For each of our last two trips, we rented cars, and both times, we rented a GPS to take along. It added to the cost, but we were glad to have had them. It was less expensive than turning on data roaming every time we would have needed it, and having one provided a massive peace of mind when traveling as a family — we knew we wouldn’t get hopelessly lost, we knew we could always find a gas station or something to eat nearby. It was well worth the cost.
On our trip in Scotland, we used it to find a hotel when we were having to pull over every 20 minutes so B could be sick. We used it to find our way to interesting looking places, and to get us home again, when we decided to get lost on purpose. And it was super helpful in estimating how long a trip will take. Before we went, we had heard several cautionary tales about how long it took to get everywhere in England and Ireland and about how much it was going to mess up our plans to constantly underestimate travel times — we ended up having no trouble with that at all, even when we decided, on a whim, to turn off on the scenic route to Edinburgh, when we chose to skip one of our planned destinations in the Cotswolds, or when we had to detour due to a closed motorway driving from York to London.
On our UK/Ireland trip, we had a Tom Tom, and certain things about it drove me crazy — the touch screen wasn’t sensitive enough and it was hard to get the volume right (it was always waking the kids up). But, after our recent Austrian/German trip, I regretted every word I’d ever said against it. The Garmin Nuvi we had on this most recent trip was terrible for our purposes, and it really made me appreciate the Tom Tom.
With the Tom Tom, finding and using the features was pretty easy. The day/night setting was easy to find, zooming out and/or switching to an overview north/south geographic map view happened the way I thought it should and gave me the results I wanted. The verbal directions it gave were clear and well-timed. It warned us about speed cameras (which was kind of cool but not needed, since we were traveling on unfamiliar roads — and I’m also unsure about whether the Garmin would have provided the same information if we’d been using it in England). When it came time to take an exit, it would zoom in and also show us which lanes we could use to exit, or stay straight, as we needed — it was so helpful, and much safer, to know ahead of time how many lanes we had to move over BEFORE we actually had to do it.
By contrast, the Garmin was incredibly frustrating. The touch screen was more sensitive (which saved my fingers a bit) but every time I touched it, even accidentally, it would shut off our navigation to our desired destination, which was particularly uncool when I hadn’t realized I’d touched it. The German city and street name pronunciations were terrible — it was absolutely impossible to understand, since it was neither correct in German nor an American-English bastardization of the word. Rather, it used some kind of hybrid not quite German with poor pseudo-German pronunciation that left us laughing, but meant we couldn’t use the audio cues to help us find our streets or exits. (I don’t know whether the Tom Tom would have had the same issue because we used it in only English speaking countries.) Everything felt unintuitive. Figuring out how to switch in and out of night mode felt complicated each time, and I have to wonder if it didn’t have more features than I was able to discover.
Those were small frustrations, though. Of bigger concern was the fact that the display only showed the roads you were actually going to use, most of the time, rather than displaying an entire area map. That meant that we couldn’t see our other options as we went along, and I also couldn’t say helpful things like, “It’ll be the third left” because the only left it would show was the one you actually wanted to turn on. The voice commands were ill-timed (they came at the last minute, most of the time) and the image display updated slowly. We missed our turns, several times, because we thought our turn was still coming up as we were driving past it. Also, perhaps the most inconvenient, was the fact that you couldn’t see your map on a normal, geographic, north/south map. Most of the time, having directions relative to our direction of travel was fine, but in one case, there was some confusion about which Ingolstadt we were heading towards. Although we knew we wanted to go north of Munich, and looking at a map of Germany would have told us which one was located there, all we had to choose from were distances and relative direction from where we were. We ended up guessing and double-checking with the maps on our cell phones, but it was kind of silly that we couldn’t just look at a map and say, “Hey, there it is! That’s the one we want to go to.” In fact, we often couldn’t even zoom far enough out to see our destination on our directions, so we were left knowing nothing more than our next direction and the time or distance or direction of our destination. We managed, but it was frustrating.
They’re both better than Apple Maps, though. Every time we tried to use that, it took us on a route that was twice as long (or more) than it should have been (in one case, a trip that ended up taking 18 minutes was predicted to take over an hour with Apple Maps) and it kept warning us about tolls that didn’t exist. The times we needed to confirm the GPS directions, we actually pulled Google Maps up on our phone’s browser and used that instead. Other than being able to remind us that Germany is north of Austria, Apple Maps didn’t do us any good.