Garmin's StreetPilot i3>  A Simplified Car Navigator
GPS Product Review

by Tony Mactutis
 
Release 5, updated December 6, 2005

i3 image            hwy.jpg

                                       i3 GPS unit                             Daytime  Map Colors  3D View Mode          

Where does the i3 fit in Garmin's Product line?

The StreetPilot i3 (and its close cousins, the i2 and i5) continue Garmin’s efforts to make GPS car navigation more affordable and accessible to the non-technical consumer.  Like the c3x0 models, the i3 is extremely simple to use and has a limited number of features so as not to confuse people unfamiliar with GPS equipment.  What the i3 is NOT is a replacement for the much more "feature rich" StreetPilot 26x0 models.  The i3 offers a simple to operate, capable car navigator with the essential features of other car navigation units but with few of the "frills, bells and whistles" that many users have come to expect from Garmin.  As a comparison, the i3 appears to be competing with the reduced feature set and operational simplicity found in the typical OEM car navigation system, but at a vastly reduced cost. 

Note that the i2 is essentially the same unit as the i3 except that instead of the i3’s 32000-color transreflective display the i2 has a 4-level grayscale display.  In every other way the two units are identical.  The i5 is also almost identical to the i3, except that it comes preloaded with detailed maps.  The i5's preloaded maps cannot be changed but additional maps can be added to its TransFlash card. 

Note that for the purposes of this review, any discussion of the i3 can be assumed to also apply to the i2 and i5 (unless otherwise noted).


Note that the i3 is, in essence,  a PURE Car Navigator.  It has a built in speaker (not in the cable assembly) and provides among the best audio and routing directions using Garmin's version of Naqteq road maps.   It has internal batteries (2 x AA) and although  it can be operated in a portable manner (away from a vehicle), don't expect any hiking, marine or geocacheing features from this unit.

The i3 comes with a 128MB TransFlash (aka MicroSD) card for storing maps.  This puts it on par with the Magellan RoadMate 300 (as far as the amount of map data which can be stored at one time).  However the i3 has quite an advantage over the RM300 in that in the i3 the maps are MUCH easier to install and map sections are seamless with driving (no manual intervention is needed as you move from one map area to another).  Garmin has a special version of CitySelect especially designed for the i3.  Loadable map regions are divided up into state-sized regions in most cases, with large states (such as California and Texas) divided up into two regions.  These regions are the smallest “chunks” of map data which you can load. 

mapinstall window

MapInstall Screen (used to select map regions for download to the i3)

The i3 can operate from its two internal AA batteries, from the USB cable when connected to a computer, or from its 12 volt cigarette  lighter plug.  The battery life is rated by Garmin at 6 hours.  You can use rechargeables, but don’t expect the i3 to charge them for you; it does not have a charging circuit.  Note that even though the settings allow you to specify whether the battery is Alkaline or NiMH, this is only so that it can correctly display the remaining battery charge.

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What comes in the i3 kit?

The i3 comes complete with all of the parts necessary to mount the unit to your windshield or dashboard and plug it in and operate in your car.  Included are: 

a)       The i3 unit itself, 
b)       a suction cup mount to attach the GPS to your windshield glass, 
c)       an adhesive ring for mounting the i3 to the dashboard (as windshield mounts are illegal in California),
d)       a USB cable for programming (and powering) the i3 unit away from your vehicle, 
e)       12/24vdc automobile power cable, 
f)        a “Setup and Go!” quick-start guide, 
g)       a DVD with special i3 version of CitySelect North America 7 and pdf-format user manual,
h)       map unlock documentation, 
i)        2 AA batteries.  (Actually Garmin reports that they no longer include batteries with the i3),
j)    a 128 MB Transflash (MicroSD) memory card

The i3 has a built in PATCH style antenna which works very well.  In fact,  the RF sensitivity of the i3 unit we have is superior to most of the GPS equipment we have tested.  As a result, I can say that it will be unusual to need an external amplified antenna except in exceptional circumstances such as use in trucks with cab overhanging bodies as on some campers.  The i3 units CAN accept an external amplified antenna if needed but one  is not included in the standard kit.  In testing I found that the i3 was able to get a fix from inside my office (while the Garmin 2620 was not).  Also, in the car my wife prefers having the i3 down below the level of the dashboard (in the cupholder, into which it fits nicely), and it was quite capable of operating there without an external antenna.

