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Let’s talk GPSs

I’ve used Magellan GPSs for about five years. I find them pretty easy and intuitive to use and like them. I’m not sure if it’s just a matter of what you’re used to, though. Magellans have their quirks–they’re more prone to sending you on u-turns than other brands–but mine doesn’t recalculate unless you change directions, its routes are fairly intelligent, its time predictions are pretty close, and I like that it dings at you just before you’re supposed to turn. My only gripes with it are that it doesn’t display the speed limit and the newest maps available for my model date to something like 2009.

I used a Garmin Nuvi for a week this summer. I found it much more fickle about recalculating routes, and watched in horror as it recalculated a highway-only route to a stoplight-prone route on my trip. Maybe the stoplight-prone route was shorter, distance-wise, but both predicted an arrival time of 2:09. Not knowing how to get the highway route back, I followed the stoplight-prone route through a booming commercial district on a Saturday afternoon and ended up arriving at 2:39, swearing under my breath at the thing.

The Magellan also makes it much faster and easier to enter an address, and makes it easy to choose between minimum/maximum use of highways, shortest distance, or shortest time, and to avoid toll roads. It took me five minutes to learn all that on my Magellan; after a week with a Garmin I still struggled to do those things, which I consider very basic. I can think of circumstances where I’ve needed to use all five of those options, such as driving to Baltimore/Washington airport at rush hour. You don’t want to be stuck on the Parkway under those circumstances–Magellan’s “Least use of Freeways” options saves you an hour.

Since I can’t get maps for my Magellan, I’m going to need to replace it at some point, maybe later this year. If you haven’t switched to using a smartphone only (not practical for me–sometimes I drive places that I can’t get a good cell signal), what’s your experience with Garmin, Magellan and Tom Tom?

2 thoughts on “Let’s talk GPSs”

  1. Dave,
    I have used two Garmin Nuvi GPSs over the past several years and have been well satisfied with both. I have only had one experience like the one you describe where it routed me on surface streets instead of the freeway in Detroit. It was rush hour and there may have been good reason but I can not confirm, of course. The newer unit includes traffic alerts and shows vehicle speed. For the most part, I think the traffic warnings are useless, but I really like the speed display. Also on the display is the posted speed limit and this combination makes monitoring my speed on the gps much more useful than glancing down to the speedometer. Anyway I doubt you would go wrong with a Garmin, but I don’t have any comparable experience with other brands.
    Warmest regards,

  2. My only experience was with a Garmin device while I traveled around southern France in 2009. The device worked well, even though it spoke French. I still laugh when ever I think of ‘tourner à gauche.’ It’s the only phrase I can remember from that trip. We never could figure out how to switch the device’s language to English. But, we often missed turns, and the device always quickly recalculated routes for us.

    Other than the use of that Garmin, I strictly use Google Maps on my phone. If I am going to travel to an area that I suspect might not have data coverage, I usually pre-cache the map tiles. Though I have found that the pre-caching feature was better when it was still in Google Labs. The Labs version allowed you to download up to ten, ten square mile areas. The new, non-Lab version only allows you to pre-cache six areas.

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