The Truth About Cars » Gizmos http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 11 Sep 2014 17:31:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Gizmos http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/product-reviews/gizmos/ Move Over!!!!!! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/move-over/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/move-over/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2012 11:54:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=427458 Don’t you sometimes want more attention? Aching to simply blow people away? The people at Banshee Horn LLC might just have the thing for people who want to be noticed. It is called the Banshee Horn, and it does what the name says. The folks promise in an email to TTAC that the gadget helps […]

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Don’t you sometimes want more attention? Aching to simply blow people away? The people at Banshee Horn LLC might just have the thing for people who want to be noticed. It is called the Banshee Horn, and it does what the name says. The folks promise in an email to TTAC that the gadget helps you “warn motorists up to 3 blocks away” with a pain-inducing 139 decibel horn.

The howling horn is a project funded through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.com, where the project had attracted 205 backers at the time of this typing, creating an investment of roughly $20,000 (that should barely cover the lawyer’s fees for the patent…) You can still be an investor into Banshee Horns, and rich dividends are being offered: A $69 investment gets you one Banshee Horn, a large cap $575 investment will net you ten horns delivered to you doorsteps.

According to the emailed  message, “the project was targeted towards motorcycles, but we’ve had many people purchase the system for their cars.”

The goods folks at Banshee better avoid getting attention from China. Here, the horn is the favorite instrument of communication with other drivers, bicyclists or pedestrians, and an eardrum-shattering 139 dB horn should cut through the din for a while. According to repeated rumors, the capital of China will soon be renamed to “Honking.” Rigging up a 555 timer, a compressor, and an airhorn will take a Shenzhen tinkerer the better half of half an hour.

 

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Review: BlackBerry VM-605 Speakerphone http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/10/review-blackberry-vm-605-speakerphone/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/10/review-blackberry-vm-605-speakerphone/#comments Thu, 08 Oct 2009 13:55:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=331534 The latest advancements in communication imply a great future for the automobile. And yet, like my former manager in Corporate America once said, “I can’t wait to go to a place where my BlackBerry doesn’t work.”  Like most BlackBerry addicts, I doubt she really meant it. Mostly because these handheld email magnets are legalized crack, […]

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(courtesy blueunplugged.com)

The latest advancements in communication imply a great future for the automobile. And yet, like my former manager in Corporate America once said, “I can’t wait to go to a place where my BlackBerry doesn’t work.”  Like most BlackBerry addicts, I doubt she really meant it. Mostly because these handheld email magnets are legalized crack, for better or worse. Now BlackBerry makes a self-branded, visor mount speakerphone: traffic jams en route to work and business travel in sub-par rental cars shall never be the same. And its name is the VM-605.


Far from the only wireless car speakerphone on the market, BlackBerry’s VM-605 Speakerphone has key features over its competition: it streams music (not just phone calls) from your BlackBerry over your car stereo via FM modulator, supports multiple languages and receives verbal caller IDs.  Combined with the standard benefits of hands-free calling gadgets, the BlackBerry VM-605 ensures that distracted drivers spend less time holding their BlackBerry and more focusing on the road.  And it works with other Bluetooth enabled phones, not just BlackBerrys. But it won’t read your Blackberry’s emails out loud: which isn’t a bad thing when you think about it.

Using the BlackBerry Speakerphone is simple. Let the unit charge in the car’s cigarette light for two hour and then hang it on a sun visor. While somewhat omni-directional in anything but a droptop cruiser or a tuner car with an insane exhaust note, the microphone and speakerphone occupy the negative area at one end of the unit. So it is best to aim that end towards you, and not the windshield.

There’s no software required to pair a BlackBerry handheld to the VM-605 speakerphone, and there’s no subscription required. Which is similar to other hands free units on the market, but remember this one plays audio files on your BlackBerry: a nice touch if you own a classic/loss leader vehicle with an AM/FM stereo, or like semi-public music available at a moment’s notice.

From there, the speakerphone must be paired with your phone, BlackBerry or otherwise.  The owner’s manual has great instructions, written in proper English. With that, I had no problem pairing a BlackBerry and a Samsung “Rant” phone to the VM-605. The perk to this design are the voice commands, which give a clear indication of your location in the instructional manual.  This unit even speaks in nine languages: I found the digitized British English voice far more realistic to the ear than its crude American counterpart.   As an added perk, it gave my cabin an air of high-dollar sophistication I never thought possible. And I’m not joking, either.

Working the FM-modulated Bluetooth is similarly painless.  Push one button and the voice commands guide you to the proper radio station.  And using your phone with the VM-605 Speakerphone was surprisingly clear: I found quality better than my last SYNC experience in a Ford Focus, though most FM modulators normally give poor sound quality. The only caveat?  Keep the volume on your stereo low, otherwise the feedback on the other side of the phone makes conversation impossible.

But that was with testing out in the suburbs: driving in downtown Houston forced the VM-605 to pick up stray signals from who-knows-where, and the charming British voice module gets downright obnoxious as it offers a new FM radio station, even if it only takes a push of one button to get the process started. Depending on where you drive, overlooking the FM modulator and using the self-contained speakerphone make for a better hands free experience.

Probably the strongest reason to buy the BlackBerry VM-605 is it’s stellar combination of an affordable price (MSRP is $99, but I’ve seen $65-ish from several Internet sellers) and Macintosh-worthy amounts of fine design.  It’s a smart play for the company known for innovative handheld communication devices.  Think about it: BlackBerry’s handheld products sport complicated buttons, a busy display and somewhat bulky size.  Their wireless speakerphone makes life easier with seamless software integration, leaving plenty of room for minimalist style and intelligent ergonomics.

The slim, elegant matte black case is dominated by a large button made of smoked, clear plastic.  Hold it for two seconds to activate the speakerphone and let the voice commands take it from there.  There’s a volume rocker switch one side, an FM modulator activation button on the other.  And that’s it: while the VM-605 is made for the cool and sophisticated interior of an Aston Martin, even Camry owners who loves fast lines and unobtrusive design shall want one hanging from their visor.

