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Author Topic: GPS Unit Recommendations?  (Read 7503 times)
Renegade
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« on: May 20, 2010, 07:18:18 AM »

Can anyone recommend a GOOD GPS unit?

Before you do, I just blogged a review of my current unit after using it for 3 months - TomTom XXL 540S - so that's the background for the recommendation.

I am open to just about any options, with the only important thing being that I can use it in Australia.

I value recommendations from experience most. I can read specs, but at the end of the day, specs are pretty meaningless.

I suppose my top priorities would be that I can finger-drag maps on-screen to preview my route and that the unit render data quickly.

Thanks in advance for any pointers.
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Perry Mowbray
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« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2010, 09:57:48 AM »

I have two:
  • An older Magellan unit that the kids bought me, and
  • A new Garmin

The Garmin is great, though more of a bush walking tool, although I did get the streets loaded as well so can use in car (but in-car is secondary for me); and I think the unit has been kept as small as possible so that it's not a drama when you're out and about.

But I'm guessing that you're wanting an in-car GPS?
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Renegade
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« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2010, 10:16:29 AM »

Yes. I want one for the car. The TomTom is just garbage. It's simply unreliable and dangerous to use.
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steeladept
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« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2010, 12:04:42 PM »

I have always heard Magellan's were some of the best if that helps.  I have used a Garmin (Nuvi I think, it was my sister's device) and it was usable, though not particularly accurate.  It was close, but sometimes a turn would be as far as a couple hundred feet away (maybe 100 meters at most, whatever - for this purpose it didn't really matter).  That becomes a problem in places like Pennsylvania where that distance may be around the next bend and you can't see it until you pass it - but then the machine already said you did, so which is it?  Note: this was a rare case, usually it was off within visual distances, but it was still off by what I thought was a lot.

My wife wants me to buy one for her, so I am interested in what others suggest as well.

As far as Australian Maps, I wouldn't know.
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wraith808
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« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2010, 12:20:18 PM »

Yes. I want one for the car. The TomTom is just garbage. It's simply unreliable and dangerous to use.

Why do you say that?  I'm just curious... we've had a garmin and now a tomtom, and my wife has had no problem with either.

UPDATE: Never mind.  I read the review (duh).  But, like I said, my wife loves her new TomTom.
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4wd
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« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2010, 02:57:53 PM »

This is a strange question but:

Why didn't/don't you just buy a Korean Sat Nav unit, (distinct from GPS unit AFAIAC), and load the maps for wherever you want in it?
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« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2010, 04:27:05 PM »

I like the newer Garmin models.
I use them in my cars and have had no problems other than a brief delay finding the satellites (something that's been addressed in the latest models).
When I've rented cars in the States I've rented Garmin models with them -- again, no problems.
I can't compare to other brands, alas, as I lack experience of them.
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« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2010, 06:14:23 PM »

How do these models compare to the gps software on cell phones??
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Perry Mowbray
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« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2010, 06:59:53 PM »

How do these models compare to the gps software on cell phones??

I think that would depend if the phone uses sat for its GPS or mobile tower (not sure what that's called).

Sat has a better accuracy than triangulation between mobile towers (not that I have a phone with GPS on it).

Is it still called GPS on a phone?
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Renegade
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« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2010, 08:05:34 PM »

This is a strange question but:

Why didn't/don't you just buy a Korean Sat Nav unit, (distinct from GPS unit AFAIAC), and load the maps for wherever you want in it?

I wish. They aren't available here, so that's one problem. I could get someone to ship one here, but then I run into the problem that I may not be able to put maps on it. The one I have, ALMap,  I know I can't put an Australian map into it.

The other reason is that I didn't know just how poor other GPS units could be... I thought that they'd have some basic usability features, like being able to scroll a map with your finger, and a CPU that wasn't outdated in the 1970's. I suppose my perception or expectations were grossly distorted. But, I should look into it. It might just be the best option if I can find some hacks to get one to work here.

How do these models compare to the gps software on cell phones??

This might just be the second best option. I thought that a dedicated unit would be best, but I'm starting to doubt that. The GPS hardware in my TomTom is slow as well, taking 2 minutes or so to acquire a position.

For PDAs, you can get GPS hardware to attach to it. The software then just uses the sensor data. My GPS in Korea was like that (HP iPaq PDA running ALMap). Worked beautifully.

Has anyone used any PDA or smartphone mapping software? (With or without an external GPS hardware.)
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JavaJones
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« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2010, 12:52:44 AM »

I've used iPhone and Android mapping apps and they're awesome. Android in particular. However they're web-based, at least the ones I used, so you'd need cell service. I don't know if there are any downloadable stand-alone (offline-capable) GPS apps for either phone, but if so that would be ideal.

- Oshyan
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« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2010, 03:29:23 AM »

I have a Nokia E52 smartphone with integrated GPS with 2 navigation programs installed on it:
1) Nokia (or Ovi) Maps -> which are free!!! and are quite good for western Europe, but only basic for eastern Europe (do not know for Australia, but I guess it must be as good as for western Europe/USA)
2) Garmin for smartphones -> the maps are better for countries not yet covered by Nokia Maps (I think it is the same map as for stand-alone Garmin GPS devices)

Both are offline, you can download the maps from the internet on your PC and then transfer them on your phone.

I am fairly satisfied with my phone, but I think that the GPS unit from the phone is not as powerfull as a dedicated one. So you can have less precision and more waiting for connection time than for a dedicated GPS (the position is acquired in about 2-3 minutes if I am in a open space). Also, the battery dies quickly when using the GPS (which is normal), but in a car you can connect it to 12V and load it by using a special cable which can be found at a Nokia distributor. And you have to find a way to mount it in your car, so you can see the display while you drive.

Some friends of mine have a Garmin GPS and they are very pleased with them (even though they had once or twice some problems).

In a big city such a device is an excellent tool.

But I do not rely 100% on them. I have a very detailed map of my country and when I travel somewhere I first study the route on it. I also study online maps and services such as Google Street View or www.norc.eu (in order to orientate myself in cities). So when I start traveling I have a kind of mind map of the route. But, this is only because I like geography and because I do not like to fully rely on technology.
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« Reply #12 on: May 21, 2010, 05:44:40 AM »

I realize that the original post ask for recommendations and wanted from experience more than reading online reviews.  But for those who are wanting to read an online reivew you can go here or here.

I am especially interested in this thread since I will have a daughter going to school in Dallas, Texas this fall.  Her since of direction is not always the best.

So are the GPS units on a cell phone "less safe" than one made for the car?
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bgd77
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« Reply #13 on: May 21, 2010, 05:59:38 AM »

You cannot trust a GPS unit (phone or stand-alone) 100%. You must also use common sense. For example, if the road configuration changes, it will be different from the map on the GPS unit, until the map is updated.

I wouldn't say that a cell phone GPS is "less safe", it is "less powerful". For example, my phone showed me that I am in an intersection which was actually about 20-30 meters away. This can be due to a poor map or because of weak signal, or both. But when traveling, especially outside of towns, I get indications from the phone in advanced and it is hard to make mistakes.

One advantage of cell phone GPSes would be that you can also use them when walking without creating a discomfort.
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Renegade
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« Reply #14 on: May 21, 2010, 06:31:53 AM »

Cell phone triangulation is what it is, so you can't expect it to be nearly as accurate. You'll notice that while you are standing in one spot, your location can easily shift by 30~50 meters *as you are standing still*. As long as you know that it's a *ROUGH* estimate and treat it as such, you're fine. Real GPS on the other hand is highly accurate. For a pedestrian, a phone is good enough.


You cannot trust a GPS unit (phone or stand-alone) 100%. You must also use common sense. For example, if the road configuration changes, it will be different from the map on the GPS unit, until the map is updated.

This is a real problem. GPS as a driving navigation device needs to live up to the kinds of standards set in the automotive industry. While you can't expect 100%, expecting more than 50% of trips to be trouble-free isn't unreasonable.

The main problem I see is that for unfamiliar places, this is where you need the GPS to be accurate and need it to to be responsive. You just can't stop in the middle of traffic because your GPS unit is slow and you've already missed 2 turns because of it. You'd quickly find out what road rage is like on the receiving end. Steering you wrong is simply a hazard. Especially in heavy traffic where you need to be paying attention to the road, and not constantly glancing at the GPS while you wait for it to update because you're now hopelessly lost.

Common sense can't help you in some of those driving situations (I take it that you mean you need to use common sense to know that the unit will make mistakes for things like out of date maps, etc.). The only thing you can do is to make sure that you prioritize your driving and get ready to suck up the GPS unit's mistakes. I'm just tired of sucking it up for half all the trips I need it for. Sad
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wraith808
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« Reply #15 on: May 21, 2010, 07:37:29 AM »

This is a real problem. GPS as a driving navigation device needs to live up to the kinds of standards set in the automotive industry. While you can't expect 100%, expecting more than 50% of trips to be trouble-free isn't unreasonable.

The main problem I see is that for unfamiliar places, this is where you need the GPS to be accurate and need it to to be responsive. You just can't stop in the middle of traffic because your GPS unit is slow and you've already missed 2 turns because of it. You'd quickly find out what road rage is like on the receiving end. Steering you wrong is simply a hazard. Especially in heavy traffic where you need to be paying attention to the road, and not constantly glancing at the GPS while you wait for it to update because you're now hopelessly lost.

Common sense can't help you in some of those driving situations (I take it that you mean you need to use common sense to know that the unit will make mistakes for things like out of date maps, etc.). The only thing you can do is to make sure that you prioritize your driving and get ready to suck up the GPS unit's mistakes. I'm just tired of sucking it up for half all the trips I need it for. Sad

It really also depends on where you are- GPS reception isn't 100% accurate and maps can be out of date, or just not cover areas, or have inbuilt mistakes in them (at one time, the GPS wouldn't even take you to my house, but to another place).  It's just like cell service in a lot of ways, where you have to make allowances to use the service (or not) in areas until the technology gets better.  And sometimes, while our expectations may seem reasonable to the user, they aren't reasonable given the technologies, IME.
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« Reply #16 on: May 21, 2010, 07:55:25 AM »

It really also depends on where you are- GPS reception isn't 100% accurate and maps can be out of date, or just not cover areas, or have inbuilt mistakes in them (at one time, the GPS wouldn't even take you to my house, but to another place).  It's just like cell service in a lot of ways, where you have to make allowances to use the service (or not) in areas until the technology gets better.  And sometimes, while our expectations may seem reasonable to the user, they aren't reasonable given the technologies, IME.

True. I don't really so much have a problem with those issues so much as a slow CPU and bad software. Sad I really miss 1-finger drag navigation. Sad
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bgd77
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« Reply #17 on: May 21, 2010, 08:38:51 AM »

This is what I meant about common sense and why no one should trust 100% a GPS device:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/h...land/bradford/7962212.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8173308.stm
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Renegade
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« Reply #18 on: May 21, 2010, 09:20:12 AM »

This is what I meant about common sense and why no one should trust 100% a GPS device:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/h...land/bradford/7962212.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8173308.stm

Wow. Just stunning. Reminds me of the Darwin Awards.
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« Reply #19 on: May 21, 2010, 09:59:32 AM »

I think I went a little off-topic, sorry for that.

To answer your original question: a friend of mine studied the GPS market and decided to buy a Garmin one. It seems that Garmin also have products for the military and the government, this is what impressed him. Some models have a feature that tell you on what line to be on the highway in order to not miss an exit.

He was quite satisfied with it, even though the lady that dictates the route went insane a few times. I don't know about the finger-drag map feature.

One advantage of a dedicated GPS device over the cell phone would be the screen size which, naturally, is larger for the former.

The phone I use works quite well, with the minor quirks I have mentioned.

My suggestion would be to try to find out which GPS producer has the best map for Australia and try to find some reviews on the internet for that company's products to see if it has good performances.
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« Reply #20 on: May 21, 2010, 02:29:05 PM »

I took a trip to Los Angeles and rented a car and a GPS unit. It was a Garmin Nuvi, I believe, and I liked it a lot.

Ever since then I've been keeping my eye on GPS units and prices, when suddenly my Android G1's Google Maps updated to have Navigation and I no longer need a separate GPS unit anymore.

I find the location to be very accurate most of the time (it takes perhaps up to a minute when starting the GPS to get an accurate "lock" on your position).

The directions will always get you where you're going, though it may not always be the most direct/fastest route. The voice directions are good (though she sounds like a robot), saying things like "In a quarter mile turn right on [street name]" and as you approach it tells you to turn, and (IIRC) gives you the street name again.

It does sometimes say something like "continue on [street]" or "keep right on [street]" when the road goes straight, but that's generally only when two roads merge, one road splits, or the name of the road changes at that location.

It displays in portrait mode, though I suppose you can change it to landscape if you opened the keyboard, but you really shouldn't be typing and driving at the same time. Also, you can drag the map around on the screen with your finger.

It has options for driving, public transportation, biking, or walking directions.

It isn't perfect, and I can't say how the experience would be in Australia, since I'm dealing with USA. You could probably just go to Google Maps and try a few searches to see how accurate it is.

Sometimes the street number isn't accurate, so the house/building is farther down the street than it says. For example, a friend of mine lives out in BFE and when I type in her address it tells me I need to drive about a mile farther down the road to get to her house. But that's an extreme example. Most of the time it's accurate to within a house or two.

I do sometimes run into the problem of missing a turn, and then missing the next few turns when it recalculates the route. But in the area I live in the roads are generally all facing north/south or east/west, so if I miss a turn I can just turn at the next street and end up heading the right direction, and that will give my phone long enough to recalculate the route and get me back on track again. Also, my perspective is that if you didn't have a GPS to update the route and tell you where to go, you'd stop and turn around anyway to get back to the turn you missed. So if you have to slow down or stop for a moment or "make a guess" on a street to let it update the route, it's no different than what you'd do without the GPS.

It's not perfect, but it sure beats printing off directions from a website, or writing down directions from a friend and having to look at them every few minutes to read where to go next. There are some things I wish were better about it, but I'm very satisfied with it, especially because the phone lets me do even more related things, such as searching for addresses, specific businesses, etc., then navigates me there.

One major drawback is that it eats up the battery like nothing else. You'd definitely need a car charger to keep the battery running if you intend on using it for more than an hour or two. And it does require a cell phone and a data connection, so that's something a dedicated GPS unit may have an advantage about.
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« Reply #21 on: May 21, 2010, 08:05:24 PM »

In general I consider a cell phone GPS to be better than a stand-alone for several reasons (in no particular order).

1: Updated maps: Theoretically maps will always be more up-to-date because they're based on Internet resources that can be consistently updated by the companies maintaining them. Theoretically if you've just received an update for your GPS (buying a brand-new GPS does *not* guarantee you have the latest maps), you may have as up-to-date or even more up-to-date maps than those online, but practically speaking the Internet-based maps will usually be more accurate.

2: GPS signal strength augmented by cell tower triangulation: GPS signal aquisition and accuracy are generally about as good as an average stand-alone GPS. If they are slower, it is not by a significant amount. Additionally, they can use cell tower location assistance to get rough positioning before GPS signal is available.

3: Photo-based street view: With Google-based navigation (basically, an Android phone) you have the option of street-view, so you can see exactly what your turn should look like, etc. This potentially solves questionable accuracy of maps in many cases, although of course the street view may also be out of date.

4: Voice commands: With the latest Android-based Google Navigation, you can actually speak destinations and searches to your phone. Talk about hands free!

5: Free live traffic: Most cell phone GPS apps have live traffic and many can use this info to help re-route you around trafficky areas. Many GPSs now also include this feature, sometimes free or sometimes with a service fee. But most of the less expensive models don't have it, from what I've seen.

6: Theft issues, portability, and "always available": With a cell phone that has GPS built-in, it's easy (and actually the norm) to take it with you when you leave the car. This means no theft issues. Whereas even if your stand-alone GPS detaches from its car mount, most often you just stick it in the glove box, so if someone does break into your car, they can still take it. With a cell phone you also have the GPS and related functions with you at all time, without the inconvenience of carrying a separate device. It's already designed for ultimate pocketability. You can use the GPS easily on foot (or a bike, or public transit), even to the point of "augmented reality" (see Layar for a really cool example).

7: Updated Points of Interest: Relating to point 1 above, the points of interest will also always be up-to-date, and can have additional info that most GPSs wont, like links to Yelp reviews, etc. This can be especially helpful when you're in an unfamiliar area (as you often are when using GPS for navigation) and you want to find a good restaurant to go to, for example.

8: You generally have the option of changing the GPS software or using additional utilities to augment its capabilities. With Android, for example, there will be multiple GPS and navigation-related apps which you can choose from. Not only that but these apps will be updated over time. With a hardware GPS you will generally need to buy a new GPS unit to get the latest software.

9: More or less consistent update of new features over time. This is particularly true with Android, though whether you can upgrade to the latest OS version does depend on the age and manufacturer of your hardware, so choose wisely. But, assuming you have the right phone, you can go from Android 1.6 (starting OS for some of the older phones) all the way up to 2.1 and soon 2.2, without buying new hardware or paying a dime. Newer OS features include upgrades to voice control, better nav including bike routing, etc. Most new features are phone-centric, but GPS-related stuff also gets upgraded.

10: Sophisticated Internet-based Point of Interest and other searches: You can search for nearby points of interest of all types using name, type of destination, and a lot more. While some GPSs also include good PoI databases and search functionality, the actual searches are sometimes cumbersome. On recent Android phones these searches can also leverage voice recognition. For example, speak the name of a restaurant you want to get to and it will find the location, then you can ask for directions.

As you can see I'm pretty sold on the idea of a GPS-enabled phone. Do I have one yet? Sadly, no. Well, I do, but the GPS doesn't work on my current carrier (Credo). So why, you ask, am I such an advocate for it if I don't have one yet? Well, I've spent a lot of time researching it in preparation for my own GPS purchase, during which I heavily considered the stand-alone vs. cell phone option. I ultimately decided to buy a good Android-based phone and switch carriers, in large part due to the great GPS features I listed above. I'm basically just waiting for a 1Ghz Android phone with the right features to come out on Verizon and I'll snatch it up. I almost bought a Droid when it came out. I'm taking a big road trip (8 weeks) in August around the US and I expect it to be very useful. smiley

Addressing the screen size issue, it really depends on what phone you have. The Droid, for example, has a 3.7" (wide) screen. The average stand-alone GPS is 3.5-4.5", though granted they're not widescreen so there's more actual screen space even for the 3.5" model. But the difference is not huge in many cases. You can of course get very nice, large-screen GPS units (though the price generally goes up quickly).

As for battery, a stand-alone GPS will definitely last longer without power. But for the most common GPS use case, in a car, you will generally have both the stand-alone and cell phone based system plugged in (why wouldn't you?) so the point is largely moot IMO.

Now I will grant that some of the points above are possible and true for certain GPS units, though often times at greater expense (or you make some other sacrifice, e.g. bulk). However most people have cell phones already, so if you have the opportunity to upgrade to one that supports good GPS features, it may be a better value overall than buying a stand-alone unit.

The big caveat for this is that you need a cell phone data plan to really make all this work well. Some carriers also charge additional for their proprietary GPS software/service, though this is on the decline with great free options like Google Navication.

If you don't already have a cell phone and/or don't want one (or don't want to pay for a data plan), then the stand-alone option makes more sense and is cheaper in the long run.

All this being said, I don't know how true any of this is for Australia. In the US a cell-phone based GPS really makes the most sense IMO, particularly Android-based. Elsewhere, you'd have to get personal experiences from people who live in those locations.

- Oshyan
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« Reply #22 on: November 17, 2010, 04:07:20 PM »

Oshyan, you have some great points here.  I was thinking of trying to use a fancy cell phone with NO data plan (i.e. just the phone itself) load a nice GPS app on it, and use that to take advantage of the possibly nicer UI than a standalone thing like Garmin.  But I don't think that's even possible.  See, the problem is that these new phones offer way better experiences as far as touchscreen abilities, response times, etc.  From what little I've seen from the dedicated units, they are very slow...it takes a long time for things to change on the screen, the touchscreen controls are klunky, inaccurate, and slow.  The animations are choppy and lame.  So i really don't know what to do.
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« Reply #23 on: November 17, 2010, 04:50:30 PM »

Well here's some VERY disturbing information about Garmin's 3790T, their $500 top of the line model:
Quote
OK . . . now on to the PROBLEM. This thing has POPUP ADS. Yes - commercial popups, like "Crabfest at Red Lobster" and "Best Western Rewards - Get 1500 points" and "Unlimited lunch $6.90" that pop up while you are driving, and take up screen space, obscuring the damn map. I called tech support, and they said that these are not supposed to pop up while you are moving, only while you are stopped. But these came up while I was driving today. Tech support says there is NO WAY THE POPUP ADS CAN BE DISABLED. Apparently it's built into the license with Navteq and will happen whenever you are receiving traffic information, and they cannot disable it. How is this OK? They don't mention it in the product specs, or on the box. I am paying hundreds of dollars for this device, and I cannot opt-out from popup ads?$#@!% Garmin seriously needs to get a firmware patch (or a hardware patch if it's part of the traffic receiver) out to allow people to disable this. The popups don't even have an "X" in the corner for you to press to get rid of them.
I swear, these companies can be such assholes sometimes.  A top of the line model that costs hundreds of dollars should NOT have any sort of advertising on it.  Assholes...there's just no other word for it.
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« Reply #24 on: November 18, 2010, 12:26:00 AM »

Well here's some VERY disturbing information about Garmin's 3790T, their $500 top of the line model:
Quote
OK . . . now on to the PROBLEM. This thing has POPUP ADS. Yes - commercial popups, like "Crabfest at Red Lobster" and "Best Western Rewards - Get 1500 points" and "Unlimited lunch $6.90" that pop up while you are driving, and take up screen space, obscuring the damn map. I called tech support, and they said that these are not supposed to pop up while you are moving, only while you are stopped. But these came up while I was driving today. Tech support says there is NO WAY THE POPUP ADS CAN BE DISABLED. Apparently it's built into the license with Navteq and will happen whenever you are receiving traffic information, and they cannot disable it. How is this OK? They don't mention it in the product specs, or on the box. I am paying hundreds of dollars for this device, and I cannot opt-out from popup ads?$#@!% Garmin seriously needs to get a firmware patch (or a hardware patch if it's part of the traffic receiver) out to allow people to disable this. The popups don't even have an "X" in the corner for you to press to get rid of them.
I swear, these companies can be such assholes sometimes.  A top of the line model that costs hundreds of dollars should NOT have any sort of advertising on it.  Assholes...there's just no other word for it.

WTF?

That's what I ended up replacing my TomTom with. The Garmin 3790T. $500 and top of the line.

But it doesn't have ads. To be honest, I think whoever is saying that is either lying or there's something else going on. Perhaps a subsidized model? I'm inclined to think it's just someone lying.

Where did you read that?
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