Dash Express - Unboxing our latest GPS

    Consumer Reports News: April 04, 2008 01:27 PM

    The innovative new Dash Express personal navigation device (PND) stands out for its clever approach to traffic data, combining historical patterns and traditional metropolitan alerts with real-time information gathered directly from other in-use devices. The promise is that a car a few minutes ahead of you on the highway could be your traffic service, rather than depending on periodic radio updates. Cool stuff, indeed. But what about the rest of the unit?

    As our test engineers are just beginning to register and evaluate our Dash Express test units, we can provide more information about this much-hyped product. For instance, the Express has a 4.3-inch screen, measured diagonally with 480x272-pixel resolution, according to the manufacturer. It can display traditional two-dimensional maps, tilted-view three-dimensional, or just list the directions—all common representations. The traffic flow information is applied to the map, and the user can select the level of detail shown. Users can detour around trouble spots, and multiple alternative routes may be suggested.

    Taking the units from their box, we were surprised at their girth and heft. Certainly, the official images hadn't prepared us for the units being so bulky. The tapered shape may render this a non-issue for outward visibility, though the mass impacts portability, including the ability to stow it out of sight in the car for security reasons. Also, we will watch closely how the weight impacts the mount stability.

    The exterior has an odd shape, being deep front to back at the top edge and more slender at the base. Dash explains that the unusual design is to accommodate its "large" lithium-ion battery and three antennas for GPS, GPRS cellular, and Wi-Fi.

    The claimed battery life is two hours with all receivers on—notably less than most GPS devices in our Ratings. It would be expected that connectivity would drain the battery more than non-Web-enabled devices, though that two hours would likely decrease over time. Of course, the included power cord enables unlimited in-car usage; an AC adaptor is also standard.

    There are a couple other little surprises.The circular pad for adhering the mount to the, uh, dash looks very similar to our highest rating score graphic, the beloved red "blob." We're not sure if this is a coincidence or sly marketing. Needless to say, we'll be the judge of how this unit rates without fear or favor.

    The package also includes a couple Dash logo stickers for putting on a car window. Certainly the device promises to endear itself among a loyal user base that will be sharing information, from real-time traffic to recommended points of interest (POI). Therefore, signaling you are in the unofficial Dash club seems a natural, right until you consider that it also alerts thieves that a unit may be onboard. Should it be stolen, the Dash Express can be disabled wirelessly. Of course, all that does it deter a few blog-reading crooks and provide solace that someone on the black market won't be navigating to your personal POI, including your home. Our advice: Don't put the sticker on your car.

    In total, the Dash Express is focused on traffic and Internet-enabled connectivity, which promises future enhancements and invites third-party programmers to create their own downloadable applications. Notably absent are the usual array of non-navigation features found on mid-range and premium GPS units, like a photo viewer, MP3 player, video viewer, FM transmitter, Bluetooth, and pedestrian modes. It is an open question as to how important those extras are to buyers, though they are common at this price point. (We do not score for such features in our Ratings.)

    As I write this, our test engineers are motoring into Manhattan, New York, for some behind-the-wheel time with the units. With more hands-on experience, we'll have more insights to share. Let us know in the Comments below what your thoughts are on the Dash Express. If there is interest, we will continue to explore facets of the Dash as we prepare our official First Look in the days ahead.

    Jeff Bartlett

    Also read, "Dash Express GPS - redefining "real-time" traffic."
    Update 11/12/08: "Dash Navigation to cease GPS production"

    For more information on portable GPS navigation systems, see our Ratings and buying advice and watch our video guide. Discuss GPS devices in the forums.

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