Then again, an eye-catching design and a reasonable price aren’t the only things people look at when purchasing a hands free device.  But the BlackBerry name, simple hardware interface and amazingly intelligent and intuitive software should make the VM-605 an easy to own product.

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Product Review: Peak Wireless Back-Up Camera System http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/07/product-review-peak-wireless-back-up-camera-system/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/07/product-review-peak-wireless-back-up-camera-system/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2009 14:25:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=324109

Rear view cameras are becoming commonplace on SUVs, CUVs and luxury cars. But only as part of very expensive option packages. If you prefer spending your money on things like groceries and house payments, or have an older vehicle, you’re pretty much out of luck. But not entirely. Peak (yes, the antifreeze people) offer the Peak Wireless Back-up Camera System. To see if it passes muster, I installed one on my 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe.

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Rear view cameras are becoming commonplace on SUVs, CUVs and luxury cars but only as part of very expensive option packages. If you prefer spending your money on things like groceries and house payments, or have an older vehicle, you’re pretty much out of luck. But not entirely. Peak (yes, the antifreeze people) offer the Peak Wireless Back-up Camera System. To see if it passes muster, I installed one on my 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe.

The Peak system comes with your choice of 2.4″, 3.5″and 7″ monitors. I tested the 3.5″ system, which retails for around $100, depending on where you buy it. Inevitably, the package proclaims it “Installs on vehicles in just minutes!” True—if you don’t care how it’s installed. Being borderline OCD, it took me a bit longer.

The first step: install the monitor. It attaches to the windshield via a suction-cup bracket. Run a power cord to the cigarette lighter or power outlet and voila! I put it right next to the Tahoe’s A-pillar, where it would be out of the way but still easy to see. I ran the power cord behind moldings and under the dash to the power outlet. if you’re so inclined, you can hardwire the power cord.

The camera mounts on the rear using the top bolts on the rear license plate (provided your state hasn’t declared a jihad against license plate frames and other items that might impede the revenue flow from their red light cameras and photo radar). One wire runs from the camera; a recess in the camera housing lets you  wrap the wire behind the license plate. And then the problems begin. How do you get that wire inside the car?

The instructions suggest drilling a half-inch hole behind the license plate—if there isn’t a hole already. Personally, I’d balk at this suggestion, especially if I had to drill a hole in the body. Fortunately, my Chevy’s bumper came pre-holed.

The Peak Wireless Back-up Camera system wire attaches to the transmitter, which must be mounted inside the vehicle . . . somewhere. You also have to splice another wire into the backup light circuit. The kit comes with saddle type wire splices, or, if you’re lucky, you can hook the wires directly into the plug on the back of the taillight like I did.

Next “issue”: getting that wire to the transmitter. I managed to snake it through the wiring harness’s hole (with the help of a coat hanger wire) and pull it out under the car. Then I ran both wires inside at the bottom corner of the left cargo door and under the interior molding. From there I routed the wires behind the interior trim panels to plug into the transmitter, which I attached to the D-pillar next to the rear window. One glaring omission from the kit: any material with which to mount the transmitter. I used some double-stick Velcro® lingering in my toolbox.

The camera and transmitter power-up with the backup lights. The monitor activates when it receives a signal. The image is clear, if not high-res. But what do you expect for $100—HDTV?

When I was ready to test the system, no one wanted to loan me their toddler for the reverse-your-SUV-out-of-your-suburban-ranch-style-home test. So I took a trash can that’s about 22″ tall and a stuffed animal that’s about the same size as a crawling baby. I positioned them one, five, 10, 15 and 20 feet from the rear bumper. The camera picked them up at one foot, where obviously they couldn’t be seen in the rearview mirror. I was surprised to discover that my test items didn’t appear in the rearview mirror until they were 15 feet back—and that was just the very top of the trash can. I didn’t see the stuffed animal in the mirror until they were 20 feet away. The camera picked them up all the way.

There are a few caveats. The wire to the backup lights is only six feet long (and the wire to the camera is shorter). The Peak Wireless Back-up Camera System’s transmitter doesn’t look weatherproof. (If you want to install this on a pickup truck you’ll have to splice the wires to get them to the transmitter inside the cab.) The system works on 2.4 GHz; there may be some interference from Bluetooth and other wireless accessories. You’ll also find the monitor picks up stray signals from wireless security cameras at convenience stores and self-storage warehouses. No, really.

These are relatively minor problems, though. If you have small children or pets, or live in an area where kids and pets roam free and drive a large vehicle or one with limited visibility (you, not the kids and pets), the Peak Wireless Back-up Camera System is worth the investment. Obviously.

[Peak supplied the camera system used for this review.]

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Product Review: Microsoft Zune http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/06/product-review-microsoft-zune/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/06/product-review-microsoft-zune/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2009 14:27:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=320258 The Microsoft Zune prides itself in being the only significant alternative to Apple’s wildly popular iPod and iTunes duo. But there’s a problem: Zune distances itself from the industry standard software and hardware systems. Considering Microsoft’s dominance stemming from the personal computer revolution, the Zune’s unique value proposition is less like the corporate mothership and […]

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The Microsoft Zune prides itself in being the only significant alternative to Apple’s wildly popular iPod and iTunes duo. But there’s a problem: Zune distances itself from the industry standard software and hardware systems. Considering Microsoft’s dominance stemming from the personal computer revolution, the Zune’s unique value proposition is less like the corporate mothership and more like the original Apple Macintosh: isolating and challenging. Which, considering their fashionably late entrance, makes the Microsoft Zune a tough sell.

Back to that industry standard: seasoned MP3 veterans know the Zune does not talk to iTunes, Windows Media Player or any Macintosh computer. And it cannot double as a USB storage device. While all of the above is remedied by hacks, installing Zune’s (mandatory) software is similarly complicated.

