Car GPS - The Ultimate Guy Gadget?

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UPDATE 2/23/08: Having used this unit since late December, I thought an update on its use might be in order.

Of all the features that this unit has, one of the MOST valuable is the “Detour” function. Let’s say you’re on the way to the airport and you hit a traffic jam or accident – you hit the “Detour” function and it routes you off where you are to an alternate route. I’ve lived in the NY area all my life, but the GPS detoured me through back streets flawlessly in avoiding highway jams.

This function saved my bacon at least four times already.

Some of you live on areas where the streets are laid out in nearly perfect grids; in the Northeast, that’s not the rule. Consequently in this area sometimes getting from point A to B may require local knowledge that takes years to assimilate. With a GPS – piece of cake! Even if you make a mistake, the unit recalculates quickly and leads you out of your mistake.

The only negative I have to say is that depending on where you mount the unit, you may get a reflection from the screen at night. I solved this by mounting an index card as a hood on top of the unit to stop this problem.

Overall, I can’t imagine leaving the house without my GPS – you’ll be surprised when it becomes indispensible!


SUMMARY: With prices dropping rapidly, a “must-have”.

You know the stereotype – men hate to ask for directions. There must be some gene from the dark and distant past that kicks in when men have to ask for directions. Technology to the rescue! The car GPS!

I was confronted over the holidays with a change in plans which dictated that we travel some distance for our family get-together in an unfamiliar location. Verbal directions took the form of “I think it’s about 2 or 5 miles from some gas station” with multiple turns at questionable landmarks. This time I opted to try a GPS rather than print out multiple PC maps.

Now this all happens two days before Christmas – you can imagine the paucity of product. Luckily I found a Garmin Nuvi 200W at a local Staples (they had only four GPS units in stock) for $250 that seemed to fill the bill; the salesperson counseled “Try it – if you don’t like it, exchange it for something else later”. OK – sounds like a plan to me.

The Garmin comes with a suction cup mounting system (for the windshield), a permanent mounting disk for the dashboard, a 12 volt power cord and a “Manual” The “Manual”, while perfectly adequate to get started, consists of a bare handful of pages so lacking in depth that fully understanding the unit’s features required some exploring. Fortunately there are Help screens users can access, but don’t expect a lot of detail.

For basic “How do I get there” functionality, it takes maybe 5-10 minutes to get the unit up and running to the point where you are comfortable with it. After reading some reviews on the Nuvi 250W, I found features that were not in the “Manual” – for example, you can save an on-screen location by touching the location on the screen – nothing in the manual on that feature. Read all the reviews (two good sources: gpsmagazine.com and gpsreview.net) you can find on any unit you are interested in – you’ll learn more from that than the manuals.

Features not mentioned in the “Manual”:

  • JPEG picture viewer
  • World travel clock with time zones
  • Currency converter
  • Measurement converter
  • Calculator

So at least for some of the Garmin units, you’ll have to do some digging to fully understand included features.

A Quick Tour

Physically the Nuvi 200W is petite

Screen

– it weighs a little over 6 ounces, measures 4.8″ x 2.9″ x 0.8″ and includes a rechargeable lithium battery good for six hours. The 4.3″ touch-screen display is 480 x 272 pixels and is very bright in daylight; at night the display dims and the colors change so it’s not glaring (feature not mentioned in the manual). The antenna is built-in. This unit announces turns (scads of languages to choose) but not street names – just “Turn right” etc.

the back shows the speaker and USB/Power Port:

Back

At the base of the unit is the reset button:

Reset

There is also an SD Slot which can be used to load additional features, such as maps and additional “Points of Interest” data – it can also be used to show pictures:

SD Slot

Screen Shots

NOTE: These are screen-shots I took with a camera – the actual screen you see on the unit is not “grainy” – the screen images are smooth, clear and attractive to the eye.

The first screen you see on power up – good advice!

Open Screen

This is the main screen – very simple!

Open Screen

Pressing “Map” leads to this screen (note: it takes up to two minutes for the unit to lock onto satellites):

Map

Pressing “Arrival” leads to a Trip Computer – very handy!

