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AKICOLJ: Portable GPS devices

For the last couple of years, I've been thinking, "One of these days, I'm going to get a GPS." As in the add-on GPS units you can use for directions when driving and at other times, too.

One of these days may turn out to come around this week. Maybe not, but maybe enough that I'm reading online reviews and quickly being overwhelmed by brand and model choices. Please help me, oh LiveJournal. I can't say you're my only hope, but I'm the sort who welcomes opinions, experiences, and insights, especially from geeky friends.

What I know so far:

-- In January, Jim Macdonald effused about his TomTom Go and let me play with it. It's pretty darned spiff.

-- I want a large screen. At least 4.3 inches. 4.7 or 5 inches would be nice. I'd no doubt love 7 inches, but I'm betting it's overkill (and out of my price range).

-- I want a model where I pay for everything upfront. The purchase needs to be a known, 1-time expense, not something that costs more money monthly or quarterly. I've found some TomTom models that include lifetime quarterly map updates as part of the initial purchase price. I haven't yet figured out enough about Garmin or other brands to understand their pricing model(s) for updates.

-- I'm pretty darned price-sensitive. I'm that way by nature these days and birthday money is a large chunk of the GPS budget, such that it is. Under $100 would of course be fab, but $100-180 looks more likely given my feature set and current sale prices. I can go $180-225 for something really grand, but that's pushing it rather a lot.

-- If I understand the term correctly, I want "text-to-speech."

-- I have a strong preference that the speech include street names rather than just distances. ("Turn left Monson Road 100 feet" rather than "Turn left 100 feet.")

-- Traffic updates sound good in theory; I have no idea if they're anything other than useless in practice. Again, some of the TomTom models come with lifetime traffic updates as well as map updates.

-- If it makes a difference, if at all possible, I'll be doing updates from a Mac, not a PC.

-- I expect to use the GPS as a city map/destination finder when I'm out on foot.

For folks who have experience with GPS beasties, what brands and models have you loved, liked, disliked, and/or hated? For what reasons?

Links to useful online review sites also welcome. I've skimmed several. Some are obviously marketing fluff. Others, like GPSreview.net, not so much.

Many thanks! I've wanted a GPS since first experiencing one in a tow truck when I was in England eight years ago. I've needed one ever since moving east, though I've obviously managed one way or another the scores of times I've been lost or otherwise not known where I was and/or how to get where I wanted to go. Ditto that for the times non-moving traffic led me to abandon a highway and set off across the back roads of Connecticut (I know my way around Massachusetts somewhat better and also run into fewer traffic jams here).



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 19th, 2010 06:00 am (UTC)
"I'm reading online reviews and quickly being overwhelmed by brand and model choices."

Just pick one that seems to do what you want, and be done with it. The difference between having Model A and having Model B is much less than the difference between having Model A and not having anything at all.

Jul. 19th, 2010 06:07 am (UTC)
I strongly suggest that you give extra weight to people who respond from your geographic area. The one time we got GPS capability on a rental car in the Boston area, for example (although admittedly it was a crummy stick-to-your-windshield version from Thrifty) the unit was useless on the smaller streets of Boston or near the Olsons' new house - it only worked on the freeway when we didn't need it. (When I returned the car to Thrifty and said that I didn't really want to pay the extra fee for it because it had been useless, the agent said "Well, it was cloudy while you were here" :-> But they did give me a refund!)
Jul. 19th, 2010 08:35 am (UTC)
Gulp. A GPS that only did freeways in the Boston area? That's evil.
Jul. 19th, 2010 08:32 am (UTC)
Excellent point; one I would do well to remember in general as well as in this specific case.
Jul. 19th, 2010 08:40 am (UTC)
In general, it is easy for us to ignore the cost of not deciding.

Jul. 19th, 2010 06:10 am (UTC)
In the UK, the TomTom traffic updates are accurate, and therefore indispensable (they have a deal with one of the mobile phone networks to get real-time information on how a few million mobile phones are moving around between cells). I don't know how good they are in the US.
Jul. 19th, 2010 07:32 am (UTC)
I have a TomTom and I find that as long as I update it regularly its accuracy is good. I liked mine enough that when I needed to replace it I went with the same brand, and my husband did as well when he eventually got one. The options allow you to choose what text you want spoken and in what format you want directions given.
Jul. 19th, 2010 08:39 am (UTC)
Jul. 19th, 2010 08:38 am (UTC)
The few reviews I've seen for TomTom and other traffic tie-ins is that they're not ready for primetime in America yet, but they're getting closer all the time.

Hey, Google street view even has Monson Road on it now. They moved my address considerably further away from my house in the process, but what the hey? (Google maps used to point to my next door neighbor's location as mine. Now they point to a spot a good quarter mile away, past the neighbors who are considerably further away, and past the pond, too.)
Jul. 20th, 2010 06:17 am (UTC)
Question: Are you updating your TomTom using a Mac? madfilkentist reported problems in his reply and I see that he encountered those in February of this year. Another user responding to him then also mentioned Mac interface problems.

