Panasonic Strada CN-GP50U Review

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$499

Pros: Street pronunciation; Well-designed map interface; Bluetooth for hands-free calling; Voice commands

Cons: Small POI database with poor interface; Slow route calculation; Photos require a separate SD Card

Verdict: A stylish GPS navigator with some useful hands-free features.

If you want a GPS device as elegant as the car you're driving, look to the Panasonic Strada CH-GP50U, a jet black beauty that's loaded with style. While this model has some shortcomings, especially with its POI database, it offers great navigation and a few helpful extras for the driver who's willing to pay a little more for the finer things.

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Design and Interface

The Strada offers a 5-inch diagonal display, which gives a little more viewing room than the average 4.3-inch screen, but it's not so big that it takes up too much of your car's dashboard. The glossy bezel is kept smooth and button-free, save for a power button on the left and a few ports.

The menu is designed to provide easy access to the most-used features. A large button decorated with a checkered flag leads you to destination options, while smaller on-screen buttons let you access GPS information or change the settings. Smaller buttons along the bottom call up Bluetooth and photo-viewing features. Entering an address with the Strada is simple, although we wish the process began with entering the state, rather than the city. Wading through a long list of cities can be tedious if you're looking for one with a common name.

Maps and Points of Interest and Navigation

On the plus side, the maps are clear, colorful, and well designed; turn and arrival information is neatly organized and doesn't clutter the main view. Volume controls are easily found on-screen, and the device also pronounces street names.

The points-of-interest database, on the other hand, is a mess. First, it contains only 1.8 million entries, far too few for a device at this price. Second, despite the large screen, the POI interface is cluttered: three category and subcategory fields fill the upper left corner, a list of results sits in the upper right, and a keyboard fills the lower half.

Searching through the categories was a chore. We looked for a post office in Hoboken, N.J., and were shocked to see there was no post office category. Looking through the store category, we couldn't find Target or Ikea branches that have been around for years. When the Strada does show POI results, it doesn't list addresses, which makes finding the nearest one that much more difficult.

Driving with the Strada CH-GP50U

Highway driving is made easy with the clever navigation assistant; a small lane marker just below the navigation arrow that tells you which lane you should be in. We liked how handy and unobtrusive this tool was. Unfortunately the Strada was slow to calculate a route on our test, often taking 20 or 30 seconds to finish. Sometimes it first showed the route with a 2D map, then only after another 30 seconds, returned to the 3D map view we'd selected.

Extras

The Strada offers voice commands, though they're entirely user generated. After you've entered an address, you get an option of creating a voice command for it. In future drives, you can tap the voice-command button, speak your command, and navigate to that destination. Be careful you don't forget your commands, because the Strada won't remind you. Voice commands worked well in our testing: the Strada heard us over a quiet radio but not over loud music.

You can talk while you drive with the included Bluetooth service, which not only connects to a Bluetooth phone but also loads address book data. It worked perfectly in our testing. The photo viewer, however, requires photos to be loaded on a separate SD Card--which means removing the SD Card with the maps.

Panasonic Strada CN-GP50U Verdict

Like theASUS R700tand theNokia 500, navigation seems to be the easy part for companies that don't focus exclusively on GPS, while creating a usable POI system is more difficult. If you don't mind a smaller 4.3-inch screen, theTomTom Go 930offers many of the same features, as well as a much larger and up-to-date POI database. While the Strada is attractive and a reliable navigator, a few improvements would make it a top performer.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Wi-Fi No
Bluetooth Yes
Touch Screen Yes
USB Yes
Serial No
Size 5.1 x 3.4 x 1.2 inches
Weight 9.7 ounces
Company Website http://www.panasonic.com