Well folks, its time for my official review.
I’ve been driving with GPS systems in my car now for many years. I’ve always been too cheap to spend $2000 for the factory models, and have never been too impressed by them to start with. So I’ve used a variety of methods of in-car navigation.
My first GPS was a Garmin eTrex. The unit had no automotive abilities, but it could get a speed and direction and could give me a distance (as the bird flies) to destination. Nifty but not too useful. Next I got a Magellan 350, same as the eTrex really, except it had more features. After the Magellan, I went all out and bought a Garmin GPS V, which was the first of Garmin’s advanced navigators. It was the first handheld (hiking type) GPS they made that also had Automotive routing capabilities. The system had a black and white screen, and a rocker pad. You could load 19MB worth of maps, which boiled down to just about one state’s worth of streets. You could enter any address and have the system guide you to it. In advance of turns, the GPS V would beep at you and show you an arrow in the direction of the turn on it’s black and white screen.
Over the years, I also tried a variety of PC based systems. I would hook up a notebook PC to my eTrex for example and then have software on the notebook that would take the GPS input and allow me to do the navigation. Those worked very well, except that I don’t have an SUV so the notebook, power inverter and GPS all took up tons of room and essentially precluded me from having a front seat passenger. In addition, this setup was a gigantic pain when it came to parking the car, because I’d have to hide everything etc.
So finally in Christmas of ’04 my wife bought me a Garmin Quest GPS. The Garmin Quest was a revolutionary unit. It was the size of a cell phone, had a color screen and a nice windshield mount. It also had a speaker built into the cigarette lighter cord that would speak upcoming turn instructions. “Turn right in .2 miles” for example. Like the GPS V it used a rocker panel for data entry… but had a much easier interface. The screen was nice and bright and it’s maps were amazing. The unit had 119mb of map space, which would hold my route from Toronto through Cleveland to Chicago… so basically the whole rustbelt, my stomping grounds. Though it was a phenomenal unit, it had some major drawbacks.
1. Rocker Pad – it is very painful to enter data via a rocker pad.. especially things like addresses.
2. Speaker in Cig lighter was very tiny sounding and only said turn right or turn left in blah miles or blah feet.
3. Small screen
4. So-so reception at times
While I liked the Garmin Quest, I was yearning for something better. So, I eventually got my hands on TomTom5 software for my Treo 650. This is the same software that powers the TomTom Go units. This software when coupled with a Bluetooth GPS receiver was a work of art. The interface was very simple, even idiot proof (no learning curve), the display was a clean 3-d display that showed you just the information you need and not more… Audio directions were clear albeit simple (it would also only tell you turn left or turn right in x yards.) I could even load different voices onto the unit. I currently have Arnold Schwarzeneger giving me directions on where to make my turns hehehe.
This would have been the perfect solution had it not been for a few nagging issues.
1. The Treo can only support one Bluetooth device at a time, so I could not navigate and use my headset to talk or get phone calls at the same time. This is more a Treo issue than TomTom’s though.
2. Maps: The TomTom maps are divided into regions. If you load the Midwest for example, then you can navigate to anywhere in the Midwest, but not outside… Even if you load multiple regions into memory, the system cannot navigate across regional borders. TomTom solves this by having one massive all USA map… unfortunately for those of us who Travel to Canada from the northern US states, this is useless. So I’d have to navigate to the border, then switch maps after I crossed, a real hassle.
3. Maps: The maps Tom Tom uses are from TeleAtlas… which are supposedly great in Europe, but they suck big time here in the US. My home address for example was in the system, but my entire development was shown as being offset by about 1000 feet. Its like the guy digitizing the map slipped with his mouse and dragged my neighborhood 1000 feet to the left. This results in my car driving through the woods on the screen.
In short, I love TomTom 5 on my Palm for cruising around Cleveland, but for longer trips its useless… in addition it’s maps are sketchy.
So, my search for the perfect GPS continued. So a few weeks ago I became aware that Garmin had a new unit out called the Nüvi. This new unit has all of north America and Puerto Rico pre-loaded on it, with 700mb of free space to spare for mp3s or audiobooks. In addition, it has an unused SD slot where I can pop in an SD card full of mp3s or pictures etc. In addition, the unit has some tremendous advances over my older system.
1. Touchscreen: Yes! Finally I have a unit with a good touch screen.
2. Text to Speech. The Nuvi will actually read street names when it announces turns. So rather than saying right turn in .2 miles. It says, “In .2 miles, turn right onto Chester Ave”
3. SiRF Star III chip. The same awesome chipset that my Bluetooth GPS receiver uses is now in this new Garmin. Somehow this chipset is the only GPS I’ve ever had that can get a perfect signal from inside my house!!! Not to mention anywhere within my car. My older units I’d have to position just right under the windshield if I wanted any hope of getting a signal.
4. Simplicity. Garmin has taken a page from TomTom’s book on this one. They have simplified the interface to such an extent that anyone can use the unit without ever having seen a GPS or seen the manual. This is what I call good design (TomTom units also have this good design).
5. Tiny! The unit is all screen. The whole thing is maybe half an inch thick by like 3.5 or 4 inches diagonal… which means it fits perfectly in my pocket when I leave the car.
6. MP3s. This feature was not too important to me since I have an Ipod, but it is nice that I can load it with Mp3 music. In addition, if I hook it up to my car Stereo, I can listen to the music over the car speakers. When the system needs to give me a navigational warning, the music is paused, the instruction given, then the music unpaused. How cool is that?
7. Maps: What can I say, Garmin uses NavTeq which are by far the best maps available of North America. I belive that NavTeq actually has crews that go out and drive the roads in special mapping vehicles to correct their maps.
8. Custom POI Loader: All of the newer Garmin units, including this one have the ability to load custom POIs and give proximity alerts. What does this mean? Well you can load for example the location of every fixed speed and redlight camera in your state, and be warned when you are within a pre-defined distance f the camera!
All in all, this is the best Automotive GPS unit I’ve ever had. Very nice interface, good audio, spoken street names, touchscreen, unbeatable reception and phenomenal maps. What more could I ask for. Well, other than perhaps a built in XM or Sirus receiver.
Edit: I've added some photos and I'm going to mention my mounting technique here also...
The first Photo is the car mounted in my car via the use of a proclip custom vent mount for my car, and 3m Dual Lock fastners.
The second photo is a closeup of the proclip as seen from above with my factory Nuvi mount attached to it via the 3m Dual Locks.
Third photo is a frontal view, showing that the mount is very unnoticeable, so as not to attract thieves when the unit is not in the car.
Fourth is an image from the guy who originally gave me the idea to mount the Nuvi this way... he made this image showing a closeup of the fastners.
I have to say the 3M Dual Lock Fastners are the vest thing ever to have been invented since velcro... they are unbelibeably strong and stable, they mount the GPS to the dash as if it was nailed on, but allow me to remove it at will.
I got the Proclip at www.proclipusa.com
and the fastners at a local target store where they were sold in the home improvement section (with all the tape) under the brand name "Scotch Dual Lock fastners"