Microsoft recommends running Windows Update before downloading the Zune 3.0 software, which is time consuming depending on the age and condition of your PC. After that, it’s merely a trip to Zune’s webpage for the free software. Except when its not: Zune 3.0 wouldn’t install on my laptop PC, and it took 20-30 minutes to finish on my older, Windows XP-based desktops.

Thankfully, once Zune 3.0 is installed, it’s a fast runner. The layout is stylish and easy to understand, and quickly devours the competition—importing your iTunes library so you remain loyal to the Zune brand. When you need more music, Zune sells it via their Marketplace portal. The search feature is graphic intensive, with a more open and inviting interface than iTunes. Apple may not be sweating bullets, but they should take note.

Aping the subscription model of Napster, the fifteen-dollar “Zune Pass” provides unlimited access to the majority of Zune’s database. I sampled the pass and found it an excellent way to broaden my musical horizons. The only downside is not all music is available, which (according to Microsoft) has to do with artists or record labels preferring to remain off the grid at their current compensation levels.

Right. So once your music, video and podcasts are on your PC, drag and drop it to the Zune player icon to “sync” them. Thanks to its WiFi capability, the Zune player need not be tethered to the computer; updates can download in your parked car.

More about the Zune player: I sampled their 8GB player in a refrigerator-worthy shade of avocado green. The package included a USB cable, car charger, FM modulator and a rubber dashboard pad. Drive at anything less than 9/10ths (keeping clear of the airbags) and the Zune stays where it needs to be. This kit currently trades for $140 at WalMart.com. Which isn’t a significant value proposition over its (cheaper) generic and (comparable) Malus-based competitors.

The FM modulator worked admirably for those who think SQ is shorthand for square. Classic car enthusiasts take note: the Zune didn’t like the two-knob analog radio on my 1972 Continental Mark IV. The preferred method is via USB input on their audio system, as iPod adapters are incompatible. Which means the Zune is perfect for SYNC-equipped Ford products.

Navigating through your collection with Zune’s unique touchpad is easy, after recalibrating your finger to tell the difference between its tactile directional click pad and the touch-sensitive drag pad. While somewhat different than the iPod, the Zune Pad is a quick and intuitive way to find your music. And if there’s no music available, Zune’s built-in FM tuner saves the day. And upsells to the hilt: using radio ID tags and a few quick clicks, the Zune adds the current song to your virtual shopping cart. Nice work, if you still listen to the radio.

Cue Microsoft’s most unique value proposition, the Zune Social network. (Or not, if you have a MySpace profile.) According to Microsoft, the Zune Social has already attracted over two million members. Members create a virtual alias to share or learn from others on the Zune network. Facebook fiends can share your musical passions with a Zune app added to your personal Facebook page.

Also tying into Zune’s social aspect, searchers find like-minded people via Zune 3.0 software on your PC, and check their current playlist: my current fascination (and subsequent downloading via Zune Pass) with Roy Ayers and Jan Hammer netted me a complimentary email and fifty “hits” to my profile. And field trips in a school bus will never be the same: the Zune MP3 player’s WiFi capability means you can share music to nearby Zune users that you trust.

In this arena, is it better late than never? Unless you’ve been in a cave for eight years, the Zune holds you back more than sets you free. Microsoft could have advanced the genre without being a buzz kill. They were supposed to play nice. But they didn’t, which makes recommending the Zune a difficult proposition.

[Microsoft provided the Zune, a car kit and a one-month membership]

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Review: Ford SYNC http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/review-ford-sync/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/review-ford-sync/#comments Wed, 13 May 2009 22:21:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=314869

Ford seems to be the only part of the big 3/2.5/1.8 that's embracing technology as a way to win customers. Their SYNC system got massive airplay in the Blue Oval's ads. Down at the dealer level, FoMoCo's been pushing SYNC like crazy. Strange, then, that I've noticed a distinct lack of reviews on the SYNC. So I hopped into a Ford Fusion for a week to answer a simple question: it is any good?

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Ford seems to be the only part of the big 3/2.5/1.8 that’s embracing technology as a way to win customers. Their SYNC system got massive airplay in the Blue Oval’s ads. Down at the dealer level, FoMoCo’s been pushing SYNC like crazy. Strange, then, that I’ve noticed a distinct lack of reviews on the SYNC. So I hopped into a Ford Fusion for a week to answer a simple question: it is any good?

In most Ford cars, there’s little to distinguish SYNC-equipped cars from their lesser brethren: a SYNC sticker on the center console somewhere and a USB jack jammed in a cubby. This is exactly as it should be. New technology should be useful, not obtrusive. On the transparency test, Ford’s SYNC scores a 10.

As a car guy with a bad iPod addiction, I demand a place to plug in Cupertino’s finest. Most cars’ iPod compatibility begins and ends with an “AUX in” port. You’re left to discharge your iPod’s battery and fumble around trying to change playlists. SYNC is fully iPod compatible. Best feature? No special cable required, just plug your iPod, Zune or flash drive right into the USB socket with the cable that came with your player. Nice.

As anyone who’s been near a TV in the last year knows, voice recognition and system control lie at the heart of SYNC. And it works extremely well, recognizing commands and executing them without delay. There are, of course, a few limitations.

If you have any songs on your iPod in a language other than English, the system won’t know how to find or pronounce them. Major bummer. There are a plethora of non-English titles in popular music, not to mention car shoppers who listen to non-English music. The key to successfully navigating anything with SYNC is this: you have to pronounce things the way the CAR wants to hear them.

Other than pairing your Bluetooth phone to the SYNC system, the user manual is excess to requirements. Which is just as well—the tome is convoluted (to say the least). Never mind. Device integration with SYNC is easy enough. The system paired easily with my iPhone, Moto RAZR and an old Nokia phone we had laying around. Once you’ve synched with SYNC, the system downloads your address book (if your phone supports it). You can then use voice dialing or just speak a number you want to dial.

SYNC supports both Bluetooth phones and the Bluetooth streaming audio profiles. So you can sync your Bluetooth equipped audio device to the car wirelessly. Now that’s bitchin’. Better still: SYNC employs two Bluetooth interfaces so that your phone and your audio device can be connected at the same time.

