Laptop owners should give a collective thanks to Garmin for providing the best notebook-based GPS product we've seen. WhileDeLorme EarthmateandMicrosoft Streets and Tripsare better-known laptop solutions, both suffer from complex interfaces that don't work well in the car. Garmin Mobile PC, on the other hand, offers a blissfully simple interface and fast, accurate routing.
Garmin Mobile PC Installation
We were surprised we liked Mobile PC so much, since theGarmin Mobile XT, the company's smart phone solution, left us cold. But where that product was slow, this one is zippy; where that product offered unhelpful extras, this one keeps things focused. Mobile PC comes with an installation DVD and a USB GPS receiver. Installation took only a few minutes.
When we first started the software, it took an excruciating 12 minutes to get our GPS position, although it took less than a minute in later sessions. The simple-enough-for-anyone interface offers only two options: Where To? and View Map. Most on-screen options are labeled with a Function key, so drivers don't need to bother tapping a touchpad or--God forbid--using a mouse. Hit Where To? and you'll find a big-icon interface for entering an address, searching through the 6 million points of interest, or accessing your Microsoft Outlook contacts. You can also view recent destinations, plan and save routes, or map to specific coordinates.
On the Road
Using the software was a pleasure, but the hardware was often a pain. The USB GPS receiver comes with two suction cups and is meant to adhere to your dashboard so that it sits flat. The suction cups, though, didn't stick at all. The 3-foot, 2-inch USB cord was far too short, so the device was pulled from the dash whenever we made a turn. We ended up placing it against the sunroof--not an ideal solution. The cord should be two feet longer. If you're going to do a lot of notebook navigation, you should also consider getting a car stand, such as a Ram Mount.
We loved navigating with the Mobile PC. Searches were fast and maps were colorful and easy to read. While the software has only one voice that pronounces street names, directions were always clear. Route recalculations were a quick four seconds and the POI database felt up to date (even if it didn't know that Jersey City's famous Colgate Clock has been relocated). Unfortunately, there's no option for live traffic info.
Garmin Mobile PC extras include a Where Am I? feature, which lets you know your current position, as well as the nearest hospital, police station, and gas station, and a trip computer that offers stats on your route. There's also a simulation mode for previewing your directions. Users can access Garmin Online for free local weather and gas price information when connected.
Garmin Mobile PC Verdict
If you prefer having GPS navigation on your laptop, there's only one choice, as far as we can see. For $99.99 ($59.99 if your notebook has built-in GPS and you need only Garmin's software), Garmin Mobile PC provides a solution as easy to use as standalone navigators. While it may not have the live traffic option that's available on Microsoft Streets and Trips, you won't be fumbling around for the right cable and constantly gazing down at your notebook trying to figure out the software. Get Garmin Mobile PC and you'll drive happy.