Around-Oz: Living the Dream!

 

Garmin StreetPilot 2610 GPS
Is it the Best Money Can Buy???

Make no mistake - this is one fantastic piece of kit and of superb build quality and is even waterproof to one metre of water for 30 minutes! It is a cheap alternative to the factory installed navigation installed in luxury vehicles. Doing a quick search on the Internet reveals hundreds of extremely satisfied users. The StreetPilot 3 was a ground breaking GPS, but the 2610 simply leaves it in the shade. The touch screen and remote control allows you to chose the way you prefer to work as you can work each system as a stand alone. Satellite acquisition is much faster at 15 seconds (warm) and it now uses standard CompactFlash cards up to 2 gig - either type 1 or 2 meaning you can't buy the wrong one! As the cards are so cheap, you can for instance have one for each state if you don't travel with a laptop and wish to install say Metro Guide as well as City Navigator. It comes standard with the whole of Australia using City Navigator Version 5, loaded on a 128 MB card. Using it is an absolute breeze for normal navigation, BUT as you will find out below, it still has a long way to go before it is perfection for motorhomers. Now you can have just about the best in automotive navigation right at your fingertips. Just choose your destination using StreetPilot’s touch screen or remote control, and this capable navigator will automatically calculate a route and provide turn-by-turn directions and voice prompts to guide you. A simply stunning feature is the zoom function. When approaching say a round-a-bout it "zooms" right in to give you a perfect view of the round-a-bout exits as well of course giving you verbal instructions which are very clear and concise. It does the same with difficult off ramps (particularly useful in Sydney) where it advises you to keep right or left. Truly amazing stuff and you cannot fail to be impressed. It never actually names streets but tells you to take first, second etc. round-a-bout exits. It really is a huge help when you stray off route in the city as you can clearly see its suggested new route beside the old one. This all happens in seconds by the way - a massive improvement on the StreetPilot3. Two models share the same case. The only difference is that the 2650 has an inbuilt hard drive - everything on the most common map CD (supplied) can be stored onboard with no need to download. In our view the HD model could be a little on the iffy side because of corrugated roads in Australia. We would like to review a unit after a trip "around the block"! Both the 2610 and 2650 models feature a full colour display, built-in maps and everything needed to download additional map detail - this is however EXTREMELY limited in most country areas and sadly you don't get warned of this quite enough before purchase. (April 2005) The 2650 also has dead reckoning capabilities, meaning it continues to provide navigation guidance even if you lose GPS reception, such as in urban environments with tall buildings and tunnels. You do have to hook into your vehicles speedo for this to work and not all speedos will operate with it. Another great feature is the "tab" idea. These are fly out data indicators (menus). Just by pressing near the right edge of the screen you can get info to display - up to three lines. This is good if you are driving alone, and wisely don't want to fiddle whilst on the move. It saves using the "page" menu to look up arrival time etc. It can also tell you your actual road speed, distance to next turn.

Using City Navigator on Your Laptop
Sadly the computer interface is very poor, and badly lets down a great piece of hardware, as the software is atrociously non-intuitive and looks and feels like a DOS Version 1 program!
Those not computer literate would probably never be able to use it properly without outside assistance and indeed we found only one motorhomer using it at the CMCA Horsham 2005 rally. We installed the included City Navigator Version 5 onto a brand new top end Sony Vaio. When you click on the binoculars to "find" a place it simply locks up. However if you use the keyboard command "Control F" it works fine. This sort of problem should NEVER occur in Version 5 of any program. Having been involved in software and manual development we feel our comments are justified. You do need to get your head around how the maps work. Always onboard is what Garmin call the "base map". You could liken this to a "stick" drawing. Then on the card you find detail maps for many Australian cities. We love the following feature as it is very clever. The unit automatically transitions from the basemap to the detailed maps when the detailed maps are available and back again as you move out of the detailed map areas. Super cool! You do need to be aware that really large cities aren't on the card OR on the CD either - Nowra NSW for instance. If you were staying at Casino Village and wanted to visit Evans Head you're right out of luck.