Unfortunately  (for the kids), Garmin did not choose to put any games in this model.   The i3 apparently continues Garmin's marketing plan of "Market Specialization" which means to position various models for specific functionality and leave out  features of interest to a different group of users.  For example,  our "ideal" general purpose GPS receiver would have a color screen,  CF or SD card memory,  full marine and hiking feature set,  full car navigation capabilities and a rechargeable battery pack with external power capability.   Lets see how the i3 fits these requirements.

The i3 screen is a medium brightness  TFT daylight viewable-with-backlight screen.  i3 has no marine feature set and no hiking features are provided.  The unit takes 2 AA batteries but does not have a charger built-in.  If rechargeable batteries are to be used, they must be removed for charging. 

The USER INTERFACE is very different to other Garmin units which use a touch screen for user input.  Only three controls are present: an on/off switch, a ‘back’ button for returning to the previous menu, and a thumbwheel/button.  All three controls are on the front of the unit.  Note that the screen is not a touchscreen.  All options are selected by using the thumbwheel to scroll through menus, then pressing the thumbwheel to select an option or submenu.  To return to a previous screen, the user presses the 'back' button.  On the right side of the case is the connector which serves as both USB cable and automobile power cable connector.  The external antenna connector is located on the upper left side of the unit.

No RS232 NMEA data output is provided.   Like  the SP2610 and Quest, the i3 automatically turns ON and OFF with the power application from its external power cord. A switch is provided to turn the unit on and off manually as desired.  The i3 seems to be designed  to provide "ordinary non-technical people" with a high performance SMALL SIZED, SMALL COLOR SCREEN GPS CAR NAVIGATOR.  The i3 is straightforward to use and the manual is a bit better than average.  Still, there is no substitute for a few hours of  "playing around" with the unit in consort with the manual for quick learning and discovery of available features.   

The principal difference between the i3 and the c3x0 series is the i3's VERY small screen.  However in most cases I did not find this to be a serious drawback.  When the unit is used to navigate from one point to another, the necessary information is presented on the screen in a way which is easy to read.  In fact the spoken directions often make it unnecessary to look at the screen at all, once the destination is chosen. 


The i3 is baseball-sized

Where the small screen becomes a liability is in attempting to use the i3's onscreen map to get familiar with the geography of an area, or to quickly get a feel for alternate routes.  It is not possible to use the i3 in this manner as zooming out removes any detail, and the screen cannot be panned.

Except for its very small screen (and lack of touchscreen), the features of the i3 make it a fairly direct competitor to the Magellan RoadMate 300 and to the TomTom GO..  A detailed comparison of the features of the Quest, c3x0, and SP2610/2620 models can be found HERE.   Our Magellan RoadMate 500/700 review can be found HERE.  Our review of the RM300 can be found HERE.  The StreetPilot 2610/2620 review can be found HERE.  As stated before, none of these units can provide the capabilities of a full featured hiking and marine oriented handheld unit. 

Street priced at about $350 or less, (check latest prices here) the i3 is a low priced Automatic Car Navigator.  While the i3 is not a full featured unit like the SP2610/2620,  it does provide guidance in the same class and maps that are the equal of even the most expensive of todays car navigators.   The "non-technical user friendly" ease of use, ease of map installation (and even no map installation at all on the i5) make this unit recommended for the non-technical user.

What about map loading and Map Memory?
StreetPilot i3 uses a  USB data interface for map loading and data input/output.  Map selection,  map build and download for the provided 128 MB TransFlash card took about 20 minutes via the USB cable.  The i3 can be told to shut off at the end of map loading if you wish.  The i3 has no standard NMEA input/output capability.  The i3's furnished 128 megabyte TransFlash map memory will hold approximately the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and California. 
The user can purchase a larger memory card (up to 2 GB) to hold more data. 

