I do alot of driving for my job and have always used MicroSoft Streets & Trips as a route planner. For large job routes, I’d even fire up the laptop, put it on the passengers seat and throw the GPS module in the windshield — but what a PITA!
So, this Christmas I decided that enough was enough — I needed a portable system — and started doing a little research on the models available in my area. I looked at all kinds, but mostly systems that were “inexpensive” or on sale. Of course, this had me looking mostly at “offshore” or “no name” brands, which proved to be a big waste of time. The old saying “you get what you pay for” started to set in.
Canadian Tire had Nextar units on sale, along with the Pioneer AVIC-S1 (the Pioneer was actually cheaper at Future Shop). The Nextar unit had a big 7″ screen, which initially attracted me, along with a hard drive for MP3 storage and a few other “nice to have” features. The Nextar unit even ran Linux! A quick google search brought up a ton of user reviews on these models, and I didn’t like what I was reading.
After much research on these various models, I made the decision to buy a brand name unit, and probably a Garmin, based on reviews of the Garmin systems I ran into while researching other systems. I went to Future Shop, Best Buy and every other store I could think of looking at their available models and playing with them to see what I liked.
After way too much time spent looking, I finally made the decision to go with the Garmin StreetPilot series — specifically the C330 model as it was coming on sale on Boxing Day for $150 off (regular price was $499 – sale price was $349 CDN). Now, all I had to do was wait a few days, then get to Best Buy early Boxing Day so I don’t miss them. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? They open at 6:00am, so I’ll get up around then and head out just to make sure I get one.
Well, that was all in theory. I got to the store about 6:30am and couldn’t believe my eyes — the store was packed. There must have been 300 people there — and I hadn’t had my coffee yet! Oh well, in I go to see if I’m too late. I walk right to the back where the GPS units are and, lo and behold, there is a stack of them! Yahoo! I grabbed one and headed for the cash. The line up for the cash was huge… so big there were two lines wrapping around isles. 20 minutes later and it’s my turn at the cash register. Ah, all-in-all, it wasn’t too bad… 30 seconds in the store to grab the product, and 20 minutes to go through the cash — but I got what I came for!
Here’s a link to the model that I bought at Best Buy –> Garmin StreetPilot C330. I see that their regular price is now $449 CDN — and they have “refurbished” units, for purchase online only, for $299 CDN (I just don’t like the word “refurbished”).
I’ve had the unit for just over a week now and I can tell you that I absolutely love it. It has saved me so much time in getting to my jobsites, not too mention that it has taken me to sites that I have been to many times, via a different route that I ended up liking better than the route I would have normally taken.
Let’s not forget the POI (Points of Interest) feature — that’s awesome! I have a Canadian Tire “Advantage” card that gives discounts off of your gas purchases based on your last months volume. Of course, with my job I go through alot of gas and am at the ten cents per litre discount level (max discount). Accordingly, it pays to make sure I always get gas there. With the POI search feature of the C330, it makes it very easy to find the closest Canadian Tire Gas Bar, whether it be near where I am now, near my destination or anywhere along my route (depends on how bad you need gas!).
Now, when it comes to lunch time, I’m pretty fussy and like to eat what I feel like, not what’s simply close to me. For example, if I start thinking about lunch and say to myself, I think I feel like a Tuna sub from Subway… well, I better find a Subway or I’m going hungry that day as I just won’t stop for lunch. My GPS has made that much easier as well… just do a search for “food” and then type in Subway and you’ll find one quickly! Now, if I was finishing up one job and heading off to another, but felt like lunch at Subway, I’d type in Subway “near — along my route” and see what’s available to be able to decide whether to stop now, or closer to my next job.
One of my favorite features has to be the “turn by turn voice prompts”. This makes getting to my next job that much easier. A portable GPS is not at all like looking down at a map on your seat, trying to figure out exactly where you are and where your next turn is. The Garmin unit will let you know in plenty of time. “Drive 10.5 KM, then exit right”… then when you get within a few hundred meters… “Exit right — drive 400 Meters, then turn left”. Even if you have the radio on, the voice prompt is enough to get your attention… even if you didn’t hear what it said, you can look at the screen for text prompts, or press one button (on screen) to have an enlarged view of the turn/exit and a repeat of the voice instructions. This is nice as it keeps your eyes on the road, not on the GPS.
Anyway, this post is more of a “review” of sorts, simply to help someone else out there going through the research of buying a portable GPS unit. I’m just giving you one more experience to base your decision on. So far, I am more than happy with my purchase of the Garmin unit (and believe me — the 3.5 inch screen is MORE than large enough). If you’re like me and have put off buying a portable GPS, and don’t know why, do yourself a favor… go get one, they’re worth every penny!
(I’ll try to remember to get a couple of pics of the unit and where I have it mounted and post an update)