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I’ve been using a Garmin Nüvi 255w satellite-navigation now for nearly two years, and much of what I’ve written applies equally to the old machine and the new one (a Nüvi 1340).
OK, the old one had its failings, but from this and previous experience of a different make, I’m beginning to think that we’ve come to expect too much from any ‘sat-nav’, which compared to the human brain’s ability to improvise (or in computer parlance, apply fuzzy-logic) just can’t hack it.
Yes, they all seem pretty much 99% proficient at declaring when you’ve got there, especially if you input a specific post code and door number, and given that they update as they go, their ETA data proves useful en-route (and positively flawless by the time you get there!), but if you’ve already compared a known favourite route to that chosen by a sat-nav you will already have found out that ‘thee and she’ don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye.
Yes, it’s nearly always a female voice, isn’t it? You can change it from 'Emily' to 'Daniel' though.
Of course, you could argue that it’s silly to use a sat-nav for a journey you know, especially as you’ll only get upset and argue with an inanimate object, but I like the ETA* data and accurate speedometer readings, which prove very useful in those ‘average speed monitoring zones’ on motorway road-works when used in conjunction with cruise control.
(*that’s Estimated Time of Arrival, not a Basque separatist movement!)
It was last year when attempting to escape the airport and then negotiate Madrid’s manifold concentric ‘M25s’ that I realised having a so-called 2009 map in 2009 was just not good enough. OK, I realise that they were drawn up in 2007-8 probably, but it proved next to useless except as a compass and speed camera warning. Having two strident women telling me what to do, neither of whom seemingly knew their arses from their elbows nearly ended the holiday there and then. At one point, having taken a wrong turn, I had to listen to “After 60 meters, turn right” four (!) times in rapid succession as I negotiated all four ‘clover-leaves’ of an intersection of two motorways, and me an Aries too so you can guess the ‘air colour’!
DOING THE MATH – “AT THE NEXT JUNCTURE, ENTER AMAZON.CO.UK, AND PRESS ‘ADD TO BASKET’”
Vowing not to get caught like that again, I did two things. The first was to buy some “Duck Tape” for the wife, and secondly I browsed the Garmin web-site.
Joy of joys - new maps were available. Spirits rose…...
…and promptly sank again. Not such a glad tiding was the fact that a one-off upgrade would cost me around £80 but a ‘lifetime’ upgrade would be what sounded like a more reasonable £100. Then I saw those fated words ‘for the life of the device’, i.e. the remaining lifespan of the device that I’d already owned for nearly two years, with an expired warranty.
Bearing in mind that the original cost me around £146 in October 2008, and a new equivalent, the Garmin 1340 has cost me £104 in 2010, it seems Garmin’s enthusiasm for selling further map upgrades at a ‘ton a throw’ could be the equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot. At least I’m back to square one with new maps and a new machine/warranty all for £4 more.
Please note: I am not talking about speed camera updates, which are a totally different kettle of fish. In fact it is the matter of camera updates that is keeping me faithful to Garmin - more on that later.
WHAT’S NEW? “LOOK AT ME SON WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU. A GOTTLE ‘O GEER”
Firstly let’s talk about what’s not new.
Thumbs up - you still get a neat self-adhesive shiny disc to stick to a flat part of your dashboard to attach the rubber sucker to. This makes it easier to reach for than across a seeming acre of football pitch to reach the screen when it comes to removing it, and also gives you something that’s unobtrusive and easier to wipe clean, thereby making it harder to spot that you use a sat-nav. This disc can also help you keep within the law when driving in countries where attaching anything to your windscreen that could be an obstruction to your view is banned.
Thumbs down – the power lead, whilst not as stiff or un-cooperative as its
predecessor still extends to getting in the way of my gear stick – lucky it’s an automatic or I’d be really fed up. It doesn’t help that my cigar lighter socket is down by the handbrake.
It’s 25% slimmer making it more pocket-able when used for walking, although it still retains a perfectly useable 16:9 format screen of 4.3” diagonal. The shells of Garmin sat-navs feel well screwed-together and monolithic, with no plasticky creaking noises and the 1340 is no exception. Garmin claims 3 hours battery life, but personally, if out walking with it, I’d establish a route in parts, only switching it on when arriving at the next landmark. In that way, it could be made to last one hell of a lot longer. After all, even if walking briskly and non-stop, you’d only be 12 miles away in 3 hours, so the need to plot your precise position at any moment is less critical than when hurtling along at motorway speeds covering tens of yards per second. It’s not waterproof per se, but I dare one of those re-sealable ‘zip-lock’ sandwich bags could be pressed into service; anything transparent but supple enough to let you work the touch-screen in fact. What me, take a map? Are you kidding?
This newer Garmin now gets ‘lane guidance’, which can prove very useful on motorways and other major junctions. Dearer models even show you the approaching junction like a movie, overhead gantries the lot, but not this one. Not so useful is its attempt to speak road names, and I can’t wait for a motoring holiday in Wales for a good laugh. Likewise, “Turn left onto Great North Road” is nowhere near as useful as “Turn left onto A1”. To be fair, most roads are well pronounced but there’s a hint of the ventriloquist about some of them. For example, near me there’s a road called Tentelow Lane, pronounced as you’d imagine like ‘tent-ello’. I’ll swear that the Garmin lady is saying ‘tent-aglow’ which summons up memories of camping shenanigans!
