Sunday, April 17, 2011

On the go safely

kw: product testing

I may be the last guy on the block to get a GPS unit for the car. I have been taking huge advantage of mapping software for years, and I am very good at reading maps, and at making them. I was an earlier purchaser of Delorme products such as Street Atlas, and as soon as AAA began offering online TripTiks, I began using them also.

We have a trip coming up, however, and I decided the extra convenience of the point-of-interest-finding functions made the purchase worth it. All the product reviews indicated that the TomTom products have the largest POI databases, so I was quite biased in their favor. As it happened, at the Best Buy I went to I did get a TomTom, one of the VIA series, which is their mid-level line. It isn't entry-level, but neither does it have some of the extras I'd be unlikely to use (nor the extra cost). The only major feature I know I won't use is the BlueTooth feature, because I don't have a BlueTooth headset.

I paid about $200. The two compelling features that pushed me this high, when I'd initially budgeted $150, were the lifetime maps/traffic that were included, and the voice recognition feature. With map updates costing $50 yearly on most units, I figured I couldn't pass it up. I noticed in the fine print that "lifetime" means "useful lifetime of the unit", which means until its memory is full. I expect this to be a few years, and if it is at least four years, I'm money ahead.

First tip to anyone getting a new unit: Don't put your real home address into it. This is the first thing the setup operation wants you to create. You don't want someone to steal the unit and use it to find your house. I entered the address of a business half a mile from my house. I know how to get home from there! Thus at the start of a return trip, I can say "Take me home" and it will get me through the stuff I don't know and into the neighborhood.

So, once I had it set up, I took it for a spin. To activate voice, you poke a microphone icon and wait for a tone. I said, "Drive to nearest Arby's." It confirmed that and set the route without trouble. But when I wanted hardware next and said, "Drive to nearest Lowe's" it kept trying to confirm if I wanted to go to Wendy's. Of course I was still sitting in the Arby's parking lot (you don't try to set your GPS while driving, do you? Hmmm?), so I said, "Cancel" and entered the POI finding menu manually, and soon had a route to the Lowe's. Later I tried saying things like "Find hardware store", only to have it enter "Locate a city center" mode. Oh, well. I guess the TomTom people figured restaurants and hotels (I haven't tried any, but will soon) are more likely targets of an on-the-road search.

So OK, it is working. Now I need to work out a reliable routine for getting it hidden before I park someplace. These are the most frequently stolen accessory now.

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