I travel a lot for work, and as a matter of practice will rent a car with a GPS navigation system included. My trip earlier this week – first to San Francisco and then to Los Angeles – taught me a valuable lesson. All in-car navigation devices are not created equal.
When I arrived in San Francisco on Sunday night I rented a car with a Garmin device in it. If you don’t know already, the Garmin device comes in a little pouch and you put the pieces (a screen, a stand that affixes to your dashboard and the plug) together yourself. I successfully assembled the device and turned it on, but my device wouldn’t affix to my dashboard. I had to hold it in my hand in order to read the instructions (leaving only one hand to control the wheel and my attention elsewhere at times). The real problems, however, were with the directions themselves. The system would warn me about upcoming turns but fail to give me a street name or similar guidance – resulting in missed exits off the highway and similar. The signal from the satellite would be lost routinely leaving me driving through the streets of San Francisco without a route to follow. It got so bad that on the way back to the airport on Tuesday morning the Garmin device actually suggested a path that would have taken me more than 30 miles past my airport destination. I ended up stopping to ask a gas station attendant and received better directions to my location.
When I arrived in Los Angles I rented from Hertz and had one of the NeverLost systems in my car. The NeverLost system is in the car and permanently affixed to the dashboard. Selecting your destination requires locating your series of letters or numbers using a rubber keypad, but the system automatically narrows your options based on early selections (i.e. I type in L-O and it gives me two options for cities in California near my current location to help limit my need to type further). More importantly, as you drive, the system offers both written and verbal instructions that include street names or other directions and even suggests early that you move to the left or right lane to prepare for your next action. The only time I lost satellite coverage was when I went underground in a parking garage and service was immediately restored when I emerged again later.
I will only rent from Hertz going forward because their NeverLost system is clearly superior and my travels are less stressful when my navigation system functions as intended. But, this is not intended as a product review or endorsement. With all the technology that we have available to us today and all the opportunities to innovate and improve – how does it happen that I am left roaming through downtown Oakland in the middle of the night without appropriate guidance? How can one navigation system perform so much better – not only in usability, but in reliability? And how can any company, recognizing that the system they offer to customers is so inferior to another, not recognize it has to make improvements (and I mean that for the satellite navigation people and the car rental people)?
Don’t we deserve better as customers and travelers?
Update: Engadget reports that GPS devices are also prone to hackers. Read here.