Retro Friday: “c” Series Garmin StreetPilot

I’ve been a Garmin GPS user since 2005. The very first I ever bought was a Garmin StreetPilot i3 which I paid $400 for. Yes, really. I do in fact still own it (and was able to update the maps to the 2013 set with a little fudging), but the one I use these days is a Garmin nüvi 40LM. The “LM” for those interested is “Lifetime Maps”, meaning the map updates are free for the life of the unit.

I owned three StreetPilots. My first as mentioned above was the i3. The second was a StreetPilot c340, which was huge with a seriously bulky connector. The last one before going to nüvi land was the StreetPilot c580 – arguably the best of the “c” series as any model that started with c5 had screen sun glare coating (older “c” series’ didn’t) and the speaker volume was much improved. The c580 was also very quick as far as its processor was concerned for routing and navigation, and also had vastly improved ability to get a GPS signal quickly compared to previous c3xx models.

For myself and other early consumer GPS users in the mid-to-late 2000s, the “c” series StreetPilot was our first taste of using GPS on a screen that could actually be read properly while in the seated driver’s position. The “i” series (like my i3), while good, had a screen that for most people was just too small, and it also wasn’t a touchscreen either. The “c” on the other hand had a standard-aspect 3.5-inch screen. While that doesn’t sound like much now (a 5-inch nüvi 50LM can be had on the cheap these days), believe me when I say it was a literally huge improvement over the “i” series’ 1.7-inch screen.

A new way of driving

GPS for many changed the way we drive. It certainly changed how I drive. At the time in-vehicle GPS started becoming a normal thing, there we those who screamed loudly that we’d all turn into bloody messes because we would be looking at the GPS screen all the time instead of the road.

GPS was never the problem as far as driving safety is concerned. Cell phone talking and texting was, and still is. This is why the focus for driving safety has shifted to proper cell phone use instead of the GPS, because the fact of the matter is that in-vehicle GPS is by definition a driving aid and a cell phone isn’t when using it to talk or text while driving.

Discoveries of new things

A lot of people who used GPS for the first time quickly found out that there are usually many ways to get to places instead of always using the highway or interstate, and this made driving fun again. Also, many found the use of GPS very helpful in finding the most fuel-efficient routes to take. In the way most people use GPS for driving, they’ll take the GPS’s suggested route first just to test out if what it says will in fact save fuel, then later on modify the route slightly to maximize fuel economy.

Finding places by landmark was now optional

Prior to GPS, the way most people instructed others to get places was either by internet mapping or the traditional “take the highway to X exit, and look for Y landmark” way of doing it.

You can imagine the joy of a GPS user knowing they can just punch in an address and the GPS will navigate them there without having to rely on signs or landmarks (especially handy for night driving).

Can you still use older Garmin StreetPilots today?

Yes. Just because a GPS map set is old doesn’t mean it’s unusable. However, there are a few very important things to know if you decide to use one of the older units.

Updating the map set is very difficult, and some older units won’t even be able to handle modern map data

As I said above, I found a way to “fudge” in a 2013 map update to my StreePilot i3. That particular unit does have a removable microSD card. The original card was only 128MB. I swapped that out with a 2GB and stuffed the entire US map set on it.

What I discovered however is that the slow processor in the i3 really wasn’t designed to access that much data. As a test I plotted a route from Florida to New England, and it took a very long time to calcuate that. I didn’t even dare try to plot a test route from Florida to California, because it probably would have crashed the unit.

On the older “c” series models like the c310, c320 and c330, yes you can stuff a modern map set on there with some fudging (and no, don’t ask me how, Google is your friend), but don’t be surprised if the unit gets a bit crash-happy on you with that much map data stuffed into it.

The c340 and c5xx series can handle pretty much all the map data you can throw at it as far as I’m aware.

c3xx series do have issues getting a GPS signal in certain environments

When the StreetPilot c5xx series was introduced, it came with SiRF technology which allowed it to grab a signal much better. None of the c3xx series have this and there’s nothing you can do about that.

When you’re driving in city environments, the c3xx will lose its signal easily. If you place a c3xx in a minivan, the van’s safety cage will prevent the c3xx from getting a strong signal. That’s just the way it is. You can get around this by using the GA 25MCX external antenna (uses mag mount, no drilling required); it’s compatible with all “c” and “i” series StreetPilots.

A “bean bag” mount is required

Don’t even bother using the window suction mount on a “c” series, because in a short period of time it will fall off and take a dive to the floor. The type of mount needed for the “c” is called a friction mount. You can find these on eBay.

I would only recommend “resurrecting” one of these older units for those who already own one

There’s really no reason to use an older c3xx or c5xx unless you already have one (or someone gave one to you) and want to get some good use out of it.

Remember, compared to any nüvi series Garmin, the StreetPilot is frappin’ huge, has a slower processor and not as many features. Everything about the nüvi is better. You can resurrect an older StreetPilot if you wish, but just be aware of the limitations.

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