The i3 comes with a routeable basemap for your region just like VISTA/LEGEND COLOR (LC/VC), QUEST and StreetPilot models.  Also packaged in the i3 kit is the CitySelect Map system for the USA and Canada (for North American users).  The North American model i5 comes with preinstalled maps for all of the USA and Canada or for all of Western Europe (European Models).

Note that for European purchasers,  Garmin reports that an i2 or i3 contains a microSD/TransFlash card that is already preloaded with that countries' information.  Garmin does not include the CitySelect disk.  This is also how the c310 is sold. If a customer buys a c320 in Europe the SD card is already preloaded, but the disk for European City Select is included.

With the Navteq brand maps,  users will have the most detailed highway and residential street level GPS uploadable maps available for the USA today. The USA coverage area for furnished  Navteq maps is the entire USA and ALL of  Canada.  The i3 allows a user to automatically route using both the CitySelect maps and/or the Base Map. Thus, with a "routeable base map", you can automatically route from an address in New York City to San Francisco with only CitySelect map sections for NYC and SFO loaded. The base map will provide information (and "road lock") for all highway routing between metro areas.  Garmin provides the only autorouting system that I am aware of that can do this sort of intercity routing without the need to load intermediate maps as you go from one Navteq region to another. Garmin is shipping the i5 with its new CitySelect 7 preinstalled so no basemap is needed.  Check Garmin's Cartography site for a list of countries and vendors to contact for compatible 3rd party maps.  

Other maps compatible with i3  include: City Navigator (Navteq Maps, the best GPS routeable maps available in areas covered), MapSource MetroGuide USA (however note that Garmin reports that Metroguide does not contain routing attributes when downloaded to the i3, so it is not recommended).  Possibly other Garmin maps will load and operate,  but Garmin supports only the maps that they list as compatible in the i3 specifications.

For those confused about the differences between City Select and City Navigator, Garmin had this to say: "when we move to version 8, we will be eliminating City Select, and will only offer CityNavigator.  This is good, since it will reduce the confusion between the products.  Also the price of City Navigator has come down."

For now however City Select-based route Quality is rated "good" and in fact routinely gives routing the same as I would have chosen.  Sometimes the route generated is just OK, but after all, these devices are just machines and they are operating without the local traffic knowledge an individual user has.  One downside for i3 as compared to the $3000 models is that many of the more expensive models have some sort of "dead reckoning" capability to permit navigation to continue for short intervals when signals are lost. Such signal loss can happen in city canyons such as NYC, Chicago, LA, and London where high rise buildings can block the satellite signals.  In fact, i3/c320/2610/2620 do have "poor man's dead reckoning" in that when signal is lost, the GPS assumes you continued on your last heading and speed for up to 30 seconds. This 30 seconds covers most ordinary driving.  The real dead reckoning capability is available in the Garmin StreetPilot 2650/2660 and in a few other units such as the VDO Dayton MS5000.  The 2650/2660 will require a connection to the automobile speedometer output and backup light to be able to function in dead reckoning mode.  Without these inputs, it will function same as the i3/c320/2610/2620. 

The new i3 version of CitySelect 7 provides for selecting map data in state (or in some cases half of a state)-sized "chunks".  The user can either click on the individual states (or half-state, in the case of large states like California or Texas) or drag a box around the region of interest using the mouse.  All states in the box will be selected.  A click on a previously selected state deselects it.  

Automatic ROUTE GENERATION with the i3 high speed processor, while not as fast as the c3x0,  is quite fast.  The calculation of a 500 mile route usually takes about 20 seconds and a 2700 mile route was not much longer at about 30 seconds.  Off Route, reroute recalculation with the i3 typically takes a few seconds and it generally tries to take you back as quickly as possible to your ORIGINAL route.

The i3 model does NOT offer the capability to create a route on the PC and download it to your GPS for execution.  You can create points-of-interest and download these to your i3 for use as destinations.  The i3 allows for a single VIA point per route.  If you create one while a route is active, the i3 will route you to the via and from there to your destination.   When you have passed the via, you can enter another one if you wish.

