Archive for the ‘GPS’ category

TOP RATED!!!… The Garmin StreetPilot c580

June 22, 2007

There are a lot of new players in the world of the portable navigation systems, such as Averatec and Alpine, but one company that’s been a constant in the industry is Garmin. With 18 years in the biz, Garmin has got the navigation basics down, but it’s also looking for ways to build on top of those core functions. Enter the Garmin StreetPilot c580. The c580 is a high-end GPS device and is very much like its sibling, the Garmin StreetPilot c550, offering accurate directions, Bluetooth integration, text-to-speech functionality, and multimedia capabilities. However, the StreetPilot c580 also now can provide dynamic traffic and weather information as well as local gas prices and movie showtimes, thanks to its partnership with MSN Direct–the same service behind smart watches.

The service is easy to access, as the MSN Direct receiver is integrated right into the car charger, and you get a complimentary year-long subscription to the service. We found this added functionality to be very useful and helpful, though not without its faults. Also, the service isn’t available in all areas, so make sure your city is covered before taking the plunge. The Garmin StreetPilot c580 will be available this month for $799.99. We should note that the StreetPilot c550 is only $50 cheaper, so if you can swing it, you might as well spring for the c580 and enjoy a free year of the MSN services.

Like the rest of the StreetPilot series, the
Garmin StreetPilot c580 won’t take up much room in your car. Measuring 4.4 inches wide by 3.2 inches high by 2.2 inches deep and weighing 9.0 ounces, it’s easily transportable for multiple vehicle use and comes with an easy-to-install windshield mount. Garmin also keeps things simple, with minimal controls. There’s a volume dial, a USB port, and a power button on the right. We especially like the external volume control since you don’t have to fiddle with the menus to change this setting; we did notice, however, that it’s a bit sensitive and jumps several volume levels if you’re not careful. On the left side, you’ll find an SD expansion slot and an external antenna port, while the power connector and the mic-in and audio-out ports are located on the back.  

The rest of the functions are handled through the StreetPilot c580’s 3.5-inch-diagonal responsive touch screen. The antiglare display is excellent, with a sharp 320×240-pixel resolution and bright colors, and it’s even readable in bright sunlight. In addition, the c580’s menus are easy to navigate, thanks to large icons and an intuitive interface. A new icon for the MSN Direct services, marked by the familiar MSN butterfly, has been added to the bottom of the home screen for easy access.  

Aside from the aforementioned windshield mount, Garmin packages the c580 with a carrying pouch, a car charger with an integrated MSN Direct receiver, a USB cable, and an adhesive disk to attach the mount to your dash instead of your windshield. Optional accessories include a five-pack of changeable faceplates ($25) and SD cards preloaded with maps of Europe ($182.13 to $407.13).

Garmin StreetPilot c580 offers many of the same great navigation tools found on the Garmin StreetPilot c550. It’s powered by a WAAS-enabled 12-channel receiver, and all maps of North America with 2D and 3D map perspectives are preloaded onto the device. You get text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, as well as text-to-speech functionality, automatic recalculation, and a comprehensive points-of-interest (POI) database.  

The unit’s interface will be familiar to previous StreetPilot owners, though new users will have no problem working the c580, since the menus are intuitive and easy to use. From the main screen, you have two choices: Where To and View Map. The Where To icon takes you to another screen, where you can select locations in your immediate vicinity, in another city, or closest to your final destination. You can search by address or use the POI icons to locate hospitals, auto services, transit hubs, and other points. Once the c580 lists the available locations, simply press Go, and a route is calculated from your current position to your chosen destination, complete with text and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. You can read more about these features in our StreetPilot c550 review 

The main difference between the Garmin StreetPilot c550 and this unit is the addition of the MSN Direct services. With it, you can receive real-time traffic conditions, and you can even avoid the congested areas before hitting the road, as the unit provides directions around the traffic. Alternatively, if you happen to hit traffic as you’re driving, the c580 will automatically look for alternate routes. With all that driving, at some point you’ll need to refuel, and the cool thing about MSN Direct is it can pull current gas prices from stations close to your current location, so you can find the best deal. The same applies for finding movie showtimes. MSN Direct will send local showtimes for movies directly to the c580, and you can even search by title or theater; once you’ve decided on a location, you can simply press Go to get directions to the theater. The final service provided by MSN Direct is weather; you can get current weather conditions as well as a three-day forecast for your area with information about high/low/current temperatures, chances of precipitation, humidity, pressure, wind, and alerts. As we noted earlier, you get a year-long free subscription to MSN Direct; afterward, you’ll have to pay $49.95 per year to continue the service or a one-time charge of $129.95.  

