It was somewhat of an impulse buy, and one that’s a little difficult to justify considering how little we actually travel anywhere by car. But at lunch time last Tuesday, I gave in and bought a Garmin nüvi 200W.
I was getting ready to head out of town for a few days and knew that I’d be driving in an unfamiliar place, so this seemed like a good time to try it out. Worst case, I could return it within 14 days for a full refund. One of the problems with these things is that there’s no good way to evaluate how well they work, other than maybe finding someone who already has one and asking them to let you borrow theirs for a few days. I have yet to be inside an electronics store where the display models can actually pick up the GPS satellite signals, and even if they could, what are you going to do? Walk around the store with it?
So I’ve been using it on and off for the last three days, and I thought I’d share my initial impressions for the handful of people who read this blog.
While I was still inside the store, before checking out, the salesman told me that he also owned a nüvi, and assured me that I would be able to just take it out of the box and start using it. He was right. Within a minute or so (as long as it took to assemble the little suction-cup mounting bracket thingy), I had it plugged in and attempting to acquire the satellite signal for initialization. It takes it a minute or so that first time, to get acquainted with where in the world it is, but after that it just works in real time.
The thing that has surprised me most about the nüvi is how scary-accurate the thing is. Never having used a GPS before, I guess I figured that a less-than-$200 GPS would be more of a toy, able to keep up with your approximate location (give or take a block) but certainly not able to pinpoint your location within what seems to be a few feet. I really noticed it when I was driving around some of the neighborhoods in Madison, where the streets are fairly close together and it would be easy for a less precise device to get confused about exactly how far you’ve gone past Front Street, and how far you have to go until you get to Arnett street just a few yards away.
The navigation also seems to work reasonably well, and (knock wood) it hasn’t gotten me lost yet. Other GPS owners had warned me that these things will sometimes give you directions that can seem incorrect, especially if you already think you know the best way to get where you’re going. For example, when I was heading south on I-65 through Nashville, at one point I had the option (as indicated by the road signs) of bearing to the right to stay on I-65 South (towards Huntsville), or bearing left to take I-24 East/I-40 East (towards Chattanooga and Knoxville). The nüvi unexpectedly told me to bear to the left, and since I had some time to kill anyways, I went along with it to see how long it would take for the nüvi to realize its “mistake”. What I discovered was that after a few additional turns, I was once again headed south on I-65, and decided that the nüvi had probably determined a slightly quicker way to get me there (even if it was less obvious).
Speaking of the navigation aspect, one of the features of the more expensive nüvi models (and one that’s not included with the 200W that I bought) is that they offer a text-to-speech capability. This means that instead of merely telling you to “turn right in 0.4 miles”, the voice will tell you to “turn right on Gillespie Street”. The advantage being, I suppose, that you don’t have to look up at the map to see the name of the street that you’re supposed to turn on. Personally, I haven’t missed that feature. The name of the street for the next turn is always displayed very clearly at the top of the screen, and a quick glance is enough for me to get that information.
I’m undecided about the quality of the maps at this point, and I’ve obviously only used them in a handful of states so far. Actually, it’s not the maps themselves that I’m worried about so much as the “points of interest” (POI) listings that they incorporate. My nüvi came with the 2008 edition of the maps, but I noticed that they were missing a number of places (e.g. restaurants and stores) that I would have expected to find in the listings. I’ve read that a newer edition of the maps has just become available, and so I’m planning to download those when I get home. It’s worth noting that trying to obtain a new user account at the myGarmin web site (Garmin’s customer portal) can be an exercise in frustration. After attempting to sign up with a number of my usual choices for user names, and being told that they were already in use, I started just making up nonsense words, but it told me that those were taken as well. I finally found a posting at their support site that recommended entering your e-mail address as your user name, and once I tried that it let me in.
To sum up, the pros are that it’s really easy to set up and use, and it just works. The only “con” so far is that the POI listings are pretty limited, and you’re probably not going to be able to rely on that to find places for you. Overall, though, I’m feeling pretty good about the purchase and I do think I’ll keep it.