Note: As of this date, NO OTHER map products (from alternative vendors) can be uploaded into Garmin GPS receivers except those offered by Garmin and Garmin LICENSEES for the purpose.  (See Garmin Website's Cartography section for a full list of map offerings.)  This same proprietary relationship exists for other vendor's consumer GPS products as well.

What's new in the i3 models?

Like all modern car navigators,   i3 gets rid of almost ALL of the bad effects of GPS measurement error that bother many people.  When you use CitySelect, the i3 will "lock" your vehicle track to roads as long as you  travel on the road.  This feature does not operate with MapSource R&R, USA Topo, or WorldMap among others.  Automatically generated routes using CitySelect or CityNavigator maps "rubber band" to the roads in the route. Once in a great while, you may find an isolated road segment where the map is so far off that road lock will jump off the road.  On the windy road leading up to my house, the woods at the edge of the road seem to momentarily interrupt reception of the gps signal and the i3 loses the road lock, thinking that I am actually on the lower road.  It corrects itself as soon as I get out of the trees.   

Another useful feature with CS/CN  maps is that (when not in guidance mode) all approaching cross street names are displayed prior to arrival. 

We found the  audio and visual guidance directions very satisfactory.  A typical audio/visual sequence would go something like this:

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If the route contains several turns spaced very closely together, you will hear something like "in .2 miles, turn right, then turn right".  It can become confusing and in cases like this it can be necessary to keep an eye on the display. 
 
Like the c320/c330, the i3 does not normally pop up a window to show you a turn.  Instead, a thick pink line shows your projected route on the map and an upcoming turn is announced on the audio and shown as a thick white line with arrow on the road and through the turn.  AutoZoom brings details of the turn into view as the turn is approached.  On the right bottom of the map display is current speed (or when routing, distance to turn).  Note: Like the Garmin c320/c330 car navigators, the speaker is in the GPS unit itself (rather than in the power cable, as it is with the 2620).  Full screen image AND voice directions are available from the i3 on either internal battery or external 12vdc power. 


i3 screen image showing upcoming turn
(note that the colors in this image reflect 'night driving' mode)


When driving without a route active, the display shows the vehicle's speed in the lower left corner and the compass direction (N, NW, etc.) in the lower right.

There is no separate screen for a ‘trip computer’-type display.

AUTOZOOM zooms the screen in and out automatically as you approach turns so you  have time to make decisions.

Route selections for CAR/Motorcycle, Bus, Truck, or Taxi, or Emergency vehicles are provided so you can be properly routed depending on your vehicle type.

CitySelect now features about six million "points of interest" in the USA.  These include: Food and drink, Lodging, Attractions, Entertainment, Shopping, Services, Transportation, and Emergency and Government. In our area,  there were a few restaurants we had not known about and a  few  prominent ones  are missing.  Likely this will always be the case.   Despite some obvious updates and additions,  the restaurant listing sometimes appears a few years old.  Listed "Attractions" include theme parks, museums, schools, parks and such.  The listings were quite satisfactory though the placement of a particular restaurant or gas  station might vary plus or minus a few hundred  feet (once, half a mile) from the actual location.  This feature could be very handy in a strange city.  Do not be overly surprised at imperfections such as your favorite restaurant being missing or some restaurant that is out of business for 5 years still being in the POI list.  The POIs come from a multitude of data sources and it is simply impossible to insure accuracy with the resources available for the task.

The user can give the GPS a Street Address or Street Intersection or select one of the, for instance, Restaurants in the accessory map data base module and it will LOCATE this address or location automatically and plot it on the map screen.  The i3 can then automatically create a "turn-by-turn" route to this destination from wherever you are. This is a very useful feature and it has worked very well in our tests. Be prepared for a few well known items (such as my local post office) to be missing from the "attractions" list. Still, if you are unfamiliar with an area, what IS included will be quite useful.

            
Example: Locating lodging

Locating a specific address requires a few more steps, since all of the information must be entered using the thumbwheel.  The basic procedure is as follows:
  • Select 'Where To' from the main page
  • Select 'Address'
  • Select the state
  • Enter the house or building number
  • Select the street from a list.  The user can refine the list using the thumbwheel to enter the first few numbers or letters.
  • Select the correct address from a list of matches
  • Select 'Start Navigating', to have the i3 generate the a route to that destination, 'Show Map' to display a map of that location, or 'Save as Favorite' to save the address in the favorites list for easier access later.

