Navigation is a breeze, with audible turn directions and a display that constantly updates the distance to the next turn. This unit lacks the higher-end feature of text-to-speech, which allows for audible directions in which the service pronounces actual street names, such as "turn left at Main Street," for example, instead of "drive 1.2 miles and turn left." You can display your elapsed time, estimated time of arrival, compass direction, average speed, time spent stopped and more.
Summary: The Garmin Nuvi 200 is an inexpensive way to obtain basic GPS capabilities in an easy-to-use unit. David Ramel
Mobile phones and gear
Whether you're looking for a plain-old cell phone or today's richest media-embracing model, you'll find the cream of the crop here -- with a great Bluetooth headset thrown in for good measure.
Mobile phone: Helio Fin
The Helio Fin, Helio's branded version of the Samsung SPH-M513, looks innocent enough -- and thin enough. The blue-black magnesium clamshell phone is less than half an inch thick, 4 inches tall and 2 inches wide. It's the thinnest clamshell phone you can buy in the United States.
This phone is beautiful -- I mean iPhone beautiful. The elegant hardware and software design is breathtaking. Overall, the phone is optimized for a thrilling user experience -- and for pictures and video.
Although not a "smart phone," the Fin (US$200 with a two-year contract) boasts features that are superior to those of most high-end phones. For example, the camera is a 3.0-megapixel monster. Special software ties together the built-in GPS to "geotag" photos, which means the location of the phone when pictures are taken is encoded into the picture file.
Push a button, and pictures are uploaded to Flickr's geotag service, so your peeps can see your pix on a map showing where they were taken. Fin-captured videos are instantly uploaded to YouTube.
You can use the superfast 3G connection to get turn-by-turn directions and real-time traffic information. Helio's "Buddy Beacon" service tells you where your friends or family are (as long as they're Helio customers, too). The phone's "home screen" shows your favorite RSS feeds. The Fin also supports microSD, USB, Bluetooth, voice-activated dialing, speakerphone, video caller ID and T9 text input.
Honorable mention: Do you know someone who wrecks, breaks, drops and destroys cell phones? If so, give them the Casio G'zOne Type-S. It's shock-, dust-, freeze- and water-resistant, which is something of an understatement.
You can drop it in the toilet, then use a Bluetooth headset to take calls on the phone while it's still underwater. (We're not making this up -- it's been done.) You can literally carry on conversations underwater in a swimming pool (also been done).
The G'zOne (US$150 with a two-year service contract and a US$50 rebate) supports Bluetooth and has a nice speakerphone. The phone has a unique but low-tech round black-and-white LCD panel on the front, which displays the time and date, plus caller ID and battery information when the phone is closed. Inside, a middle-of-the-road 1.8-in., 176- by 220-pixel screen is good enough.
The phone has a wimpy VGA camera, no V Cast support and is, overall, a feature-poor phone. But the sound quality is great, the keypad is very usable and -- best of all -- it's the ruggedest phone you can buy directly from any major U.S. carrier.
Helio Fin Price: US$200 with a two-year contract
Summary: The thinnest clamshell phone available in the U.S., this phone is optimized for fun, with high-quality camera, GPS and cool applications to put the impressive hardware to work.
G'zOne Type-S Price: US$149.99 with a new two-year service agreement and a US$50 rebate
Summary: The Casio G'zOne Type-S meets military specs for ruggedness, plus it's a really good phone on the basics of call quality, keyboard usability and Bluetooth support. Mike Elgan