Home Learn thebasics Hardware reviews Software reviews Ship's Locker LEI Tips and tricks Technical issues Adventures with GPS Favorites Canadian Digest

Street Pilot III  - vehicle (GPS) navigation system.

A review by GPS Nuts, based on a receiver with software ver. 2.22 and CityNavigator maps ver. 4.00

The Street Pilot III (SP3) is way too large to stash in a pocket and much too heavy and battery hungry to carry on an extended hike. It also lacks many of the functions that are common for outdoors-oriented units.  If you are after an outdoorsman-type GPS receiver, you can stop reading now. If you are looking for a mapping GPS receiver to use in your car, truck, or on a motorbike, just keep on reading because the entire receiver is designed with drivers in mind.

For more technical information and another review of the SP3, follow the links at the bottom of this article. In this review, we will focus on our subjective experiences with the setup.  

The SP3 comes in a package with all the necessary accessories; mounting base, connecting cables, memory cartridge and CityNavigator mapping CD are all included. The whole setup is a "no brainer". It was about an hour from the moment the unit was received to the moment when it was put into actual use.  It only took a few minutes each to examine the box content, install the software on the computer, file the request (over the Internet) for the free map region upload code, coffee break, input the unlock code into the computer, load maps to the cartridge (via included USB programmer), and slap the cartridge into the receiver. Two Velcro strips later, the quick disconnect base was mounted on the dashboard.  Then place the power cable in the cig. socket, the receiver in the base and itís acquiring the satellites. A few button pushes later, the target address was located, "route to it" was selected, and on the road we go... 

There was no time to read the manual, no time to play with any customization of the setup or screens.  There was not even time to see which screens the receiver offers.  I had to go to a customer and figuring out the finer details of the SP3 was not a priority at the moment. Well, as it turned out, I didn't need to. The receiver was up to the task.  It gave perfect directions all the way. It gave voice instructions where and when to turn.  The SP3 displayed detailed maps of the turning points when needed and was switching to the overview map when there was no imminent turn.  The busy Toronto area highways are not really a place to be distracted and the SP3 was no distraction at all! In fact it was a great help at that moment. - It found a faster route than the one I had been driving for the past several years! It was love from the first use...

You can download and listen to a few samples of the voice guidance.

drive_2_8_miles_then_left.wav

in_300_feet_turn_right.wav

turn_right_then_arrive_at_destination.wav

 

It should be noted that the latest (free) firmware updates from the GARMINís website give the receiver the ability to speak in several languages, so now one can get the directions in French , Italian, Spanish, German and even a choice of the US or British English.

Turn by turn routing - a real treat.

A typical GPS receiver can create a route that will lead in a straight line between the points, with total disregard for existing roads and obstructions. Each of the points in such a route has to be individually specified by the user.  It's a good  method if the receiver is used by an outdoorsman or a boater, but is less than ideal for a driver. After all, on a normal drive, the car has to stay on the road. The SP3 is the first GARMIN GPS receiver,  that offers turn by turn routing. All that the user needs to do is to find the address (or a waypoint) and command the receiver to route to it.

That's when the magic begins. After (typically) several seconds of calculations, the receiver generates the fastest or the shortest route (as desired) from here to there. For every point where a change of the driving direction is necessary, the route includes every intersection and pertinent highway off /on ramps. Because the route actually follows the roads, accurate distance information for the entire route is available and the calculated times of arrival / times on route are usually very close to the actual. Such routing is the ideal tool for automobile / motorcycle navigation.  Progress along the route is constantly tracked by the receiver and necessary directions are given on the screen as well as by voice.  The speaker is built into the cigar lighter plug.

Routes generated by the SP3 can be viewed on a "turn by turn" screen like in the sample below.

When driving along the route, the receiver shows an overview map of the route section. The current position is marked with the black triangle and the route to be followed is highlighted. 

 

Note: For this screenshot the display was set to the "wide map" mode.

When it is going to be necessary to change directions / roads, the SP3 gives the turn warnings with sufficient notice. 

 

The screen capture below shows one of the typical turn point detail maps that the receiver automatically displays at just the right moment. 

Note: For this screenshot the display was set to "narrow map" mode.

If you miss the turn, don't blame the pilot; the Street Pilot that is.  In any case, if you didn't change the default automatic re-routing, the receiver will quickly re-calculate a new route for you. In the meantime, it will keep you well informed as to your whereabouts. 