Good or bad, it leaves you none the wiser if the road junction is not blessed with street name plates when you get there, as it so often the case when leaving a side street. It also doesn’t help that it is sometimes a tad tardy with this information – probably having trouble working out how to pronounce “Ystradgynlais” in case I ever go there.
These machines now get ‘Eco-Route’ as a further choice along with ‘shortest’ and ‘fastest’. Having input your average m.p.g. and the price of a litre (an event needing weekly updates!), it purports to plot the best routing for economical travel. This didn’t help me in Madrid, as I’d foolishly allowed the Garmin web-site to update my old machine to this new feature, and yet more foolishly forgotten, and left the feature switched on whilst exiting Madrid airport. I wondered why it kept taking me off motorways and routing me through outer suburbs – it was all in an effort to keep my speed down (achieved) and fuel consumption minimised (failed). Switching it back to ‘fastest’ still didn’t alter the fact that it had never seen half of the roads we were driving on, which is where I came in, - trapped in a traffic jam in a road tunnel with no satellite reception on a road that didn’t apparently exist anyway!
As an extra to the Eco-route setting, you can take an ‘Eco’ challenge, which is bit like trying to get as much mpg from your fuel computer except that it detects uneconomic activity like ‘lead-booting’ it away from traffic lights, time spent with the engine running and going nowhere, that kind of thing and then marks you out of 100 as you travel along. The longer you cruise steadily, the better the score becomes.
“AT THE NEXT ROUNDABOUT, TAKE THE THIRD EXIT AND THEN FUME WHILE I SAY ‘RECALCULATING’ IN MY BEST CONDESCENDING VOICE”
I suppose this is where I get to rant about all the times that a Garmin has led me astray.
One thing that seems to dog this make and some other sat-navs is the fact that it doesn’t differentiate between major and minor roads when approaching what appears to be a T-junction on the map, more particularly a T-junction where the main road is the one that turns through 90-odd degrees. Under normal circumstances, a human map reader would either make no comment, or say something like ‘stay on this road’. In the case of many sat-navs though, you’ll hear “After 800 yards, turn right” only to find that there is no specific deviation from your current course when you get there. Of course there is a method in the sat-nav map-maker’s madness.
Adopting this standard approach, when, say a sharp right bend on an ‘A road’ passes a country lane joining from the left, allows for a change in junction priority by the local traffic planning department, without alterations to the map. If the side road were suddenly to become a main road, then the instruction to turn right would still be correct.
Understanding this doesn’t stop it being annoying though.
Likewise, it can’t seem to make it’s mind up whether a drive-in McDonald’s with an exit on a roundabout is an exit or not, leaving you to peruse the on-screen display and think to yourself “Oh you meant straight on, why didn’t you say so?”
To be fair, the visual map is right pretty much all the time. If it shows the route as ‘three quarters’ around the roundabout, then what ever ‘she’ says - something along the lines of “Enter roundabout, and take third exit” - is largely irrelevant. Roundabout exits are a bone of contention in general, and can soon put your built-in map out of date, as they are a favourite spot for yet another tasteful ‘retail park experience’ under construction to rear its ugly head, usually just after the maps were ‘set in stone’ it seems.
“I’VE TAKEN YOU TO THE SEASIDE, BUT IF YOU CAN’T READ INSTRUCTIONS I’LL NOT TAKE YOU AGAIN!”
However, before damning the thing prematurely, it pays to look through all of its menu options. For example, one annoying trait of many sat-navs is their insistence on suggesting a U-turn if you deviate from its planned route. “You’ve been a naughty boy, and I’m going to make you go back and do it properly” – you can almost imagine it can’t you?
However, if you set “No U-turns” within the menus, it forces a proper recalculation of the route, using for example, the next motorway junction rather than the one you just decided to sail past. You can also set “No tolls” or “No ferries”, the latter not to be recommended on an Isle of Wight motoring holiday, unless you only want to sit and look at it from the beach at Southsea!
“BE YE A-FEARED, FOR BEYOND HERE BE ALL DRAGONS!”
The maps that come pre-loaded to the Garmin Nüvi 1340 are for use in The British Isles including the Irish Republic and most of Western Europe, and even some of Eastern Europe, to a greater or lesser extent. For example, Spain gets coverage as comprehensive as that for Britain (well that’s the theory although the jury’s still out on Madrid Airport!), and although Poland is covered, only main conurbations in Greece are, and the same for the just western half of the Czech Republic.
Likewise, the database of speed cameras can be patchy or good depending on where you are. Some countries are a ‘desert’, possibly because of local laws banning the use of camera detection equipment beyond those that apply to radar snoopers in the UK.
Satellite coverage, coming as it does from two dozen satellites 11,000 miles up is unaffected by longitude or latitude, and modern sat-navs no longer seem to have to worry about metalised windscreens blocking the signal.