Overall call sound quality is very impressive for an in-car system. But again the voice recognition system needs some English lessons, in order to dial “Ed” you have to say “Eeeeed.” Guess Bill Gates thinks I didn’t need to dial him anyway.

I get the push for voice control, but seriously, Ford, why go half way? If I ask to dial “Bob Jones” and Bob has more than one number, the system responds that multiple numbers exist and you have to look at the radio at the bottom of the center stack and use the radio buttons to scroll through the numbers and pick the right one. Since SYNC won’t speak them to you, and the radio is positioned so low on the stack, this negates the whole point of voice control.

Don’t bother with the text messaging feature of the system. Yes it will read the messages, but canned replies are all you can use. The system’s pronunciation problems become far more obvious when dealing with texts. You’re better off just waiting until you park to deal with “ur txt msgs.”

Not all SYNC equipped cars are created equal. The Ford Focus gives the driver the least information and integration with the system, depending almost solely on voice commands for its operation. The Ford Fusion, Milan, Taurus and Escape with the standard SYNC provide a bit more information. But you’re still limited to a very small (and very 1980s) display on the radio. It would be great to see something that could actually display an entire track name without scrolling. The Lincoln systems and any NAV-equipped Ford have the most information available.

So does SYNC matter? Yes, Ford and Microsoft have made the best combined media / phone integrated system on the market. Could it be better? Yes, there’s a great deal of room for improvement; Alan (Mulally) should send SYNC out for some English lessons. So, does it matter? Let me put it this way: I refuse to rent anything but a Ford Fusion now.

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Product Review: Porsche Design P’9522 Phone http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/04/review-porsche-design-p9522-phone/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/04/review-porsche-design-p9522-phone/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2009 20:09:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=307012 One of my long-standing disagreements with the editor: the Porsche Cayenne is a dangerous diffusion of the Porsche brand. I never believed that. I’d call Robert up and tell him— if I could dial this new Porsche Design P’9522 phone with its razor thin buttons. Or use it stateside for that matter. Perhaps I’ll e-mail […]

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One of my long-standing disagreements with the editor: the Porsche Cayenne is a dangerous diffusion of the Porsche brand. I never believed that. I’d call Robert up and tell him— if I could dial this new Porsche Design P’9522 phone with its razor thin buttons. Or use it stateside for that matter. Perhaps I’ll e-mail my review. Nope. The gorgeous new touch screen gizmo lacks that feature. It does have a 911 GT3 ring tone, though.

As we’ve come to expect from all things Porsche, the phone is a techo-rich: auto-focus 5-megapixel camera, quad-band cellular connectivity, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS AND an FM receiver. (Didn’t see that coming in your rear view mirror did ‘ya?) The screen is sleek and indestructible, but faster than a Carrera GT, and not in a good way. It’s too easy to blow by your selections, which is not what you want from your . . . anything, really. It does look good. That counts for a lot.

Personally, I think it’s a great direction for Porsche. Kids already lust after phones the way they once coveted cars. Now if Stuttgart can just get it right. As in no fingerprint scanner on something I want to use with one hand. You know, applied ergonomics. If Porsche continue to improve their gear—including their to-die-with kitchen knives—they could finally get away from these gas burning ventures and concentrate on their core businesses: phones and the hedge funds.

Yes, I know: Porsche Lizenz- und Handelsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG is a majority-owned subsidiary of the car company. Oh, and the phone’s $800.

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Product Review: RallyCam 3000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/11/product-review-rallycam-3000/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/11/product-review-rallycam-3000/#comments Sun, 02 Nov 2008 13:39:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=136292 When my esteemed editor suggested I review the RallyCam, I envisioned a simple one camera with a small recording device. Instead. the edgecameras.com people sent me their RallyCam 3000, a three-camera system with a sophisticated control unit integrated with a multi-use video recording device. The devices came packed tightly in their container. I was quickly overwhelmed by cables, clamps, remotes and plastic bags. The numerous instruction sheets were not very helpful. But TTAC's Best and Brightest are persistent bastards, as are their legally-trained representatives. So away we go...

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When my esteemed editor suggested I review the RallyCam, I envisioned a simple one camera with a small recording device. Instead. the edgecameras.com people sent me their RallyCam 3000, a three-camera system with a sophisticated control unit integrated with a multi-use video recording device. The devices came packed tightly in their container. I was quickly overwhelmed by cables, clamps, remotes and plastic bags. The numerous instruction sheets were not very helpful. But TTAC’s Best and Brightest are persistent bastards, as are their legally-trained representatives. So away we go…

Eventually I figured out how to connect the three tube-style cameras to the control box along with the microphone. I then charged-up the small personal video recorder which integrates into the custom control box. This device uses sd memory cards (a 2 gig card was included). Since it’s a generic device, it has many features unrelated to recording racing video.

The recorder connects to the control box via a USB cable and a 3.5mm audio jack. Power for the control box comes via a 12-volt power source from the applicable vehicle. The cameras connect via four-prong connectors held in place by screw-down connectors with over seven-foot leads, allowing for extensive placement options.

You mount the cameras via a ball and clamp system that holds the camera in place but allows for easy rotating and adjustment. The various instruction manuals were silent on the subject of camera placement; I presume most end users would know enough to place the cameras on a roll bar for interior mounts, and avoid places where they could be smashed to smithereens, ripped-off by the wind and/or generally kill the driver.

I latched two cameras to my roadster’s roll bars and the third camera to the front wiper (due to a lack of other mounting points). This gave me three different views as I drove. With my son controlling the RallyCam controller, we sought a simulated rally type road to record my driving. The control unit supports up to four cameras and allows for substantial control over the cameras. Using the controls intuitively, my son was able to switch easily between the cameras, as well as enable split and quad view screens. We were less successful recording audio. Mounted inside the car, it did not adequately capture either our comments or the engine noise.

