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Smartphone navigation is kinda trash

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It is a sad and rather embarrassing state of affairs when a GPS device made 15 years ago navigates better than anything available on your phone or infotainment system.

If you use a navigation app on your phone, tablet or infotainment system, be it Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps or whatever it is, you know how moody it gets. It's a very risky gamble every time you launch that app to navigate anywhere while driving. Will the app spin you around in the wrong direction? Will it randomly change your route without telling you? If you instruct the app NOT to take you on tollways, will it ignore that and do it anyway? Will some random box of text appear BLOCKING the map exactly in the spot you needed to see? Will the app even launch properly AT ALL?

These are, unfortunately, regular questions nav app users have that they ask every day.

Two truths when it comes to nav apps:

As a lookup tool, it's good

A nav app is at its best when you need information. Find places, see opening and closing hours for businesses, find links to web sites for further information about businesses, schools or whatever, it's all there.

As a navigation tool, it's garbage

Everybody is okay with a nav app guiding them along until it does something stupid. And there are several levels of stupid when when it comes to nav apps.

Traffic reporting is worthless because it's a crapshoot whether it even works or not that day.

On the days traffic reporting is working, that's where the app may (and probably will) randomly change your route without telling you.

Any time an "update" happens, things are changed around. Buttons are moved, colors are changed (always for the worse), fonts are changed (again, always for the worse), and so on.

For long trips, heh.. yeah, don't do that with a nav app. Bad idea.

Don't you love it when your phone/tablet/infotainment will just up and decide, "Nah, you don't need the GPS antenna right now EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE DRIVING. Hope you memorized which highway number you need to take! Good luck!"

There are also other instances of stupid. Too many to list.

This is the navigation solution that works

The little guy you see in the photo above is a Garmin nuvi 1260. That's not the model I recommend only because most people want something larger but not too large. The one that fits the bill where it's readable during daylight driving (and obviously at night also), has big legible fonts and is stupidly easy to use is the Garmin nuvi 50 IF SET UP PROPERLY.

Proper setup means this:

Power it using the supplied Garmin charger that plugs into the 12V or use this very specific USB cable (it's cheap). You can't use a regular PC USB cable because it doesn't have the correct wiring, but you can use that specific cable for power. I own THREE of them just to make sure I have a backup and a backup for my backup.

You need a 32GB microSD memory card. Yes, it very specifically must have that capacity. You can't use 64GB or greater because it won't work. Why? Older device, that's why. The reason you need the memory card is to store your map data since the Garmin doesn't connect to the internet.

After that, maps are updated by doing the following:

First, create a folder called MAP on the memory card. Use a computer for that.

Second, download the map data from here. If downloading United States data, it has to be a region and not the whole area just because of the way the maps work. Pick a region and use a torrent client to "Download Map for SD Card". If you need a torrent client, use qBittorrent. It's free. The map download will be a ZIP containing a file called gmapsupp.img.

Third, extract the ZIP, take the gmapsupp.img file and copy it to the MAP folder you created on the memory card.

Fourth, put the card in the nuvi 50.

Fifth, power on the nuvi, go to Settings > Map > Info, UNCHECK the old map and CHECK the new map so it looks something like this:

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The nuvi 50 is now ready to use, BUT HOLD ON THERE BUCKAROO... The only "weird" thing now is adding in favorites by use of GPS coordinates.

Set the nuvi to accept decimal degrees coordinates by going to Where To? > down arrow > Coordinates > Format and set to h ddd.ddddd°.

Use Google Maps to get your coordinates for wherever you want to go. Remember how I said that a nav app is a good lookup tool? This is an example of that.

Find the coordinates for the place you want to save. Then on the nuvi 50, go to Where To? > down arrow > Coordinates. Two gray boxes there with numbers in them, both touchable. Top gray box is latitude. Bottom gray box is longitude. If the coordinates I get are 28.0310035156253, -82.45149903418908. The nuvi 50 only accepts 5 places after the decimal, so I round. N 28.03100 W 082.45150. When done, I touch the Next button, then Save, name it, then touch Done and it's saved to Favorites.

