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Pharos GPS EZ Road Review
by Robert Sanborn & Alan Linker

I have been using the Pharos GPS system for quite a while in my car and van when working and traveling and when they came up with a new stand alone unit, I had to give it a try. One reason I was interested in having one that did not rely on a PDA was for real ease of use when switching vehicles and to see how the stand alone unit worked.

 

 

 

The packaging is quite complete though there are a lot of parts for a unit that will just sit on the dash. You have connection cables for both the computer to transfer maps and for the power, a stand to mount on the dash or windshield, a vent mounting kit if you prefer it a bit closer, and of course, software for connecting the unit to your computer and transferring maps. What about this unit, the EZ Road Pocket GPS Navigator, was the fact that it used SD memory cards to hold the maps. For one region or city, the included 128mb card will be sufficient but if you want to go on any really long trips, you might want to get a larger memory card. Another option might be to use different cards since they are so cheap, for different regions. One card for traveling in Indiana, and the other for traveling in Florida.

The getting started card gets you stated but you really need to read the user guide before getting started. Get the retractable USB charging cable and power up the EZ Road. You need to turn off the hard reset button on the back which might be a bit confusing as you turn it off by setting the switch on. When you power it on, it comes on to a very easy to see menu with five functions that are easy to read. The Calendar, Contacts, Settings, MP3 Player, and Ostia Navigator program.  I like the way the EZ Road looks with the six navigation buttons on the right side that all light up with an orange backlight when you are using them. My first impression of the screen is good but I worry that it might be too small when I compare it to the screens on my two PDAs that I use for navigation.

 

You install Active Sync from Microsoft to connect your EZ Road to the PC and for novices, it would have helped that the CD was setup for auto start but the good news is that there is only one program on it so if your CD pops up in folder viewer, just start up the program there. If you already had Active sync on your computer, it can be difficult to manage the two different devices and you have to pay attention to what is connected where but on my test system, I just had the one. And as usual, you now install the software before connecting the hardware. The EZ Road connects to your computer through a mini B USB cable connector which is the same you will find on most cameras so if you lose the cable, you should still be ok. 

If you have Microsoft Outlook on your computer, the Active Sync will synchronize the address book and calendar with the EZ Road unit. If you have a firewall or active anti Spyware software running on your computer, it will probably alert you that Active Sync is trying to communicate with another device. Just let it go ahead. Once synched up, you can then access your address and calendar information from the EZ Road. 

Next will be the Pharos map software and compared to what I am using on my PDA, I like the new version as it gives you easier segments of the map to select. On the older version of the map software, you have Indiana for example, broken down to eleven different pieces you need to copy if you want the entire state. This new version has it down to three but they still take up a bit of space on your memory card. I think in my case, selecting all of Indiana took about 64mb of space. It is a bit tricky to figure out how much space the maps take upon the memory card. The easy solution would be to pop the memory card out of the EZ Road and put it in a memory card reader so you can then see how much space is left on the card. If you don't want to keep putting the CD into the computer each time you want a map, you can download them to your hard drive and then transfer them later to your computer. Once you have them loaded to your EZ Road, you are ready to go on the road. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For normal PDAs, you then install the Ostia Navigation software but in this case, it is pre installed in the EZ Road. There is a quick clamp holder on the back of the EZ Road and it slides onto the glass or windshield holder easily and snugly. The windshield mount has a flexible but very tight cable to allow you to adjust the viewing angle of the unit. They even include an alcohol prep pad to clean the surface where you are going to mount it. You need to remember to mount it so that it has a clear view of the outside world as the GPS receiver is attached to the unit.

 When using the EZ Road on my first trip, the first think I noticed was that when I have it mounted forward and low on the windshield, I found that the screen was a bit too small to work with. A quick unclamp and I moved it so that the GPS was nearly level with the rear view mirror and that made for much easier reading and still it was able to connect with all the satellites just fine. The glass on the EZ Road has a bit of glare to it and in fact, I had to adjust it a bit to keep the back window from reflecting too much off of it. You can use your finger to tap the screen to make adjustments or set your route but there is a built in stylus in the EZ Road that does the job just fine. With my other GPS, I had two to three cables to deal with but the EZ Road just has the one very thin power cable and that is nice. The suction cup on the holder is industrial strength and so it stays where you put it. When you are finished traveling, you can unclamp it from the mount and it fits in your shirt pocket. I think if I were to stick with this unit, I probably would invest in another windshield mount and charger cable for the other car. My inclination is that the GPS receiver might be too far from the windshield to get a good signal lock if you use the vent adapters.  I use vent mounts for my PDA GPS units and find that they are not that good to use plus clamping the PDA on the unit is a bit awkward. This EZ Road unit is much more designed for this with its built in slot for the mounting clamp on the back side. 

The EZ Road GPS unit is in fact a Windows CE computer in disguise and so the navigation software, Ostia, is the same that I have used on my PDA GPS systems. It is easy to use and get use to but it does have some quirks that are a bit annoying. The first is how it deals with state roads. Some are listed as IN, some as SR,  and some just with the number. The same with U.S. Highways as US-31 or US HWY 31. So sometimes if you put in an address that it can't find, you are not sure if you are off the map or don't have it right.  When you download a map to the EZ Road unit, you still have to tell Ostia to use those maps and it is better to load them all up if you are not sure which map your destination is. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I couldn't put in a destination only to find out that I was outside of the map range.  

