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Garmin Street Pilot III Deluxe

23 May 2003

 Review by Dave Burrows


We have reviewed Pocket PC GPS Products and Handheld GPS Products inside out here at Pocket GPS,  but one thing that has been around for a while now is the Garmin Street Pilot III.  Recently Navman have brought out their iCN630 to try and compete directly with Garmin's flagship integrated street routing product, so we thought we should take a look at the Garmin Street Pilot III Deluxe.


Garmin Street Pilot III Deluxe



First of all when you open the box, I was completely amazed by what was included.  Not only do you receive the Street Pilot III, but like all Garmin handheld GPS Receivers, you receive a Garmin to Serial connection lead, you also receive a storage card reader as Garmin have their own proprietary storage cards for loading map data on, this is a USB reader.  You also have two dashboard mounts, one that can be stuck to the dashboard, the other is a huge bean bag with slide and lock, tilt and turn mount.  You also receive the full MapSource City Navigator Europe CD's in the European version, or a similar version for North America.  The price of the Street Pilot III comes in at a huge 850.  Compared to purchasing a Pocket PC, GPS Receiver, storage card, windscreen/vent mount and street routing software, only about 8 months ago you would be looking to pay the same sort of money, however due to mass OEM involvement into the Pocket PC arena, prices are starting to come down, and you could pick up a system for 450.  This makes the Street Pilot III pretty overpriced for what it does.  So what benefits do you get over a Pocket PC unit ?  The first is it doesn't crash!  Lets take a look at the features that make the Street Pilot III a market leader.


What's in the box ?

  • Street Pilot III

  • PC Interface Cable

  • Dashboard Mount

  • Portable Bean Bag Mount

  • External Speaker with 12v accessory socket charger

  • Owners Manual

  • 128mb data card

  • USB data card programmer

  • Basemap (Americas AutoRoute / Atlantic AutoRoute)

  • MapSource (North America City Navigator / Europe City Navigator)

  • Installation CD with Windows Drivers (and works with WinXP!)

The Street Pilot III comes supplied with a car accessory charger plug with an integrated speaker, but if you wanted to use the SPIII with batteries you can.  It requires 6xAA batteries, and a set of full Duracell batteries, after 4 hours drive time you'll see the battery meter below in the second screenshot.  The Street Pilot III will eat batteries mark my words, so it's best to run it from the car accessory socket, and you will then also receive voice navigation prompts. 


Time To First Fix and Satellite Information

With the extensive testing I have carried out in this review, I have witnessed no extended TTFF's, in-fact most are sub one minute, I haven't noticed the SPIII lose a 3D fix at anytime or have had to keep an eye on satellite fixes.  The supplied antenna which is detachable and has a BNC bayonet type connector is more than adequate at bringing a signal into the SPIII and keeping a 3D lock.   With Pocket PC systems I religiously used to check that I had a 4+ sat fix before planning a route, but found myself not having to do this, which makes the SPIII very desirable, in effect just plug in, switch on and go!


GPS Screens

You'll see some of the screenshots posted in this review are not as good as others.  The reason for this is the tool we've used to capture screenshots from the Street Pilot III has worked fine on menu's, but as soon as we tried to do some route calculation, the software would hang and lose communication.  So some of the screenshots, especially the maps are photos taken from a digital camera, and due to the style of screen used, like TV's, they look fine when you look at them, but due to the frequency used, if you try to photograph them you start seeing horizontal and vertical scrolling lines.  The contrast and brightness of the SPIII screen is just like the first two screenshots below. 


In the screenshots above, you'll see the version number and Unit ID we tested, the GPS status screen that gives you diagnostics on the overall performance including battery power, and the third screenshots shows the GPS Status screen (this was taken in demo mode), but equally shows the satellites on the left. 


One of the most disappointing items for me on the SPIII was that I couldn't get the voice navigation working.  The volume control I could move up and down, it beeped at me, but no voice navigation prompts in demo mode or when driving.  It's not plainly obvious until you start reading the manual page for page, but although there is an internal speaker built into the SPIII, it's not for voice navigation, it needs to be powered by the supplied accessory socket to get this sound, -or- you can plug a speaker into the 2.5mm jack socket on the back of the unit.