We initially recorded two interior views aiming left and right from the mounts.  We also experimented with aiming one camera rearward which would be useful to see the faces of the people you just past if you are a successful driver.

Once we completed several runs we returned home to view the videos. You can also view the recordings on the device but the screen was washed out by the sun in our open top vehicle.

Videos are recorded in the ‘.asf’ format at a 720 by 480 resolution and at 30 frames per second which is essentially dvd quality recording. This system requires approximately thirty-three megabytes of space for each minute of recorded video. A long rally will clearly need multi-gigabytes of storage since the included two gig card will only hold about one hour of video.

The RallyCam comes with software to view and convert the videos, but these are third rate products. Instead, anyone who is spending the kind of money that the RallyCam 3000 costs should use professional level video tools such as Adobe Premier.

[Since I'm not a pro, I used the included software to convert the file to the mpeg format which then allowed me to upload the file to, where else, youtube. For additional examples of 3000-hood click here.]

The RallyCam is sold in multiple configurations based on the number of cameras. You can add a maximum of four cameras to the system. The system we tested sells for $1,399; a two-camera system costs $1,199 and a four camera system $1,599. A one-camera system– which can not be upgraded to multiple cameras– sells for $669.99. All systems and support are available on Edge Cameras’ website.

Users who need this type of recording will be impressed with this bespoke kit.  The RallyCam is a quality unit with screw type connecters and a professional quality setup. The main control box is cleverly put together to incorporate the third part video recorder with a custom control board and control buttons. Two remotes are included, which we did not test but which would allow a solo driver to at least attempt to control the RallyCam during a solo drive (safety first!).

This is clearly a specialized product with a limited audience. However, if you’re interested in recording high quality video with multiple vehicle angles, the RallyCam 3000 certainly fits the bill and will provide decent quality videos of your rallying and racing.

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NEXTAR Snap3 3.5″ Navigation System Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/01/nextar-snap3-35-navigation-system-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/01/nextar-snap3-35-navigation-system-review/#comments Fri, 11 Jan 2008 17:28:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/news-blog/nextar-snap3-35-navigation-system-review/ 0071412993911_500×5002222.jpgLooking at last year’s Black Friday ads made it clear that a portable GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) satellite navigation device was the season’s most popular loss leader. Even department stores like Macys were offering a GPS device on the cheap. This strategy continues; last week our local Walgreen’s had a Nextar GPS device at the front counter for under $200, right there next to mints and quit smoking gum. I wanted to see if a cheap GPS unit could compete with the big boys. So I contacted Nextar, and they provided us with a Snap3. 

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0071412993911_500×5002222.jpgLooking at last year’s Black Friday ads made it clear that a portable GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) satellite navigation device was the season’s most popular loss leader. Even department stores like Macys were offering a GPS device on the cheap. This strategy continues; last week our local Walgreen’s had a Nextar GPS device at the front counter for under $200, right there next to mints and quit smoking gum. I wanted to see if a cheap GPS unit could compete with the big boys. So I contacted Nextar, and they provided us with a Snap3. 

On paper, the Snap3 sat nav looks like a winner. It comes complete with a 3.5” touch screen, Navteq on Board® maps, super-slim design, mp3 player, photo viewer and mini-SD memory slot. In person, the packaging is very professional, especially for a GPS product sitting on the lowest wrung of the consumer ladder. Included in the deal: the unit, a USB/DC charger, car mount, detailed manuals and a carry bag. The Snap3 is very small, measuring three by four and less than an inch thick. The front is all screen all the time, with all the necessary buttons positioned on the sides and bottom.

I always measure a gizmo’s user friendliness with a simple test: try and use without reading the manual. (Let’s face it, the vast majority of consumers at the bottom end of the market won’t read any user’s manual, ever, and the rest probably can’t.) The Snap3 flunked. The unit has to be booted before the main power switch can be used. Granted this requires about ten seconds; less time than it takes to call India– I mean, customer service. But who knew?

Once booted, you’re looking a main screen with choices of navigation, photo, mp3, Bluetooth, calculator and settings.

Selecting navigation takes you to the main map screen. Accessing the Navteq supplied software and maps is no different than most other GPS devices. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with this mapping software. The Snap3 offered more of the same– at least initially. And right from the git-go, at the main screen, you have to sit and wait while the Snap3 tries to acquire a signal. The search took all of 45 seconds, which indicates an older GPS chipset. 

On the road, the Snap3 failed to update our ETA (estimate time of arrival) as we drove. It clung to original estimate like grim death, despite the fact that we eventually arrived an hour earlier than the machine’s ETA. On the positive side, our car’s onboard sat nav system frequently lost the satellite signal in the mountains, while the Snap3 maintained a lock at all times– after the painfully slow signal acquisition.

We also took the unit hiking in the Carolina Mountains (better than going with some guides I know). In this application, the Snap3’s size is a definite plus, easily fitting in a pocket.

The Snap3 is touted as a multi-function device. However, once in the navigation mode, you can only access the other features by rebooting the device to go back to the main screen. The other functions are crude and basic. The mp3 player was too quiet even with the volume turned all the way up (fixed by going to settings, turning-up the volume and returning to the mp3 player). The photo viewer displayed jpegs but was slow and awkward.

The Bluetooth function never worked; my iPhone could not discover the Snap3. This may have been an iPhone issue, but my test Magellan sat nav device always paired quickly with the iPhone.

By the same token, the Windows CE spinning beach ball of death was a frequent sight. This means that the Snap3 is running some form of the embedded Windows Mobile software. This also means that the device should easily connect to a PC to allow data uploads for new maps and firmware. No such software was included with the Snap3, and nothing in the supplied box shows this capability. When I connected the Snap3 to my PC, the device was never found (even though the Snap3 was powered over a standard USB cable).

The Snap3 has sixty-four megs of internal RAM and one gigabyte flash RAM for map storage. Without the ability to connect to a PC, it can’t be upgraded; it’s only a matter of time before the maps will become “stale.” The inability to update the firmware is more worrying. In the settings menu, I noted that the system software was version 0.97. This indicates that I tested a pre-production version, so this capability could well be on its way.

