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Little GPSes


Sometimes smaller is better.

I currently drive a car that has no screens in it, so my primary navigation system is a Garmin DriveSmart 66. And while I like that just fine and it does the job very well, little guys like the Garmin nuvi 30 are also very good but for different reasons.

Before getting deeper into this, yeah you have to be a bit of a nerd to use an old Garmin these days. The 30 is a super basic navigator that is GPS-only with no Wi-Fi and no internet. Maps have to be updated manually using OpenStreetMap data, such as from OpenMapChest. The map data won't fit on the 30's internal memory so you have to install a 32GB microSD card and put the maps there. This specific USB charge cord must be used to power it (a regular USB cable won't work), else you'll have to use the bulky 12V Garmin charger. Anywhere you want to navigate to more or less has to be input by direct GPS coordinates, which can be acquired from Google Maps.

But once you jump through all those hoops - if you're willing to do so (and I am) - that little wonder, the nuvi 30, is great to have.

What makes having one of these worth going through the hassle of setup? No cell phone service required. No phone telling you the GPS signal was lost (which it will do to save battery later whether you want that to happen or not). The UI always stays the same and does not change. The favorites you save stay there and don't just magically disappear. No signup required. No login required. You just turn the thing on, it acquires a GPS signal, and off you go.

There's no traffic reporting with the 30. The 30 navigates, and that's it.

I have a bunch of old Garmins, and the 30 is one of my favorites not just for its simplicity but for the fact it fits anywhere. Just about any smartphone mount made for the car can hold the 30, or you can do the double-sided Velcro thing and just stick it wherever. Arkon also makes a bunch of mounts for Garmins as long as you have the mounting clip that clicks on the back of the 30 - although I think a cheap smartphone mount would be better since the 30 is small enough for that type of mount to grip it without a problem.

It's just cool to have something with a little 3.5" touchscreen to be able to navigate you anywhere. And speaking of temperature, yeah, the 30 can handle heat and cold a lot better than a phone can.

I'm not saying the 30 navigates better than the phone does, but it was designed for car use whereas the phone was not. As a navigator, yes it's more reliable than the phone is.

It's also nice that the 30 is more or less the size of a car gauge. And even though it's small, the speaker it has can actually go quite loud.

But again, some nerdy steps are required to get one of these things set up. I personally think it's worth it, because once it's all done you just use the thing and don't have to think about it. It just works.

Published 2024 Feb 15

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