Opportunities for confusion arise because a street may be listed multiple times, as seen in the example below (see the middle image).  In this case there are two options for selecting '49th Ave'.  If the user selects the second one, the i3 will not find the correct address.  I believe this is because even though the second entry states '49th Ave', that line actually refers to '49th Ct' (as shown in the square brackets).

       
Example: Entering an address

Are the 128 megabytes of Trans-Flash MAP MEMORY enough?
The "comes with the kit" 128meg map memory will be enough for many users.   The fact that the full USA coverage basemap can be used for navigation on interstates and major roads and highways mitigates the need for full coverage of the high detail maps-- but... Personally we do like to have the full detail maps loaded just in case we need services or a good restaurant while on the interstate highway.   Still, if you rarely travel more than your own state plus one to four other nearby states, (on average), the i3's 128 megs of TransFlash map memory will get you there just fine.  As mentioned above, the user can purchase a larger memory card (up to 2 GB). 
 
When you need complete detail for a PARTICULAR city or rural area you are going to visit, you can load from your laptop, or other IBM type Personal Computer, high detail maps from CitySelect 7 into the  memory using the furnished USB cable.   Note that with the i3's special version of CS7, you MUST load a full region consisting of an entire state (or half-state, in the case of larger states such as California).  You cannot load smaller map sections as you can with the standard CS. 

The basemaps in the i3 do not allow the user to route to anywhere ON the basemap.  However, if you are going from, say, Chicago to San Francisco and back to Miami with a stop in Denver, you might load detailed maps for the four urban areas of interest and let the basemap be your guide THROUGH other areas and still have lots of empty memory in your user map cartridge for other areas. The unit automatically transitions from the basemap to the detailed maps when the detailed maps are available and back again as you move out of the detailed map areas. While it is quite easy to load new maps from a laptop computer into your i3,  having a basemap for the entire USA and Canada that will route you between towns and cities can eliminate the need to load highly detailed maps for intercity travel. That said, DO NOT expect that the basemap is as accurate as the City Select maps from Navteq. There will be some areas where the map error is larger than 150ft and the c320  will think you are offroute and will recalculate. This is a minor irritation for some people but if you just ignore the problem when it rarely occurs, things work out fine.

  What are the Technical Specifications of the i3?


   
Using the i3's 'Review Turns' Feature
         
i3's opening screens

Using the zoom feature on the i3

Specific Questions Answered: 


Feature and Function Highlights 

We do not recommend  i3 for hiking or marine activities due to its reduced feature set optimized strictly for automobile use.

The  i3 used for this review includes no basemaps outside the Northern part of the Western Hemisphere.  The basemap of North America  includes maps of USA interstate,  national, primary and secondary state highways, cities, larger towns, waterways, rivers, and coastlines and high population parts of Canada and Mexico.   (Note: See Garmin Base Maps description for more information on Base Map content.)  Base Maps are included  in the i3's internal memory while USER Uploadable Street Maps on DVD provide street level detail of user selected areas which are loaded to the TransFlash memory cards.  Garmin (unlike some Magellan models) provides no capabilities for the user to change from one basemap to another.

Additional  features include:

The trip computer works similarly to other late model car navigators.  With i3,  you will notice that  when you come to a stop, the estimated times do not go to infinity, but hold a realistic value. The GPS calculates estimated times based upon road classes in your Route and modifies the estimation by your actual speeds on the various road classes. It also computes the actual road distance between turns (waypoints) instead of using straight line distances.  The results give fairly accurate estimated time to various points, even when using different road classes, like traveling on the freeway, and then exiting later on some local roads.  Usually it slightly underestimates the time principally as a result of unexpected traffic congestion which randomly occurs.  However in heavy traffic (ie. with prolonged periods of stop-and-go) the estimates can be very inaccurate.  Unlike other Garmin units, the i3 does not seem to take into account the driver’s current speed.

