Garmin's StreetPilot (ColorMap) GPS Product Review
by Joe Mehaffey and Jack Yeazel
Updated 20 January 2002

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                                                  StreetPilot                             StreetPilot ColorMap

NOTE:  The StreetPilot and StreetPilot Color Map DO NOT offer internal (Automatically generated) Present Position to Address routing as is provided in the more recent StreetPilot III and GPS-V units.  The below comments reflect the SP and SPCM as of Summer 2000 and comparisons do not reflect more recent GPS equipment.

StreetPilot  Map Photographs

When most  people  get  their first  GPS  receiver,   they  ask,  "Where's  the  MAP?"    Garmin first put a  highway  map  in  the GPSMAP-175 (et al) and then into the G-III+ in 1999.  The maps  in these earlier units were not what most people wanted in their GPS designed for use in their automobiles.  With the introduction  of the  new 12 channel parallel StreetPilot  (SP) road  mapping  GPS system,  Garmin has changed all that.

The StreetPilot (SP) Ver. 2.07 and StreetPilot ColorMap (SP CM) Ver. 2.09 are  NEW KINDS of GPS receiver system.   Maybe it  can even be called a "break-through".  It was designed  from the   ground    up    to    replace    the     combination     of GPS/Laptop  Computer/Mapping Software system that many of us  use to  maneuver around  cities in the USA (only USA at present, Europe in 2000).  SP includes   a set  of  "base maps" showing all state  and  federal highways   and major  thoroughfares  in  towns and  cities.    In addition,    SP (CM) can be loaded with optional  RESIDENTIAL street-level detail maps of major USA metropolitan  areas using map memory  cartridges uploaded with data from Garmin's MetroGuide and MapSource CDROM map systems.    These include:  MapSource MetroGuide (Etak Maps, the best available),  Roads & Recreation, USA Topo,  and WorldMap CD ROMs.  8 MB and 16 MB memory cartridges are available.  Up to 50 "map chunks" can be loaded into a StreetPilot  or SPCM at one time.

These maps offer coverage of the entire USA with superior road detail.  Metroguide has map sections in 8 MB "hunks" whereas the Roads & Recreation Maps typically load "county size hunks" which typically use 100K to 400K bytes of memory per county.  In the Atlanta area,  the coverage area  for a selected 8 MB ETAK map section is roughly  a  square about  125  miles  on a side.  This covers  the  formal  "Atlanta Metropolitan Area" and then some.  Using the less accurate (but still very good) MapSource R&R maps,  you are able to include a much larger area and up to 50 "counties" in an 8 meg memory cartridge.  (See the MapSource Product Information for more detail.)  Note:  As of this date,  NO OTHER map products (from alternative vendors) can be uploaded into Garmin GPS receivers except those offered by Garmin for the purpose.  This same proprietary relationship exists for other vendor's GPS products as well.

What's new in StreetPilot(CM)?

We can say that SP (CM) gets RID of almost ALL of the  effects of Selective  Availability (SA) that used to bother so many people.   You can  option to "lock" your vehicle track to roads and as long  as you   travel  on  the  road,   the combination  of  the  accurate ETAK   maps   and Garmin's "Road Lock" feature keeps  your  trace where  you want  it. On the road!  (This feature does not operate with MapSource R&R, USA Topo, or WorldMap.) When you make up a new  route using the MapSource program with a MetroGuide map,  it's interesting to  see the new route "rubber band"  itself to  the shape  of  the road  or highway as you input the "TURNS" (waypoints).   With this new feature,  the GPS  pointer "knows" where  it is going at every instant and does not simply point  at the  next  waypoint which may be many miles away  along  a curvy road!

Another useful feature is that with ETAK, all approaching cross street names are displayed prior to arrival.  We found the SP (CM)'s guidance directions  very  satisfactory.  SP (CM)  automatically varies its "turn here" warning time  to give you  a 30 seconds (user adjustable) warning of an   upcoming turn regardless  of your speed.  The turn indication is a  "BEEP-BEEP" and a LARGE ARROW indicates the direction of the next turn.  Exceeding a 'Maximum Speed' also sounds the beep.  AUTOZOOM  zooms  the  screen in and  out  automatically  as  you approach  waypoints  and turns so you always have  time  to make decisions.  The keys are lighted for night viewing.