After several days of use, one lock-up and several reboots, the Snap3’s mapping function eventually died, displaying a “can’t find navigation software” warning. It was a fitting end to an inexpensive device that proves that “value” and “price” are not always synonymous. 

[NEXTAR provided the unit tested.] 

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Motorola HS820 Bluetooth Headset http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/01/motorola-hs820-bluetooth-headset/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/01/motorola-hs820-bluetooth-headset/#comments Tue, 08 Jan 2008 18:49:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/product-reviews/motorola-hs820-bluetooth-headset/ l10464664.jpgI know it's not PC to say so, but I hate a lot of things. For example, I hate people walking around with those stupid cell phone earpieces looking like Lt. Uhura from Star Trek. They wear them like some sort of fashion jewelry, even when they're not asking John to phone Sally to tell Jorge he needs to phone Mary. For my sake, they should put their headsets away when not in use. Meanwhile, to find out what these people see in these devices and whether they have any practical use, I tested the suddenly very cheap Motorola HS820, a small Bluetooth, wireless headset.

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l10464664.jpgI know it's not PC to say so, but I hate a lot of things. For example, I hate people walking around with those stupid cell phone earpieces looking like Lt. Uhura from Star Trek. They wear them like some sort of fashion jewelry, even when they're not asking John to phone Sally to tell Jorge he needs to phone Mary. For my sake, they should put their headsets away when not in use. Meanwhile, to find out what these people see in these devices and whether they have any practical use, I tested the suddenly very cheap Motorola HS820, a small Bluetooth, wireless headset.

The HS820 comes in one of those plastic containers that are NASA sealed for your protection. After repeated attempts to chew the package open, I got the scissors out and proceeded to cut my finger on the razor sharp plastic. Once open, I extricated the headset, charger and folded eight language manual. [NB: Yes, I’ve seen the TV ads for the Pyranna plastic cutter, but that’s not a car-related accessory.]

Stylistically, the HS820 is reasonably attractive, at least compared to some of the larger, uglier headsets adorning large swathes of the mobile generation. Motorola claims the HS820 possesses a “Funky surfboard design.” If true, it may be way too LA for many users. While the HS is smaller than your average ear thingie, and therefore less obtrusive, its small size may also affect battery life (discussed below). 

I plugged the HS820 into my car’s 12-volt socket (a.k.a. cigarette lighter) and waited two hours for a full charge. I then switched my IPhone into Bluetooth discovery mode and hoped for the best. The telephonic apple of Steve Job’s eye quickly discovered the HS820, illuminating its blue bluetooth indicator light. That's a lot more exciting than it sounds; I’ve had Bluetooth recognition issues before. I was relieved to see the two devices make nice so quickly.

I tried to make a call. Nothing. There was no sound in the HS820's earpiece. The IPhone said paired, but I despaired. So I used another phone to call someone to tell them to call me. When the call came through, I pressed the big ‘phone’ button to answer. Still nothing. So I unpaired and paired again (like the shampoo instructions say, lather, wash, rinse and repeat).

Second go. This time, when I went to phone a friend, the IPhone offered me a choice of phone, speakerphone, HS820 or ask the audience. Kidding. When I selected the HS820, I heard a beep in my ear. And then, finally, the earpiece went to work.

Calls were audible enough for rock and roll. All the people I annoyed on your behalf stated that my mellifluous tones were clear on the receiving end, and swore I didn’t sound as if I was calling from an undersea Plexiglas bubble.  No one complained of an echo, which was a real problem with the Bluetooth speaker in the previously tested Magellan 4040. Comfort was not an issue; at just 17 grams (about half an ounce to the metrically challenged), the headset’s weight didn't once threaten to deform my cranium.

The HS820’s range was within the Bluetooth specs of about 30 feet. The sound quality, such as it was, wasn't affected by a ten foot stroll away from the iPhone. Beyond ten feet, the caller’s voice warbled but remained audible, with no complaints about my voice on the receiving end. In-car use uncovered no range issues whatsoever. I suspect most users will stick to the mobile mobile environment– especially with the increasing number of states where operating a cell phone illegal without a hands-free device can land you in the hoosegow.

Motorola claims the HS820’s battery is good for six hours of talk time and 120 hours of waiting for somebody to call time. In the real world, even I can’t talk that long, so I have no idea if the six hours time limit is even remotely realistic. However, I do know that if I didn’t use the HS820 for several days, it was always DOA. So the promised five-day schmooze fest seems a tad optimistic.

When the HS820 first hit the market, it was priced at $99. I’m sure your friendly Verizon store still sells it for that price. You can now find the HS820 for significantly less. Amazon will sell you an HS820 for $31.95, and best-digital's giving them away at $19.99. At that price, it’s a no-brainer.

But if ultimate quality, sound and battery life matter to you, look for a newer Bluetooth 2.0 device. (The HS820 is 1.2 technology.) With fair sound quality, small size, okay battery life and a whole lot of cheapness, the HS820 is a decent choice for a wireless cell phone headset.

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Sears DieHard 10/2/50 amp Automatic Battery Charger Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/01/sears-diehard-10250-amp-automatic-battery-charger-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/01/sears-diehard-10250-amp-automatic-battery-charger-review/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2008 19:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/product-reviews/sears-diehard-10250-amp-automatic-battery-charger-review/ 02871222000.jpgLike most middle aged men, I had a car crisis. So, after convincing my wife that an Imola Red BMW M Roadster isn’t “chick magnet red,” I bought my dream car. Of course, the dream is never the reality. I rarely drove the M. Summers were too wet and hot (real men don’t drive a convertible with the top up and the a/c on). Fall was too wet. Ah, winter in Florida! It’s the best ‘vert weather but… I just got a new daily driver. So Emily became a garage queen. And died.