The GPS allows  the upload/download of points-of-interest only.

The data fields on the main display screens ARE NOT user configurable on the i3 models.

The i3’s 'Find' feature includes: Address, Food, Hotels and More, Recent Finds,  My Favorites, Intersections, and Cities.  Under ‘Food, Hotels and More’ are options to select: Spell Name, Food, Fuel, Lodging, Shopping, Bank/ATM, Entertainment, Recreations, Attractions, Community Services, Hospitals, Transit, and Auto Services.  However, some of the locations of restaurants, hotels, etc. are misplaced by considerable distances.  Since the data is at least a year old, some businesses are "missing" but overall the data is quite accurate and useful.

When not routing,  a "Driving Status" line on the top of the Map display indicates such information  as "Driving South on Roswell  Road".  This can be quite useful in cities where you don't exactly know which street you are on.  Also as you are driving, the name of each approaching side street is displayed allowing finding side streets in the dark.

Brightness on the i3 does NOT automatically adjust for ambient light conditions like the SP26xx models.  However, automatic changeover from night to day mode as needed is provided.

    
The i3's 'day' and 'night' color modes. 
Note low contrast of side streets in 'day' mode
(which can be problematic in bright sunlight).

User ICONS are NOT supported in the i3.

The i3 operates from  external power in the range of 11 to 24 volts DC or from its internal battery.  Battery life on our i3 unit was about 6 hours.  The i3 shuts down 30 seconds after external power is removed and turns back ON when external power is restored. If the user wants to continue operation on batteries, they can click the thumbwheel within 30 seconds.  

A special mobile power cable is supplied with i3.  You will need the USB DATA cable (furnished) to load maps and/or to upload points-of-interest from your personal computer.

The external antenna connector, a MCX coax jack,  is located on the right rear of the unit.  The normal antenna is built inside the unit and is not removable.   The Garmin GA-27C and the GA-25MCX amplified antennas can be used if the display is not located near the windshield, or if the windshield contains heating elements or a radio antenna. 

The i3 does not support NMEA-0183,  DHCP or RTCM.  

Subjective Observations of Performance

I tested the i3 throughout western Washington under both urban and rural driving conditions.  Errors in turn directions were extremely rare.  The unit did lose road lock every time I climbed the hill to my house, but picked it up again as soon as there was some separation between the upper and lower road.  What I believe happens is that the woods on each side of the road momentarily block the gps signal, causing it to go into its 'dead-reckoning' mode.  It extrapolates my current course and speed, and since the road is windy, it projects my course onto a different road than I am actually on.  In any case, as soon as I clear the trees it recovers (almost instantly).  In other cases the unit told me to turn where a turn was impossible due to the installation of a median one or two years ago.  As with other gps units, the i3 lost contact with satellites when driving through the ‘urban canyons’ of downtown Seattle. 

When starting up, there was never a failure to lock to SVs in a reasonable time (which was usually about 15 seconds).  Time to reacquire when emerging from a tunnel or from between tall buildings was much faster (perhaps 1 second or less).

All Garmin GPS  models including the i3 have a form of "dead reckoning" for moments when signal dropouts occur. For instance, if the  is tracking along and just before a sharp turn you invert it and block its antenna, it will continue to track straight for about 30 seconds.  It also provides a very good data smoothing filter to throw out random fixes that are way off track. This results in an exceptionally smooth track on a moving map display.  Even with this filter,  there was no overshoot apparent during quick stops, sharp turns, and similar maneuvers when normal continuous tracking was taking place.

I found the display controls exceptionally easy to learn and use.  The overall  system is suitable for car navigator use by users not familiar with computers and computer technology.  This is especially true of the i5 which comes with maps already loaded.  What the average user has to work with on a day-by-day basis is very simple to understand and manipulate.   The menu system and arrangement is generally quite intuitive and easy to learn to use.  

I asked my wife (who is a preschool teacher and about as non-technical a person as you will find) to give the unit a try for several days and she found it to be extremely helpful.  It took about 5 minutes to go over the basics of its operation and after that she had only occasional difficulty.  For example, she once searched for a destination in the wrong category and therefore could not find it.

