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GPS adventures for 2019


As the last month of the third quarter of 2019 has started, I figured now is the time to talk about the GPS and dashcam adventures I've had this year. I tried some new and old things. Some stuff worked and other stuff didn't.

I've lived in Texas for over 300 days now. Not exactly a year, but close to. In this time I've been muddling along with the way Texas does roads.

I say muddling along because Texas is very different from Florida where roadways are concerned. I was very used to how to get around Tampa Bay (i.e. Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater). I'm still not used to how to get around Dallas-Fort Worth and surrounding areas.

What I've been doing in Texas is the same thing I did in Florida years ago. Map study, and a lot of it. Many hours have been spent staring at Google Maps - but not really to look up locations. Rather, it's been to figure out how to get to places more safely.

Small example: For the local post office I go to, getting there is fine, but getting back is not. There's a specific intersection I have to cross on the return trip that is simply not safe. I had to find a way when leaving the post office that would avoid that intersection entirely. Fortunately, I did find an alternate route that hardly takes me out of my way to use it. GPS was not what led me to find this alternate route. Map study did.

The above example is one of many instances where I had to find a better way to get around.

Round 1: DriveAssist

Before moving from FL to TX, I decided I need a dashcam. Garmin made a GPS + dashcam model called the DriveAssist 51 LMT-S. It was bought.

This thing got me to TX okay. But then after a few months went by, it started having problems. Major problems. It would randomly freeze and/or start rebooting constantly. Memory cards were swapped out, system resets (yes, plural) were done and even the power supply was switched out for another Garmin-issued one. This was all for nothing because when this thing decided it just didn't want to work right anymore, that was it.

The worst instance was when the DriveAssist failed right in the thick of Dallas city traffic. That sucked.

Never in all my years of using Garmin GPSes did I have one fail so spectacularly. The DriveAssist is the only Garmin model I've ever owned that was just so... bad.

Round 2: DriveAssist + Smartphone

I couldn't trust the DriveAssist for navigation due to its flaky on-again/off-again nature, but it was good enough at least for dashcam use.

I needed a navigator, so I tried using the smartphone. The app I went with was HERE We Go since it allows for downloading the entire USA for "offline" GPS use. I also tried Offline Maps & Navigation, but HERE seemed to have better map data.

This did work, save for two things. Screen glare and heat. No matter where I put the phone in the car, the screen reflected too much making it almost useless for day driving. And when running a navigation app at full screen brightness, the phone gets hot real quick. When that happens, the phone can and will start shutting down things to prevent itself from overheating - including the GPS antenna.

I needed another solution.

Round 3: New dashcam + old Garmin nuvi

Viofo A119 V2 was bought. Great dashcam. Works wonderfully.

This is the point where I went back to my old GPS, a nuvi 50LM.

The old GPS has a truly daylight-readable matte screen. It's way better for automotive use than the phone screen, and it doesn't get anywhere near as hot as the phone did.

Something else happened however. I got a different car with a different dashboard layout, and really couldn't use the 5-inch screen nuvi in it, so...

Round 4: New dashcam + even older Garmin nuvi

The dashcam remained the same, no change here.

But the GPS changed. Still a Garmin, but instead of the 5-inch nuvi 50LM, I acquired a 3.5-inch nuvi 30. This one fit the dash design of the car much better...

...and that's what I'm using now.

Coming around full circle (almost)

Yes, it is totally ridiculous I've had to go through all this crap just to get proper dashcam + navigation. But the funny thing is that I've almost gone back to exactly what I was using back in 2006.

In '06, what got me from New England to Florida was a Garmin StreetPilot c340. It had a 3.5" screen and worked fantastically well. It didn't even have an anti-glare screen so I had to buy a "hoodie" for it just to give it some shade. It looked dumb, but hey, it worked.

Now in '19, all these years later, I'm back to a 3.5" GPS screen again. The c340 was a big clunky thing in comparison to the nuvi 30, but the screen size is the same between the two.

Things I've learned

I am not one of those "put it in the cup holder and listen for prompts" people

Some people can take a smartphone, launch their navigation app of choice, pick a destination, then just chuck the phone in the cup holder and listen for directions while driving.

I can't do that. I need to see the map, and it needs to be close to eye level. This is the way I've been driving with GPS ever since I first started using it, and to use it any other way just wouldn't work for me.

Phone screens are still awful for automotive use

For night driving, the phone would be fine. But for day driving, no way. That screen has to be at full brightness just to barely read it even on a cloudy day when the sun is out.

I have a Samsung Galaxy S7. But even if I had the S10, the sun will still wash out that screen.

The only screen that works properly for automotive use is matte with antireflective coating.

Or to be more specific, when you want matte, you have to go old on a car that has no electronic screens in it (mine doesn't have any unless you count the odometer). Newer cars have screens. Matte, of course. And if I had a newer car, I would most certainly use Android Auto and just feed the phone navigation app to the car directly.

To note, the Garmin Drive 52 does have a matte screen. It's 5-inch so I can't use it, but if you want something new with matte, that's the one you want.

Phone navigation is best used with data

Using Google Maps in an offline state - which you can do by downloading local maps via the app - really waters it down. A lot. It's when you use it offline with map data do you truly realize how much live data it needs from the internet just to work like it's supposed to. The app is simply meant to be used in an always-connected state for it to perform optimally.

Another one is Waze, also owned by Google. This is an awesome navigation app, but it's online-only and requires a constant data connection. Have Waze users requested some way to use it offline? Yes. Many times. But the option has never been offered and most likely never will be since Waze was built from the start to require live data all the time to work.

Someday when 5G connectivity is available everywhere and free-to-use (hey, it could happen), then sure, everyone could use GMaps or Waze. But until that happens, only the privileged who can afford unlimited data plans can use it regularly.

Maybe Garmin should start making a 3.5-inch "pocket GPS" again?

I honestly thought using a 3.5" screen GPS again would be awful. It uses ABCDE keyboard and not QWERTY, it's square and small, and just looks so itty-bitty...

...but wow does it work well.

The little nuvi 30 square is ultra light, daylight readable and can be heard easily even during highway driving. It totally gets the job done.

Does a GPS map screen even need to be wide? I don't think so. I'm finding the square to work just fine and I truly don't miss the widescreen.

My GPS adventures now continue using an old 3.5" GPS and a separate dashcam. Works for me.

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