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02871222000.jpgLike most middle aged men, I had a car crisis. So, after convincing my wife that an Imola Red BMW M Roadster isn’t “chick magnet red,” I bought my dream car. Of course, the dream is never the reality. I rarely drove the M. Summers were too wet and hot (real men don’t drive a convertible with the top up and the a/c on). Fall was too wet. Ah, winter in Florida! It’s the best ‘vert weather but… I just got a new daily driver. So Emily became a garage queen. And died.

Yesterday, I went out to drive her for the first time in two weeks. Unlike The Grand National, she’s never failed to start. But this time, key in, quick turn and nada. The dash lights were on but she didn’t even bother emitting the dreaded click click click sound. A dead battery was the blindingly obvious call. So I rolled her out of the garage, grabbed the jumper cables, opened the trunk, removed the battery cover and– remembered that jump starting a car is generally a bad idea.

Jump starting a modern car is two kinds of dumb. First, we’re talking dumb and dumberer, or, if you prefer, the Darwin factor. That’s when you accidentally reverse the cables and/or cause so much sparking that the battery blows. Second, there’s the small matter of an overly sensitive $1k electronic control unit that can up and die from a spike in the voltage transmitted from the running car to the dead car via Old Sparky– I mean jumper cables.

Some jumper cables now include a special resistor to reduce voltage spike. Some manufacturers also include a jumping block off the battery, which should help prevent battery explosions. But, as you’ve read here, no one reads the owner’s manual anymore. And I’m a lawyer; I don’t trust anyone, with anything, ever.

As an alternative, Sears sells several battery chargers. I reckon they’re a must for any vehicle driven less than once a week. So I tested the Sears DieHard 10/2/50 amp Automatic Battery Charger. The unit MSRPs at $64.99, but way-hey! As of December 23, 2007, it was on sale for a bargain price of only $39.99.

The Diehard charger is your basic, garden variety metal box with one analog battery charging gauge, two leads (for power on and full charge) and a three-way switch. It has two plugs, a 110 amp wall plug (not grounded) and two small jumper cable style wires with a red and black clamp. The Diehard does so with a vengeance; the heavy and sturdy block weighs in at eleven pounds.

So, connect the Diehard to your Diehard battery (or similar), red to red, black to black (or brown, as apparently some car companies didn’t get that memo regarding the international colors for positive and negative). Select the style of charge, plug in the device and wait. The Diehard offers spark proof protection in automatic mode, and even includes a Darwin feature for fashion victims who insist on hooking up red to black and black to red because it’s more aesthetically pleasing.

The Diehard Charger offers three settings depending on your needs. The 50 amp setting is similar to a jump from another car and should allow most cars to start up right away (though I would still give it a minute or two, and keep in mind the warning above, though the voltage from the Diehard is delivered spike free according to Sears).

If you’re not planning on driving the vehicle straight away, set the Diehard in the ten amp mode and wait about two hours. A blinking light will advise you when the battery is fully charged. WARNING: the Diehard doesn’t have an automatic shutoff; leaving the charger in ten amp mode for extended periods can damage your car’s battery. How lame is that?

I used ten amp mode for my M. A couple of hours later the car started like a dream, and ran the rest of the day without battery troubles.

There’s also a two amp trickle charger mode. This is the mode I SHOULD have been using for my M before I let her die. A trickle charge feeds just enough juice to keep the battery charged and the electrical system refreshed without overcharging the battery. Since most cars continue to draw power when off, a trickle charger also prevents damage to electrical components that seem to freak at low voltage.

I recently sampled a rarely driven loaner 2006 M5. When I picked her up after a short lay-up, the dash was lit up like a Christmas tree with dreaded engine damage warnings. A flat bed to the dealer later, I learned that the low voltage had falsely triggered the warnings. If only I’d learned to live free and Diehard.

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Escort Laser Shifter ZR3 Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/12/escort-laser-shifter-zr3-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/12/escort-laser-shifter-zr3-review/#comments Wed, 05 Dec 2007 10:14:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/product-reviews/escort-laser-shifter-zr3-review/ zr3pkg.jpgIt's a never-ending battle between speeders and the police. Since the e-wars began, the police have moved from simple X-Band radar-based speed detectors to sophisticated KA-band radar guns, radar detector detectors (no really) and laser speed detection devices (with charming names like Stalker LZ-1). While the best consumer radar detectors can sniff out X and KA-band signals from a long way off-- before the signal can bounce back to Officer Not So Friendly-- if your laser beam detector goes off, tag you’re it. If you’re speeding (which you probably are as you’re reading a laser jammer review), you’ve been nabbed.  

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zr3pkg.jpgIt’s a never-ending battle between speeders and the police. Since the e-wars began, the police have moved from simple X-Band radar-based speed detectors to sophisticated KA-band radar guns, radar detector detectors (no really) and laser speed detection devices (with charming names like Stalker LZ-1). While the best consumer radar detectors can sniff out X and KA-band signals from a long way off—before the signal can bounce back to Officer Not So Friendly—if your laser beam detector goes off, tag, you’re it. If you’re speeding (which you probably do as you’re reading a laser jammer review), you’ve been nabbed.

FYI, police speed detection lasers or LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) fires light pulses at an object at about 984 million feet per second or roughly 1 foot per nanosecond. The pulses bounce off the (theoretically) offending vehicle and return to the laser device. Its optical sensors receive the returning photons or waves (let’s not get into THAT debate), compares outgoing and returning light (in about a third of a second) and calculates the object’s speed.

“Normal” radar guns send out a relatively wide beam of radio waves and use Christian Doppler’s observed effect to ascertain the fastest vehicle within that beam. Laser guns are far more accurate; at a thousand feet, the laser “cone” is roughly 3 feet in diameter.

Luckily (for you), laser guns have drawbacks. First, they’re a fair weather device; laser beams abhor a rainstorm. Second, unlike KA-Band radar, a laser gun must be stationary and aimed directly at the [theoretical] speeder. This eliminates in-car mobile use. On the positive side (for them), laser is ideal for roadside speed detection. The tickets practically write themselves.

