Thursday, July 24, 2008

Who loves, or hates, his GPS?

Another way in which I am an atypical guy is that I've never had problems asking directions. What I have problems with is feeling lost. I hate that feeling passionately. So asking someone for directions, to make that feeling go away, is a small thing.

Definitely had that feeling on our trip to the South earlier this year. Trying to find a location in Kentucky, my dear wife and I traveled some narrow, remote roads that had me wishing I'd never seen Deliverance. It was a bad feeling. Nice company, pretty scenery, bad feeling.

So thinking ahead, my wife wants to get a GPS, and she says I should ask you, Faithful Readers, if you have any experiences to relate.

The one that looks best so far is the Garmin nuvi 660 GPS Navigation, which gets really terrific user ratings both at Circuit City and Amazon. Also, it's on sale at huge mark-downs.

So, your thoughts?


A Birdy said...

I own a TomTom GPS. On rare occasions the voice instructions are incomplete. For example - Going home from a relations house requires me to turn right at a T intersection and then turn left - but the GPS ignores the right turn instruction and only says turn left.

I find it best to plan the journey first and check the voice instructions before driving anywhere.

JackW said...

I use Onstar, but I do have some experience with Garmin GPS ... on the golf course. Garmin is just better engineered than the rest. Go with it.

candy said...

I don't much about GPS systems, but I hear they are really fun to use for geo-caching.

I love maps. I enjoy tracing routes and exploring areas and roads. My husband is a random driver, even in our own town. I have to navigate all turns for him from the passenger seat.

threegirldad said...

My experience is with a much lower-end Garmin model (nĂ¼vi 260), mostly positive. At $299, I'd snap up the 660 in a heartbeat.

Now a word to the wise: map database quality is the GPS industry's dirty little secret. All GPS vendors source map databases from companies who specialize in that kind of data (e.g., NAVTEQ, Tele Atlas). As a general rule, NAVTEQ has more accurate and up-to-date maps for the U.S. (and this is what Garmin uses). That said, GPS map databases are somewhat notorious for lagging behind printed maps and atlases to some degree (as odd as that may sound), and the further off the beaten path you go, the more likely you are to notice. At some point during your use of a GPS, you will look at the thing and say, "Huh?! Are you on dope???" -- or words to that effect. ;-) But as long as you're prepared to deal with the occasional "hiccup," and you don't expect perfection, I say that you'll enjoy it...and you'll consider it money well spent.

As for your concern about being lost in remote areas, a GPS will show you your (pretty much exact) location, whereas a printed map is no good if you're really, truly lost. For maximum peace of mind, however, I recommend planning ahead as much as possible, and taking along a current road atlas or a set of printed maps to augment the GPS.

DJP said...

Thanks very much, 3GD.

I doesn't come with Europe — can you add it somehow, do you know?

threegirldad said...

Yes, you can add maps for Europe, but it's a little pricey to do that, especially when you can buy the unit itself for $299. If you're at all interested in maps of Europe, you probably want to consider the 670 for only $40 more. The 670 is the "Transatlantic" counterpart to the 660, with bundled maps of Europe being the only difference between the two.

Kim said...

I think my hubby would think it an assault on his manhood if I was to suggest a GPS.

Conquering unknown territories is kind of like him slaying dragons.

He's a map junkie.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine just had a birthday last week, and received as a gift from his wife a Garmin Nuvi GPS. Funny thing, they are leaving on vacation this week. Do you think there may have been a connection there?

Looks like 3GD is a GPS PhD. I like the Nuvi my friend got (don't know the exact model), I'd like to get one for my long (50+ mile) bike rides. Nice to know exact locations, elevations, etc. Not sure I'd use one for navigation much since I don't travel that much.

Scott Shaffer said...

My Blackberry has GPS in it - AT&T's Navigator program. It works well, but like all of these programs it has its limitations. What I like about having it in the Blackberry is I don't have to carry a second device. This is especially nice when I have to fly out of town and rent a car. I thought the smaller screen size would be an issue, but it really isn't.

Neil said...

You don't need a GPS. Just pull over every ten miles, get out, sniff the wind, and resume driving.

