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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Garmin Takes the Stress out of Driving and More...

I'm a nervous driver, especially when I'm going someplace for the first time. I print out maps, directions.....if it's important enough (like a job interview), I'll even drive the route the day before so I have an idea of how long it will take. Did you ever notice how the ride to the new place seems longer than the ride home?

On top of that, I have absolutely no sense of direction. I've gotten lost in my own neighborhood before....embarrassingly, on more than one occasion.

I think about things when I drive. I don't lose track of traffic or become a dangerous driver but sometimes I'll blink and not know exactly where I am or how far I am from my exit. It upsets me.

I took a consulting contract for a company not located in the best part of town and an hour+ from my house. I would also have to interface with local businesses and suppliers so occasional driving around South Dallas would be part of the package. I decided I just couldn't do it without a navigation system.

I'd had a hand-held Garmin GPS 12 years ago when I used to travel a lot on business. It would show me where I was and a dot of where I wanted to go and that's about it. But at least I knew I was going in the right general direction. And it was a lot of fun on the airplane...I could clock the speed we were flying at and where over the country we were, but then again I'm easily amused.

GPS Navigation systems have come a long way in 12 years. When we moved to Dallas, I bought my wife a BMW with a navigation system. She was in outside sales and did a lot of driving. We learned very quickly how a bad navigation system works when, instead of taking her to the town in Texas she wanted to go to, it took her to Oklahoma. BMW navigation systems are terrible. All dealer supplied navigation systems are overpriced for what they do and the features they have. Generally, they'll run you $2000 to $2500 as an option.

I started researching after-market navigation systems and everything kept pointing back to Garmin. What really sold me on them though was a week with a visiting friend who had a Garmin Nuvi 660. It wasn't actually belonged to Sam's Club. He bought it for the trip and planned to return it as soon as he got back. I chastised him for abusing Sam's liberal return policy but to no avail.

Anyway, he wanted to see all of Dallas and I had no idea where anything was so we drove with his Garmin. It had a big screen, three-dimensional maps, and gave you voice directions: not just "turn left", but "turn left on Highway 121 North". I was impressed. There was also a selection of voices you could choose from. He picked the female Australian. She sounded nice.

What amazed me the most about driving with the Garmin was how relaxed I was. Even if you made a wrong turn, it would get you back on track. If I pressed the option for "GO HOME", it would get me home from anywhere! The stress was gone. I noticed sights along the road I'd never paid attention to. And suddenly, everything seemed much closer than it had before. So I bought the model down from his, the Nuvi 360, which was basically the same thing with an inch smaller screen and lacked a subscription traffic radio capability I would never use.

Driving was a whole new experience. I would program my Garmin for places I knew how to get to just so it could remind me to turn if I was lost in thought and give me a rough idea of when I would reach my destination. Have you ever gotten stuck in traffic to the point you would be late and tried to make up for it by driving 90 miles an hour once the traffic cleared? I learned that it only saved you 2 to 4 minutes and visibly drained your gas tank. It isn't worth it.

Garmin customer service (if you don't mind 20 minute hold times) is great too. I ordered a $70 CD with updated maps and called to find why everyone at the POI Factory ( was saying you could get them for free. They checked my registration date and sure enough, by only 6 days, I qualified for the map upgrade for FREE! She promptly wiped out the charge on my Visa and threw in free overnight delivery. Such nice people!

I did do a lot of research and against the other GPS systems currently available like Tom Tom, Magellan, Delphi, Audiovox, Pioneer and others: Garmin is the best. They're not the cheapest, but they're the best. Plan to spend $500 to $900 for the Garmin Nuvi series. A tip here: 99% of Garmin dealers sell their products at list price. Check out eBay for the best deals but be careful what you're buying. Some sell refurbished units, others with older map versions. But there are deals to be had. I was in Sam's Club tonight. They bought a million or two of the Nuvi 660. (that's the one my friend "rented") Retail is over $900 but Sam's is blowing them out at $599.23! The 660 is being replaced by the 680 but there are no significant differences and a 660 for less than $600 is a steal.

All the Garmin Nuvi's use the most advanced circuitry available and are WAAS enabled. WAAS is a navigation signal airports use. Bottom line: they're the most accurate available and. they acquire satellites very quickly. They even work indoors! Different Nuvi models also include hands-free bluetooth connection to your cell phone, an audio book player, MP3 player and a travel guide and currency converter. They have a rechargeable battery system built in and depending on the screen size, are no larger than a deck of cards. Ever "lose" your car in a parking lot; especially a BIG parking lot? You can save the location of your parking spot, stick the Nuvi series in your pocket, and let it navigate you back to your car.

The spoiler COULD be a company called Dash Navigation. They are a venture capital startup backed by some big names who are developing a GPS which will "talk" with other Dash Navigation systems. Why is this important? If I were back in NY and was going to take the Lincoln Tunnel to NJ at rush hour, Garmin would tell me it would take 5 minutes based on the distance and the posted speed limit and then start letting the time slip once I hit gridlock. The Dash system would communicate with cars stuck in traffic and tell me 35 minutes before I was anywhere near the least that's what they claim.

I have both Garmin's and Dash Navigation's links posted under my Links section. POI Factory is there too. "POI" stands for Points of Interest. You can download things like where all the red light cameras in the country are, where all the Starbucks locations, Best Buys, Walmarts, resturants, and tons of other stuff are. Garmin puts out a software package you can download free called "POI Loader". That's why most third party sites and people create POI's for Garmin units only. And POI Loader is real easy to use: even I can do it. Check these sites out. AND FOR YOUR OWN SANITY, SAFETY AND SERENITY, BUY A GPS NAVIGATION SYSTEM!

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Mrs. Unloadingzone

Mrs. Unloadingzone
"The Girl of my Dreams"