The  accessory MetroGuide Maps contain  thousands   of "attractions"  on  board.   In  our  area,   there  were a few restaurants we had  not  known about (and  a   few   prominent ones   are  missing).   Listed  "Attractions"  include,  restaurants,   hotels/motels,  entertainment,   shopping   areas, services,   and  tourist attractions.  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.

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  SP (CM) will  create a straight line from your present position (or  some other  starting point) and then you can "drag" this line over  to various intersections until it describes completely the route you want  to take from your starting point to the  restaurant.   From that  point  on,  the GPS will direct you to your  destination.   This feature has worked well in tests.

The user can create a ROUTE using Street Atlas 5, 6, or 7  (which has map coverage of the entire USA) and upload  this route into the SP (CM).  The GPS will then direct you along the Street Atlas-calculated route.  This feature worked imperfectly at times as Street Atlas maps  are considerably  less accurate than the ETAK maps.   The  divergence between  maps can, at times, be enough to cause the  "rubber band" feature  to not lock onto the street.  Still,  this is a useful feature, and you can manually "rubber band"  waypoints, so the route will track  back onto the road if  you wish.  This feature has been improved by Garmin and early purchasers may wish to update their firmware at: Garmin Support Download Site

What's different between the SP and the SP CM?

The SP display is the same size as the larger  GPSMAP-175, but  is improved with 4 shades of gray, 240x160 pixels (size 3.5"x2.5") with a new 11-level orange  backlighting  system  with higher brightness capability to accommodate  the varying illumination  needs of automotive use. The SP CM color display is slightly smaller with 16 colors and 240x128 pixels.  The SP only uploads MapSource maps at 38,400 baud while the SP CM uploads them at 115,200 baud.

 news:sci.geo.satellite-nav members have complained  about not  having the AUTOMATIC Daylight Savings Time in other GPS  receivers.  SP CM now HAS it!   The GPS  has a new algorithm for computing  "time  to  go".  Previous  GARMIN  units calculated estimated  time  to  waypoints using a simple distance/speed calculation. This resulted in  your ETA  climbing  up and down based upon your speed,  and  when  you would  stop, ETA would go to infinity and then "dash out".

With SP (CM),  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  modify 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 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.  Your estimates will not only be based upon your current highway speed,  but by the combination of speeds you are using, or will be  using on the various road classes.

The  GPS  has  a HOST mode  which  allows   the upload/download of waypoints, routes,  tracks,  etc.,  OR use the GPS for tracking with the NMEA output WITHOUT having to change from GARMIN to NMEA  mode  and vice versa.  The SP external power/data cable and active antenna BNC  connection is the same  as for the G-III(+) and G-II(+).

StreetPilot Feature and Function Highlights

The SP is packaged in a considerably larger case as compared with the GPS-III but uses the same shape.  The overall case  size is 3.2"h x 6.8"L x  2.2"d which can be laid flat and viewed normally.   Six  AA cells  power  the unit for about  16 hours (we got about 13 hours with Sony Alkalines) and from 4.5 to 7 hours with the back light on full time depending on brightness.  (Note: The assumption is that  the SP  will  be  operated  mostly on external  power.)   While a Garmin GPS feels "familiar" to the user,  the differences between  the  SP (CM) and  other GPS units are substantial.  This GPS provides many (but not all) of the  usual Garmin G-III+ features as a   base,   but  the  user interface has been extensively redesigned with great emphasis on automobile use.  We do not recommend SP for hiking or marine activities due to its reduced feature set optimized for automobile use.

The  SP (CM) includes the G-III+'s Overview Map of the World.  However,  the basemap has less detail in South America and no railroads,  but  more  roads  in  Canada  and  Mexico  plus   maps  of USA interstate,   national,  primary and  secondary  state  highways,  cities, larger towns,  waterways, rivers, and coastlines.  (Note:  See  Garmin Base Maps description for  more  information  on Base Map  content.)   Base Maps  are included   in the SP (CM)'s  internal memory while USER Uploadable Street Maps on CD ROM provide  street level or topo detail of user selected  areas which can be uploaded to an optional 8 MB or 16 MB memory cartridge.

