October 18, 2006

Garmin StreetPilot C-series: Compare the C320 vs. C330 vs. C340 vs. C530 vs. C550

So a lot of people have been asking about what the right Garmin StreetPilot is for them. "What is the difference between the C-series?" "Do maps come pre-loaded on the Garmin C330?" "What's the cheapest Text to Speech Garmin GPS?" Well a quick review of the features and the capabilities will help us understand what the best GPS is for you.

The Garmin C-series has been around a long time (in electronics years), since their launch in the summer of 2005. The StreetPilot C320 and C330 came first with a nice line extension in the StreetPilot C340 a bit later that summer. In the summer of 2006, Garmin grew the line by adding some even more exciting capabilities to the now established line. It was obvious by that time that the C-series was firmly entrenched as a staple line of GPS navigation systems, and the prices had dropped on the C320, C330 and the C340 to a point that they were very affordable for the capabilities. My recommendation is to skip the tiny i-series if you can afford it and move to the C-series, because the touchscreen on the C-series makes data input a lot easier.

The Garmin StreetPilot C320 is the most basic in the line, and does NOT come with maps pre-loaded on it. It has a touchscreen and uses voice commands to tell you when to turn; it does not have Text to Speech. In other words it won't speak the name of the streets, it will only tell you "Turn Left in 400 yards." This isn't a terrible sacrifice. The navigation capabilities are good, the interface is too. The maps are solid; NAVTEQ-based. The C320 has an on-board battery that keeps it running 5+ hours, which is a big plus when the 12- volt outlet is full in the car. The C320 comes with a 128 MB SD card slot and a DVD with maps and Points of Interest on it. You need to load the Map Data and Points of Interest onto the SD Card yourself. On a 128MB SD Card, you won't fit the whole US/North America onto it, so therefore you will need to revisit the computer if you fly somewhere else that isn't already on the SD card. A total pain if you travel a few times per year and hate the download process. If you can afford it, look at the C330.

The Garmin StreetPilot C330 has maps and POI's pre-loaded, as well as the touchscreen. It does verbal commands but doesn't speak the street names either. Same solid navigation and features that the C320 has. Same battery, etc. This is the best bargain in the GPS world right now. (See our review of the C330)

The Garmin StreetPilot C340 builds on a couple of features that are worth considering. The first is traffic alerts through an OPTIONAL receiver. The receiver is an additional $150+ at this writing. The service is worthwhile though if you live in a traffic laden city which is served by the FM signals that you receive through the FM-TMC receiver. This alerts you to accidents and slow traffic on major roadways as well as re-routes you around the issue if a better route can be found. The second upgrade on the C340 is the Text to Speech capability - or the fact that it speaks street names. So, it will say, "Take a right on Maple Street in 400 yards." (See our Review of the C340.)

The Garmin StreetPilot C530 has a couple of features under the hood that are worth considering. The first is that it has the SiRF star III chipset in it. This is a better chipset that locks onto a signal better in urban canyons and under foliage (which is a bigger issue for hikers than cars!). If you go through dense cities you should consider this model. The display is upgraded for better readability in sunlight, and it has a Garmin Lock feature which allows you to put a PIN into the unit. If the unit is stolen, it can't be used without the PIN. The TMC traffic is OPTIONAL on this unit, but it used a much sleeker TMC receiver (GTM-20) that is built into the power cord (which costs more than the C340's too).

Note, if you are considering the StreetPilot C530: - compare it vs. the Nuvi 350 or Nuvi 360. At this writing, both were close to the price of the C530, and both have text to speech capability, SiRF star III chipsets, and both are FLAT. Nice advantage.

The Garmin StreetPilot C550 is the top of the mid-tier line and comes with all that the C530 comes with, but adds in the TMC Traffic receiver as standard, and also adds in Bluetooth compatibility. This Bluetooth ability let's you use your C550 as a handsfree way to talk on your mobile phone (if it's compatible). It also comes with the ability to play MP3's. (See our Review of the C550.)

NOTE if you are considering the C550: compare it vs. the Nuvi 660, with it's flat form factor (< 1 inch thick). The capabilities are similar (Text to speech, SiRF star III chipset, traffic receiver included, Bluetooth handsfree capable), but it has a Widescreen. A Big widescreen (see my Review of the Nuvi 660 for a comparison of the two screens). The big reason to look at the Nuvi 660, is that right now it is actually cheaper than the C550 in some outlets.

Here's the compatibility list for the FM TMC system. It will cost $60 per year after the free 3 months when you buy an already equipped GPS. (If you buy the antenna after the GPS, it usually comes with 15 months of service free.) My belief is that this will save you time in traffic if you travel traffic clogged roads in these bigger cities, and $60 is a cheap investment in your time. It has already saved me time on the road, and I am happy to fork over the money in exchange for a few hours not caught in traffic.

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Posted by Scott Martin at October 18, 2006 9:22 AM

Recent Comments


I haven't seen 1GB cards that cheap - that's a pretty good buy! Either way, the great thing is that you can get all of the US, I presume, onto a 1GB card with Points of Interest. So, yes, the bottom line is that a 1GB card, a few hours of time invested and a new C320 is a good buy. I just saw that Amazon dropped the price on the C320 to below $300, which is amazing. With even a $40 SD card loaded, you're talking a little more than $400 for the entire set-up.

I will point out that many people I talk to are scared off by loading maps and having to "deal" with that stuff. I think that pre-loaded maps and POI's get people over that hump of purchasing the units when you can say: "The maps of the entire country are in there, and it will navigate right out of the box."

One thing to point out on the C-series is that they all have solid state memory; no hard drives. I was recently talking to Garmin about the Zumo 550 and its design when they mentioned that they moved to all solid state memory due to the reliability factor in an environment that is guaranteed to have vibration.

-Scott Martin

Posted by: Scott at October 18, 2006 7:35 PM

I find one detail frequently overlooked about the C320. SD memory cards are very inexpensive. I purchased a 1GB SD card to accompany the unit for $15. This card holds the entire map data set. In addition, I have to believe the SD card is more durable than the 330's hard disk. The 1-2 hours it takes to load the data, IMHO is worth the $85 savings.

Posted by: Justin at October 18, 2006 1:18 PM
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