MINI Sat/Nav Update

Garmin i5Well, the idea of making my own with a laptop has failed miserably. Even a sub-notebook would be too big to easily mount and stow in the cabin. So, after doing some research, I settled on the Garmin i5.

It's a tennis-ball sized unit with a button on either side of the screen and a scroll wheel that also presses in. The screen is about the same size as any cell phone, and is nice and crisp. There's a socket in the back where a universal ball joint with a suction cup can be attached. Since CA law prohibits attaching the unit to the windshield, I have found a good place for it is on the sunroof- the antenna gets a clear path to the satellites, and I can see it easily in the upper right corner of my field of vision.

Of course, once it's programmed, I don't have to look at it much, it talks to me. To match the MINI, the voice is British. She's very good too, her reminders are not overbearing, and her suggestions when to turn are well-timed. The best feature is that the unit immediately recalculates your route if you stray off the intended path. If you choose "no U-Turns" in the preferences, you will get a new route that is easy to adjust to. The routes are calculated by algorithms, not by someone who knows the area intimately, but the choices are sensible, if not the absolute best choice.

The unit is surprisingly easy to program-- the Garmin folks have taken their lessons from the iPod's interface, all you do is scroll and click. The left button serves to take you back one level in the menu, and the right button is for power. You start by choosing state, then city, then street address, and it zooms in on your choice as you type. Generally you only need to enter the first 3-4 characters before you see your choice in the list, much like Google Suggest.

This unit, unlike its little brother the i3, has all the maps for the entire USA, as well as Canada and Mexico preloaded. There are also 6 million points of interest programmed in, like ATMs, restaurants, gas stations, etc. These choices are also easily navigated and are pretty up-to-date. I could see throwing this in my suitcase when visiting a new city, and using it to find things while walking around downtown. Did I mention it was small? It sits in the palm of your hand.

I would have to say on the whole, I am very happy with the Garmin i5. It stows easily in the glovebox until I need it, and is far easier to use than a map, and so far has not let me down. Considering I picked it up for about $375 including tax, this one is a no-brainer, and a great addition to the MINI for about 1/5 of the factory version.