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The Way Forward?
Let's be honest, with a good map costing a couple of quid down the news agents why would anybody want to spend 400+ on a satellite navigation system that doesn't recognise half the streets you drive on, is accurate to about half a mile and takes great delight in sending you the long way around no matter where you want to go? If that sounds like you then perhaps it's time you took another look at the wonders of SatNav.
As newer technology so often does, prices have been in free-fall of late with shop prices now as low as 100 for some basic models. In fact although I called it a newer technology it's actually not that new. The first system, known as Transit (or occasionally NAVSAT), was deployed way back in 1960, though it was 1996 before this was retired and replaced by the global positioning system we know today.

Generally speaking GPS is accurate to around 10-15 metres in most situations, though a revised system known as WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) became available in 2000 which used a combination of special satellites and ground based station to increase accuracy to between one and two metres. The European equivalent of the US WAAS system is known as EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System) though this has faced constant delays and is still technically in the development phase despite a planned launch date of June 2005. The expected official launch is actually due any time barring any further setbacks, though the system has been functioning for some time and seems to work just fine provided you have a WAAS/EGNOS compatible receiver.

Although it's a well known fact that we men never get lost anyway, today I want to look at one of smallest and cheapest Satellite Navigation units on the market. Selling for a mere 129.99 at Comet and a few other retailers, the Street Pilot i3 comes from one of the pioneers in SatNav, Garmin, who have been showing fearless explorers the way ahead since 1989.
The i3 is tiny, about the size of a tennis ball, and this means it has a tiny screen too. Don't let that put you off though, the screen should only really be used when the voice guidance doesn't make it entirely clear what you should do next, and in these situations it's big enough and clear enough to provide the verification you need with no problems whatsoever, despite my initial concerns to the contrary.

Click to enlarge



The Specs:

+WAAS-enabled, 12 parallel channel GPS patch antenna with MCX-type connector for optional external antenna
+Unit dimensions: 3.00 W x 2.74 H x 2.15 D
+StreetPilot i3 display: 1.7 W x 1.3 H, 220 x 176 pixels, 32k-color sunlight-readable TFT with backlight
+Weighs only 5.3 oz. (without batteries; includes vehicle suction cup mount)
+Audible and visual navigation instructions and warnings
+Includes 256MB TransFlash preloaded with +Features scroll wheel with click-to-enter, making it quick & easy to navigate
+Offers a three dimensional mapping perspective, or 2-D overhead view
+Battery life: up to 6 hours typical use on two AA batteries (7 hours maximum)
+Includes removable 12-volt power adaptor cable for external power while in your vehicle
+Includes a vehicle suction cup mount which allows for easy adjustment and quick release
USB Interface

The first thing to draw your attention to is the fact that despite being a mere baby, the i3 manages to support both regular GPS and also the more accurate WAAS/EGNOS systems I just spoke about. I tried it in both modes and it worked like a charm each time, with no obvious benefits to the WAAS/EGNOS system in rural locations but with a noticeably more precise performance on complex city roads with tightly spaced junctions.

One small drawback to the i3 is that, although it takes two AA batteries for use out of the car or for keeping a route live in memory when you switch the car off (assuming your cigarette lighter isn't of the permanent-live type), it doesn't have a charger circuit onboard so you must replace or recharge them yourself. With about 6 hours on a fresh set it's no great hardship, more an inconvenience.

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