Street Pilot III Menus

Lets take a look at the Street Pilot III Menus.  For anyone who has picked up a Garmin handheld receiver, the menus will look somewhat familiar with the tabs for each menu type at the top of the screen and data options that can be set below this (in a page format)



General Tab

The first menu you see is General.  This is the main menu where you can toggle between the GPS being on, GPS Off or Battery Saver mode.  Turning GPS to off allows you to demonstrate routes indoors.  The Voice option can be changed to give Guidance and Status, Route Guidance or SPEAK Key Only.  Attention Tone is a feature that sounds like an aeroplane intercom chime to alert you that the SPIII is about to give you some information, this can be toggled on or off.  The Units allow you select Statue or Metric, Battery Type can be changed between Alkaline and NiCad batteries to give a better battery reading and the KeyPress Tone can be toggled on or off, but this will decrease battery power when on.


Guidance Tab

The Guidance tab is nice and easy.  It gives you the option to change how Off-Route Recalculation works, this can be set to Prompted, Automatic and Off.  The Next Turn Pop-up can be toggled between Off, SPEAK Key Only, Automatic Only and Both (latter being the default).


Routing Tab

The Routing Tab gives the Route Preference of Faster Time, Shorter Distance or Off Road.  The Calculation Method gives Quickest Calculation, Quick Calculation, Better Route and Best Route.  Better Route is defaulted.  Ask Me My Preference will allow you to be asked what your preference will be, you can also calculate routes based on if you're driving a Car/Motorcycle, Truck, Bus, Emergency, Taxi, Delivery, Bicycle, and Pedestrian.  Now I haven't tried using say Emergency Vehicle, but I suspect it will allow you to drive the wrong way down one-way systems, take shortcuts where you're not really supposed to.  I suspect that a Truck or Bus will only be able to take major routes defined by the geodata.  You can also select to avoid taking U-Turns, Toll Roads and Highways.



Time Tab

This tab brings you what you would expect and that's a 12 or 24 hour format clock, a Time Zone, Dayl;ight Savings, Time, Date, and a Sunrise and Sunset calculation which I like the look of, and does seem to be fairly accurate for the location I was using the SPIII in.


Safety Tab

The Safety tab gives you the option of turning Safe Mode on or off.  When turned on, you will not be able to go into any of the menus whilst driving.


Track Log Tab

The Track Log screen allows you to record a track of where you're driving, showing you the percentage of memory available, and the option of clearing the track.



Language Tab

This allows you to choose the language from English to Deutsch, Francai, Italiano, Espanol, Svenska, Dansk, Portuges, Nederlands, Norsk, Suomi, Polski, Cestina, and Magyar.  You can also change the Voice Language depending on which languages you have installed to the SPIII on install.


Interface Tab

This is something you would expect to see on a Garmin, it allows you to change the format from Garmin to Garmin DGPS, NMEA, Text Out, RTCM In, RTCM In/NMEA Out, RTCM In/Text Out and None.  This is useful for when you need to connect the SPIII up to a PC, or if you want to examine NMEA data output.


Outside of these menus you can have other features like the volume control which can be set by pressing and holding the SPEAKER key, other menus can be accessed by pressing the menu key once.  You can also set using the MENU key which type of screen display you would like, for example a full screen map or half screen map with directions. 


Street Pilot III Maps

Once you've installed and loaded the City Navigator maps to the SPIII, you'll receive rich maps at various zoom levels.  The maps are supplied by NavTech under the current agreement Garmin have with NavTech.  The maps appear to be pretty accurate like we've seen in other NavTech map solutions in the past.  There will be errors, or some roads that won't appear, this is life, it's always difficult for the mapping/geodata companies to keep on top of this, and they do well, but sometimes this can lag behind somewhat.


The above maps are full screen maps.  When you get close to having to change direction, the full screen map will go into a half screen map like the Ashley Heath Roundabout screenshot above.  If you want further directions you can.


