My wife Jane and I just returned from a
3,500-mile driving vacation, traveling north from San Diego to
Vancouver and Victoria, along the coasts of Northern California, Oregon
and Washington, and back through the Willamette Valley and California.
Over the two weeks I tried out a variety of gadgets designed for the
One of the most useful, of course, is a GPS, and
I used three different devices; the built-in GPS in our 2009 Toyota
Highlander, a Garmin 1690 ($250) (garmin.com), and the Google
navigation app built into the new Motorola Droid X cell phone from
While none of these devices were without their
faults, it seemed to be that the less you pay the more you get. The
Toyota unit was the most error prone and fidgety, particularly with its
confusing user interface, older maps, and the difficulty of inputting
your destination and searching for local attractions. For example,
there was no consistency on when to use "3rd Street" or "Third Street,"
and, as a passenger, I couldn't use the GPS while the car was moving.
In one instance when we headed down a highway in the wrong direction,
the Toyota GPS couldn't figure out what to do, since it has no option
to allow u-turns. Searching for businesses was slow and brought up
stores 2,000 miles away near the top of the list.
The Garmin was much easier to use, had more
up-to-date maps, provided local search, traffic, and, unlike older
models, quickly connected to the satellites. It even navigated around
traffic accidents. But its capacitive touch screen often required
multiple key presses to register.