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Who buys a satnav in 2019? A review of the Garmin Drive 65

by on Aug.24, 2019, under Technology

I recently purchased a new Garmin Drive 65 (ad) to replace my aging Garmin nuvi 200W I purchased in 2008.

Why replace it? The 200W still works, though its internal battery does not. I had purchased the lifetime map updates at one point, though it needs an SD card for more capacity, and takes forever to update. I also was interested in adding capabilities like a higher resolution display, lane guidance, topography, and traffic.

I also have other options, of course. In the RAV4, I have an android-based radio, that itself is aging and far from latest in terms of operating system, but can run a variety of things like Google Navigator, Open Street Maps, and Waze. I also have a cell phone and several older ones that could do the same. The F-150 has the 8″ Sync2, which didn’t come with navigation, but I added it by buying a map card and some reconfiguration. But none of these is perfect. The RAV4’s unit has a small screen that is essentially impossible to type on while driving and lacks useful voice recognition. Navigation with Google is great, but is useless when out of cell range, which is still happens often enough when I’m out exploring. The navigation and driving user interface for Open Street Maps is lacking, but the offline maps and topography are great. And the Sync2 lacks the ability to input coordinates, which is often essential when out exploring. So, despite using these other systems when their limitations do not matter, I still feel the need for a standalone satnav, and take along the nuvi.

I’ve take two test drives with the Drive 65 so far. Here are some of my observations.

Directions. The voice navigation prompts are improved versus the nuvi in that it speaks street names and gives meaningful prompts like “at the stop sign.” Unfortunately, this is outweighed by the fact that in many cases, it skips over steps. More than once, where there are two back-to-back intersections, it will speak the direction for the next one, not the one you are at, skipping it. Sometimes this leads to being given the exact wrong direction for your current location. Now, I’ve had this happen on the nuvi I’m sure as well, but it seems far worse on the Drive, and I wonder if this has as much to do with the map data it’s using as it does the algorithms it uses.

Traffic. The Drive comes with a traffic-receiving power cable. Unfortunately, it does not pick up any service in the local area. It can also get traffic data via a Bluetooth link to your cell phone, so I set that up. I don’t really mind this, since traffic information would be generally more useful in cell-available areas anyway. When driving home from the Letterykenny area, it wanted me to take Route 11. Route 11 is currently closed on the other side of Shippensburg for a bridge replacement. This closure is beyond my route home, so it should have had no effect on me. It would calculate a route using 11, and then say “Route 11 is closed” and change the route. Then when I would start driving a different route, it thankfully no longer says “recalculating” when you do this, but after it rerouted, it would say “Route 11 closed” and do it again. Incredibly annoying, so I turned off traffic.

Terrain. Terrain matters a lot to me, as when you’re in the mountains, vertical separation is significant. It also helps give visual cues as to where you are when looking a the map. I almost always have Google Maps in Terrain mode. The Drive 65 has the “3-D buildings and terrain” feature. This is presented on the screen by shading. It’s not particularly high resolution, but it does let you see some contours. It’s really not great though. The “bright” side of the shading seems indistinguishable from the white background of the map, leaving you only to see the dark side of the shading, which is deceiving as you only see about half of the terrain feature. There appears to be no way to turn on iso-lines to give you a better indication of the terrain features.

Screen. The screen is bright and easy to see and huge at 6.95″ diagonal. It might even be too big for the application. 1024 x 600 pixels, glass, multitouch – this is where it really shines over the nuvi. With the “bean bag mount” using it at a downward angle in the office, sometimes touches on the keyboard are not registered as well as I would like. Not sure if this is just angle or what. So far have not noticed that while in the vehicle. There is plenty of room for information on the screen, and there are options as to what you want to display which seem useful. One tidbit I don’t like is that on the coordinate entry page, there is no backspace button, though you can select a digit to modify it.

GNSS. The satellite status page shows both GPS and Galileo satellites, but not GLONASS.

Points of Interest. The points of interest database is something I have grown to depend on in the nuvi. When saving locations for an upcoming trip, the Drive cannot find Lake Durant Campground, which is a New York State public campground – so something it should find. With network connection, it finds it using Foursquare, but gives the wrong location for it.

Overall, I would say I’m disappointed with the purchase, but planning to stick with it. I’m not surprised, and hold little hope that other products are better at this time. I hope Garmin commits to improving the software of this unit, as most of the problems likely could be solved. I may have more to say on it after my fall expeditions.

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Device Convergence: GPS

by on Jun.01, 2010, under Technology

Are cell phones yet to the point where they can replace a hand-held hiking GPS?  Up until recently, I’ve been quick to dismiss this notion.  The announcement of Garmin’s latest hand-helds that appear to be moving closer to their cell phone brethren has me wondering.  Reports of the new touch-screen interface are about as bad as one would expect.

So, what are the issues?  I tried my G1 running OruxMaps on a 3.5hr / 10 mile hike in the mountains on Monday to get a better perspective.

Battery Life. It barely survived.  I would probably expect twice the battery life from my Garmin GPSMap 76S with a constantly running display.  Can the battery life issues be solved with an external AA-based battery pack to keep the cell phone charged?  I have no experience with these things.  Reviews indicate that ones without regulators aren’t worth much.  I might have to try one.

GPS Hardware. Cell phones may have GPS receivers, but it is not their primary function.  Most Android phones I’ve looked at seem to use the Qualcomm gpsOne chipset instead of a dedicated chipset such as the oft-mentioned SiRFstar III.  This is a cause for concern, since gpsOne currently seems to lack support for WAAS and likely is not as sensitive as the SiRFstar.  The upside of gpsOne is that AGPS will provide a faster lock when within range of the cell network.

Usability. Another major hurdle is the availability of high quality GPS software for the phone.  I’ve tried Maverick Lite, OruxMaps, and My Tracks and found them all to be lacking the necessary features of a hand-held GPS.  My Tracks is the Google-sponsored outdoor activity tracking app that was very recently open-sourced.  Maverick and Orux both provide offline map access (another must), but they seem to accomplish this with saved graphic tiles and not vector data as would be desired.  Any new GPS solution I get should have high-resolution topo maps included.

Durability. Hand-held GPS receivers tend to be waterproof and a bit rugged.  I’ve dropped my GPSmap 76s a number of times – and it once fell off my bike at 15+ mph.  There’s no way any phone I’ve owned would be happy with that kind of treatment.

Bottom line?  Not sure yet.  I do think the concept of a hand-held GPS is already starting to fade.  I’m not ready just yet to give mine up in favor of the cell phone.  I hope the newly open-sourced My Tracks starts gaining some useful hand-held features.

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