We’ve received a Pharos GPS 600 phone a few days ago and it’s working quite well. The device has a clean design and feels sturdy with its dark gray (non slippery) surface. The display frame has a matte aluminum finish that will not distract your attention from the sharp 2.8-inch tactile display. (Note that this review has been conducted with an engineering sample, not the final product. Changes before the final release next months are possible)
The Pharos GPS 600 is a Smartphone powered by Windows Mobile 5 with the Messaging and Security Feature Pack – it means that if you have a data connection and Microsoft Exchange Server, you can get real-time push email, like a BlackBerry.
The phone functions are working well: press the “call” button and the virtual numeric pad appears. You can dial a number directly or search in the contact list by typing the first few letters of your contact’s name or scroll down the list with the joystick. The Call History is easily accessible from the numeric pad screen too.
Using the numeric pad with one hand is easy – don’t be afraid to press the screen with your (big) thumb: the software is pretty good at guessing which key you want to press. The virtual QWERTY keyboard is more difficult to use with the fingers because the keys are much smaller. Thankfully, the software is once again smart enough to guess which key the user is trying to press. For example, if I put my finger on ‘g’, it also touches t, h, f, and b but Windows Mobile will guess that ‘g’ is the one that I want.
It’s not bad, but the truth is that the stylus is still the best option to enter a phrase or type an email.
The Pharos GPS 600 is also a handheld GPS unit that uses a SiRFStarIII GPS chip, the same found in the best stand-alone GPS devices. The GPS provides positioning data to Pharos’ own GPS software called Ostia. The version 7.6 included in this device has a few user interface simplification that leaves more room on the map screen. We previously reviewed the Pharos GPS 525 that had Ostia 7.5.
Having an integrated GPS makes everything easier for the end user. There’s no configuration whatsoever: just press the GPS button on the phone and voila, you are in Ostia and the phone starts searching for GPS satellites.
Once your position is known you can zoom in and out by performing simple motions on the touch screen: a lower-left to upper-right line to zoom out and a square to define the area that you want to zoom in. Of all the GPS I’ve used , this is still my favorite map interface because, it’s the fastest and the most intuitive way to control the zoom. It doesn’t require additional user interface (buttons) on the map and thus, improves clarity. That said, the overall look could be improved upon.
To create a route, just press the “go” button and you’ll be asked to enter an address or a point of interest. From there, the unit will guide you to your destination with voice and turn-by-turn directions. The process to enter the address could be much improved by simply keeping in memory the most-recent state and cities visited.
I saw that one could download maps from several countries and I think that Pharos will sell them on their web site, although I cannot confirm this at the moment. The maps are also updated at least once per year and the product will ship with the most recent maps and points of interest (POI).
The Pharos GPS 600 can connect with GPRS/EDGE, Bluetooth or WiFi – It’s a decent set of choices, although 3G would have been fabulous. To use the full potential of the GPS 600, users should have an internet connection to get the push-email (EDGE only), on-demand maps or real-time traffic (EDGE or WiFi).
The on-demand maps are a really good idea: it’s really frustrating to be on the road and not have the proper map because you downloaded the wrong state. With the Pharos GPS 600, you can simply choose which city you are currently in and chances are Pharos will have a map for you (not all countries/cities in the world are available).
The GPS 600 is nice, but it’s not perfect. The joystick has a flat design that makes it a bit hard to use. Fortunately, I can simply use the touch screen. Secondly, the user will have to use the stylus at some point, because Windows mobile has a bunch of buttons in the corners. Note that the GPS application does a good job at being “finger-only” controllable. The refresh speed of the map is a little slow: I’ve seen GPS that had faster refresh. The data connectivity would have been awesome with a 3G connection (UMTS). Finally, my personal favorite: there’s no QWERTY keyboard.
The Pharos GPS 600 is a nice example of integration: it is a real Smartphone and a real GPS unit at the same time. Most importantly, it’s one of the few GPS phone (soon to be) available in the US that works and feels like a real GPS.
If you need a good GPS functionality in a phone, keep an eye on the Pharos GPS 600. The phone should be on the market in one month and while the street pricing is unknown, The MSRP is $699. Yes, I know, but look at the good side, there’s no 2 years contract involved.
What’s in the Box?
Pharos GPS 600 phone
Pharos GPS 600 cradle with external antenna port
Micro SD card with some maps
Micro SD to SD adapter
Windshield suction mount
Cigarette lighter charger
Leather case with belt clip
Microsoft Streets & Trips 2005 CD
Quick Ostia guide
• Touch Screen (240×320)
• Quad-band GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz cellular modem; GPRS, EDGE, Bluetooth® version 2.0 class 2+EDR; and WLAN 802.11b/g.
• Unlocked SIM card (works with any GSM wireless carrier service)
• Free three-month subscription to Pharos Smart Navigator Web-based location services.
• Windows Mobile 5.0 with Microsoft Office Mobile.
• Digital camera with 1200×1600 pixel resolution; GPS location stamping capability for future “navigation by image” function.
• Built-in microphone and speaker for hands-free operation; supports external stereo headset.
• Lithium-Ion Polymer rechargeable battery: up to 5 hours talk time; 15 hours PDA use; 160 hours standby.
• Bonus Microsoft Streets & Trips for trip planning on a PC.
• SiRFStarIII GPS receiver, pre-loaded maps of US & Canada, Pharos’ Ostia navigation & routing software