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You want a GPS

© April 2008 Anthony Lawrence

This is more of a confession than a review, but it may help out someone else as confused and unaware as I was. I should have bought a GPS some time ago, and only did so because we are planning a cross country trip. I had no idea how useful this would be for local travel and really wish someone had told me to buy one..

My first misconception: I thought these were subscription services like Satellite Radio. I also thought the lowest priced models were up in the $400 range and I couldn't see paying that much money AND a monthly subscription for something I didn't need: maps.google.com gets me where I need to go, right?

So wrong.. you can get refurbished units well under $100 now and even brand new units aren't much more. I paid $150.00 for a brand new Garmin Nuvi 250, and that's the end of it: no monthly fees.

Well, there is an associated expense: every now and then you'll need to update the internal maps, and they do charge for that, but how often do the roads change so much that you need an update? In most places you could go years and years before out of date maps became anything but a very minor problem.

OK, but still: on-line directions are free and constantly updated. Do I really need a GPS?

Nope. But it sure is convenient. How many times have you looked down at your gas gauge and realized that you need the closest gas station NOW? Your GPS unit, even a low priced model, can find that station for you, as well as restaurants, malls, tourist attractions...

It can also find alternate routes. The high priced units can automatically route you around bad traffic, but even the low priced units can help: just look at the map to see a likely road, get off there and let the GPS figure out what you need to do next. At first it may try to get you back to the highway, but if you keep stubbornly going in the "wrong" direction, it will eventually recalculate another route to your destination. The unit I have can be set to avoid highways too - that can help for this kind of situation.

There's actually a "Detour" button that seems to work sometimes.. but I haven't found that to be very reliable.

Where these really shine is cross-city cuts. For example, I was in Boston Monday and needed to go out to Brookline. I knew where I was going, and could have found my way without the GPS, but I would have taken the major roads that I know, and would have gone way out of my way. Often MapQuest or maps.google.com will do the same thing because their algorithm doesn't want to give you a lot of quick turns - too hard to memorize and impossible to read while driving. As the GPS is going to speak to you ("Turn right in 200 feet"), a bunch of twists and turns is no problem: I was at my destination in half the time it would have taken otherwise, and I also learned a route I never knew before.

About that speaking: the higher end units speak the road: "Turn left on Union Street in 200 feet". My lower end unit leaves out the street name, although it is shown on the display. Most of the time I don't need to look at the display because there aren't that many streets close together, but in the city, you do want to know the specific street.

Oh, another misconception: I thougt these had to be installed. Another expense, and an annoyance when you trade in the car. Yes, some high end units do require installation, but mine just pops onto the window with a suction cup. Nothing to it.

Trust me: I did not think I wanted a GPS. I know better now. Prices are very reasonable, they are simple to use, and you will be glad you bought it. I'll go so far as to say you are foolish not to have one today.

Tony Lawrence 2008-04-11 Rating: 4.0

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-> gps systems are inexpensive and essential


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Fri Apr 11 03:25:53 2008: 4026   drag

Just don't make a common mistake and leave them in your car unattended.

In some places they are quite fond targets. They are easy to resell, often left out in the open, and virtually nobody registers their device making it about to impossible to identify a model conclusively if they are ever recovered. So don't ever expect any sympathy or help if your car gets broken into.

Fri Apr 11 10:28:19 2008: 4029   TonyLawrence

That is a good point, and an advantage for the "suction cup" models - easy to take off and hide or take with you.

But I do think as the prices fall this is getting less attractive to thieves.

Mon Apr 20 13:10:29 2009: 6242   TonyLawrence

We bought this a year ago and were very happy with it. When the message started popping up about the maps being out of date, I went to Garmin's website and found that they had just introduced the Lifetime Maps option so I bought that and d/l'ed the latest map.

It was awful! Places it used to have good directions to now sent me off on dumb sidetracks. Suddenly it thought some addresses were on the opposite side of the road! I was driving on the MA Pike and it though I was on Route 2! It tried sending me down a dirt road that goes nowhere here in my home town..

I'm hoping this new d/l will fix some of that,

Why why why do these d/l and installs take so long???


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