My Life with Garmin, Part 1

January 2, 2011

I like to know where I am and where I’ve been.  And so early on I adopted GPS as necessary personal technology.  And I settled on Garmin. My first was a GPS II Plus used in the outdoors to mark waypoints and spread breadcrumbs.  I still like that it doesn’t use Kalman filtering.  It disappeared for a long while, hiding in a seldom used bag, and was supplanted with a Rino 130 which combined a GMRS/FRS radio, a GPS, and a nifty way of communicating locations between Rinos (a feature we never really used, though there have been times when I would like to track Tobae down).  Next came a Street Pilot C530 for the car.  Then to cut down on size and weight and to add topo maps to the screen, an etrex Vista HCx which has a vastly improved chip set, much better battery life and does everything I need for the backcountry.  Tobae has one too!  And finally about six months ago a nüvi 265T to replace the Street Pilot (well actually Tobae has the Street Pilot now, but doesn’t use it).

I love the devices.  But alas Garmin has mastered the razor blade model of retailing.  The “razors”are fine, but the “blades”, also known as maps, bring frustration and pain.

Let’s start with the retirement of the Street Pilot.  There was nothing actually wrong with the Street Pilot, other than its maps were getting out of date.  Near my parents home, California 37 connects Interstate 80 at Vallejo to US 101 at Novato.  The Vallejo end, critical to getting to the wine country, was rebuilt and so directions were wrong.  Closer to home, the realignment of the Interstate 5 ramps in Everett.  And substantial construction on the Sea-to-Sky highway, most noticeable in the now year-old bypass of Horseshoe Bay.  And never ending construction of new residential streets in Snohomish County.  Time for a new map.  I usually start shopping at Amazon, but making sense of the Garmin map products there is not for the faint of heart.  It is near impossible to tell whether one is buying a current map or an old map.  In the end, the practical solution is to go directly to the Garmin web site.  And so I did and at that time the update was $89, regardless of format (I’m sparing you the fine print that guides the decision decide between formats).  Expensive blade.  But a new razor, the nüvi 265T, was $122.  And it came with life of device NAVTEQ traffic.  And a routing engine that uses that traffic information.  And is much more compact for travel.  And wasn’t out of warranty.  (And perhaps Garmin is listening, because for nüvi devices one can now buy a life-of-device subscription to quarterly map updates for $89…which seems much somewhat better that the periodic, expensive one-offs of the past.)

Enough of city streets.  Topography must be much simpler?   It can be.  The data are in the public domain and there are open source tools to create topo maps in Garmin format,  yet the easy and fast choice was to buy the 24k topography of Washington from Garmin on a microSD card.  Anywhere we go in Washington we have a topo map.  So far so good.  But then I bought ski area maps from Mountain Dynamics.  So I have a second microSD card.  The content of the two cards is less than 2 Gb.  It must be a simple task to combine them?  Look forward to Part 2…