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The last of the old school Garmins

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I'm writing this on the last day of 2021, Dec 31, New Year's Eve. I had some ups and downs with Garmin GPSes this year.

Firstly, yes I bought a Drive 52. This is the very last of the old school Garmin GPSes for cars. It has a matte screen, still uses the mini USB plug and not the USB-C, and also uses the 17mm ball mount. What this means is that my existing mounts and charge cords will work with it, whereas with the newer DriveSmart 66 will not.

Is the 52 good? Yes. It works with the GTM36 or GTM60 to get traffic data with no phone required. Everything is legible and all the annoying alerts can be thankfully turned off. The only one remaining annoyance is that any location marked as a favorite always appears on the map whenever driving by it with no way to turn it off. The workaround is to use a POI list with a 100% transparent icon.

Another annoyance that doesn't affect me currently is that there is no portrait mode on the 52. Landscape only. I say currently because it might affect me in the future. I'll talk more about that in a moment.

Prior to the 52 I bought the DriveSmart 55. Twice. Both of them ran too hot and of course had the very annoying "too blue" color temperature screen issue, which is something that all DriveSmart 61, DriveSmart 55 and DriveSmart 65 units suffer from. For day driving, everything is legible and great. For night driving, the color temperature is too stark and the screen looks like you're staring into a light bulb regardless of screen brightness. What Garmin should have done is have night mode auto-adjust the screen color temperature to "warm" (a feature of smartphones that's been around for years), but they didn't do that. Why? Matte screens don't require it, so they never bothered. And this is why the Drive 52 matte screen looks great day or night whereas the DS61, DS55 and DS65 doesn't and will always look horrible with the night mode color scheme.

The only "fix" for the horrible night color temperature on the DS61/DS55/DS65 would be to physically place a light gel filter sheet over the display for night driving. What color? Either a yellow, pink or orange one would do the job. And the really sad part is that there are internal "secret" settings that do allow you to change the color temperature of the screen, but you can't save it. Thanks, Garmin.

The state of navigation, cars and the future

On the smartphone, all navigation options are terrible because it's trendy to use itty bitty teeny tiny fonts you can't read while driving, the use of muted colors which is the worst possible thing you could have for a map (no contrast = you can't tell where things are), the app "suggesting" things while driving that can distract you and lead to an accident, and tons of map clutter.

There is also a gigantic push to have all map apps do everything online. Some apps already do this, and they don't work. The moment you pass through a tunnel or go anywhere the data signal drops even for a moment, and the app "goes crazy" trying to figure out where it is. The end result is the all too familiar "spinning in circles" nonsense and/or pointing you the wrong way because the compass in the phone isn't calibrated (and never will be because a phone never stays in the same position 100% of the time). The app then recalculates a bunch of times, and... app crash. Will this happen right in the middle of traffic? Of course it will. Will this ever be fixed? Nope. Does this happen with all online-required map apps? Yes.

Where cars are concerned, the trend is to have ABSOLUTELY NO FLAT SURFACES anywhere on the dashboard. What you get is Curvy! Swoopy! Leaned! Angled! Need a flat surface to mount something? Sorry, Charlie, you're out of luck.

Think you can use a friction mount? If you like a permanent marks on your dashboard you can't clean off and a screen that shakes that can't be read while driving, that's all a friction mount is good for.

Designers of cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs design their vehicles where you can't put a damned thing on the dashboard. Remember how there used to be flat surfaces? Gone. Remember how some vehicles thoughtfully put a square or rectangular tray on the dashboard, which could be used as a mounting area? Gone. It's all gone. All you're left with are curvy/swoopy/leaned/angled garbage that can't be used for anything.

Another modern car design is to rake the windshield back AS FAR AS POSSIBLE. This does two things. First, it makes cleaning the inside of the windshield an absolute nightmare. Second, it makes mounting anything to the glass via suction mount, the literal last option you have to mount anything up there, not possible...