Unknown said...

Dan, as a person who has ZERO sense of direction, I'm a HUGE fan of GPS systems. I purchased a Garmin for Geocaching and just LOVED it! Then I purchased street maps for it, and it's free upgrades for the life of your system. I then started using it to get around and absolutely LOVED it! I even used it in Egypt for a geocache, and in Costa Rica. Just can't go wrong :-)

Mike Westfall said...

I use a handheld Garmin for out-in-the-woods type activities, like geocaching and hiking.

My dad has a mapping GPS in his car. It seems to often be wrong about where to turn. Me, I just use maps.

threegirldad said...

Mesa Mike,

I'd be curious to know if your dad's GPS has a feature called Text-to-Speech. In other words, does it say something like this:

"In 100 feet, turn left."

Or something like this:

"In 100 feet, turn left onto XYZ street."

Text-to-Speech is a huge advantage in major metropolitan areas where there are parallel streets in close proximity.

No matter which make/model you buy, if you use it often enough to get from point A to point B within a metropolitan area, at some point your GPS is going to generate a map that is, shall we say, more circuitous than the directions you'll get from a neighborhood gas station. It's just the nature of the beast.

Have unrealistic expectations, and you'll end up disappointed (not to mention convinced that you wasted your money). Have realistic expectations, and you'll feel much differently (I think).

P.D. Nelson said...

I used to do field service calls for my company in different cities around the country. I've used the displayed model or one lower than that as well as a Tom Tom.

My experience is that you need to not completely rely on the GPS system but also be aware of other roadsigns along the way that can help you.

That said it can be quite a help when you really need directions and there is no close landmarks.

Or you can try buggy's method.

CR said...

In the rare instances we get a rental car with "NeverLost" from Hertz (our company does not pay for it, I only get it if there is a free upgrade), it's worked wonderfully.

I don't know about this particular system you're talking about. You have to ask about the monthly fees also.

Also, lot of cell phones, my Chocolate Verizon has GPS and I can pay a flat for $3 for a day when I really need it.

So, it's really a cost benefit thing. Are you going to use it a lot?

Also, always do a check on Consumer Reports to see what they say about it.

I love the South, because they vote Republican, but is there actually any civilization down in some of those places where the GPS can work?

Carl said...

I'm more navigation system is called a map. :-)

Kim said...

p.d. nelson:

Or you can try buggy's method.

In 23 years I've been driving around with Buggy, we've never been lost. There have been times where we didn't know where we were, but we've never been lost :-)

DJP said...

Valerie wonders whether perhaps it only works in Canada.

threegirldad said...

I love the South, because they vote Republican, but is there actually any civilization down in some of those places where the GPS can work?

[chambers a shell]


Unknown said...

On our recent visit, our relatives loaned us their Garmin - they programmed locations in for us, and it took us directly to where we needed to go. Warning: the kids named the voice (Garminetta) and proceeded to mimic her for weeks. "Turn left, then turn left." "Ease right in 1 mile." It got sillier, too. "Back out of neighbor's living room."

Our worstest lost experience was 11 miles up a dead end road at twilight in the Sierras, with a GPS. It wasn't the talking kind, it just showed us where we were rather than where we needed to GO. So without a destination inside, the thing is worthless...there's a theological application somewhere in that. :)

CR said...

TGD: You said, "Chambers a shell?"

What does that mean?

Neil said...

It means that that southern man is gonna fill someone's backside with buckshot.

Gilbert said...


As a storm chaser, here's the golden rule: if you are chasing a tornado, you need to have multiple escape routes. Having a GPS has changed the way scientists and those who are not storm chase; we can overlay live radar onto the GPS to see where the storm and tornado are headed. At times, although we shouldn't do it, let's just say it has saved chasers from getting into really bad situations.

So let me suggest an alternate route to go where you want to go. ;-)

For $75 and a laptop ( ), you can run Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008.
But you say: "I want to see the screen!". And I say: that's dangerous, and I am guessing your wife can look at the screen and tell you exactly where to go. We've used it on rural roads in the middle of nowhere. It's great!

