Most major carriers now offer GPS navigation services on a pay-per-day basis (as an alternative to purchasing a monthly subscription). But those services typically depend on cellular network connectivity: Drive outside the range of coverage, and you're faced with incomplete service--or none at all. (For more, read our review of the navigation services available on BlackBerry devices from three major carriers.)
Pharos Science & Applications offers a different type of pay-as-you-go service on its unlocked GPS-enabled Windows Mobile smart phones: Initially, U.S. maps and service are free, but you must pay for access to maps of Canada, Western Europe, or Eastern Europe at the rate of $2 per day, $5 per week, $7 per month, or $50 per year. (Pharos says that it will soon offer maps of China, Russia, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil on the same terms.)
Once you obtain the maps you need (a step that does require a network connection), nothing more is tied to network coverage. Instead, the maps and location-based services are available only for the period of access you pay for. During that period, however, the unit is fully functional as a GPS navigation device, capable of generating routes and identifying your location, regardless of whether you have got a cell phone signal. And because Pharos's phones are sold unlocked, you can use them on any GSM-based network.
On the eve of this week's Consumer Electronics Show, Pharos is introducing its sleekest and best-connected Windows Mobile handset to date, the Traveler 137. It's a quad-band GSM handset with a 3.5-inch LCD touch screen and mobile broadband (UMTS/HSPA) support, so it can work just about anywhere in the world. It also has two cameras: a 3-megapixel unit for capturing conventional stills and video, and a 0.3-megapixel unit for videoconferencing use. The Traveler 137's MicroSD slot supports SDHC.
Because it is sold unlocked (and therefore without carrier subsidy), however, the Traveler 137 is not cheap: Pharos says that the phone will ship by spring for a suggested retail price of $600.
Pharos recently shipped a couple of slightly less expensive Windows Mobile handsets with the same pay-as-you-go Smart Navigator software, which, along with the Traveler 137, has been honored with a CES Innovations award. The Traveler 117, with a 2.8-inch touch screen, and the Traveler 127, with a QWERTY keyboard and a 2.5-inch touch screen, both have a suggested retail price of $530.