The Garmin site is excellent in that it allows you to download the complete 74 page manual in full colour prior to purchase. (the one supplied is only in black and white) Similarly, you can get the 2 page brochure, again in full colour. You cannot however download the "Quick Start Guide", or the "Map List" which is a shame, as these often tend to alert one to system deficiencies - in this case, no easy single press way to enter something as simple as the coordinates of a campsite. Sadly no map updates are downloadable, but USB drivers and the latest operating system can be freely downloaded. The operating system updates (presently version 4.3 - May 2005) are easy to download and install, BUT be certain to closely follow the installation instructions even if you are familiar with updating flash memory operating systems. If you get it wrong, then you will have to return the unit to Garmin and this may not be considered "warranty". For instance when we upgraded to Version 4.3 we found that it was then impossible to download, waypoints, tracks, routes etc. in the one go. Before the upgrade we could download the lot all at once, which you really do need. Yes, we use a work-around, but your average user will not be able to do this. Garmin are yet to advise us of a "fix". The only thing missing from the old "3" model is internal batteries and rather oddly a battery pack is NOT offered as an accessory. This means that you can't easily use it for bush walking or on your bike. If this is important to you Garmin have a terrifically portable model called the iQuest - around $1000.00. The screen on the 2610 is slightly smaller that the StreetPilot3, but still the best in the business, EXCEPT you can't actually share it between driver and navigator, as it is only super clear from face on. (very poor horizontal viewing angle) This is a real shame as the technology is out there to currently do this (Sony lead the way followed closely by Sharp). We particularly liked the "hollow" on screen instructions. You can easily see the map underneath. With Navman for instance the instructions are in a solid coloured box which blocks out map detail. Ours came from Johnny Appleseed in Melbourne - we think the best price in Australia at $1499.00 and superb service delivery wise unless you happen to enquire via email AFTER you have purchased - still waiting for a WRITTEN reply - 6th April 2005. They do however eventually ring you - 2 1/2 days to do this. After another "moan" about "abysmal aftersales service email wise, we did receive a written email on the 27th May 2005 - is a 51 day wait unreasonable??? Remember when the original StreetPilot used to be over $2,500? Below is the remote. The Navman remote is much more compact and we have found little use for a remote as the touch screen works just fine. One huge beef we have though is AUTO ROUTING is not properly explained, nor are the severe limitations of the maps themselves once you get outside the "cities". City Navigator has a "base map of Australia". What this means in the real world is there is little, if any detail on towns in between major centres. Large towns such as Nowra NSW just don't get a mention. Rather oddly the list of towns covered is printed on the box, but NOWHERE else! Another gribble is the map list in the software doesn't come up in alphabetical order. In our view the mapping software needs an URGENT update. Lets say you want to go through Dooen on the Western Highway on the way to Adelaide. The software has never heard of it! So the message here is DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT YOUR PAPER MAPS. To be fair to Garmin they do constantly warn you not to solely rely on the unit. In cities it is truly fantastic and you can fall into the trap of relying on it totally - particularly the way in which it almost instantly recalculates if you miss a turn. Totally brilliant stuff! What does worry us is - the "fine print outs" on the bottom of the box where one would never look before purchasing! (implies that statutory warranties do not apply - this of course is just not so in Australia) In the country it misses out completely on some round-a-bouts and doesn't warn you of highway junctions where you could so easily go down the wrong road. In such cases, where it hasn't a clue map wise, it thinks you can cut across country to get back on track. The solution is just so simple - a larger memory card with all towns/villages and dump the remote to pay for it. Now Garmin have another map CD - Metro Guide - this wont all fit on the memory card, so you also need computer skills and a computer to use it as you must download the maps you need before you start your trip. On the surface this looks much better, as in their blurb they say it even does "rural dirt tracks". Well it does sort of, but initially you don't seem to be advised that it DOES NOT AUTOROUTE. What this means is, it doesn't give you turn by turn guidance - City Navigator does this brilliantly. Rather oddly it does autoroute in the States. You might like to follow this link to try and work out why this is so! Be aware this is a massive resource file. We have been to a couple of seminars on GPS and by far the biggest moan is on the poor mapping software in Australia. Some users reported that Magellan has the edge but no auto routing (December 2004). Surely somebody like Hema would be better suited to providing software due to their extensive map availability? There are also lots of money making opportunities out there for Garmin to link in with the camping guides (Camps Australia Wide comes to mind) to show campsites from all over Australia. In our case we carry far too many maps. In moving into GPS we had hoped that this extra weight load could have been reduced. It hasn't happened! Our biggest beef though is its inability to do the most basic GPS task - go to a coordinate easily. Unbelievably to do this you have to use an undocumented method. Go to page - press once - then hold. This brings up the "New Waypoint Page". Surely this BASIC CRITICAL FUNCTION deserves its own dedicated access button on the hardware itself? What we are on about here, is almost all campsite guides are now all including GPS coordinates, as for one thing, it allows you to accurately find a spot even at night. Trying to include waypoints (campsites) in a route is a total nightmare unless you are using a laptop. This absolutely shouldn't be so in a piece of expensive equipment, as it is all just so easy to fix. Maybe we are blind or getting toooooooo old for this sort of thing, but so far we haven't stumbled on any Waypoint Icons in any menu.



