Friday, May 21, 2010

GPS gotchas

In an earlier post I told of how we appreciate our Garmin GPS. However, not everyone is as keen about the devices, and several people we’ve met have told us of frustrations in using their devices.

In my opinion, manufacturers are at fault for selling these devices without decent user manuals—or not providing clear links to where people can learn how to use their devices. Here are a few of the complaints I’ve heard—with some possible solutions.

“Ours keeps trying to take us on roundabout routes.” Check and adjust the route preference settings. By default, some units are set to avoid unpaved roads, so if a more direct route involves some unpaved sections, the device will attempt to find an alternative with only paved roads. Other “avoid” options may include toll roads, limited access highways, ferries and U-turns.

“It doesn’t know about the new highway near us.” Go to the manufacturer’s web site to learn how to update the maps. Most will happily sell you updated map detail; some offer subscriptions to keep things up-to-date. Note that most should have a policy to allow free updates for a limited time after purchase.

“I can’t stand hearing her voice at every turn!” In the volume setting, select Mute—or just turn the volume down.

“It is so complicated to put in an address.” Practice. You can also use software from the GPS manufacturer to set up commonly-used destinations on your computer. You can then transfer the information to the GPS as “favorites” for use later. Some higher-end models now enable you to connect to the Internet to search for an address.

“It won’t let me enter a destination that doesn’t have an address, like a campsite.” Most GPS devices allow you to use a map view to navigate to where you want to go: when your destination is displayed, touch “Go” (or save the destination by name). Alternatively, the device may allow you to enter a destination by its latitude/longitude (if you know it or can obtain it).

“It takes forever to get a signal.” The device needs to have an unimpeded view of the sky—and more sky is best. This particular comment came from someone who had been trying to set their destination while still in their metal-roofed garage; backing out first solved the problem!

“The road names are wrong.” The GPS and its built-in navigation software is only as good as the data it uses—and errors are not unknown. If you find an error, report it to the manufacturer; the better ones have links on their web sites for this sort of feedback.

Here are links to popular automobile GPS manufacturers: Garmin, TomTom and Magellan. (These three have ~70% of the market; refer to GPS Magazine for up-to-date reviews and product information.)