There is a small menu icon on the lower left of the screen that gets you quickly into what ever you need. It pops up 12 icons on the screen to help you quickly select your destination from either favorites, recent, point of interest, or address. If you travel to a particular location often, you can save it in your favorites. Since the program Ostia is also used with network attached GPS systems, there will be a couple of menu options not available like the Smart Traffic or Smart Finder unless you subscribe to the Smart Navigator service from Pharos. I did not test that portion that will give you web based traffic info, online location and address finder and more. If you find that the map is too difficult to read where you have it, you can click on the Menu Directions option to give you large print direction routing.  The Point of Interest menu option helps you find notable places without having to know the exact address of places like museums, historical sites, universities, airports, and major sports locations and stadiums. Even shopping centers. 

Once the maps were loaded and I was sitting in a pretty open space, the GPS connected rather quickly and I was on my way. As you have come to expect from most GPS systems, it tells you when you are approaching an intersection you need to turn in and tracked your trip very well. You can store the GPS coordinates of your locations with your addresses or destinations for easy retrieval later. As you travel, it tracks your trip very well changing the map to suit where you are. You can change the orientation of the map so for instance if you are uncomfortable with a map arrow pointing in a different direction than you are really heading. For most addresses, it is easy to pick the destination and it tells you not only how far you have to travel to that destination, but also how far it is to the next major highway or street change. The voice commands are clear and concise and will even tell you to "make a legal U turn" if you go the wrong way. You can even have several different views of your terrain as you travel from the flat map view to a birds eye view. I think on the smaller screen, the birds eye view doesn't work that well but it does give you a different perspective on your surroundings. You can also plot a number of stops along your trip so the program will route you the best way to go. As I have seen with most mapping software, it tries to stick on the major highways and streets but if you select the fastest option of travel, it will often give you short cuts to take.

When looking at the map, you can zoom in and out to better help you track your route and see your destination in reference to where you are starting. What irritated me for a while was that the default mode was in kilometers and not miles and even though I could zoom in to 100 meters, I really wanted the measurements in feet and miles. I discovered by accident, if you click on the distance scale indicator, it switches it between meters/kilometers to feet/miles. So now when you take a look at the Satellite info screen, you will see your altitude in feet, distance in miles, and speed in miles per hour. 

 

 

 

 

 

I had mentioned the maps before and this new version of Ostia allows you to keep more maps in memory so if you are traveling from one city to another across state lines, you might need to load several maps. I told you before, you need to download them to the memory card of the EZ Road, but when you start up the software, you also need to then load them into memory of the unit itself. So carefully consider where your destination is as you load the maps. If you find you cannot route yourself to a destination, it is possible that you have not loaded one of the needed maps into memory. Now for longer trips that will only include national and state roads, you can download a single map of the northeast US from the Map Finder program. Then once you get close to your destination and want to find a city street, load in the map of the location. It may sound confusing but once you get used to thinking about it as you travel, it becomes much easier.

 Because it is a PDA in disguise, you have options for setting and changing the backlight and volume, battery conservation and power down, date and time and can calibrate it to your pointing stick. It only has 32 mb of memory so be careful if you load up a number of large maps at the same time. Because it is a PDA, one of the features of it is an MP3 Player where you can download songs in MP3 format from your computer. You need to make sure you are connected to your computer and synchronized with Active Sync. Then just fire up your favorite MP3 ripper like Windows Media Player and you can send songs to the device. Just make sure you pick the storage card to store the files and you are on your way. The MP3 music software is a little tricky but it only took a minute to figure it out  and I was listening to some of my favorite songs. Of course, the head phones helps the quality of the sound quite a bit but as this is a truly portable unit, I just poped it into my shirt pocket and was on my way. 

In thinking about using the unit after the trips. I would like the screen to be just a bit bigger than its 3.5 inch transreflective LCD screen. You do need it close to you in order to see what is on it and understand the options you have. I would also like them to use a non reflective glare glass on it as I was constantly adjusting it so I could see it. The good news about this one is that it is highly adjustable in the windshield mounting bracket and it is very easy to move it from car to car as I did. I don't worry at all about it coming loose from either the windshield or bracket so it makes it easy to move around. In fact, on my last trip, I moved it very high on the windshield near the rear view mirror and it still retained the GPS signal (which you can easily check by clicking on View GPS Signal), and at that point was much easier to see. That high up also allowed me to avoid any glare on the screen.  

For shorter trips, once the unit has been charged up, you don't even need the charging cable attached. So far, in this last test, I have traveled and used the EZ Road for several hours on a single charge so I am impressed.  The more I do use this unit the more I like it. The software is much improved, the unit is reliable and sturdy, and very portable.

 If you have any snags or problems with the unit, Pharos has an excellent support section on their web site with very involved detail on setting it up and using it. Available from Pharos at http://www.pharosgps.com/ for $549. 

Robert Sanborn & Alan Linker

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com
& Alan Linker Editor

June 1, 2005

 

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