How on earth do you find an airport using this system? Well one could type in the "cities" box Sydney Airport. Doesn't work. You could look in the quick guide or the manual on how to do it - not mentioned at all. It actually lives in the Services Menu, BUT only if you scroll down through the list of car repairers, tyres, servos etc. Our point is, you should be able to enter Sydney airport and up it comes. Is this unreasonable, as one is generally always in a tearing hurry when trying to get to an airport? It actually comes under the sub heading "Air Transportation", but this menu ONLY comes up when you have actually found it. OK, so we are almost geriatrics, BUT we simply can't fathom out the reasoning behind this sort of fuzzy thinking. Why do cake shops appear in "Attractions" instead of under "Food"? We haven't been able to find one solitary caravan park! We haven't been able to find one solitary Rest Area. Now for a navigation aid this is a very serious omission. Even if you view the maps in detail, on a lap top they still aren't there. Cemeteries are similarly missing. There is no EMERGENCY SERVICES menu - particularly no hospital or ambulance station entry - critical info for motorhomers. Another area of concern is the "find" function with relation to businesses. The advertising sort of suggests that you can use the unit to find nearby restaurants, fuel etc. Well you can PROVIDED they advertise with Garmin/Sensis etc. We are writing this story in Casino Village in Northern NSW. Now the cheapest fuel in Casino is either of the two Liberty outlets or the Caltex selling Woolies. Sadly, neither are mentioned. Our suggestion to Garmin is to maybe try what the banks do - provide a service for free for a couple of years. Then when everybody can't live without it (EFTOS - Internet Banking) start charging for it. Many caravan park guides already, most successfully, use this system, with the non paying parks only getting a plain entry. Memory is just so cheap nowadays, so why the ommissions? Anyone with ideas and methods for making the use of the 2610 more user friendly is invited to email us and we will publish your ideas here to help others get the most from the unit. In summing up this is a very worthwhile piece of kit to carry around in your motorhome at all times - we certainly don't leave home without it! Yes, it definitely does work straight out of the box and will throw up a map showing exactly where you are. As you drive off, it will tell you the street you are on and the name of the next cross street. If you are amongst the "technically challenged" you could in conjunction with a printed map, use the unit in this mode alone, as you just about always know where you are. Oh yes folks - it doesn't end forever those arguments on navigation, as if the driver doesn't listen to the voice prompts you can still go quite wrong! So is it the best money can buy in this price bracket? We think it is despite the awful software! After all it can only improve with the next version.

NOTE: The unit will happily work on the dashboard of a cab over motorhome. You will however lose satellite reception occasionally in city areas (tall buildings) and on country roads with overhanging tress. An external aerial kit is available for under $100.00. This can be stuck on or mounted on the roof. Rather amazingly it will work fine inside a Winnebago! This is great when you want to plan routes whilst parked. We couldn't get the "simulation mode" to work properly. (tests your route with voice prompts)

NOTE: Sadly all GPS devices are extremely popular with thieves. We came across a clever idea for concealing one - details on this page. Please be aware that you may have no insurance if your GPS is not permanently attached to the vehicle, as you can easily exceed your allowed accessory limit. As the 2610 is designed to go in multiple vehicles using the fantastic "bean bag" portable mount we feel it is critically important to have an all risk policy - NRMA are excellent for this type of cover and not expensive either.

NOTE: Please note that the findings given on this page relate to using the 2610 from the motorhoming perspective ONLY. Please keep this in mind if you have surfed into this page and you are not into motorhoming, as many of the points/criticisms raised may well not effect you at all.



Accessories That Could be Useful
Above right is the external aerial. You will get much better reception in hilly areas and in cities with tall buildings. Expect to pay around $99.00 in Australia. Worth hunting down on Ebay as they come up occassionally. You can expand your Compact Flash memory card up to 2 gigabytes. The unit comes standard with 128 MB. When City Navigator Version 6 is released you will probably need to upgrade this to 256 MB (around $45.00)



Other Cheaper Alternatives
Now you could well be baulking at paying $1500.00 for a GPS. There are dozens of other options available. If you already have a pocket PC then all you need to do is buy any GPS supporting the NMEA protocol and the Vito Navigator II software (shareware and only US$19.95) The software is available for free 14 day trial. More info on their Website. You can add background maps. These are made using a free companion program called Vito MapManager. We liked the open nature of this software - you can add "plug ins" to the program done by other enthusiasts. The program used here for graphics for instance, uses plug ins to radius the corners. For those thinking about going down the PDA path please remember that a fully fledged GPS is generally more shockproof and water resistant and generally "sun proof". However the big advantage is a PDA complies with the golden rule of motorhoming in that everything should have multiple uses. You can add trip notes, play music, keep an expenses log - the list is endless!



And finally! Robert Pepper has written an excellent book called GPS Vehicle Navigation in Australia (sold through Boiling Billy). This is a great way to learn all about GPS, as it is not brand specific. ($22.00 plus freight) It covers using a GPS with a laptop/PDA in fine detail and explains just how the maps work and has a particularly good explanation of how auto routing works and also why it wont work on maps you scan in yourself. There is a companion Website on this handful! The author has a comparative review coming out in the June 2005 edition of Overlander 4WD on the 2610, and the Navman ICN635 etc. Intending purchasers should maybe put it off until this comes out, as in our view Robert is the current Aussie GPS Guru. This site is full of fun activities with a GPS plus being a forum you can ask questions about anything to do with GPS. One of our favourite sites is gpsinformation.net. This is a truly magic site and discusses items not covered elsewhere - like battery consumption on portables and tons of reviews and user comments even on superceded models. The most popular lap top software seems to be Ozie Explorer. ($127.14 via download) A huge advantage here is the three user groups on Yahoo. Details on the main website.

UPDATE 1/6/05

Great news! City Navigator Version 6 has just been released and it is a vastly improved mapping system. Many of the problems listed above have been addressed and many new features added. There is a full review with comparison screen shots on this page.

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