Trip Computer

Pressing “Turn in” leads to a detailed turn list for the route selected with images:

Turn Screen

{mospagebreak}

Selecting “Where to?” leads to these screen:

POI

POI

To input an address, you select a state, either selecting from a list…

Address

or typing the state using the on-screen keyboard.

Keyboard

Selecting “Points of Interest” leads to a number of choices:

POI Choices

POI Choices

As an example, selecting “Chinese” from the list leads to a restaurant list near your current location

POI Restaurants

Overall, the current GPS crop sports features that make traveling so much easier that it’s a no-brainer. I’ve just scratched the surface of the available features.

CONCLUSIONS

My experience in using this unit is very positive – without it I would have spent more time asking for directions (or wandering) than I’d care to admit. I found it very accurate, easy to use and the routes selected were on-the-money.

Spending more money gets you more features, such as “text to speech” (vocal cues include street names rather than generic “turn right” cues), blue-tooth integration and real-time traffic routing. However, the basic GPS chip appears to be the same in all units, so I don’t think you get more accuracy.

In sum, I think this is one of the most useful electronic gadgets around.

Email Joe

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Discussion
  1. I use a Holux 1000b bluetooth GPS unit, about the size of a small matchbox, which connects to my Axim X51v. If you already have a decent PDA or Smartphone, a unit like this is only ~$50

    For navigation, I use a program called Iguidance, but there are others that are PPC based, like TomTom. They work great.

    I use another program called Backcountry Navigator for offroad use, like hiking and geocaching. It downloads free topo maps and arial photos from terraserver-usa so there are no costs beyond the $30 for the software. Unfortunately, terraserver-usa only has maps for the usa, but the BCN dev is working on free map sources for other countries and methods for importing other types of map data.
    mbigna
    I'm pretty sure that Garmin's altimeter is NOT barometric. The altitude is calculated as part of your location directly from the GPS signals (ANY GPS would be capable of calculating altitude). A barometric altimeter would need constant recalibration any time the ambient pressure changes.


    You could be right; it does make sense, but according to the unit's software, data sheet, manual and this, the manufactures site:

    "The eTrex Vista combines the popular features of the eTrex Summit with a full basemap of the Americas, the Atlantic or the Pacific, a barometric altimeter, electronic compass and 24 megabytes (MB) of internal memory for extra data storage."

    features:

    https://buy.garmin.com/shop/shop.do?cID=145&pID=163

    specs:

    https://buy.garmin.com/shop/shop.do?cID=145&pID=163
    It's a full function GPS service, and because you ALWAYS have up to date maps, and it can even check traffic conditions for you and build a route around congestion, I'd say it's superior to most car based gps units.

    The only con I can think of is you don't mount it on the dash or whatever, it's hand held. Personally, I liek that better, I mean I really don't need to see a 3d map of the sam eroute i drive every day to work. When I need directions, I just pull it out, an dget directions.

    Another cool feature is it can link in with other BB apps Fo rinstance lets say you have a yellow pages application, yo uare on a buisness trip, clients want sushi, yo ulook up some resteraunt rating on BB, find a good sushi joint, and them imidiately get driving directions.
    Yup all Cell Phones at least new ones (2 years old at least if not older) do have GPS's that are quiet accurate in them. I mean when I call 911 they can locate me within a few feet of where I am very quickly.
    No it's an actual GPS device. The maps are downloaded VIA the cell network, but the GPS tracking is done through the satelites.

    It does cost $10 a month extra hoever fo rthe Telnav service which is the GPS driving service. But you always have up to date maps, and it is capable of checking traffic in real time and giving you alternate routes.
    Is the GPS in a blackberry, and actual GPS? Or does it use cell phone towers in combination with GPS in orbit? I find it hard to believe they fit the components along with an antenna that gets decent reception in a package that small.
    Elluzion
    i'd rather have a portable one, like on a phone. I want to get a blackberry that has one


    I love the GPS on my blackberry.
    turd
    I won't go without one. They take a lot of the stress from cross country driving and are indispensable for local driving to unknown locations. They are much more then a toy for me.