One concern of mine with other gps units such as the Garmin 26x0 line has been their high visibility to potential thieves, and the corresponding ease with which they can be stolen.  This is much less of a concern with the i3 as its small size makes it very easy to tuck into an unused spot on the dashboard or windshield.  For windshield mounts this does leave the problem of how to route the power cable out of the way, as it is not long enough to run it over the roof into the rear of the car.

One noticeable surprise with the i3 was the ease with which it acquired a lock from inside my home office.  The Garmin 2620 had not been sensitive enough to do that.  Note that in general you cannot depend on being able to track satellites from indoors.

For this review the i3 was moved back and forth between vehicles quite a bit, and for the most part the windshield mount held up well.  However there were two occasions when I had not given the unit a firm enough push (against the windshield) when locking the mount down, and it fell off while driving a few minutes later. 

Summary

Our overall impressions are that the i3 is Garmin's version of a low cost Automobile Navigation System with limited feature set but with exceptional ease of use. We consider the i3 to be "very good"  in the low price class of Car Navigators.    (Check Latest Prices Here.) We think the i3 is a good product for the money.  

*Problems and Quirks noted in using  the i3.

Installation of the included CitySelect software initially proved difficult on my Windows ME system at home.  The setup program on the included DVD apparently does not install a necessary registry key.   I phoned Garmin Tech Support and (after waiting on hold for 30 minutes) was connected with a support technician who was able to diagnose the problem very quickly.   He sent me these instructions for correcting the problem.  I followed them and was back up and running in short order.  While I was pleased that Garmin was able to quickly resolve the problem, having to wait on hold for so long during work hours was extremely inconvenient.  Also, this is apparently not a new problem with Garmin GPS units as a google search turned up others who had experienced the same problem with other models.

The map display readability is the worst problem of the i3.  The road on which the route is moving is displayed clearly.  However, cross streets and nearby streets are shown on the routing map with such low contrast as to be unreadable in bright sunlight.  We find that named cross streets and nearby streets and landmarks to be extremely useful in showing exactly where you are at a given time. 

As with other Garmin Car Navigators,  entering street names can be a problem.  You might know a street name as AC Lewis Road, or A C Lewis Road  or Baywater or Bay Water or Baewater or Arbor vitae or Arborvitae and the spelling may/may not match the local convention.   The user MUST spell it like the Garmin/Navteq database or the address cannot be found.   This can lead to not being able to find a street that you know is there.  Navteq tells us that their convention is to run initials together and use caps, so you might try that if you get stumped with a street name with initials.  For a street address with a highway number, try just the number such as 32 (not HWY32).   

POI groups are incomplete (though they are VERY VERY  helpful).  For example: I found that my local post office was not included (but MOST are).  I am afraid relief here will be forever in coming.

On occasion, we see the router generate "funny routes" such as taking a busy numbered federal highway instead of a nearby freeway.   Overall,  the  performs as well as other Car Navigators we have used.  Garmin tells me that these problems WILL be looked at if users will go to http://www.garmin.com/cartography/mapSource/errorForm.html and fill out the report form.  Lets ALL do it!     Overall, I must say that every edition is better than the one before as to routing problems.

Which GPS do I like to use when I go on automobile trips?  The StreetPilot 2620.  I must add that the i3 is a great unit when small size and lower cost are part of the equation.  It seems ideal for the person who is "computer hostile"... That said,  I personally prefer the SP26x0 units because of their MUCH more capable and flexible feature set and because of their much more readable display screen.  

If anyone has any additions, questions,  suggestions,  error corrections or other comments, please feel free to Email.

Additional Resources

- The manual for the i3 can be found here.
- Garmin's webpage for the i3 can be found here.

For those interested in learning more about the inner workings of the GPS system, I recommend the following books:

Introduction to GPS: The Global Positioning System, by Ahmed El-Rabbany (for a good overview), and

Understanding GPS: Principles and Applications, edited by Elliot D. Kaplan, for a much more in-depth look at the engineering, science, and mathematics behind the GPS system.

Tony Mactutis