Garmin StreetPilot i3

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Garmin StreetPilot i3
  • Garmin StreetPilot i3
  • Garmin StreetPilot i3
  • Garmin StreetPilot i3

Pros

  • Relatively small, clear audio, speed / red light camera warnings, easy to use

Cons

  • Difficult search functionality, slow to acquire signals, bulky form factor, slow to recalculate routes

Bottom Line

If you're on the lookout for a smaller and simple to use GPS, the Streetpilot i3 would be ideal. More advanced users will be frustrated by the limited control set and slow calculation speeds.

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"Is that a GPS in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?"

If you end up buying the new Garmin Streetpilot i3 GPS, get used to this comment, as you'll be hearing it a lot. The i3 looks exactly the same as the Garmin Streetpilot c320 - apart from the fact that it's absolutely tiny - and retains the same rounded and contoured shape.

By releasing the miniature i3, it seems that Garmin are trying to win over consumers who value portability, which is an admirable objective. There's just one problem with this, and that is even though the i3 is substantially smaller than the the c320, the unusual shape of the i3 results in a substantial and uncomfortable bulge in your pocket, meaning it isn't really practical to carry this around.

We have no problems with smaller sized GPS units - in fact we appreciate the convenience - but Garmin need to go back to the drawing board on this one, perhaps producing something resembling a PDA form factor so that users can take full advantage of the portability a small unit offers.

That being said, the i3 appealed to us for its simplicity, which is evident in both hardware and software design. While this unit lacks the advanced customisation options seen on other devices, we think it would be perfect for beginners or those who haven't used GPS technology before.

There are only three controls on the i3, all of which are placed under the screen. One is a power button, which is used only to turn the i3 off and on. The second button is used mainly as a 'Back' button, for viewing the map or the menu. The last control is one we haven't used before on a GPS, and that is a scroll wheel which also acts as a third button and can be clicked. What this means is that the i3 is incredibly simple to use and navigate around, but the lack of a touchscreen and stylus does have a cost in terms of useability, especially when entering addresses.

The simplicity continues with the software as the main menu displays has three options, those being "Where To?', "View Map" and "Settings." You can select and click on these options using the scroll wheel controls. Clicking on "Where To" displays a second menu, where you can choose from destination options such as Home, POIs, Favorites, Intersections, Suburbs or an Address you specify.

Searching for a particular address was problematic. Firstly, the unit asks you to select a state, which is standard fare. Logically then, you'd assume the next step would be to select a Suburb, Street and then a street number, which is how most GPS units work. For some inexplicable reason though, the i3 prompts you to select a street number first, then a street name. If a street is found in multiple suburbs, you then have to choose a suburb. This is fine, but what if you don't know the street number? Some units get around this by letting you search for the street first, then providing a list of available street numbers. Amazingly, you can't actually search by streetname alone on the i3 which is a puzzling omission. We much prefer a system that filters your selections gradually, as described above, and we found this searching method confusing.

Our second issue with the search is that actually entering data on this unit is painstaking in the extreme. What Garmin has done is position a vertical list containing every letter, every number and keyboard symbol on the right hand side of the screen. To select one, you have to scroll up or down the list using the scroll wheel and then click on the selection you want. To enter in 'Findlay Avenue' for example, involves you scrolling up to 'F', then down to 'I' etc, lastly scrolling to the option named 'Done.' Needless to say, we got tired of this very quickly.

In fairness to Garmin, they have tried to minimise user input by allowing you select from pre-entered destinations, such as Home, Favorites, Recent Finds, Interections and POIs. Still, this is where a touchscreen would have been much more practical. Since searching for addresses is something that users will be doing continually, the impractical scroll wheel system may be a deal breaker for some.

Once a destination has been selected, the i3 allows you to simulate the drive so you can preview the route. This is a useful function, although we couldn't find a way to speed up the simulation and skip quickly to the next instruction. An alternative method of viewing the route (even while driving) is clicking on 'Review Turns' which displays a list of all upcoming turns.

The cost of producing a unit this small, is that there is not much real estate to play with and the screen is the first thing to suffer. The map itself is difficult to read on a screen this small, but it does allow you to zoom in and out from a 800km to just a few metres. The streetnames are large, easy to read and we had no complaints with the map colours. The map can be displayed in 2D or 3D as well as day or night modes.

At the top of the screen, either the next turn is displayed or the direction that you should be travelling in. At the bottom right is a box that displays the distance to the next turn such as "Turn in 2.3km." We would have found it more useful if this box had displayed the direction to turn into as well as the distance, as this meant at times we didn't know which direction we were going to turn into and hence which lane to be in. On the bottom left is another box that shows the estimated arrival time, which of course will vary due to traffic.

One of the most important aspects of a GPS unit is how quickly it recalculates a route if you go off track. The i3 does recalculate, but it is a particularly painful process. The unit displays a taskbar with a percentage as it recalculates. Not only is this slow, but also irritating, as you essentially driving blind waiting for the unit to catch up.

At the end of the day, a GPS unit lives or dies based on the clarity of its voice instructions, as a driver cannot keep looking at the screen while driving. On the whole, we found the voice instructions clear and concise with this unit. In fact, we were surprised at the volume that this little number was able to generate, especially as the speaker is positioned at the rear and botton of the i3. One thing that we would have appreciated is a volume button on the side of the unit, instead of having to navigate to the settings page.

The i3 conveniently generates speed alert and camera warnings by chiming an unobtrusive tone. It is extremely helpful to know that speed and red light cameras are in the area, but the speed limit warning functionality only seemed to work in certain areas. In our driving tests, the unit also took a while to acquire satellites and did lose the signal an awful lot, especially in the city.

Unlike competing units which require users to navigate through a maze of options pages, all the settings for the i3 are conveniently located on the one page and displayed in a tree format. It is here for example, that you can change the level of map detail, the map view, modes and units used. The usual navigation options are shown such as avoiding toll roads, highways and unpaved roads, as well as navigating the faster or shorter routing preference. It may have been just the routes we chose, but for some reason, we found the i3 had a real aversion to highways and tollways, even when they weren't marked in the Avoidances sections.

The i3 runs on two AA batteries, and this will last you around 6 hours. When you think about it, this isn't that long at all especially for extended trips. Fortunately, Garmin has also included an in-car charger and we recommend you use that as much as possible, and just use the AA batteries when planning trips out of your vehicle.

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