First impressions of the Dash Express connected GPS device

I checked out a Garmin StreetPilot c580 last summer and thought it was a pretty compelling dedicated GPS system since it had MSN Direct integration to provide some wireless functionality. While it was useful for some things, the MSN Direct service is not designed for real-time wireless data and coverage is limited. I have heard quite a bit about the Dash Express internet connected GPS system and have now spent just over a week with one myself and posted several product photos and screenshots in my image gallery. I also offer several first impressions about the device and its functionality below. I plan to use it for a few upcoming out-of-town trips in the next month and will write up those thoughts before I send back the evaluation unit.

I checked out a Garmin StreetPilot c580 last summer and thought it was a pretty compelling dedicated GPS system since it had MSN Direct integration to provide some wireless functionality. While it was useful for some things, the MSN Direct service is not designed for real-time wireless data and coverage is limited. I have heard quite a bit about the Dash Express internet connected GPS system and have now spent just over a week with one myself and posted several product photos and screenshots in my image gallery. I also offer several first impressions about the device and its functionality below. I plan to use it for a few upcoming out-of-town trips in the next month and will write up those thoughts before I send back the evaluation unit.


 Image Gallery:The Dash Express is a very powerful GPS navigation device. 
Image Gallery: Possible route options
 
Image Gallery: Dash Express mounted in my car
 

There are a few features of the Dash Express that make it unique in the growing GPS navigation market, including the Dash Driver Network, internet connectivity, and multitude of options found in MyDash.

In the box: The Dash Express retail box contains everything you need to start navigating your way to your destinations and there is nothing else needed to get connected and stay charged. The retail box contents include:

  • Dash Express
  • Mounting arm and cradle
  • Mounting arm extension and wrench
  • Dashboard mounting disk
  • Car (12v) power adapter
  • Wall (AC) charger
  • USB interface cable
  • Installation Guide
  • Getting Started Guide
  • Alcohol wipe

Specifications: The Dash Express is a bit large compared to some of the slimmer Garmin devices I have seen recently and you definitely won't be carrying it around in your coat pocket. However, it is designed for in car navigation and the size is perfect for that. The display measures 4.3 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 480x272 pixels. It weighs 13.3 ounces and measures 4.8x4.1x2.8 inches in size. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery is reported to last 2 hours with the screen lit, GPS, WiFi, and the GPRS cellular radio turned on, but when it is in the car you will normally have the auto charger plugged in most of the time anyways. The device uses a SIRFstarIII GPS receiver and I found it to obtain the signal within seconds every time I turned it on.

What you won't find on the Dash: I briefly tested out the HP iPAQ 310 Travel Companion, but it had several additional functions (such as games and a MP3 player) that made the device a master of none and I sent it back because it wasn't even worth my time to evaluate. Too many of these GPS devices have these types of functions and I have never seen the need for them. Dash focuses on a great navigation experience and so far I am finding out that it does them well.

I have seen other devices integrate a Bluetooth radio so you can use it as a Bluetooth speakerphone and this would actually be a nice feature to have with the way most States are going to require wireless devices for phone calls.

Dash Driver Network: The Dash Express gathers traffic data from regional sources through a subscription they have with providers, but it also takes advantage of the two-way wireless connectivity to provide you with even more traffic data. Each Dash Express automatically sends its position and speed back to their servers (don't worry it is anonymous and they aren't tracking you). Their servers then update all other Dash devices in the area so the more Dash owners there are the more data is gathered and transmitted to owners. I have been on several local roads, not main highways, where I have seen traffic data thanks to other Dash users. You will see straight lines for high confidence traffic and dotted lines when the rating is a bit lower. Dash also uses historical traffic data to help give you the best available traffic information and ETAs.

Internet connectivity: In addition to traffic information being sent to and from your Dash via the GPRS network, searches are also made via your wireless connection. The wireless connection uses a cellular network composed of several carriers and if you look at their coverage map you will see you are covered over most all of the US. Maps, historical traffic data and points of interest are actually loaded onto the device so mapping information is not being sent over the network, but points of interest are also updated wirelessly so you have the latest and greatest information. Maps are actually sent out as regular updates when you are connected via WiFi, the same as device firmware updates.

The Dash Express can even be remotely wiped or disable by Dash if your Dash Express or vehicle is stolen. This may protect your addresses and navigation history, but I doubt thieves are smart enough to know the Dash is worthless if stolen.

MyDash features: One of the first MyDash functions I discovered was the Send2Car capability that lets you type in an address and then have it confirmed with a small map of the address that you then send directly to the Dash Express with a click on Send. This is the way I have entered several addresses (primarily out-of-town soccer field locations) and found my way without ever carrying a paper print out that I have been relying on in the past in case one of my phones doesn't work like I hoped. I like that you can customize the name of the destination too.

There are even plug-ins for your web browser (Mac one too) and Outlook that let you select an address and transmit it to your device.

Other cool things you will find on the MyDash page include a ton of DashApps that are provided by Dash, 3rd parties, and even people like you and I. DashApps are written using the API Dash makes available for people to use and there are some very handy utilities already available. So far, I have found the Movies and Flight Tracking utilities to be handy. I also loaded up WeatherBug, Twitter updates, FoxNews Feed, and MPG Tracker, but haven't had time yet to fully test them out. There are a ton of other utilities/apps such as speed trap trackers, lots of real estate utilities, Wikipedia, and more.

You can buy the Dash Express for US$299.99 and it comes with 3 months of free service. After the 3 month period you need to subscribe to use the GPRS functionality and thos prices range from US$9.99/month to US$12.99/month depending on the length of your subscription. You can use the month-to-month plan for US$12.99 and have no obligations or contracts after that too.

My experiences: I have now used the Dash Express for at least 5 trips where I had no idea where I was going and relied solely upon the Dash Express to get me there. The device performed flawlessly and even routed me twice around traffic and gave me warnings for traffic. I used it a few times when driving to work to monitor traffic too so it can be handy even for traveling on routes you know so you can monitor traffic.

As I stated earlier, I am going to take the Dash Express on a couple of out-of-town trips and will then make a purchase decision after that. I can see the device being a very valuable asset for my wife and her PartyLite business since she is constantly using her rather limited Acura GPS system to find addresses. With the Dash Express she could enter in a week's worth of addresses in minutes and have them sent right to the Dash Express.