My Adventures in GPS

The other day I flew to San Antonio to give a speech. The cabdriver who drove me from the hotel to the airport on my return trip had a GPS device on his dashboard. On the way, he told me all about it as it showed him and told him where to go. When the primary exit to the airport was backed up, it even automatically adjusted the route for him once we passed that exit.

I was intrigued. But not enough to spend the $1200 he told me he spent on his unit.

So I looked around and found a slightly newer version of the unit I saw on eBay. Factory refurbished and with a manufacturer’s warranty. For around $400.

garmin2620So I bought it. A Garmin StreetPilot 2620.

Out of the box, it booted up easily and I had maps and navigation immediately. Except I had 2 year old maps. Ones that didn’t have, for example, the Westpark Tollway, which I use several times a week. No biggie, I figured. I’ll just buy the newest map program and all be all set. Right?

Hardly.

First, I went to the Garmin web page, which looks straight from the nineties. I couldn’t find any reference to the map program on my unit- City Navigator, North America (Version 6). So I called the customer support line (before 5:00 p.m., when it inconveniently closes). A nice lady told me that the new version of that program (Version 8) was not yet available, but that Garmin would send me the DVD in August for free. Then I could buy an “unlock code,” via an anti-piracy system that would make both the RIAA and Strat-O-Matic feel inadequate.

The next night I was looking around Amazon, and lo and behold, what did I see, but the not yet available City Navigator, North America (Version 8) for sale and definitely available. My red flags were beginning to flap in the wind, but I took the plunge and bought the DVD for a little over $100. When it came, it had a date of April 2006, so I was excited about having maps that work.

Once I tore the DVD package in frustration over not finding my “unlock code” in the materials and noticed it inside of the cardboard container (not inside the DVD case, but between the front and back of the sealed cardboard container that the DVD case came in (you have to see it to appreciate how uber-Easter Bunny it was placed), I installed the maps on my computer- a required first step to getting them on your GPS unit. Then after watching the first tutorial I have had to watch in a decade or so in order to figure out the highly non-intuitive map program, I selected some maps to download to my unit.

It had been a hard climb, but I was almost there.

Hardly.

First, the unit could not- and still cannot- maintain a connection to my computer. After preparing the maps for download, the connection is always and consistently lost and I get an error message that the application cannot communicate with my device. Like sunrise and sunset, it happens everytime. The exact same way.

That leaves my device displaying its own special version of the BSOD, with a hopeful, but false message: “Transferring Data…” Fraid not.

In sum, it simply does not work. Garmin has created a process that only a confederacy of PhDs could understand merely to install new maps on your GPS unit. It is beyond frustrating, and as soon as business hours roll back around, I’ll take time out of my business to give them the business (to quote Wally Cleaver).

One gigantic mistake I made was buying the internal hard drive version, as opposed to the memory card version. 20+ years of computer geekdom tells me it would be much easier to load these freakin’ maps on a memory card than to try in vain to keep my unit talking to my computer. Plus, with a memory card you can get more memory to add more maps if you, unlike me, can get the application to actually add the maps you have purchased.

I may change my tune once I call Garmin tomorrow, but so far my verdict on this Garmin GPS is that it is a highly frustrating piece of doo-doo.

It simply shouldn’t be this hard to install updated maps on a GPS unit. And the most frustrating thing about it is that, at least to a large extent, it is difficult by design.