Yes, you can search for stuff using the downloaded map data on the nuvi 50 itself, but it's always better when you get the GPS coordinates from the phone to save a favorite precisely. Coordinates never do that "snap to road" nonsense. For example, if get coordinates where it's EXACTLY at the entrance to a parking lot right at the gate, you will ALWAYS be navigated precisely to that spot when selected as a favorite from the nuvi 50.

Again, use the phone as the lookup tool to find places because it's really good at that - but let the nuvi 50 do the navigating.

If you ever want to delete a favorite on a nuvi 50, the process is this: Where To? > Favorites > touch the Favorite you want to delete > touch the "speech bubble" of the favorite in the middle of the screen > Delete button.

Oh, and bonus: The nuvi 50 will never randomly delete your favorites. Any favorite you save STAYS THERE until you delete it yourself - WHICH IS HOW IT'S SUPPOSED TO WORK. Isn't that great? It sure is!

Other questions answered that I know people will ask

I'm getting these out of the way right now.

"WHAT'S THE MONTHLY CHARGE? WHAT DO I NEED TO SIGN UP FOR?"

Nothing and nothing. GPS, as in Global Positioning System, is ALREADY PAID FOR by taxpayer dollars. You do NOT need to pay extra to use it. You do NOT need to subscribe to anything. You do NOT need to sign up for anything.

All you need is a GPS receiver like the Garmin nuvi 50 and map data. THAT'S IT.

"HOW OFTEN CAN I UPDATE THE MAPS?"

This place updates the maps weekly for Garmin navigator usage. You can update every week if you want to but don't have to. Updating once or twice a year is fine.

"I NEED TO MAKE A MAP CORRECTION!"

Do that here because that's where the map data originates from.

Yes, you do need to sign up an account to do map editing, but it's free, the cost is $0.00, and it's 100% optional. You only do this if you really want to, meaning it's not required.

"WILL THE SPEED LIMIT SHOW UP ON THE MAP?"

Nope. And given the fact those can change in certain areas, that data would be worthless anyway. Learn how to read a speed limit sign.

"WILL I GET TRAFFIC REPORTS?"

Nope. Traffic reporting these days is next to useless anyway. You don't need it.

What you do get...

...is a basic A-to-B navigation system that works. You get directions because that's what matters.

In other words, it's minimalist GPS navigation of the late 2000s and early 2010s era. The only simpler navigation would be a compass and paper map.

Yes, it is still true Garmin makes new GPS navigators for the car today. I run a DriveSmart 66 myself. And Garmin even makes a basic model that's less in price, the Drive 53.

However, the nuvi 50, while old, is very easy to use, very easy to acquire and cheap. Garmin made tens of thousands of these things. They're on Amazon, on eBay, at thrift stores and so on. As long as you can power it, put map data on a memory card and insert that into the 50, the entire setup is less than 35 bucks.

Heck, there are reproduction mounting brackets made new for the 50 because it's such a popular model. That in combination with an Garmin compatible Arkon mount means you can pretty much mount it anywhere in the car.

Getting a nuvi 50 is so cheap than you buy several to have as backups.

A few last things I'll say about the 50:

There is the 50 and the 50LM. The LM means "lifetime maps", meaning yes, you could connect it to a PC, run Garmin Express and maybe get free maps from Garmin directly. And that's a big maybe. You do need the 32GB microSD card. But even if you have it, some 50LM's out there can still get the Garmin-issued maps and others can't.

The only good reason I can see to connect a nuvi 50 to a PC is to see if any non-map-related software updates are available. If there are, great, update it.

I think it's better to use the alternative OSM (OpenStreetMap) map just because it is updated far more frequently, and you can update it every week if you want to. Can't do that with the Garmin maps. You'd be lucky to get one annual update with a Garmin-issued map. Better to use OSM.

Published 2023 Oct 17