Government Technology

Two Cents: Leading the Way


November 4, 2005 By

A trip to Scotts Flat Reservoir outside Nevada City, Calif., from Sacramento, Calif., is a rather straightforward drive -- take Highway 80 east, to Highway 49 north, to Highway 20 east and then to Scotts Flat Road.

But because this was a new trip for me, I brought the Pharos EZ Road Pocket GPS Navigator along and had it chart the route.

The device is the size of a Pocket PC, with a flip-up GPS antenna on its back and a mount for the window or AC vent. It retails for $549, and includes driving directions and route guidance by voice, graphics and text; detailed street-level maps for the United States, which are included on three CDs and downloaded from Microsoft Windows using Microsoft's ActiveSync; GPS status indicators with on-screen strength indicator; real-time simulation of route with GPS disabled; three map-screen view options; and compass mode with heading, latitude/longitude, altitude, time and direction to destination.

Initially, acquiring the GPS signal was slow -- I stared at the thing for a good 5 minutes before walking away, and by the time I came back, it had locked onto signal. After that, however, losing signal was rare, and anytime signal was lost, it was almost immediately found again.

Upon leaving, I was instantly sent in the wrong direction. By continuing in the direction I knew to be correct, the navigator, which uses the Ostia Navigator interface, recognized my location and charted the course from that point. After that, it was accurate for the majority of the trip. It warned me vocally about one-quarter mile before I needed to turn, and chimed about 250 feet before the turn.

When I arrived at Nevada City, I stopped for gas, and the Pharos didn't register that I'd exited the freeway, which meant it couldn't tell me the easiest route back onto the freeway. I had no problem finding my own way, but that scenario made me wonder how trustworthy the device would be if I were actually lost and needed directions.

I had a similar problem when I got to Scotts Flat Road.

Like Google and Yahoo Maps, the Ostia Navigation system has its designated, or preferred, route -- but I decided to take an alternate route. About halfway down the "wrong" road, the system stopped telling me, "You are off route," and figured out how to get to my destination from my current path. Though it did finally guide me correctly based on my chosen route, it took far too long to find my route and sync up with me.

The system itself is fairly easy to navigate, and the home screen includes icons for calendar, contacts and MP3 player.

Though the Pharos EZ Road Pocket GPS Navigator was fun to have around for the trip, it's more work than it's worth. I would be more comfortable gathering my directions before heading out of town than paying $549 for something that would probably get me there, but would likely recommend I take unnecessary detours before arriving at my destination.

Specifications:

  • Price: $549

  • GPS: 12-channel SiRF with built-in antenna

  • Processor: Intel XScale PXA-255 300 MHz

  • Display: 3.5-inch transflective landscape LCD (320 x 240 pixels, 65,000 colors)

  • Memory: 32 MB ROM expansion SD flash slot

  • USB: One 1.1

  • Size: 4.4x2.8x1

  • Weight: 4.2 oz

    Rating: 2 out of 5


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