Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Buying your first GPS for a car

Having written about GPS units, I thought that I might include a little review of several of them with tips for buying your first one if you've never had one before.

Many people, when buying a new device, go with whatever is heavily advertised. Sadly, the thing that's being advertised may NOT be the best choice for you. Several years ago, my brother bought my dad a TomTom GPS. Now, in spite of being 87 years old at that time, dad isn't technology fearful and does know how to use and buy technology such as the Wii. However, when my husband and I went to visit Dad three years ago, we found that he'd put his GPS in the car but didn't know how to make it do anything. In fact, the system had been password locked.

I reset the system and showed him how to use it, noting as I did how much of a struggle it was to actually get an address into that model of the TomTom. Our less expensive Garman Nuvi (which was about the same age) was much easier to use -- common search items were in the top level menu, available with just one touch, and screen options were easier to find.

You can find reviews of most models at http://www.gpsreview.net -- one of the first places I stop when looking for a new GPS. This site reviews all types of GPS units, including handhelds designed for use "in the field."

Things to look and listen for:

  • how LOUD is the unit? My husband has hearing aids, so having a unit that is loud enough for him to hear when his batteries start dying is very useful.
  • how well do you like the VOICES? There are ways to change the voice accent (and language) -- if you'd like a friendly Australian man giving you directions, you can set the directions to this option. Having other languages available (such as Spanish) may also be useful for you.
  • how BRIGHT is the unit? You'll be seeing it for the first time in a store with lots of light -- but that's less light than you will see when you're out in the sunlight. I use the Audubon Society's Magellan Explorist when I'm mapping their trails... but the display is impossible to read in sunlight. If you plan on using it outdoors as well as in the car, ask a salesperson if they'd walk the unit outside so you can see how it looks outdoors.
  • what OPTIONS are available? Can you set it to guide you as you take a walk? Most of them can play downloaded MP3 files or display pictures. Does it have a space for an SD card? Can you connect the unit to your computer to update the software? What kind of warranty does the company offer?
  • how INTUITIVE do the menus seem? While you're in the store, look at a demonstration unit and think about the common tasks you'd want to do on the unit. How fast can you enter a new address? When you ask it about types of things you're looking for (like "restaurants"), how easy is it to get a list? How quickly does it find the location of your favorite restaurant?
  • how many TASKS do you want it to do? Do you want to be able to take it with you when you leave the car in a big parking lot and then use the GPS to quickly find your car? Do you want traffic? (Traffic is really only useful if you travel to or through a lot of large cities. It's not worth it if you live in an area with smaller towns and only a few large cities... like West Texas.)
  • what kind of MOUNT does it have? You can buy different "generic mounts" for these, but I've not been happy with a lot of the mounts. Putting it on the windshield may or may not be a good idea for you -- the suction cups DO fall off if you live in a hot environment (like Texas) and it's really annoying to be driving along and have the thing fall off the window and end up between your feet near the gas and brake pedals.
  • REVIEWS. Look at a few reviews of this unit on Amazon.com. Do people love it or hate it? What problems are they having with it?
  • PRICE. There's some units that I think are sexy and I'd own in a minute -- but the $800 price tag is more than I'll pay for a GPS.

A final note:
When buying a new type of technology, buy the cheapest option that meets most of your needs. As you use the technology and see how it fits into your lifestyle, you will see other features that you want and like. It's better to underbuy the first time out than to get all the bells and whistles and find that they are so hard to use (or are just unnecessary) and end up leaving a very expensive object unused.

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