November 20, 2008, 9:54 AM — Getting around town isnâ€™t as easy as it once was.Â Whether youâ€™re walking or driving, youâ€™ll need a tool to help you find your way from point A to point B.Â And while you could choose services like Google Maps or the iPhone, there are better solutions for your navigation needs.
To help get you pointed in the right direction, I reviewed portable GPS devices from four major companies -- Dash, Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom. Not surprisingly, I discovered that theyâ€™re not all created equal and sometimes fail to provide the best directions or even canâ€™t find you while youâ€™re driving. Here's how they measure up.
How I tested
In order to test the quality of each GPS device, I first evaluated the design and the ease of installation.Â Each GPS device included in this review can be mounted on a windshield with the help of an included suction cup and can be charged through the cigarette lighter port in your car.
After installation, I measured the time it took for the GPS devices to connect to their respective satellites and pinpoint my location.Â After that, I evaluated the menu system and how easy it was to input addresses, find points of interest, and use all the major features in the device.Â Next, I examined how well each device helped me find my way from my home to a designated location to determine which product was able to deliver the best directions.Â Finally, I reviewed each deviceâ€™s portability and its ability to be brought with you on hiking excursions and through areas that donâ€™t require a car.
The Dash GPS is a unique device that offers functionality unlike anything youâ€™ll see in other products in the review.Â But its main selling point -â€“ a mesh network that connects all Dash GPS devices with the others in your area â€“- is also its main problem.Â If you reside in an area thatâ€™s not densely populated or there simply arenâ€™t too many Dash GPS devices around, its ability to provide with you extras like real-time traffic updates, which it gathers from other Dash users in your area.
The design of the Dash GPS is not ideal for those who want to take their GPS devices hiking.Â With a large footprint and a relatively hefty weight, itâ€™s best suited for car travel and better stowed in the glove compartment than your pocket.Â That said, its software is ideal for those who want an easy interface and with a â€œMenuâ€ button resting at the top of the device, you can quickly switch between the map and other features like finding points of interest or inputting address information.
The most compelling feature offered on the Dash GPS is its extensive online capabilities, which not only updates the product when it's connected to Wi-Fi, but will allow you to automatically send information from your computer to your Dash GPS wirelessly.Â In order to do that, you need only access the Dash GPS software online, highlight an address you found on a website, and send it directly to the Dash GPS in your car.Â Once you do so, an alert pops onto the Dash GPSâ€™ menu screen and tells you that a new address just sent to the device can be added to the maps.Â This feature is especially handy when you receive a phone call from someone who canâ€™t quite find their way and you can help out by sending them the address directly to the device instead of trying to explain directions over the phone.
All in all, the Dash GPS performed admirably in turn-by-turn directions.Â It announces turns and street names clearly and loudly and compared quite well to the heavyweights in the category, like the Gamin Nuvi 880.Â Its map design is mostly useful, but at times, I had trouble finding the right street to turn on after looking at the map, thanks to multi-colored streets that aim at helping you know how traffic is â€“ green means traffic is light, yellow means itâ€™s moderate, and red means you should stay away at all cost.Â But unless you live in a major city or a place where Dash GPS devices are prevalent and can communicate with the other devices in the area to fill you in on real-time traffic information, you may not get the full effect of using what is otherwise a very capable product.
The bottom line: The Dash GPS is a fine product for those that live in large cities and donâ€™t mind spending an additional $9.99 each month for added features like traffic information and the ability to connect to Dashâ€™s online service.Â But if youâ€™re looking for a high-quality product that will do everything you ask and do it better than any other device, the Dash GPS isnâ€™t for you.
>> Next up: Garmin Nuvi 880