    For hiking I have a handheld Garmin Etreck that includes a barometric altimeter! I load my own maps into and use along with a topo map on long hikes. I manly use it to fix my position so I can cross reference and locate on the map.( I carry a compass-just in case) I do load in coordinates on topos to the gps but it's really not the same to me. I guess I'm kinda hesitant trusting my life to it.


    I'm pretty sure that Garmin's altimeter is NOT barometric. The altitude is calculated as part of your location directly from the GPS signals (ANY GPS would be capable of calculating altitude). A barometric altimeter would need constant recalibration any time the ambient pressure changes.
    I won't go without one. They take a lot of the stress from cross country driving and are indispensable for local driving to unknown locations. They are much more then a toy for me.

    For hiking I have a handheld Garmin Etreck that includes a barometric altimeter! I load my own maps into and use along with a topo map on long hikes. I manly use it to fix my position so I can cross reference and locate on the map.( I carry a compass-just in case) I do load in coordinates on topos to the gps but it's really not the same to me. I guess I'm kinda hesitant trusting my life to it.
    I find it handy because I'm a construction worker, thats lives in the country area and most all of the work in in the city (DC) about 80 miles away and they just give me an address and say be there at 6am, now I have no Idea where im going up around that area but with my gps you couldn't get lost if you tried, i love it
    deathman20
    If you want to spend that much on a laptop sure it will be better for map perspective wise. I personally don't know many map programs for the PC anymore if they are actually good for travel purpose. Downside with a laptop... its large. Its going to be a larger item to lug around and even more cables, you won't beable to convently mount it on your dashboard either.


    Not a laptop. I was thinking more of a custom built carputer based on a VIA NanoITX or similar board. No need for a break the bank powerhouse. Yes it's more money, but also more capabilities.

    I and a friend have recently begun experimenting with making custom fiberglass dashes for our customized cars(I actually want to try making my own car from scratch). You'd be surprised at the amount of wasted space under most dashes. Lots of room to shoehorn in a custom system in most cases.
    I have a Blackberry with GPS and Telenav. I personally like having a portabel handheld GPS that I can use wherever, and when ever.
    We are looking at getting a tomtom 910. I think that when people pass the 50 year mark their memory degrades by alot, also their ability to find places(this is only regarding men, women don't have a sense of direction to begin with)

    We used a friends once, it's great, thinking about maybe getting one for the motorcycle..for when I get one :p :)
    I have a Garmin GPSmap 60CSx as I like to hunt and mountain bike. But it has auto routing capabilities just like the car ones and works so good. It was a steep price but defiantly better than my Magellan 210 (only 3x the price ;)) It doesn't talk and doesn't have a touch screen, but for me its worth it because of how portable and rugged it is.
    Deadbot1_1973
    The GPS or the women in your life? LOL.

    Still don't have one(GPS...:beer:), but I have thought about it. I remember reading a Hack-A-Day article about running Linux on a Garmin unit and getting a GPS and MP3 unit all in one. I think that some of the newer Garmin units actually have the MP3 capability built in. haven't checked lately. I guess that my reluctance in getting one is this...Wouldn't a carputer be a better bet in the long run? Especially if you have a new enough car to be able to interface it to the car and control/monitor the engine?


    If you want to spend that much on a laptop sure it will be better for map perspective wise. I personally don't know many map programs for the PC anymore if they are actually good for travel purpose. Downside with a laptop... its large. Its going to be a larger item to lug around and even more cables, you won't beable to convently mount it on your dashboard either.
    Niku-Sama
    be careful i hear these things steal your penis


    The GPS or the women in your life? LOL.

    Still don't have one(GPS...:beer:), but I have thought about it. I remember reading a Hack-A-Day article about running Linux on a Garmin unit and getting a GPS and MP3 unit all in one. I think that some of the newer Garmin units actually have the MP3 capability built in. haven't checked lately. I guess that my reluctance in getting one is this...Wouldn't a carputer be a better bet in the long run? Especially if you have a new enough car to be able to interface it to the car and control/monitor the engine?