A quick online check of a couple different sites shows that the Mac software sucked eggs as of 2008, and that how it works on Macs seems to depend quite a lot on the operating system used. You tend to be up to the minute with everything Mac -- how's the TomTom Home interface work for you?

Jul. 20th, 2010 06:30 am (UTC)
I've not had any problems -- the current version of TomTom Home works fine.
Jul. 20th, 2010 06:45 am (UTC)
Thanks! That's good to know.

Jul. 19th, 2010 07:32 am (UTC)
Google Maps on a smart phone does all that. If you already have a smart phone, it'll be free, since Google Maps is free.

Jul. 19th, 2010 07:34 am (UTC)
whoops, that was me.

Jul. 19th, 2010 08:48 am (UTC)
Alas, no smart phone and no data plan here. No expectation of having one anytime soon, either. It's that whole monthly expense thing.
Jul. 20th, 2010 06:32 am (UTC)
Only in North America. In the rest of the world, Google buys its map data from satnav companies, who strangely enough don't let Google use that data to provide turn-by-turn navigation.

Edited at 2010-07-20 06:32 am (UTC)
Jul. 19th, 2010 09:55 am (UTC)
If you're using a Mac, that rules out Tom Tom. Their Mac software and documentation simply sucks. Following their instructions precisely, I destroyed the content of my device irrecoverably. If an update doesn't fit on the device, it deletes the existing data and tries to copy the update anyway, ending up with a useless device which I returned. It turns out there is a backup function, but the quickstart documentation which directs you to do an update doesn't mention such a thing.

Garmin lets you treat the device as a disk drive, which is much more sensible; no special software needed.
Jul. 20th, 2010 06:18 am (UTC)
Many thanks! I'd read of your TomTom problems earlier this year, then totally spaced them until your response reminded me.
Jul. 19th, 2010 11:45 am (UTC)
The econological niche of the GPS units is being taken over by smart phones. I expect it to contract seriously (e.g., rental car addons).
I'm not sure how this directly affects your decision, but it's out there. (I wonder what the Christmas specials will be like.)
Jul. 19th, 2010 01:24 pm (UTC)
Traffic updates are a wonderful feature. They make getting into and out of big cities a lot easier.
Jul. 19th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
I have a Garmin - dont' remember what model - that just says "turn left" rather than "turn left onto Acuff." However, the Sprint Navigation on my phone does tell me what street to turn on to. One thing that I've found - and it may be partially due to being used to by 2.5 yr old Garmin, is that the Sprint lady telling me what street to turn onto really irritates me. I've found that it takes so long for her to say "in .2 miles, turn left onto Acuff lane" that by the time she's done, I've already turned.

But, more generally, I would most definitely suggest a Garmin. They are fantastic - although be sure to register for map updates within the first 30 days, because otherwise it'll cost you a boatload.
Jul. 19th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
I've been quite satisfied with the basic TomTom that I got several years ago. Reviews I checked at the time said their maps were the best (the other brands may have caught up by now, of course).

Mine does not say the street name of the next turn and I don't feel the lack. The name of the street is clearly displayed on the screen, which is very sharp.
Jul. 19th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
On Saturday, a friend with a Garmin was trying to drive in from St. Cloud, and ran into major problems - both 35W and 94 were closed through parts of downtown, and there was a Twins game and Aquatenial events. She didn't get info about detours, traffic, anything. (I wish I'd remembered to tell her about the detours when she'd called to make plans. My bad.) She says that in general it's mostly useful for freeways, and often inaccurate on city streets.

Consumer Reports magazine online has some info online for free, the rest of it you have to be a subscriber, which means go to a public library to read the ratings, if you want them. I've had excellent luck with CR ratings on products.
Jul. 19th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
I have such a lousy sense of direction that for me, a GPS can sometimes be considered necessary adaptive technology. Much better than Mapquest.

I have a Garmin that I'm very happy with, though it does want to be updated (at a cost, I suspect), and I can't find the mini-USB cord that I need to do so. Mostly I'm surviving just fine without.

I originally had one that spoke but didn't give street names, then Costco had a sale with the next model up at the same price, so I exchanged them. (I love the fact that Costco does this, buy the way.) This model does do street names (occasionally amusingly wrong, but more right than not). It's not worth giving the model because it's a few years old now, and all the model names have changed.

I paid $300 for mine ($400 list, I think), and I see the equivalent model being sold for $200 these days.

I've used my Garmin mostly in the Mpls-St. Paul area, of course, but also in Arizona and Nevada, and in Florida, all successfully. The model I bought contains Canada maps as well, but not Mexico.

The one thing that I thought was a nifty feature but turned out not to be was the ability to put in MP3s and play them back. There wasn't enough room (something like 75 meg), and it was too hard to find the right place. That's what the iPod is for.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )


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