...unless you use very specific older Garmin models, and only if you know how make maps yourself.

The specific models I'm referring to are 3.5" squares and 4.3" wide with a portrait (i.e. vertical) mode view option. These can be mounted on the glass at bottom next to the A pillar (which in America means to the left of the steering wheel) and you get a nice, clear line-of-sight view without any visual obstruction. It has to be a 3.5" or 4.3" because anything larger than that will not fit due to the steep rake of the windshield glass.

As for maps, Garmin is still offering maps for free at the time I write this. But at some point they won't. I have already taken the steps of learning how to generate my own OpenStreetMap Garmin-compatible maps. Took a while to learn how to do all that crap, but learned it all, and even got the abbreviated street suffixes working (ex: maps show "Main St" instead of "Main Street").

With the current car I have, I can run a Garmin in landscape mode and see everything. But as for whatever my next car is, that may not be an option. And this is why I keep a few 3.5" nuvi models. One of them is the last 3.5" Garmin auto GPS ever made, the nuvi 30. I would most likely run it using this mode:

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The 30 can show just a list of a directions, what direction to turn, and the distance to turn as well as the list itself auto-updates on approach (newer models don't for whatever reason).

If you're old enough to remember the bad old days when people printed directions off the internet and used that to get to places, this is basically the same thing in an electronic version. Very simple, but it works. I can also use the regular map view if I wish.

And if that couldn't work for whatever reason, there is another option. Use an old nuvi as a pointer only. No map data required. I get the coordinates to wherever I want to go, punch them in, the GPS tells me where to go, and I figure out which roads to take myself.

A little 3.5" or 4.3" nuvi with portrait mode enabled will fit in modern cars. A small display, to be sure, but I can actually mount it and see everything.

To recap:

Garmin still offers free maps, so I'm using that. If (more like when) that ends, I switch to OpenStreetMap maps. If in my next car my 5" model doesn't fit, I switch to a 3.5" or 4.3" with portrait mode. And finally, if OSM maps stop working, I switch to pointer-only means of navigating.

My strong recommendations for your future car navigation

I'll make these recommendations on the assumption you don't know how to generate your own OSM maps for your Garmin nav system(s).

First: For every waypoint (i.e. favorite) you have, get the coordinates and put them in a text file or just write them down.

A common thing that happens is people losing their waypoints, either due to a device breaking, computer crashing or something else. You had a bunch of locations saved, and uh-oh, now they're gone.

Use Windows Notepad or some kind of text editor and save your waypoints just in case you ever need them. Use the format of name,latitude,longitude because it's the easiest to work with.

Second: Learn how to navigate with a Garmin GPS using "Off Road" Route Preference or Route Calculation mode.

On most Garmins this is found by going to Settings > Navigation, and the current setting you have is most likely "Faster Time". One of the options there will be "Off Road".

You can use any nuvi, Drive or DriveSmart regardless of how old it is or how old the maps are to test this out. Set the Route Preference to "Off Road", map view to "North Up", punch in some coordinates, start navigating, then figure out which roads to take to get to the destination.

If your GPS powers on, works and can acquire a GPS signal, those are the only requirements to test "Off Road" mode.

You may be wondering if you can use a handheld trail GPS to do the same thing. Yes, you can, but it's not recommended for driving. It's usually true you can't mount a handheld in a car easily, and also can't power it easily either.

Third: Let go of the fear.

Driving using GPS as just a pointer may be scary. Why? Because you're totally used to the navigation system telling you where to go and when to turn, and seeing a map with a big arrow showing you exactly which roads to take. You may have been navigating that way for so long that doing it any other way just feels "wrong", so much to the point where it's frightening. Using GPS without all the aids does take getting used to - but it's still better and less dangerous than taking your eyes off the road to read a paper map.

Knowing how to do this stuff will at least somewhat future-proof your navigation needs in the car.

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