Routing Categories

When selecting a destination you're given 6 different ways of routing.  You can choose your destination via a Points of Interest option, manually enter the address which includes House Number, Street, City and Postcode!  By Intersection, Waypoints which are frequently saved positions, route by city, or exits.  The Street Pilot III also has a Recently Found Places option which makes life easier for the frequently visited places.


Routing Quality

You can always tell when you're using NavTech maps or TeleAtlas because of the way it routes you.  Something over time I've noticed is that travelling from London to Poole, take the M27 onto the A31.  The first thing NavTech maps try to do is take the first available option, even though it's sometimes the longest route, TeleAtlas prefers to stay on track for as long as possible.  Comparing the Routing Quality on the Street Pilot, it's very similar to Navman SmartST Pro routing.  One thing you've got to remember, which most people completely forget after day one of using a GPS Street Routing system is, you purchased the system to get you from A to B successfully.  It really doesn't matter if it takes a longer route, or a shorter route, or it doesn't take the route that you would have preferred, or you would normally drive.  If you didn't have your trusty map book with you, you'd be following road signs, and how many times have you driven in a complete circle thinking that the road signs were correct ?  Providing a GPS Street Routing system does get you from A to B, then it's done it's job.  You can tweak them for faster or quicker routes, but they may still not take the route you would have plotted.   For most people this theory completely flies out the window, and they expect to be taken what they believe to be the correct route.  The Street Pilot III routing is pretty good.  If you do go off track it will re-route you and you have the option of letting it tell you to take a U-Turn, or it will redirect you down several other roads before it gets you back on track.


Street Pilot III Specification

Routes Automatically calculated with turn by turn instructions and up to 50 stored
Voice Navigation instructions and warnings
Waypoints 500 with name and graphic symbol
Track Log 2000 track log points
Trip Computer Resettable odometer, timers, average and maximum speeds
Cold TTFF 45 secs
Warm TTFF 15 secs
Update Rate 1 sec
Accuracy 15 meters
Accuracy (WAAS/EGNOS) 3-5 meters
Interface RS232 (9 pin serial) NMEA 0183 Out
Physical Size 3.2"H x 6.8"W x 2.6"D
Weight 1.4 pounds (635g)
Display 3.4"W x 1.8"H
Data Storage Infinite, no memory battery required
Map Storage Data cards store detailed map data from MapSource
Power Source 6xAA batteries or 12v car charger
Battery Life 2-20 hours based on backlight settings


Problems Encountered

The Street Pilot III seems like an ideal system, one that can sit there on your dashboard and direct you with ease to your destination, but we did find several problems that should be addressed here.


Route Re-Calculation

Route Re-Calculation on the default option (Better Route) takes its time.  At best we found that on a 40 mile journey after covering half the distance, the Route Re-Calculation would take about half a mile when travelling between 50-70mph.  This plainly is too slow.  If you were driving around the streets of London, I wouldn't want to rely on route re-calculation at this level.  You can set this to a quicker option, but it then does open up more margin for error in sending you down some strange routes.  To me it would suggest that the processor within the SPIII needs to be faster



The keyboard is non existent.  What the Street Pilot III needs is an on-screen keyboard that you could either tap the keys on screen with a stylus, or have a virtual keyboard where you move the cursor over and select the keys.  What you have to do is select the first space for a character, then scroll up or down the alphabet until you find the first character of the street, when you've done this, you press the cursor right key, and do the same scrolling up and down the 26 character alphabet to select the second character.  This is very slow and tedious.  Once you start using frequent destinations you can store these as Waypoints before you navigate to these, and the SPIII will support up to 500 which should be enough for most people to store, but on the other hand, would you want to scroll through 100 waypoints you've saved, let alone 500 ?



The speaker is loud and crisp, but there's no in-built speaker within the SPIII.  If you want to use the SPIII on batteries, then you have to plug a 2.5mm speaker into the back of the SPIII which adds to it's bulk.


