your phone's Contacts list. If you don't need guidance, you can just have the Garmin Mobile 20 track your movements by tapping View Map, or if you're completely lost, you can go to Tools > "Where am I?" to get your current location (nearest address and coordinates) and nearest major intersections. As with the automotive units, the Mobile 20 can generate directions by fastest time, shortest distance, or off road; in car, pedestrian, or bicycle mode, among others; and you can instruct it to avoid certain road types, such as toll roads and highways. The system also features route simulation, automatic route recalculation, a detour function, and traffic alerts via Garmin Online. Just be aware that the latter requires that you have a data plan for your phone to access the information.