Other than buying a low-slung black car and covering it with high tech non-reflective materials, there’s only way to defeat a laser speed detector: active jamming. We’re talking about a device that reacts to a police laser beam by sending out its own laser beam, shifting the spectrum of the returning light, rendering it unrecognizable to the laser gun’s optical sensors. Yes, it’s a high tech shoot-out at the photon coral.

A quick note about legality . . .

The Federal Communications Commission prohibits civilian use of police frequencies; sending out a signal on these frequencies to mess with a police radar gun is a HUGE no-no. Banning civilians from using a part of God’s own light spectrum is a lot more problematic. That said, the Food and Drug Administration regulates laser devices—from a personal safety rather than a road safety perspective. Nebraska, Minnesota, Utah, California, Oklahoma, Virginia, Colorado, Illinois and Washington DC are the only states/district that bans the use of radar detectors AND laser jammers for “interfering with police business.”

I tested the Escort Laser Shifter ZR3, an active laser jammer that can be used as a standalone solution or in conjunction with Escort’s high end 8500 and 9500 radar/laser detectors. The Laser Shifter ZR3 comes complete with a comprehensive owner’s manual, installation instructions, two front laser transceivers, one rear laser transceiver, in-car display controller, remote mute button, 12-volt interface with modular connections, complete wiring harnesses, mounting hardware and a link cable for connecting to the Passport 8500, 7500S and SR7, and the Solo2.

The kit requires lots of wiring and drilling; professional installation is a must. The test car spent the entire day at a local installer, who hid the front transceivers in the front grill, and the rear transceiver on the top of the license plate frame. The finished job cost $250.

I coupled the Escort ZR3 with an Escort 8500i and ran a few real world tests at known speed traps.

On each pass, the Passport 8500’s laser detector noted the laser presence and instantly activated the jammer. The confused look on the officer’s face as I drove by [probably] confirmed that the laser jammer [probably] prevented his laser gun from registering our speed, which may have been approximately 15mph over the 35mph limit.

The results lend credence to the video hosted on youtube. This test shows the ZR3’s jamming capability against a Prolaser II Police Lidar Gun, from the police perspective trials at radartest.com who found that the Escort ZR3 was nearly perfect—providing a 99% efficiency rating. The ZR3 an excellent investment to reduce exposure from laser based tickets. Coupled with an Escort radar detector, a user will have a one device system covering all potential radar detection systems.

The Escort ZR3 costs $499. Given the cost of speeding tickets, points and insurance increases, anyone with a lead foot whose local police use laser guns will find it a worthwhile investment. That said, the new and [thankfully] rare Laser Atlanta Type S in [thankfully rarely used] Stealth Mode defeats the Escort ZR3. Yes, the battle between poachers and the gamekeeper continues.

[Note: TTAC does not condone dangerous or irresponsible driving.]
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Magellan Maestro 4040 GPS Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/10/magellan-maestro-4040-gps-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/10/magellan-maestro-4040-gps-review/#comments Sat, 20 Oct 2007 12:21:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=5915 b000nmkhw6_update-1-lg.jpgGiven the changing pace of technology, the price of factory-fitted satellite navigation and the itinerant traveler's tendency to rent their chariot, a portable GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) navigation system is the ideal solution. When choosing an electronic pathfinder, map quality makes all the difference. Magellan (like Garmin) uses the premier map data supplier Navteq. The Magellan Maestro Series offers three models with a "just right" screen size (4.3"). The 4000 ($399) is the base model. The 4040 ($499) adds Canada (the maps, not the country) and Bluetooth, which lets you access addresses lurking inside your phone/palmtop. Although you can upgrade the 4040 to real-time traffic data for another hundred bucks, that same Franklin buys you the 4050 ($599) with a built-in traffic jam info receiver. On the road, the Magellan's 4040's geek fabulous 20-channel sirfsStarIII chipset instantly locked onto a GPS signal and updated quickly. The maps are pellucid, the voice prompts clear and the touch screen ergonomically sound. On the downside, the map disappears during recalculation and full-on sunlight is still a bugbear (a built-in visor would help). While RV-ing seniors might appreciate the AAA's TourBook info and roadside assistance (trip A members only), it would be nice to be able to choose a more (ahem) upmarket guide. Overall, the 4040 is a decent but not outstanding GPS device-- at $499. But Costco's got 'em for $349 (in store price, call ahead). For that money, you're good to go.

Stars (out of five)

Price                $349
Looks               4
Ergonomics        4
Ease of Use       4
Value for Money 4
Gotta Have It     3
Overall              4

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b000nmkhw6_update-1-lg.jpgGiven the changing pace of technology, the price of factory-fitted satellite navigation and the itinerant traveler's tendency to rent their chariot, a portable GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) navigation system is the ideal solution. When choosing an electronic pathfinder, map quality makes all the difference. Magellan (like Garmin) uses the premier map data supplier Navteq. The Magellan Maestro Series offers three models with a "just right" screen size (4.3"). The 4000 ($399) is the base model. The 4040 ($499) adds Canada (the maps, not the country) and Bluetooth, which lets you access addresses lurking inside your phone/palmtop. Although you can upgrade the 4040 to real-time traffic data for another hundred bucks, that same Franklin buys you the 4050 ($599) with a built-in traffic jam info receiver. On the road, the Magellan's 4040's geek fabulous 20-channel sirfsStarIII chipset instantly locked onto a GPS signal and updated quickly. The maps are pellucid, the voice prompts clear and the touch screen ergonomically sound. On the downside, the map disappears during recalculation and full-on sunlight is still a bugbear (a built-in visor would help). While RV-ing seniors might appreciate the AAA's TourBook info and roadside assistance (trip A members only), it would be nice to be able to choose a more (ahem) upmarket guide. Overall, the 4040 is a decent but not outstanding GPS device– at $499. But Costco's got 'em for $349 (in store price, call ahead). For that money, you're good to go.

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