Additional SP features beyond the G-III+ include:

A  new   "dashboard"  page provides a display of 9 items  which are speed,  distance  traveled, battery condition,   average speed while moving,  average speed on trip,   maximum speed,  driving time,  stopped time,   and  total time  on  trip.  A "Road  Sign  Page"  gives  the   driver   directions  during automated  navigation.  An enlarged "map page"  similar   to the  G-III+  displays the desired map area.   Note:  None  of the  "display fields" are user configurable in SP.  A "satellite"  page (which alternates with the dashboard  page)  rounds out the  active displays.

MetroGuide's Find-an-Address includes: Intersection, Place, Restaurant, Hotel, Entertainment capability.  SP (CM) can find  such places   in  the  upload coverage area.  Even a restaurant less  than one  year   old   were  included.  However,   some   of   the locations   of  restaurants, hotels,  etc.  are  misplaced  by considerable distances.

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

Major features the StreetPilot DOES NOT have compared with G-III+

Datums-  The SP  only  provides  WGS-84  so any  external mapping program which cannot  use  WGS-84 directly  OR convert  WGS-84 to its  required  datum will give  larger  than  normal map position errors.

Waypoints-   The SP provides only 100 user Waypoints as  compared with 500 in the SP CM.  The SP routes use none of  these when  routes are uploaded  from  StreetAtlas, so the waypoint count isn't increased.

Battery timer- The SP has no battery timer feature.  It does have a  battery "fuel gauge" display and MORE IMPORTANT,  SP  now  has an "Automatic Shutdown when External Power is Removed" feature to prevent running down the internal batteries if you forget to turn off StreetPilot in your car.

Fifty  ICONS are available in the SP to identify  user  waypoints and  mark  routes.  A one inch diameter calibrated  compass  rose page  provides  bearing,  course  and  other  information.    The battery meter can  be set to alkaline, or NiCad types.   Alkaline battery  life in the SP (6 AA cells) is about 16  hours  compared with  about  2.5 hours for the SP CM. (This is  about  halved  if normal 50% backlighting is run continuously.)

Street pricing of the SP is about US $390and the SP CM about $545 as of June 2000.

Features and Operation

Basic  functions  in the SP are similar to those in  the   G-III+,  but many functions are quite differently due to the design  being optimized  for Automotive use.  The SP incorporates the  same  12 channel PARALLEL GPS receiver design  used in the G-12XL/G-II+/G-III+  products.   Like these,  the SP locks on to the  SV  signals quickly.     "Warm  starts"  are typical  in  20  seconds.   (The prototype  unit I reviewed is said not to be as fast to  lock  as production  units.)    "Cold Starts"  after  3  hours   off  time take 50  to  70  seconds.   In AutoLocate  after a 1000 mile  UPS trip,  the G3 locked on in less than  five  minutes.     Specifications  are  "warm  start"  ,   15 seconds,   "cold  start"   45 seconds,   "AutoLocate"  5  minutes.  These  times are typical of 12  channel  parallel receivers in  the clear   and  not  moving,  but a bit slower than the G-II+  in  our measurements.  If the SP is shielded from SVs (and thus unable to lock)  for a time,   the unit  will request initialization.   With Garmin's   "Initialize
by  Map"  feature,  you do  not  need  your approximate   lon/lat to  speed  up the initial lock when  you  move  more   than   300 miles  with  the unit off.  Simply  point  at   your  approximate location  on the map and press "enter".  If you "don't  want   to mess  with it",  you can select AutoLocate and  it   will  figure out where it is in minutes all by itself.    In a moving vehicle,  expect lock times to be longer  due  to  flutter and multipath on
the GPS signal.

