Bleg: Tech Advice

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Since I’m constantly getting lost, and soon moving to a new city, I figure I should get some sort of GPS device. I’d use it almost exclusively in my car. So what should I be looking for? What are the major differences between a $160 device and one that runs more than $300?

Also, I saw an ad the other day for a charging pad like this one. Anyone own one of these? Is it worth the price? Seems like the travel version would be helpful. Wouldn’t need to remember to bring all of those cords.

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55 Responses to “Bleg: Tech Advice”

  1. #1 |  tb | 

    I’ll put in another vote for the Garmin Nuvi 255W.

    1. Inexpensive ($140)
    2. Wide screen (4.3″)
    3. Easy to use – predictive text entry, simple favorites
    4. Good directions and an easy-to-read map

    I could care less for the text-to-speech function other than the good laugh I get when hearing some of the pronunciations and I don’t live in a big enough city for traffic updates.

  2. #2 |  goes211 | 

    I have a Garmin Nuvi 265w. Had a 255w but it got stolen out of my wife’s luggage by a bag handler in Memphis. Scum.

    I also have an iPhone, but I really found after using it (before getting the Garmin) that (1) lack of turn-by-turn makes navigating difficult (2) having to hold/operate the phone while driving to an unknown location is not the best idea (3) no data/slow data (anywhere with ATT) means no map/GPS (4) you can’t talk on the phone and use GPS on the phone

    So I bought a Garmin. The wife’s car has a built-in unit (BMW) and I really prefer the cheap Garmin.

    Adding to #38 @Jeff, I always end up lost in Nashville, and I grew up just an hour away and spent a fair amount of time there. Briley Pkwy still confuses me, and every time I go back after a couple of years absence, it seems some major road has changed names. Carmen the Garmin gets me around well enough to survive.

  3. #3 |  fishbane | 

    The phones are great for viewing maps and getting directions, but if you actually want to have it tell you where to turn while you are driving, a dedicated GPS is better. The screen is larger, the voice is louder, and it has better electronics for receiving the satellite signals so it has a better grasp of your position. Also, you can use your phone while driving without worrying about missing the next turn.

    Thus demonstrating why there are so many products in the field. The iPhone is plenty loud, at least for me – I don’t have a db to give, but for instance, I can hear it over road noise and the stereo at non-insane loudness. Another for instance – it works fine as a speakerphone at a table with six people at it.

    Screen-size doesn’t bother me – I rarely look at it, mostly use the voice directions, and when I do, it is plenty-bright and big enough to fine. (I’m at an age where my eyes are starting to get a bit worse, so maybe I’ll change my mind over time.) I don’t have an issue with signal problems – it doesn’t work indoors, of course, but then none of them do, and I suspect this will be a minor issue at best for driving…

    One thing I will say is that for Google Maps, I’ve gotten some hilariously weird directions. Less so now, but about 1.5 years ago, right after I got it, I was in Reno, and I still recall it wanting me to take 3-4 mile random out-of-the-way trips in order to do a Uturn and come back, which clearly made no sense. Navigon’s software, I’ve notices, is sometimes a little suboptimal – there are a variety of settings one can screw around with, and I suspect the proper tuning of those varies by the particular trip you’re making. Problem being, you don’t know that ahead of time. But in general, it is fine.

    As far as talking on the phone – Libertarian relevence alert! that’s becoming a ticket more and more, so I see that as marginal. But that may be a selection bias on my part, as I mainly drive in/around major cities where that’s the law.

    Finally, unless you spend all your time in crime-free areas, get one that’s small enough that you can and will put it away every time. ‘Cause if you leave it out, someone will break a window and steal it.

    This seems to cut against the larger screen issue, above, and your phone is likely going with you, anyway, so there’s nothing to forget.

    But my general bias is towards having fewer things, so I like all-in-one devices, when they work well. (A phone won’t be replacing my 5D anytime soon.) So take that into account.

  4. #4 |  Laughingdog | 

    I’ve had a Garmin Zumo 550 (from when I had a motorcycle) and currently use a Garmin Nuvi 255w. For the person that suggested a Zumo, that’s incredibly expensive overkill if you aren’t using it on a motorcycle. No car driver needs something that’s waterproof and vibration resistant.

    GPS for the iPhone isn’t inherently bad. But most of the apps can leave you hanging. The important thing with any smartphone GPS, if you’re going to depend on it, is to get an app that will store the map on your phone instead of streaming as you go.

    I have a friend with a Tom Tom. From his experiences, it definitely sounds like the Tom Tom is capable of being a better GPS than the Garmin, but it requires more work on the users end to keep it updated for that.

    As for traffic/weather updates, those are pretty overrated. Most areas don’t even provide traffic updates, and weather changes are more relevant on a motorcycle than in a car. Just focus on something with a widescreen and you’re in pretty good shape.

  5. #5 |  David | 

    I meant to reply to this earlier but forgot. I highly recommend the Garmin Nuvi 265wt that I have. It has a good-sized screen and can pick up traffic data in many major cities for free. The only major problem I’ve found are that it can lose the signal in the middle of a city with very tall buildings. I think that happens with all units, though. Also, it has an annoying nag screen about not trying to input stuff into it while moving that pops up every time you turn it on.