Saturday, February 25, 2006

Review: Garmin Nuvi 350 vs. TomTom Go Personal Travel Assistant

Or, the TomTom Go vs Garmin Nuvi (Nüvi)

A GPS is an amazing device. Something you can hold in your hand can pinpoint your exact location within a few feet, anywhere on the planet.

Perfect if you're an explorer, geo-cacher or adventurer, but if you're a suburb-dwelling parent who simply needs to get from point A to point B, then a GPS becomes a Personal Travel Assistant (or Personal Navigation device).
{Aside} We went to a regional NAWCC meeting, and I pointed out a device on a table to my son: "Take a look at the PTA on the table over there." His confused look when he picked up the device was funny – he had never seen a vintage, Hamilton US Army issue compass.
It's my wife who mainly uses this (My wife loves certain technology, it doesn't get any better!). If she is frustrated with a device, I hear about it. So when she expressed her frustration with the user interface, the lack of internal maps and the tiny monochrome screen on our Garmin GPS, I decided to find a PTA for her. {To be fair, she also doesn't like to hear my frustration with the early Garmin's frustrating interface with her PC. She knows that if I start any sentence with "If this was on a Macintosh..."}. The device required the use of a PC, and did not have a Macintosh interface or software for downloading maps. It is decidely non-user friendly.

Enter the TomTom Go 300. A good referral from a friend who has one for his smartphone convinced me to buy one. They have cute commercials, but cute doesn't cut it with poor programming. And who wants to be lost?

A trip to Columbus, Ohio from our house covers two roads, one of which is an interstate route. We know that it takes 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Syncing up with the satellite was painfully slow. Not just agonizingly, but painfully.

Setting up the TomTom was daunting. There are so many configuration screens, it will take you a week to remember where you last saw a setting you want to change. I'm an expert computer user on two platforms (Macintosh and Windows), and a user interface designer, and I found it confusing.

Yet, no matter how we tried to configure it (again, not well thought out for the average user) it inisted that the trip would take over three hours. The route included getting off of the highway to take back roads that ran parallel, and getting back onto the highway.

The TomTom Go is shaped roughly like a wedge that could be used to prevent your car from rolling away if it was stuck under a tire. Has anyone at TomTom ever hear of product design?

Two more experiences with destinations closer to home convinced us that the the TomTom Go 300 was either faulty or poorly programmed. We took it back and instead purchased the Garmin Nüvi 350.

The Nüvi 350 is a delightfully small, portable GPS navigator, traveler’s reference (Thousands of restaurants and places in its database, and digital entertainment system (plays audio books and MP3s), all in one. The Nüvi provides automatic routing, turn-by-turn voice directions, and finger-touchscreen control. Technically it is a Personal Travel Assistant, as it doesn't display the same info as a GPS most of the time.

While not perfect, the Nüvi is simple to program, and for the most part has so far taken the logical route we would have chosen without it.

Settings include Map (View menus), System settings, Time, Display, Navigation, and Language. Simple and effective.

Main menus include Where To (Address, Food, Lodging, Fuel, My Locations and a menu to spell a name to search. (Searching is a bit slow, but given it's searching a DB of all the continental US, we'll be patient. It would seem logical for it to search the given region it's located in by default. Ours is set that way, but it's not clear that it was working that way.

The Travel Kit feature allows access to an
  • add-on language guides (Words and Phrases and bilibgual dictionaries, Travel Guides, and Savers Guide)
  • MP3 Player
  • Audible Book Player (the Nüvi has a slot for an SD card)
  • Picture Viewer
  • World Clock
  • Currency Converter
  • Measurement converter
  • Calculator
It's main flaw is its lack of Macintosh compatibility. We had to use our office PC to download a map update, and install it via USB. C'mon Garmin, get with the program and hire a Macinstosh programmer!

Simply put, this is a sound (albeit pricey) device. In a sense it's already paid for itself by enabling us to get where we needed when we needed to. It gives clear directions, and so far has been simple for my wife to learn and use. I highly recommend it.

Addendum: We just spent three days in Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach/ Miami area, and the Nüvi worked incredibly well, ALWAYS getting us where we needed. We simply entered the address as a destination or waypoint, and we were there.

Battery Life: We didn't take our car power adapter, so we were reliant on the internal battery. It seems like the battery lasts about 4 to 5 hours, depending on use (we only used for navigation, not audio playback). Battery life could be improved, but for most users this should be fine.

Since we were traveling, we were trying to pack light, and also had adapters for two mobile phones and an iPod. Oh, and the clunky adapter that ships with the Fuji FinePix F10. (What was Fuji thinking?!)

Now if they could only do something about the amount of traffic in Florida...


Jeremy said...

Excellent Comparison. I appreciate the time you spent writing up that "review". I just bought one of these and I'm wondering if you are supposed to charge this thing out of the box before using it. I haven't been able to find any information regarding this. Is it like every other electronic device that you should charge for 10 hours before using?

BSCO said...

As with any electronic device with a built-in Li-Ion battery, I would charge it before use.

The Nuvi is still one of my wife's favorite electronics.


mustant68 said...

The odd thing with the nuvi350 is thay don't tell you where to plug in the AC adapter. It seems odd to use the same place as the usb plug so I just use the car adapter. Has anyone else tryed it?

Locinvar said...

Yes it charges via the mini USB.

See the manual in the Nuvi memory or this link.

page 64 States

"For best results, do not unplug the NUVI until tottally charged."