It will also display locations of numerous Points Of Interest (POIs).  The POIs can also be searched and located from the look up menu. 

The above screen shows the nearest gas stations, but other types of POIs (the same as MetroGuide) are also available in the database. The arrows in the screen shot above indicate the direction you must travel to reach that POI.

Another information screen that can be displayed is also oriented towards drivers.

The only other screen that is related to the current position is the satellite status:

Since the above screenshot was taken with the receiver sitting on a desk in the basement, there are no satellite signal strength bars showing.  In actual use, with the receiver mounted on the dashboard, the reception is very good and there was never a problem during the entire month of testing.

Software compatibility. 

Naturally, the SP3 is compatible with GARMIN MapSource, which allows for data and map transfer between the computer and the receiver. Various (but not all) GARMIN maps can be loaded, displayed and used with the receiver, however, only the CityNavigator and the new MapSource MetroGuide USA contain the information necessary for the unit to generate turn by turn routes. It should be noted that ONLY MapSource can  load GARMIN maps into the receiver and no third party mapping software has maps that can be loaded into the receiver. Programs like TTQV, Delorme, Fugawi, Ozi and many others may allow for waypoint, route, and track record data transfer to / from the receiver, but they DO NOT transfer the maps to the receiver itself.  Such programs are designed to be used on a computer in conjunction with your receiver. 

There was no problem  interfacing to G7ToWin software, which was used to obtain the above screen dumps. The only other software we had time to test for compatibility with the SP3 was TTQV. The released version 2.0 worked very well for real time tracking in NMEA and GARMIN modes as well as for data transfer to the receiver. Data  transfer from the receiver to the computer did not work with the TTQV 2.0, but everything performed flawlessly with the version TTQV 2.5. This leads us to believe that the transfer protocol is somewhat different from other GARMIN receivers and it may be necessary to obtain updates for some 3rd party software in order to make it fully compatible with the SP3.

 

 Nothing is ever perfect...

 Just like with every other receiver, there are a few things that we did not like about the SP3.  The funny thing is that some of the greatest strengths of the SP3 are directly related to its greatest shortcomings.

- With very few user options, the receiver is very easy to operate.  Unfortunately it results in limited usability in the areas not covered by the detail of the  uploadable maps. 

- The use of memory cartridges (up to 128 MEG) allows the pre-loading  of maps of vast areas. Routes can be generated directly on the unit.  It allows the user to set off on a long journey without worrying about the computer access necessary to load the maps for the next section. OTOH, the computer is necessary to create routes that are leading through any particular (user selectable) point.  Also, there is only one track record allowed by the receiver and a long trip can fill up that memory in a hurry, which makes computer access a must, in order to keep all the records of long trips.  

- The quick disconnect base allows you to remove the receiver from it in a split second which is nice. Unfortunately, after removing it from (or placing it into) the base, one has to fumble with separate power and sound connectors.  A much more elegant and practical solution would be a connector integrated into the base. Also, the size of the sound jack is not a standard one, so forget about easily hooking up some third party speakers.  

- The receiver is splash resistant and has a good size screen that is very easily readable in all sorts of lighting conditions - from direct sunlight to night driving.  This is very good for a car or motorcycle. It would also be excellent for a boat, except for the fact that the SP3 does not currently support BlueCharts - GARMIN's latest format for marine charts. 

 

Summary.

All in all, the receiver loaded with maps proved to be a very valuable and capable car navigation device. If you are a driver and your budget allows it, and if the areas that you are interested in are covered by the CityNavigator or the MapSource MetroGuide USA, the SP3  may be the receiver for you. Certainly, one does not need to be a navigation geek or a techno wizard in order to use it to it's full potential. 

  Possibly, the most accurate summary was given in few words by Andrew's wife.   She has seen many different receivers on the dashboard over the years.  She felt they were either too small, too cumbersome, or too distracting to use by the uninitiated.  She always refused to use one and preferred a printed map.  After she took a trip with the StreetPilot III leading the way, she simply said: "Now, this is ONE gps that even I can use and drive with".  

 GPS Nuts

Dec 24, 2001

Related links:

A "Canadian perspective" review of the CityNavigator maps.

SPIII information on Garmin website: http://www.garmin.com/products/spIII/

In depth review of SPIII by Joe Mehaffey:  http://www.gpsinformation.net/spiii/sp3review.htm

Home Learn thebasics Hardware reviews Software reviews Ship's Locker LEI Tips and tricks Technical issues Adventures with GPS Favorites Canadian Digest