The StreetPilot c580 also has integrated Bluetooth, so you can pair the unit with your Bluetooth-enabled phone and make hands-free calls through the system’s microphone and speakers. You can transfer your phone book to the c580, and the device alerts you to incoming calls; just tap the screen to answer. You also can dial any number listed in the POI database (check for your phone’s compatibility on Garmin’s Web site). We had no problems pairing the unit with the Palm Treo 750 and we successfully transferred contacts and made calls using the c580.  

Finally, the c580 also retains the MP3 playback and an antitheft lock found on the StreetPilot c550. The c580 supports only MP3 files, and you can either store them on the device’s internal memory or keep them on an SD card. The c580 will even display album art, and it automatically mutes music during voice prompts and phone calls. It does not, however, offer iPod compatibility like the TomTom GO 910. Finally, Garmin Lock prevents the unit from performing any functions until you enter a user-defined four-digit PIN or take it to a predetermined location.

We tested the
Garmin StreetPilot c580 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and overall, it was a solid performer. From a cold start, it took about 3 minutes to get a GPS fix under cloudy conditions, which can sometimes hinder satellite reception. Subsequent starts were much faster. Once locked in, the unit did a good job of tracking our location as we drove around the city. On a planned trip, the StreetPilot c580 provided accurate directions. The text-to-speech directions were great (though it mangled the pronunciation of some names); we could just listen for specific street names rather than having to look at the screen and take our eyes off the road. Route recalculations were also lightning-quick. 

 When you first access the MSN Direct services, the c580 warns you that it’ll take several minutes and up to several hours (for movie times) to get all the information. True enough, it took our unit about 10 minutes to come back with traffic, weather, and gas data, while it took a good 30 minutes for movie showtimes to appear on the device. Once we had the information, we found it to be very useful. We did notice, however, that sometimes the names of gas stations weren’t provided on several listings. That said, you still can get directions to the unknown service station just by pressing the Go button. The StreetPilot c580 is rated for eight hours of battery life.





Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100

April 13, 2007

As things go in the tech world, there’s always a push to create slick all-in-one gadgets, and GPS devices are not exempt from this trend. Even though portable navigation systems are just starting to appear on people’s radars here in the
United States, the GPS manufacturers are forging ahead by adding new functionalities and creating new designs. Just last year, Mio Technology introduced the Mio H610, a pocket-size hybrid navigation and entertainment gadget. It was pretty much in a category of its own, but not so anymore. The
Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100 offers similar features and also has a pocketable design that makes it better for cyclists and walkers rather than drivers. We actually prefer the streamlined design of the N100 over the Mio H610, and it comes with Navigon’s excellent mapping software, complete with slick maps and branded points of interest. Unfortunately, this is pretty much all negated by the fact that the Pocket LOOX N100 suffers from poor performance. It’s extremely slow, and the navigation performance isn’t up to par with other systems on the market. At $499, the N100 is priced the same as the Mio H610, but for our money, we’d go with the better-performing H610.


Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100 is cute; there’s just no other way to describe it. The palm-sized device (3.5x2x0.6 inches; 3.9 ounces) boasts a nice streamlined design with eye-pleasing curves and an attractive silver-and-white color scheme (the company also includes an exchangeable black faceplate in the box). The overall size and look is similar to the Mio H610, but we prefer the more sophisticated look of the N100, whereas the H610 somewhat resembles a handheld toy. And while the device has a solid build and is comfortable to hold in the hand, we do think the Power button and the Hold switch on the right side feel a bit cheap and plasticky.

 Aside from the aforementioned controls, the Pocket LOOX N100 keeps it simple with just a 3.5mm headset jack, two small LEDs, and a mini USB port on the left spine, and a miniSD card slot on top of the unit. The back of device houses the speaker, a jack for an optional antenna, and the stylus. If we could add just one thing, it would be external volume controls to easily adjust the audio settings. All the other operations–entering addresses, launching the media player, and so forth–are handled through the N100’s 2.8-inch touch screen. The bright display, which you can switch between portrait and landscape mode, shows off 64,000 colors at a sharp 320×240 pixel resolution, so maps and images have nice definition and rich colors. We also had no problem reading the screen in direct sunlight or under harsh lighting. The touch screen is responsive for the most part, although the sluggish performance might make you think otherwise (we’ll talk more about this later though). Since the Pocket LOOX N100 has a smaller screen, inputting addresses on the virtual keyboard and tapping the smaller icons really requires the use of the stylus. Clearly, this doesn’t really lend itself for in-car use. Now, while you’ll probably enter all your destinations before you hit the road, if you want to perform any other functions while on the road, such as zooming in or out, this will be a problem. Fortunately, the company realized this, so you can actually use voice commands to work the N100. Just be aware that you have to save a destination and record a name for the trip before you can use this option.