Screen Updating

The way that the SPIII updates the screen is it wipes the screen, then gradually draws the screen through several levels of detail.  The screen will automatically zoom in or out depending on your speed and approximation to the nearest turn.  When it does this, the screen can take 2-4 seconds to re-draw a screen.  When driving in the city it can be a bit tricky when this starts to happen just as you're approaching a turn


Comparing the Garmin Street Pilot III Size

We've compared the size of the Garmin Street Pilot III to a regular Compaq iPAQ and also the Navman iCN630.  You can see that the Street Pilot III is the largest of the three both in length and in depth.  Part of this is due to the battery housing on the rear which houses 6, yes 6 AA sized batteries!



Street Pilot III Compared to a Pocket PC or Palm Colour Solution

So how does the SPIII compare to a Pocket PC or Palm Colour GPS Street Routing solution ?  The SPIII is an integrated product, which means less cables which is a big advantage of a system like this.  However due to it's size and weight, the only place you can put it in-car without having to drill holes and mount brackets is to place it on the dashboard, and it can obscure your vision a little.  One advantage of the SPIII is that you're not going to get any Pocket PC crashes, or weight times when suddenly the Pocket PC has gone slow.  One huge disadvantage is that the screen supplied with the SPIII doesn't have touch screen capability so you have to select a letter, then scroll through the alphabet until you reach the correct letter, press right, then scroll through the alphabet to the next letter of the street you want to look at.  Because you have to do this for street and city, long names can become tedious very quickly!


Street Pilot III Advantage

  • Integrated System (less cables)

  • Screen brightness is the brightest I have seen in a portable screen

  • Maps supplied by NavTech

  • Routing quality in fastest mode is pretty good

  • No Pocket PC slow downs or crashes

Street Pilot III Disadvantage

  • Weight and overall size

  • No touch sensitive screen where you can tap out using an onscreen keyboard for route entering.  The onscreen character selection is very tedious and slow

  • You still have to have cables draping off the dashboard

  • experience two crashes whilst routing which required a complete power down by unplugging the power socket (and removing batteries if inserted)

As you can see, the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages.  The only real difference is the price, weighing in at around 850 inc VAT, it is an expensive system, but you have to ask yourself, if you haven't used a Pocket PC, do you really want to have to start as there is a steep learning curve when you start looking at PDA systems and GPS Receivers.



The first thing I know I'm going to receive is a flood of emails on whether this is better or worse than a PDA GPS system.  It really depends on what you want out of a system.  If you have absolutely no experience in GPS Street Routing, or PDA's like Pocket PC's or Palm devices, and all you want is Street Routing, then the Street Pilot III I believe is the product for you.  It caters nicely for the novice, someone who doesn't want to get bogged down into having to tweak memory, install drivers, constantly check the GPS Status screen to see if you have a 2D or 3D fix.  In short, great for people who need to rely on a system in anger like taxi drivers or couriers.


However, if you have used PDA's like Pocket PC's or Palm's and you might want to look at Topographical maps for hiking or walking, perhaps even for marine use, or you're not shy in wanting to right the steep learning curve of GPS products and you would like to gain a huge knowledge of behind the GPS scenes, then a Pocket PC or Palm GPS system would be better for you.


The Street Pilot III is also waterproof which means it's an ideal either in-car or even on a motorbike.  One of the other benefits with MapSource is you can manually define the route to take, drive from A to D via B and C.


One of the best points about the Street Pilot III is it has an anti-reflective coating on the screen.  Coupled with it's superb brightness and contrast, this really is one of the better screens I have seen in a PDA type system.  Even in the brightest of sunlight where a Pocket PC (even a Compaq!) starts to white out, the Street Pilot III seemed to be unaffected, and I was really amazed at the quality of the screen!  Also the Street Pilot III does support postcode routing, which is starting to become a must for most routing products.



Manufacturers Website


Pocket GPS Reviewer

Dave Burrows

Pocket GPS Reviewer Website

Dave Burrows.com




Mount Strength

Acquisition Times

Car Power Cable Quality

Ability to plot route and follow

Voice Navigation Quality

Re-routing Quality

Map Detail

Overall Rating 92.5%

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