There are plenty of big cities with traffic problems, but few can rival california's Los Angeles and Orange Counties for breadth of congestion. We might as well link all the vehicles together, make a train and save ourselves the stop-n-go hassle. But until circumstances make it absolutely necessary to invest in massive public transportation, making navigation obsolete, you'll need something to keep you from getting lost or stuck in traffic. The portable navs here offer different features at different price points. Some have Bluetooth, traffic info and are even small enough to fit in your pants pocket. What they do have in common is something we like to call new technology fallibility (or NTF). Mobile phones are famous for NTF. Likewise, GPS units. For instance, one of the navs had us leave one freeway where it split with another freeway only to direct us back to the original freeway after passing one exit. What?! Another directed us to make a u-turn when we knew that a right would take us to our destination. Given that practically all navs will make mapping mistakes now and again, your criteria for buying a nav unit should depend more on features and price. Pioneer, Garmin, Cobra and Navman have tried to make your buying decision as difficult as possible with their latest offerings.
Garmin Streetpilot C550Grade: A-There's a reason why Garmin is the market leader in portable navigation. The company makes great products. The StreetPilot c550 is not the coolest looking device of the bunch, but it does just about everything you would want in a nav unit, including Bluetooth and traffic information.
It's no S1 aesthetically or in terms of size. Comparatively, it's a bit bulky, and though you get a carrying bag for the c550, I can't imagine actually using it - it's like packing a lightweight rock in a pouch. Perhaps this is the price you pay for the features and the market-leading brand name. Speaking of price, the c550 is on the expensive side at $799. But Garmin does justify its cost.
The c550 has a 3.5-inch touchscreen that works exceedingly well. Shaky hands and all, we were able to punch in addresses and get menu commands without too many errors (that is, with the car moving). Sensitive yet forgiving, just what we're looking for in a touchscreen. In terms of navigation, it functioned well enough 90 percent of the time. You'll probably tire of us harping on the fallibility of nav units, but until someone actually verifies all of the map data from Navteq or TeleAtlas before storing it onto these units, we're all going to continue to have this problem. Can you expect any company to check every street? Probably not, unless users can get product discounts for updating erroneous map info on a company website (hint, hint).
The c550 does make up for its NTF with a "bonus" feature - we're starting to see this more on portables. That is, traffic updates. The c550 comes with an F...