By Jan. R. Wagner
I never like driving while trying to find my way using paper maps, but that’s how it used to be. Even when I had a navigator, I often found myself asking them to repeat directions that they’d given to me only moments before. Then along came a wonderful new invention: automotive GPS.
These devices were expensive at first, they calculated slowly and lacked much memory, which severely limited their on-board storage of digital maps. When I used them while driving in typically heavy traffic on the navigationally challenging, unfamiliar freeways of Los Angeles, their worth was questionable. If I missed an exit, which was easy to do, they often would not recalculate quickly enough, so by the time they were done, I’d already missed my next exit or was too many lanes over from where I needed to be. Fortunately, each successive generation of GPS device was quicker at recalculating, as well as less expensive and more compact, than the one that preceded it.
I’ve tried different brands but find Garmin’s interface the most intuitive and, especially with the passage of the years, the most familiar. I prefer portables to in-dash GPS units because they can easily be moved between multiple vehicles – even rental vehicles while I’m on business or vacation. Always having a GPS containing my waypoints and being familiar with its controls makes navigating much less stressful.
The more recent GPS units are small enough and lightweight enough to be carried around, perhaps in a small case along with a cell phone. As an added bonus, they are useful for navigating while walking around in unfamiliar urban areas. You just need to be careful that you don’t drop them, because they are about as fragile as cell phones but without the wide availability of cases that enable you to see their screens and use them while they are being protected.
My newest GPS device is the stylish, top-of-the-line, Garmin nüvi® 3597LMTHD. This GPS has a large (five-inch), high-resolution touch-screen with “pinch and zoom” capability and lots of real estate for displaying important information. It has a brushed metal body, a powered magnetic mount and a suction cup base. LMT stands for Lifetime Maps & Traffic, which lets you download map updates at no extra charge. HD indicates that HD Traffic is also included, but I’ve found that feature to be of only limited use. I sometimes find myself in very heavy, slow traffic when the GPS indicates that the traffic is flowing well, and visa versa.
Other features include voice-activated navigation; Bluetooth capability, which lets you use your GPS like a hands-free speaker and mic for your phone; “Active Lane Guidance;” photo-realistic freeway signs; 3-D landscapes; speed limits; brightly colored route lines; “Smartphone Link; and something new that they call “Garmin Real Directions
with Garmin Real Voice
.” I especially like this feature. It speaks directions as a knowledgeable, patient navigator would – for example, asking you to turn right at the traffic light and then take the first left, instead of just telling you names on street signs to turn at, which might be difficult to find and read while driving.
You may specify the level of detail on the maps, route preferences and detours; choose from a variety of additional on-screen information, such as time of arrival at your destination (it’s useful to tell someone on the phone exactly when you will arrive); find out names and locations of restaurants, gas stations, stores and other services in the area; and so forth.
It is easy to save waypoints for destinations that you might need to navigate to again, and then back them up to your computer with the Garmin software, in case your GPS gets lost, damaged or stolen.
To that point, I strongly recommend that you do not store your GPS in your vehicle. It can get extremely hot in a closed car and a portable GPS is easy for thieves to steal. I once had my car broken into while I was at a movie theater. The thieves went directly to the center console where I’d hidden my GPS. According to the police, they’d probably watched me put it in there and then walk directly to the movie theater. Worst of all, I had not backed up years worth of saved waypoints so they were all lost.
Garmin’s price for the nüvi® 3597LMTHD is $349.99.
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Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #286