Navigation System or a Map?

Saturday in northern Minnesota saw Eric, Kevin and I heading to a state park for our photographic adventure while on Eric’s Photofest. I drove my wife’s Acura RDX to Eric’s lake home and we used the navigation system to find our way to the park and back. Man! It was at least five times harder to use the nav system than it would’ve been if we’d had along a paper map.

Oh yeah…we didn’t just rely on the RDX nav system (which was included in the nearly $7k step up technology package we bought on this SUV) but we had Eric’s handheld GPS, three Palm smartphones (mine with Google Maps on it) and we fooled with all of them at some point on our return.

The problem was the navigation system wanted to return us via highways adding a dozen miles to the trip. We changed that to minimize highways to no avail. We took county roads that we knew went closer to Eric’s place and finally Kevin discovered (since he has an Acura TL with navigation) that if we selected “unverified” roads it would enable us to just start to drive one of these roads and then the system would reconfigure the trip back to Eric’s using the most direct route.

It’s not like these roads were gravel logging roads. These were paved, highway-like county roads that should be on any navigation system. The other amazing thing was watching my very techno-savvy buddy Eric being befuddled by the illogical menu structure and nomenclature to look something up. For example, discovering the Savanna State Park should have been in some sort of easily accessible hierarchy but instead brought up Savannah, Georgia and other Savanna’s. Shouldn’t this system be smart enough to know that lookups should be narrowed to areas one is driving in?

What was fascinating about this occurrence was how many people I know who have begun to rely completely on the navigation systems in their cars. My daughter will at some point since she’s navigationally challenged and my bride loves nav systems for much the same reason. If three guys like Eric, Kevin and myself are challenged to use thousands of dollars worth of systems like we had at our fingertips and find them inefficient and cumbersome to configure appropriately, what chance do others have?

The atlas you see to the right is one that I’ve used extensively over the years as I’ve poked around my state. It has every rural road and even logging roads in it and thus it’s incredibly simple to look up and plot a route at a glance. Even a Minnesota roadmap would’ve been more useful than our respective navigation electronics.

One more reason to understand the limitations of technology and to be pragmatic about their use.

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  1. Ed Kohler on May 7, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    It sounds like the navigationally impaired could successfully rely on the technology since it WILL get them to their destination . . . eventually.

    I’ve found the cheaper systems that don’t speak street names hard to use in dense cities like Boston. A term like, “take a slight left,” can have a lot of meanings with the intersections found there. And picking the wrong one may send you across the river and back as it recalculates, making the projected time pretty much worthless.

  2. PXLated on May 10, 2007 at 8:15 am

    My experience has been similar to yours and I rarely rely on the GPS when in route, usually just use it when I get local.

  3. Brad on May 13, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    I have always been interested in navigation systems and i found in my search for the best system that the combination of a Kenwood Excelon XXV-05V (in dash dvd player) with the Garmin KNA-G510 (navigational unit) and the GXM 30 (traffic information from XM Radio) gives you the best map interface – touchscreen, simple menu system (courtesy of Garmin), and traffic information integrated with the navigation routing. Every car manufacturer who isn’t using the Garmin software and providing a touchscreen is basically giving their customers a crippled navigation system. I have used both the Ford and Chrysler factory systems and they were both inadequate. They both had the same problems that you described in the Acura system. The Garmin interface looks a lot like Google Maps and works just as well. Garmin took the time to make the touchscreen interface work exactly how you would want it to. They give you the option to turn features on and off in such a way that if you find key beeps, or caps lock annoying you can banish them to electronics limbo. I have had nothing but a great experience using these products both from Kenwood and Garmin. I found their customer support helpful and informative and would recommend them to anyone. In response to the post by Ed, i think a map and compass is great, but you can even compare them to a navigation system like mine. The really helpful part of the system is the 6 million or so stored points of interest (POI), including gas stations, every type of shopping center or store you can think of, schools, post offices, and more. Almost every time i need to get somewhere i don’t know the exact location i search the system and it has it stored. It obviously doesn’t have everything business stored in it, but in the years to come i think the database of POI will expand rapidly. In addition to giving you the route to your location, my system updates me with traffic information and allows me to detour around traffic if necessary. This has saved me significant time in my daily commute. So, if you are willing to shell out the cash for the “real deal” so to speak you could have a much better experience. As with any technology i do agree that you have to be pragmatic regarding its limitations and know when to have a backup (paper map).

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.