The N100 features a mostly intuitive and clean interface with some sleek drop-down menus. The main menu page clearly presents you with four options: Navigator, Multimedia, Utilities, and Settings. The icons are pleasing to the eye with a nice bubbly, animated look, but once you get into the more specific applications, the function of the icons aren’t clearly identified, so it’s a matter of trial and error. Another confusing aspect is that some of the graphics are shaded out or transparent, which made us think the control wasn’t available to us, but this isn’t true.


The Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100 comes packaged with a number of accessories, including a car charger, an AC adapter, a vehicle mount (dash and windshield), a USB cable, a miniSD card preloaded with maps, the aforementioned faceplate, a headset, a CD-ROM with additional maps, and reference material.

Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100 is powered by a SiRFstarIII GPS chip and uses Navigon’s MobileNavigator 6 software. All maps of the United States and Canada are preloaded on the included miniSD card. As with most GPS devices, you can enter a location by specific address, point of interest, recent destination, user-defined home, and so forth. The N100 can calculate routes in one of four ways–fast, optimum, short, or scenic–and gives you the option to allow or avoid highways and toll roads. There are also pedestrian, bicycle, and motorcycle route options, and our favorite, slow car mode. Other standard navigation features include automatic route recalculation, multi-stop trips, simulated demos, speed alerts, and of course, text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. Though the Pocket LOOX N100 doesn’t offer text-to-speech functionality, it will announce major highways. Navigon delivers some really beautiful maps to the Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100. There are slick transitions between maps and we’ll mention the aesthetically pleasing icons again, as they add much value to the navigation experience. You can view maps in 2D or 3D mode, and with day or night colors. The map screen shows you plenty of data, such as the name of the street you’re on, distance to next turn, estimated time of arrival, remaining distance, a compass, signal strength, and more. Of course, if you feel the screen is too cluttered, you can always choose to hide some of these elements via the Settings menu. Another benefit of the Navigon software is its excellent points of interest (POI) database. Not only do you get the usual POI categories (gas stations, ATMs, shopping centers, restaurants, and so forth), but you also get branded POI icons. For example, McDonald‘s is identified by the familiar golden arches and Shell gas stations are noted with a shell. Clearly, the N100 doesn’t offer branded POI for all businesses, but we’re impressed and appreciative of this feature–nice touch. We found the database to be fairly up to date, though not perfect. The Pocket Loox N100’s media player is pretty basic, but gets the essential job done. The music player supports MP3, AAC, and WMA files, and displays song title and artist. You can create playlists on the fly, and there’s also a shuffle and a repeat mode. There’s no equalizer, but you can adjust treble and bass through the Audio option under the Settings menu. You can play music while navigating, but it was our experience that the N100 didn’t interrupt the song when giving a voice prompt. Instead, both were played at the same time, which didn’t do any good. The video player offers a full-screen mode and repeat function and works with WMV files. However, there is an included conversion app to convert other video formats. There’s also an image viewer for opening JPG, GIF, and BMP files.

Fujitsu Siemens throws in a few extra utilities. You get a world clock, a calculator, and two games, one of which, much to our delight, was Pacman, although it’s called Smart Pixie on this device.

Before we get to its results as a navigator, we want to start with the general performance of the
Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100. We found the unit to be real sluggish at times. I consider myself a pretty patient person, but there are times when I was ready to walk away from this device. For example, it took over a minute for the Navigator app to launch. This also brings up the issue we mentioned in the Design section. There were times when we’d hit an icon, such as the music player, and nothing would happen for a few seconds, so we were left wondering if our tap didn’t register or if we had to tap it twice. This happened a lot when we first started using the N100, but we eventually realized it’s just slow. Either way, it’s incredibly frustrating. For our tests, we took the Pocket LOOX N100 out for a spin in San Francisco. From a cold start, it took the unit about two minutes to acquire a satellite fix under clear skies, but subsequent starts were erratic; it took anywhere from seconds to five minutes to get a signal. Once set, the N100 did a good job of pinpointing our location, but as we started moving, we noticed that it was about half a block off as we drove around the city. We also entered a specific trip, and the unit calculated a route in a reasonable amount of time. The directions were accurate, but route recalculations were a little too slow for our tastes. Plus, when we missed too many turns, it really seemed to confuse the poor little guy and the map screen went on the fritz trying to catch up. Not exactly what you want when you’re lost or trying to get to your destination. Music playback through the device’s speakers was OK. Songs sounded a bit hollow and bass was lacking a bit. Of course, plugging in a good pair of earbuds improved the quality greatly. If you’re in an absolute pinch and you’re just bored out of your mind, you could watch a video on the N100. However, the picture quality was choppy and there were times when the audio didn’t sync up with the picture. Again, we’d only recommend it as a last resort. The Pocket LOOX N100’s battery is rated for 5 hours.