The  SP's specification for position accuracy is 100 meters  with SA   (Good  DOP),  15 meters exclusive of SA and  5  meters  with suitable DGPS correction signals.  These are the  same as the  G-12XL,   G-II+  and  the G3.  This  specification  is  typical  of Garmin's 12 channel equipment line.   The SP (and G-III+) appear  to have  enhanced position and velocity filtering as  compared  with the  G-12XL/G-II+  as  a result of improved  the  data  filtering algorithms.  We notice more directional stability in the  compass display  when  walking  as well as  somewhat  less  variation  of indicated  velocity.   (Not that you would hike with a  unit  the size  of the SP.)  The SP has Garmin's "dead  reckoning"  feature which,   upon  loss of SV signals, will project a course  for  30 seconds along the last valid heading.  This reduces the impact of momentary  loss of GPS signals at underpasses,  tree cover,   and city buildings.

Position  averaging  is  NOT available in  the  SP.   To  improve accuracy,   the SP (like other Garmin 12 channel units)  uses  an over  determined solution when more than 4 SVs are locked.   This produces  somewhat higher accuracy than units which use only  the best  four  SVs.   Garmin uses an algorithm  that  "gives  varying authority" to measurements from SVs depending on their geometry, and  other factors.  This may be responsible for  the  relatively good accuracy of Garmin's 12 channel parallel receivers.

The SP operates from 6 AA batteries or from external power in the range  of 10 to 32 volts DC.  External current draw at  12  volts input  on our unit is about 100 ma (light off).  Battery  drain  is about 128 ma (light off), 250 ma (light at 50%) and 350ma (light  on bright).   Memory backup power drawn from batteries when the unit is off is about 140 microamps.  We get about 13 hours from a  set of 6 Toshiba/Sony Alkaline AA cells.  This battery life is  about 130% of the G-III+,  but with 6 cells instead of 4.  Garmin says  the extra power drawn is a result of the higher power requirements of the  components  used  to support  much  larger  high  resolution display  and the mapping functions of the unit.  The LED  backlit display  lighting has a rated design life of 100,000 hours.   The SP shuts down when the internal battery voltage  goes  below  4.8 (alkaline) or 5.2 (NiCad) volts.

The   data/power  cable  used  is  the  same  as  the  Garmin  G-45/12/II+/G-III+ units.  The external antenna connector,  a BNC  coax jack,   is located on the right rear of the unit just behind  the keys.   The BNC jack is powered and has a current limit rated  at 50 ma    to  protect the unit from shorts on  the  antenna  cable.  However,   the standard antenna is passive.   (In  our  prototype unit,   we  found the current limit set to  about  25 ma.  Garmin assures us production units will deliver 50 ma.)    The Garmin GA-26  amplified antenna, Lowe's,  Tri-M,  and the MAGELLAN M-4000  amplified  antenna all work  with the SP.   We believe most  other  amplified  GPS antennas will work as well.

The  SP (CM) puts out only the NMEA protocol NMEA-0183  ver  2.0  and accepts  RTCM-0104.  Other proprietary GARMIN sentences  are input/output  as well.  FINALLY!  Garmin has included a new  HOST MODE  (Called  Garmin  Data Transfer in the GPS)  so  that  (with suitable  software  commands) it is now possible to  switch  from NMEA  to up/download without manual intervention.  The  old  GRMN and NMEA modes are included for compatibility with older  mapping software.

DGPS  signals in the RTCM-0104 format are accepted.  Anytime  NMEA output  is selected,  the baud rate of both the input and  output serial port is set to 4800 baud.  RTCM (DGPS) alone can use  baud rates  of 300 to 9600.  A setup screen permits selection  of  the I/O combination needed by a particular application.

Operating temperature range is specified as -15C to +70C.  Unique in  their  class,   Like other Garmin handheld GPS receivers,  SP is rated submersible to one meter per IEC529 IPX(7).  The maximum altitude rating is 60,000ft and speed maximum is 999 knots.

