Garmin GPS III+ versus Street Pilot Product Comparison

Review and Comments By Peter Jones   <>   Review and Comments By Ted Verrill

By Peter Jones

From: Peter Jones <>
Date: Fri, 06 Aug 1999 23:56:31 -0400

Editor's note: See Peter's own page about all things GPS

On Fri, 6 Aug 1999 07:51:02 -0500, Tom wrote:

>I know this subject probably has been hacked to death in the past, but I've
>only been on the list for 6 weeks. I'm considering a GPS unit. Based on
>what I've seen on the Garmin site, I'm aiming for the StreetPilot Color.
>Are there better alternatives? What advantages/disadvantages to the
>StreetPilot for BMW motorcycle use? How is it attached to the bike?

I'm a long time III+ lover and espouser of its merits, but lately I've been evaluating a StreetPilot (SP) and a ColorMap (CM) in comparison. I have to admit that I love the SP/CM for what it is designed to do (navigate roads), but the III+ is still way more fun and infinitely more configurable and adaptable. The SP/CM is really only good for mounting on a vehicle and navigating from point a to point b, whereas the III+ is good for almost anything.

If you are only going to use the unit with a vehicle, and can tolerate the significantly increased size, the SP might be the way to go. If you plan to use it *any* place else, the III+ is almost certainly the only choice. I mount both on the tankbag of my R11RT, and that works fine, although I still consider it a temporary solution. The RCU shelf works well for folks, although you have to lay the antenna over, which is mighty painful for a purist like me. :-)

If you decide you want the SP, make absolutely sure you use the CM flavor outside in >direct< sunlight before you buy one. It works super inside a vehicle out of the direct sun, but on a bike I've found the display to be less than suitable. It is still visible, but it takes more time to see it. I can see as how some would consider it acceptable, but I don't. Anything that takes your eyes off the road longer is a Bad Thing(tm). The b&w SP, on the other hand, has an outstanding display in direct sun, and fantastic backlighting for night. The display is also slightly bigger and scrolls slightly faster than the CM. Although the CM has several nice features which the SP does not, I've decided to keep the b&w SP rather than the CM. And although not really a factor in my decision, the fact that the CM is over $150 more than the b&w model will certainly affect some folks' decision.

Best thing to do is get your hands on each before you buy. If you haven't handled them physically, you'll be surprised at how different they are in size. The III+ is very suitable as a handheld unit (I find that I carry mine in my fanny-pack almost everywhere I go), whereas the SP is totally not suitable as a handheld (I would never carry it anywhere except out to the truck/bike).

However, this big difference in size means that the SP is much more suitable as an "electronic map", and comes way closer to replacing the paper map than the III+ ever will. In a pinch, you can actually scroll around on the SP and figure out where you are and where you wanna go. This is much slower and more difficult on the III+.

I'm still working on my GPS on Motorcycles web page where I'll provide a comparison table, but I've hit what I think are some of the major points above.

Good places to check 'em out are marine suppliers (West Marine, etc.) and sporting goods stores (Sports Authority, Wal-Mart, etc.).

Best price I've found recently is at If you order from there, tell Darrel I sent you so he'll know why he loaned me those units for evaluation. :-)

Best of luck. Let me know what you get and how you like it so we can add to the comments.

P.S. The other brands are good and some have good features that Garmin doesn't and I only neglect them because I have no first-hand experience with them. However, Garmin's do seem to be the most popular units and therefore appear to have the best shareware support and user knowledge base.

Peter Jones - DGPS Guy
Alexandria, Virginia

By Ted Verrill

From: Ted Verrill <>
Date: Mon, 6 Dec 1999 19:21:28 EST

The III+ is smaller and made more for hiking and outdoor activities like mountain biking, where the Streetpilot is made with the intent for using in a car.

Both allow street-level map downloading from a computer with a CD drive, and both come with a HUGE base map already built in (though the III+'s is a little bit "huge-er".) Both built-in maps have all major roads and many smaller roads in North America (the III+ has a "Euro" version though not sure about the SP.) The optional Street-level mapping CD's cover almost every road in the US. The CD's also have many nautical markers allowing for use of either GPS in a boat. The III+ has one HUGE advantage, it has exit information for every exit on every highway, including exit number, name on the highway signs, 30 or so different categories of service listings (from car dealers to gas stations to coin operated laundries) including name of the business and directions from the exit. The Color streetpilot has this too, but from what I have heard and seen the Color Streetpilot screen is a bit hard to read, especially in direct sunlight (like on a motorcycle...)

Both have similar high-quality 12-channel receiving and are "dunking" waterproof. Garmin also makes other map-capable GPSs (GPS 12MAP and eMap) but the reception apparently isn't as good and they are really made more for portability than performance (so they have fewer of the invaluable routing and travel functions.)

This is what most people buy for use in a car. You can come up with routes then as you drive it will tell you how far before turns, which way to turn, etc. With an $100 optional CD and $130 memory chip, you can create incredibly detailed routes (in 3rd party software like Street Atlas as well) and download them with all the street-level maps right into the unit (the III+ can do this too but the memory is limited to 1.4 megs whereas the optional memory card for the StreetPilot is up to 16 megs!) The screen is twice as big as the III+ and is amber colored. It comes with mounts (one made for cars) and a computer cable. IMO it is easier to make routes in the SP, and the routing is a little easier to see and use.

