Sunday, March 18, 2012

Auto GPS features you don’t need

Several years ago I did a post titled 5 GPS features you don’t need. Thankfully the industry has winnowed things down some and the list is shorter, but it’s definitely time for a refresh. So read on and then chime in with your take.


I wish I could say that things have changed dramatically, but there’s only been incremental improvements in the reliability of traffic data. Live traffic seems to work best in the largest metros like LA, and while HD traffic holds promise, the roll out has been anything but smooth. Expect plenty of erroneous reports (false positives), as well as lots of bottlenecks going unreported (false negatives).

3D buildings

I can see the theoretical usefulness of this, but for the most part it feels like distracting eye candy. Something more realistic, from the perspective of the driver (as opposed to the birds-eye views we see now), might be more useful.

Portrait orientation

In theory this should be great, allowing you to see more of the what’s coming up on the map. But in reality, it’s probably best to have your GPS receiver take a lower profile, which means using it in landscape mode.

Your turn

I know there are a ton of GPS Tracklog readers with a great deal of experience with different models over the years. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. More voices and perspectives are good, and many prospective buyers will be reading this. Chime in below!

Tomorrow we’ll take the opposite approach and look at features worth paying for.

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. I have to strongly disagree with your comment about portrait orientation. I think this is a terrific feature when using track-up or 3d display mode because it shows much more of the road ahead. The assumption that it’s “best to have your GPS receiver take a lower profile” evidently refers to mounting the unit on the windshield?

    Don’t know about that, because I don’t mount mine on the windsheild. I mount mine lower, near the radio (using a homebrew mount, but there are commercial options like the vent mount you recently reviewed). This makes much more sense to me, because it keeps the unit out of my field of view while driving, unless I want to look at it. Also makes it less obvious that I have a GPS when parking the car.

    • I use a friction mount, but still prefer the low profile of landscape orientation. But you’re right; with a lower mounting option, portrait orientation is ideal.

      • Also, don’t forget handheld use of these models which also feature Garmin’s enhanced pedestrian mode. Have you ever tried to use a 4″ widescreen device as a handheld? Unless you’ve got really big hands, it’s very awkward to hold a landscape-only unit.

        But to me the significant thing is that Garmin is letting the USER decide what works best for them. This is a big step forward for them on the Nuvi series, which has long been criticized for a lack of options.

  2. Rich,

    Feature additions…

    ** #1 Most useless feature:
    Picture Viewer

    Great concept in theory, but it’s so stinking slow on the Nuvi that it’s not worth using. I mean it takes _forever_ to load previews from my SD card… and the resolution on a Nuvi leaves too much to be desired.

    It’s an absolutely useless feature imho.

    ** #2 most useless feature:
    The travel guide / dictionary

    I don’t know if there are these features on the current Nuvis, but I have one from 7xx, and 8xx. The fact that the battery life is a mere… less than a smartphone, these features are outdated and just unnecessary. I “guess” they don’t hurt, but, it’s just more useless clutter.

    ** #3 most useless feature
    find where you parked your car.

    At least on my nuvi 7xx (once again) there’s this feature that saves an automatic waypoint when you undock the nuvi from the mount. … Who in the world carries that GPS with you when you walk away? And when I do, I usually won’t have battery to find my way back anyway!

    ** Comments on Traffic **
    As for traffic, I live in metropolitan LA, so I have no clue how useful it is anywhere else. But, my Nuvi 7xx (Clear Channel Traffic) vs a new 13xxT traffic (Navteq), I’d have to say, I agree both still suck. If I had a smartphone with a dataplan, checking something like would provide me more accurate data than any of these combined.

    I’d have to say though, it’s a good guide sometimes though. On weekends, it helps to see “surprises”. Otherwise, always take GPS traffic with a grain of salt.


  3. WL Whatley says:

    You are ON TOP OF this web site/blog more than any business/company/organization I have ever seen. THAT says something; maybe you DO really love it!!

    Anyway, you do a great job responding to (spoon feeding) a bunch of people that ask the same thing over and over, and won’t take the time to read and research.

    Anyway, on to my point. Or, POINTS.

    1) What about a “cloud based” spreadsheet to share your Comparison Guide?? Keep what you have on the web site, width restrictions and all. It will satisfy some, but it will introduce many more, and allow much more info with NO size restrictions!! And FREE. There are a bunch of “cloud storage” sites out there, most affiliated with an OS or Brand (iCloud, Asus WebStorage, etc.), but there is one that is suitable for this type of thing, and free: Read up on it at: Look at the test file I posted at:

    I do not want to “steal your thunder”. You are the one that did all this work. But, most people who find you are semi techies doing some google research before they spend $150 on a GPS. They will use it and like it. It would be stupid simple for anyone to use, and for you to update, even if you aren’t an EXCEL expert. Drag and Drop. And, Minus gets some traffic.

    Want me to dress it up for you and re-post, or show you how?? As my daughter says, “Easy-Peasy”

    2) These GPS units are getting complicated. The 3590LMT I just got (based on your YOUR info)(which was very conservative and maybe UNDERSTATED) is not far technically from a current 7″ touchpad. (In fact, I’ve considered getting a Nexus 7, installing DeLorme with a USB antenna for the GPS, just to see how it would work – proof of concept type thing.)

    Anyway, GARMIN’s website and instructions are MINIMALIST at best, more like useless. Just to transfer FAVORITES from one unit to another, you have to be somewhat computer savvy, and a lot of people are NOT, and Garmin is NO HELP. They seem to be focused on development of new stuff, not support. You could have some simple code written to do it for newbies and old folks, as a free online or as a simple “download”. I see a big opportunity here.

    Some of this might apply to other brands as well, I wouldn’t know. You have the advantage of being “unbiased”, which in itself means high credibility.

    WL Whatley
    Roswell, GA

    • 1. I’m leaving for vacation in a few days and am swamped, but will consider it.
      2. Do you want to write code to auto transfer Favorites? I’d be interested in checking that out and possibly hosting it.

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