INTERESTING ADD-ONS. “HOW DARE YOU UPDATE ME, I’M GOING TO SULK NOW, YOU SEE!”
One advantage of a sat-nav that appears to be a mass storage device when connected via its USB lead to a basic Windows PC, is that it’s easy to update.
Garmin supply two utilities for this. One designed to update its software and speed camera database, and the other called POI-Loader. After initially checking that the latest firmware and map version was loaded, and if it isn’t be warned, it takes bloody ages, this really only leaves POI-Loader to use.
A P.O.I. is a Point of Interest. This could be anything from a list of Tescos to castles and petrol stations. If you don’t like Garmin’s price for updating the camera database for a single country, a set of POIs can also be loaded that just so happen to be a cameras!
A website called http://www.pocketgpsworld.com/ can supply camera updates for about the same price wanted by Garmin. As a further cost benefit, it cost me nothing to delete the British cameras and insert those for Spain for 2 weeks, reverting to Britain on my return, and all for the same 20 quid as I’d be spending at Garmin’s limited to one country.
All that’s needed is to turn off the Garmin camera database in the menu, and load a set of POIs that just happen to be the positions of cameras and other speed restrictions.
Don’t get me wrong – having been fined a mere once for speeding between 1971 and now, I’m hardly the sort of person who needs this to ‘keep his licence’, but since the powers that be have formed ‘safety alliances’ and choose to call them ‘safety cameras’, the implication being that they’ve been placed at ‘accident black spots’, then the way I see it is that I’ve every right to know where these are too for my ‘safety’!
A web search reveals all kinds of sites with POI files dedicated to the Garmin. One even has a free camera database, (http://poi.gps-data-team.com/united_kingdom/safety/) but I couldn’t initially see any promise of how often it was updated. I now know that by paying £4 to join the forum, all this is revealed.
Other interesting Garmin snippets include making your own recordings with VoiceStudio, a free download, so that you’ve only got yourself to blame when the sat-nav chips in with “Recalculating”, or by snooping around the web, other voice profiles can be added – no-one suggest Joe Pasquale, please. If you’re learning a foreign language, why not put it into practice by altering the mother tongue of the machine? Tenez à gauche, idiot!
I’ve added my very own ‘Chris’ to the list of voices, complete with own variations, such as “Dooooh!! Recalculating!” It doesn’t make me try to say street names though. Pity, that.
Now that I see how a ‘custom POI’ is constructed, by making a ‘dot-csv’ (.csv=comma-separated values) file in Excel, I’ve been able to cobble one together that shows me mileages to and between* all the schools in the borough I work for. I just used the borough’s web page to give me all the names and postcodes. Then I used www.streetmap.co.uk to give me the map co-ordinates of these postcodes, put it all into one list in the correct column order and used POI Loader to put it on the Nüvi 1340.
(*I get paid for mileages between schools, more so if going by bike, ironically)
OTHER USES – “NO PEDESTRIANS OR CYCLISTS ALLOWED ON THE MOTORWAY”
The projected 3-hour battery life means that this machine can be fairly handy ‘off the hook’.
The ability to switch your means of travel to bike or boots also means that it will make a different use of the map. As in my subtitle, this immediately rules out motorways, but when set to walking, it is then free to route you the wrong way up a one-way street if that is quicker for you. I’ve even found a sat-nav to be useful when out for a familiar walk. A while back I was walking westwards on the South Coastal Path from Swanage when the degree of mud made it quite hazardous to continue, especially when some of it was very close to a cliff edge. It didn’t help that slow progress was also eating into pub-opening hours! Forced to cut the walk short or go thirsty, I used the sat-nav to show me where I was, although at first it just showed me that I was ‘nearly’ in the sea with no roads to be seen. However, by zooming out, I could see that I was due south of what appeared to be a dead-end lane, which to me was out of sight over the hill. Lo and behold, a mile of slogging up a hill found the road for us, and later the main road back, only via different pubs to those we’d planned on visiting!
I couldn’t personally recommend its use for cycling though, not for any technical reason, but for the fact that it’s not ‘weatherised’ nor am I aware of a handlebar mounting bracket. Never mind, there’s still plenty of that Duck Tape left! Also, it doesn’t know what kind of bike you ride, so it may prompt you to go ‘off road’ with slick tyres fitted, leaving you squirming to keep your balance.
It’s easy to marvel at the technology that allows satellites 11,000 miles away to help us find out where we are. It’s when this gets overlaid onto a map that the trouble (or fun) starts, especially for those of us with no innate sense of direction at all. I’m lucky in not being one of those, so I find a sat-nav’s foibles largely understandable and forgive-able.
The Garmin Nüvi 1340 is reasonably-priced and easy to set up. If you’re prepared to put yourself out a bit, it’s cheap to tweak and keep up to date too with the exception of its road maps.
Yet another admirable use for "Duck Tape" - dragon patching! Nicely written, very informative.
catsholiday 26.05.2010 10:32
Returned with the E I promised
catsholiday 24.05.2010 12:33
Love the title - I know what you mean about map upgrades - they obviously want us to buy a new gadget rather than upgrade - a sign of our throw- away times I fear. I will return with an E when ciao allow .