The GPSIII+ is about half the size of the StreetPilot, though the screen is half the size as well. It also comes with a data cable for hooking up to a computer, though does not come with any mounts. It is better suited for hiking or mountain biking, and most of the optional mounts are for handlebars. It has built-in 1.4 megs of memory for streetlevel maps, but this is unfortunately not upgradeable like the StreetPilot. One big difference is that, in a stored route, the Streetpilot can give actual road miles whereas the III+ gives the less accurate "as the crow flies." Now the flip side :) The III+ has a more detailed base map, more functions (like a voltmeter) and more configurable screens. I used it on the to get from DC to my Dad's place in Maine, then popped it on the Mako to head out to Monhegan (I had downloaded all the nautical information from the CD as well, all the nuns, cans and haz markers and routing for 12 miles of open ocean.)

Here is a place that lists them at typical street prices (there are much better prices out there if you really look --Anyone know of them?):

I just bought a new StreetPilot when Office Depot decided to stop carrying GPS's and marked them at more than half off for a two-day closeout sale. I miss the smaller size of the GPSIII+ though and will probably buy another of those. Anyone want to trade for a new GPSIII+? :)))

Now, my dream GPS...

Start with the GPSIII+, add a slot for inexpensive and widely available SmartMedia style memory cards, make the level of map detail user-defineable across whole regions (so for instance the base map would be level 10 and street detail level 1, allowing the user to boost the detail across huge areas without having to list every single street), make detailed boat navigation map info available, make the exit info updateable and include address and phone numbers, allow configurable 3rd party mappoints (some or all Hospitals in the US, or even all the BMW Motorcycle Dealers in the US, with addresses and phone numbers for instance), allow the StreetPilot "snap to" for road distances, allow user-configurable basic routing between map or waypoints, and include a computer interface that would allow using a PC to update the unit, display system info, make uploading and downloading easier, and configure the unit including screens to start on, etc.

Let's call it the GPS IV, am I asking too much? ;)

Date: Tue, 7 Dec 1999 10:48:13 EST

Mal writes:
> I'm curious. What practical uses are you all using the GPS
> for on the bike?

Here are some uses I found...

1. Download the Trak and waypoints after a day spent hunting twisties. After finding a really good road I used to have to pull over, pull out the Delorme, figure out where I was, highlight the road. With a GPS I just took a second to add a waypoint named after the road then move on. No mistakes and no time spent on the side of the road, and with the Trak I get a "highlighted" overview in a detailed mapping program of exactly where I was.

2. Where the hell am I?
I hated getting lost in unfamiliar cities. With the GPS it is a matter of pulling off and figuring out how to get where I need to go -- the whole "where the hell am I" bit is eliminated.

3. Is there a gas station at the next exit?
It is a great tool for trip planning as (with the III+) you can check upcoming exits for gas stations. If you're not sure whether you'll make it to the next exit, you'll have a better chance with the GPS.

4. Where is the next turn?
With a route loaded into the GPS you will get a time and distance countdown to the next turn in the route. No more frantic lane changes or costly missed exits. You get an estimate of the time and distance left in the trip, and can see where on the route you are. No more of that crappy "am I going the right way?" feeling :)

5. Detours
On the way to Austin from Dallas not long ago my lovely FiancÚ and I came across an overturned cattle truck and had to detour. Looking at the GPS we easily found a totally empty parallel road that led us to such cool things as a big (seemingly forgotten) marker for the Chisolm Trail, the historic Stagecoach inn, and a great old greasy burger joint in Waco called (I kid you not) something along the lines of "the Health Club." I bought a T-shirt then forgot it on the counter dammit.

6. Safety
Luckily I haven't had to use this yet, but with a GPS and a cell phone you can tell emergency personnel exactly where you are. I've been in the "somewhere between point A and point B" situation before and it sucks.

7. Lastly, it is fun.
I love gadgets. I love all the stuff the GPS can do, and I love messing around with it. Have you seen that TV ad with the guy walking around the house with the GPS talking about how far it is to the dry cleaners and such? That is me :)

There are a lot more reasons but these were my big ones.

Now a recommendation and a warning... The Slipstreamer handlebar mount is the best I've seen to mount the GPS. It is adjustable across all axis of movement so you can get it just right. I was extremely pleased with mine, and would fully recommend it to anyone. Aerostich sells it for $37, and make sure to also buy the $4 super velcro to mount the GPS to the mount. Though that stuff is amazing and it won't go anywhere, I clove-hitched the wrist strap around the handlebar just in case :)

Now a warning... It takes time to look at these gadgets. If you are riding and looking at a GPS you are not looking at the road and what is in it. It takes a fraction of a second for someone to get in your way and if you're not watching the road you will pay and sometimes that bill can be pretty expensive. Get in the habit of taking an on/off exit and checking there. Takes maybe a minute off your trip and helps ensure you'll arrive safely.

Ted Verrill      Washington DC

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