Pioneer AVIC-S1 Portable Navigator

  • Share
  • Read Later

Here's the situation: You're in a strange city, you've ditched the rental car, and you want to walk around town, check out museums, restaurants and maybe do some shopping. The catch is, you hate looking like a tourist with a giant paper map. Pioneer's AVIC-S1 is one of the first GPS navigators with a "pedestrian" setting. In addition to telling you what interstate exit to take, it plots a path for you along boulevards and side streets, keeping in mind that your walking pace may only be two or three miles per hour.

My wife and I tried out the S1 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (The S1 comes full with maps of the U.S. and Canada.) I plugged in the address of the Pink Pearl, a well-known but out-of-the-way dim sum spot. We didn't know how long it would take to get there by foot, or what the best route was, but the S1 sorted it out for us. As we began walking, it guided us towards the harbor, then over onto Hastings St., one of the city's main drags. The screen showed we had a 45-minute walk ahead, so I turned off the slender device, about the size of a man's wallet, and put it into my pocket.

We were on a fairly straightforward path, so I checked our progress only periodically. The GPS receiver sometimes had a hard time, mostly because of the "canyon effect," satellite signals being blocked by tall buildings. Standing and waiting for a signal can be annoying, but at least, if you go the wrong way, it corrects pretty fast. Besides, when you're on foot, making a U-turn on a busy street isn't very dangerous.

In the car, the S1 measures up to some of the other products I've looked at this year, such as Sony's Nav-U and Alpine's Blackbird. Its female voice is pleasantly sultry, and is available in 18 different spoken languages. Like those other navigators, it has the Navteq mapset, which was quite useful in most cases. The user interface was a bit frustrating at times. It was hard to sift through the 1.5 million points of interest, and, during a route, I could never get what I call the "Mapquest" view — that is, a text itinerary of the turns it's planning to shout out.

Unlike the pricier Garmin StreetPilot c550, the S1 doesn't have a built-in traffic information receiver, although it does have one c550 feature, a Bluetooth wireless speaker for Bluetooth-equipped mobile phones.

As the next wave of GPS devices develop pedestrian uses, new considerations are arising. The route the S1 chose for our dim sum run took us through Hastings and Main St., one of the most notorious intersections in Vancouver for drug use, prostitution and other malfeasance. Perhaps product developers should look into adding a new on-foot routing option — in addition to "fastest" and "shortest," perhaps there should be "safest" or maybe just "most scenic." Something to think about.