That said, we also have another GPS-only window unit that the passenger can see (we absolutely need to have at least one running for our viewing at all times when we're using the laptop for weather or radar analysis). And storm chasers Garmin ones, and several use this one with great results, and let's just say we're "power users" and we really depend on it for bad situations. Let's just say much worse than yours.

BTW, if you get it now via Amazon, you'll also get a free upgrade for a 2009 map, but you have 2 months or so to grab it, or you miss out. Warning: the file, which is an executable, is around 2 gigabytes. Even at 3 mb/sec, that'll take awhile.

I hope this helps a little. I hate getting lost, but when one is storm chasing, that can turn into more than just an "ugly feeling".

CR said...

Ha ha ha ha! Thanks for the translation Bugblaster! :=)

candy said...

I want to be a stormchaser.

I have hiked all over the Sierra range and other places and the only time I've ever gotten lost was walking on trails in Trinity Park in Arlington Tx. Truly walked around in circles until dark, trying to find my way out.

David said...

I used to own the Garmin Nuvi 660 to get acclimated to a new city. I sold it shortly afterwards because it ended up not being worth it. The big reason why I gave it up: I had out-of-date maps and didn't want to pay up the money for an upgrade. My next GPS will definitely be a TomTom. Loved the Garmin more than any other unit, but having to pay for map updates it's a huge minus.

threegirldad said...


Yeah, what bugblaster said. Just my way of having a little fun.


Gilbert said...


> I want to be a stormchaser.

Unless you have a lot of experience and know what you are doing--don't. Two guys who have been chasing and do it well for over a decade wound up broadcasting video and audio live inside a tornado (the wireless Internet and cell phone connection they had held up inside the vortex!). In the heat of the moment, they didn't notice that the radar image stopped updating because the NWS radar was struck by lightning, and disabled it. So they though things slowed down. They were in a lot of trees, couldn't see much, and...oops. They were fine, a little shaken up, but those watching WOWT-DT in Omaha got the story of the day. Car got lifted up and turned sideways. Play armchair stormchaser and head to .

trogdor said...

I had a GPS for a while, and loved it. Of course there were always a few oddities, so I still kept an atlas in the car, and usually checked a mapping site before heading out to a new place.

One important thing I learned: don't leave it sitting out in your car, even for a few minutes. It's a good way to lose your GPS and gain a smashed window.

candy said...

thanks Gilbert. I will check out the link. I just love extreme weather unless it gets too close. I was in the middle of the first tornado that went through Ft. Worth Tx since 1925. It was very fascinating to me, but then, the storm swept through about five blocks away, so it was close but not on top of me.

Gilbert said...


That was an interesting storm. It was a fairly rare opportunity for scientists to study what would happen if a significant tornado hit a major metro city. Other major cities have been hit: Miami,
Salt Lake City(!), Nashville, suburban Oklahoma city, and a few months ago, the southern suburbs of Chicago had an almost-horrific situation (but bad enough) when a "supercell" (rotating) thunderstorm start putting down "meat grinders", as I sometimes call them (large, violent tornadoes).

When damage surveys are done after property is obliterated by a tornado (think Greensburg, KS), we can use GPS to help because the street names and addresses can be unrecognizable. Anyway, if you want to know where spotters and chasers are in your area, GPS tracks thosse who want to be tracked at . When you see the Spotter Network "ants" converge on a particular storm, nothing good for the average Joe is about to come of it.

...and wondering what Dan thinks of all of our suggestions.

Charley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charley said...

We bought our dd a low-end Garmin for Christmas last year and it is wonderful! My new gas-guzzling extra-large SUV has GPS built in and it works like a champ as well.

And of course, just get a new iPhone. Its mapping feature now has GPS with directions and map. It's going to be great when walking around an unfamiliar area. The only problem with using it to drive is there are no verbal instructions.

JustJan said...

We bought a Garmin Nuvi 260w recently. We have a directionally challenged teen. We were paying $10 per month for her to have navigation on her phone but the turn by turn directions were nearly impossible to hear, the screen views are very tiny and since it was on her phone only she could use it.

The Nuvi is a wonderful tool.