Garmin StreetPilot c550: REVIEW


The second generation of Garmin’s popular StreetPilot c-series brings key upgrades to already top-rated products, leading Time Magazine to say, “The new Garmin StreetPilot c550 is the best portable navigation product on the market.” PC Magazine states, ” …the bevy of new features make the price premium a no-brainer.” We agree. We credit 2005’s Garmin StreetPilot c330 with ushering in a new era in consumer in-vehicle GPS systems. Why? The StreetPilot c-series brought what the GPS world at the time lacked the most — ease of use.


Ratings Summary
Owner Reviews
Best in Class
Our Rating: 4.5 Stars
Do you own it? Rate it!

We still consider Garmin’s StreetPilot c-series interface (now found in many other Garmin models, including the nuvi and StreetPilot i-series) to be the cleanest and simplest touch-screen user interface of any in-vehicle system by any manufacturer. The unit has only one button (on/off) and the touch-screen main menu only two choices: “Where to?” and “View Map.”

Does such simplicity hold up in the real world? You bet. We say that after thousands of miles of real-world travel and testing across the U.S. and Canada. When you’re driving, every little complexity is magnified in its inconvenience and potential to distract. That’s a big reason we stick primarily to the c-series for our own driving. It’s easy, intuitive, and lets you concentrate on driving.

In 2006, Garmin upgraded the c300 series with the c500 series, with welcome and solid enhancements found in the StreetPilot c530 and c550 models. Both models are equipped with must-have upgrades:

  • What a difference a chip makes! The c500 series includes the next-generation SiRFstar III GPS module which significantly improves reception and reduces the time for the unit to establish a satellite fix to calculate your position. This means you don’t have to wait nearly as long for the unit to fix its location, nor will you experience as many reception problems when driving among tall buildings, trees or cliffs.
  • The c500 series brings a significant screen upgrade with a new 3.5-inch antiglare display (320×240-pixel resolution) with bright colors and large icons. This is a welcome upgrade as owners of the c300 series have indicated that the screen can appear washed out in bright sunlight. The new screen is clearly readable even in the sunniest conditions.
  • The c500 series includes a new feature, Garmin Lock™, an anti-theft feature that disables the unit from performing any functions until you enter a specific 4-digit PIN or take the unit to a predetermined location. 
  • Both the c530 and c550 can take advantage of optional software available on plug-in SD cards, including a Travel Guide™ for Europe and the United States (which provides restaurant, hotel, and attraction reviews and recommendations). Garmin also offers a Savers Guide™ which it describes as “a ’geo-coded’ coupon book that notifies you of nearby discounts on restaurants, hotels, shopping, and more at thousands of participating Entertainment® businesses throughout North America.” We have not yet evaluated either of these add-on products.

Feature-rich & versatile

Bright screen is easy to read, even in bright sunlight; speakers are loud and clear

Conveniently integrated traffic receiver.

Easy to use

Subscription required for traffic features

No text-to-speech


The StreetPilot c550 goes on to distinguish itself from the c530 by also offering the following:

  • Integrated Traffic Receiver: Both the c530 and c550 can provide real-time traffic data and will optionally reroute you around heavy traffic. Traffic data are received via FM radio signals which require a subscription and, for the c530, a separately purchased external antenna plugged into the c530. The c550, on the other hand, has a traffic receiver fully integrated into the unit.
  • Spoken Street Names: Both the c530 and c550 provide spoken turn-by-turn directions. The c550 also provides reads street names with its text-to-speech capability.
  • Integrated Bluetooth Wireless Speakerphone: The c550 is the first Garmin StreetPilot c-series GPS navigation system with integrated Bluetooth. If you have a Bluetooth-enabled phone, the c550 functions as a wireless speakerphone, allowing you to place and receive calls through the unit. (See if your phone is compatible.) If you receive a call, Caller ID information appears right on your unit’s screen, a welcome safety feature keeping eyes forward, not fumbling for your handset. In addition, Garmin has nicely integrated the unit’s own points of interest (POI) database with the Bluetooth features. If you find a nearby hotel or restaurant on your c550, simply press “Call” and the unit will place the call right through your Bluetooth-connected phone.
  • Integrated MP3 and Audiobook Player: The c550 will play your audio files directly from an SD card. The unit automatically reduces music volume for its spoken instructions, so you won’t miss your turn.

We haven’t found any downsides to the c550 and we doubt you will. As we’ve stated in our reviews of other models in the c-series, while there are more powerful GPS units out there (that provide multi-destination routing, for example) after logging thousands of miles with the c-series we find that these units handle the needs of all but the most demanding road warriors by providing the most-needed GPS navigation functions in an easy-to-use, reliable package, and the c500-series has taken that experience to a new level. [Full Review: 19 November 2006 © 2006]


Key Features at a Glance
Ready to Use Out of the Box?

Includes maps of US, Canada
Spoken, Turn-by-Turn Directions?
Text-to-Speech? (Announces Street Names)
Voice Recognition?
Multi-Destination Routing?
MP3/Audio Player?

Live Traffic/Weather?

Subscription required
Suitable for Offroad Use?
Limited map coverage
(internal battery)
Other Features:
Optional Travel Guides


Additional Specifications
Weight .59 pounds (269 g)
Dimensions 4.4”W x 3.2”H x 2.2”D (11.3 x 8.2 x 5.6 cm)
Screen Automotive-grade, sunlight-readable, anti-glare TFT LCD display, 2.8”W x 2.1”H (7.2 x 5.4 cm); 320 x 240 pixels, with touch screen
Chipset SiRF Star III with 20-channel all-in-view; WAAS
In the Box StreetPilot c550, preloaded City Navigator NT North America or Europe (full coverage), GTM 20 integrated FM TMC traffic receiver with free 3-month trial subscription (U.S.), vehicle suction-cup mount, dashboard disk, USB interface cable, carry case, and quick reference guide
Warranty One Year Limited Warranty


  1. lillian campbell says

    I have recently bought , and took my Garmin StreetPilot c550 on a trip to Orlando Florida. It worked fine for a few hours, and then it had me going in circles ( three times in a row) on the Turnpike Pike on a Tuesday night. After that ,the directions were incorrect, and then it froze for an entire day. I could not get the “OK” sign off the screen.

  2. Rated4Stars says

    GPS units can lock up occasionally and we’ve had it happen on our c320. Just in case you don’t know, pop off the face plate and use a pen to depress the tiny reset button and you should be back in action. (Remember to pull over first!) As for going in circles, make sure you have the most up-to-date maps — Florida is especially challenging as the state continues to grow and new roads and routes continue to appear. Hope this is helpful.


  1. […] StreetPilot c-Series introduced us to a welcome marriage of strong technical features with unprecedented ease of use. […]

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