Feature Details

  • The  SP (CM)  has a large  number of features and displays.  These include:
  • Subjective Observations of Performance

    Jack  Yeazel and I  have tested the SP on the roads and  highways of  North  Georgia  including one interstate trip.   Our  SP  has worked  properly at all times as far as we could tell.  We  tried uploading   and   downloading  waypoints,   tracks   and   routes using  G7ToWin.   We tried it  out  on SA5, 6, and 7,   Precision  Mapping  3,  Vista,   AutoRoute  5.   Generally tracking  worked well,  and SA7 upload/download functions  worked OK.    (However,  most  upload/download programs   will   require later   releases  for  all   of   the   new   SP  functions    to upload/download properly.  Examples: 50 icons,  One 10  character names,   commands  to use Garmin's  new  "no   touch"  switch over from  NMEA  to UPLOAD/DOWNLOAD.   All map programs  tested  which specified  a   NMEA-0183  ver 2.0 data stream  as  input  tracked properly with the SP.

    We compared the SP with the G-12XL, G-III+, G-II+ and the EEx2.   The SP  performed  on  a par with all units in every  test  for  lock stability,   multipath performance,  re-lock after an  underpass,  and  ability to suddenly change direction without loss  of  lock.  The  SP  laid down smooth tracks on our highway maps  during  all tests.   No gaps,  jumps,  etc., (The SP has data smoothing  like the G-III+.)

    We  noted that both the SP and G-III+ (along with the G-12XL and  the G-II+)  have a form of "dead reckoning" for moments  when  signal dropouts  occur.  For instance,  if the SP 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 the  "road  lock" option  turned  off.   Even  with  this  filter,   there  was  no overshoot apparent during quick stops,  sharp turns,  and similar maneuvers when normal continuous tracking was taking place.

    SP  performance under tree cover and city canyon  conditions  was about the same as the G-III+, G-II+,  G-12XL and the EEx2 and we rate that as  very good.

    We  found the display controls easy to learn and use.   The  menu system and arrangement is quite satisfactory,  but took some time with  the  70 page manual.  The SP has many feature  changes   as compared with the G3 and other handheld units.  However,  after a couple of hours of operation,  we found the SP's simplified  menu system both adequate and easy to use.

    We  used two Toshiba 430 CDT laptop computers running  moving  map software  during  our  tests.   The  comparison  GPS  units  were operated  on  the dash in front of the driver (G-III+) and  with  the G-II+ on the dash in front of the passenger.    The laptops  with Moving  Map Software were used to log tracks,   "cookie  trails",  and operation for comparison.

    Since the SP, G-III+,  G-12XL and the G-II+ use the same receiver and exhibited  essentially  identical  tracking  performance  in  our tests,   we  did not perform the extensive field trials  we  made with  the  G-12XL,   EE, and others.   For  more  information  on tracking  results with our testing of the G-12XL,  and the  G-II+ see our reviews at:


    Our  overall  impressions  are  that the  StreetPilot  is  a  new generation  of  Automobile  Navigation System.  If  SP  had  TRUE address  to address routing,  it would be revolutionary.   As  it is,   it  is a substantial step toward the goal of  doing  away with the need for paper maps in automobile navigation.

    What  DON'T  we  like about the  StreetPilot?
    1)  The unit drains batteries rapidly when the backlighting is on.  This problem is now mitigated by the new "automatic shutdown  when   external power is removed"  feature.
    2)   We would like more than 100 user waypoints. This problem has now been mitigated as Garmin no longer uses "USER WAYPOINTS" for storage of SA7 routes and most SA7 waypoints. (ver 2.01 firmware,  end of July 1998.)
    3)   Its  not  pocket sized like the G-III+,  but we  like the  large display.
    4)   The map cartridges cost $65 to $125 each as of June 2000.  MetroGuide ETAK maps and MapSource R&R,  TOPO and WorldMap CDROM map programs can download maps to 8 or 16 megabyte memory cartridges.
    5)  We SURE don't like to have to push ENTER to get past the  "Be careful when you drive and GPS" admonition.
    6)  If the SP is operated in the TRACK UP mode (instead of the NORTH UP mode),  the repaint speed can be aggravatingly slow.

    Which  GPS  do  I use now when I go  on  automobile  trips?   The StreetPilot.  Would I take it hiking?  No.

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

    Joe Mehaffey   or  Jack Yeazel