Are GPSs dumbing down?

Discussion in 'GPS 101 - Which GPS For Me' started by abruzzi, Apr 7, 2011.

  1. abruzzi

    abruzzi Long timer

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    Is it just me, or are GPSs dumbing down?

    My first GPS was a Garmin eMap, bought for $200 in 1999 or 2000 (I forget exactly.) It didn't route, it took 5 minutes to lock on a location, but the map was very configurable for the amount and size of the data it showed. It showed me elevation, and displayed accuracy by a little circle around my location. A later firmware update and it showed sunrise/sunset and moon phases.

    I've also got a 2610, which doesn't do the moon phases/sunsets, but is faster at acquiring satellites. But I recently used a Nüvi, and was really surprised at how little information it gave me. No accuracy, no lat/lon numbers, no elevation, not even a satellite screen, just a bunch of bars like a cell phone. The Zumo, though I havent used one, doesn't seem much different, just waterproof.

    I felt like my old GPSs were for people who grew up on maps, and that Nüvi is for people who grew up on video games.

    Can you still get a GPS for GPS nerds, or is the [2,3,4]76c the last and greatest?
    Sorry to sound like a crumudgeon, but I genuinely want a modern fast acquisition (like Sirf III) GPS, that's waterproof, but is really designed for a GPS nerd.

    thanks,

    Geof
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  2. EmmEff

    EmmEff Long timer

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    The 2610 and Nuvi/Zumo are intended for motor vehicle use. If you want more "advanced" features, you need a handheld like the Oregon. It'll give you all the stuff you mentioned you liked about your eMap but without Bluetooth, voice navigation, etc. that the motor vehicle models offer.

    There is no "one size fits all" in the GPS world, despite countless people trying to make their car GPS do the role of a handheld GPS.
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  3. abruzzi

    abruzzi Long timer

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    I guess I don't see those features as features that I wouldn't want on a car/motorcycle, and I'm asking this question specifically to find a replacement for the 2610 on my bike now. The accuracy circle, lat/lon numbers, the ability to configure line and font sizes so the map displays in a way most readable to me are all very useful things to have on a GPS for driving or hiking. What I don't care about is a 3D view, the GPS speaking to me, or very limited routing capabilities (the auto-routing on the 2610 is significantly more powerful than the Nüvi). What I really don't care about is Bluetooth, xm radio, mp3s, and all that other stuff.

    Sigh...maybe I can press an Oregon into service as my motorcycle gps, though the screen is a little small.

    Geof
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  4. EmmEff

    EmmEff Long timer

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    I use an Oregon 450 as my on/off-road GPS and while the screen is (very) small, everything else seems to work fine for me.
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  5. tbirdsp

    tbirdsp REMF

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    I don't really see what use the accuracy circle is - the new chips are so good it's probably never an issue. Same with the satellite screen - gee-whiz info not really needed IMHO :dunno.
    I have a Nuvi 500, which is billed as a "multi-use" unit. - I'm pretty sure if you just touch your current location on the map it will give you your lat/long and elevation. There's also a way to enter lat/long coordinates.
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  6. abruzzi

    abruzzi Long timer

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    I like the satellite screen because on all the older GPSs, that's where the lat/lon info was. It also gives accuracy in numbers, and shows elevation. Also, in difficult reception areas, it can be used to troubleshoot. The Nüvi I used I couldn't find anyway to find the lat/lon without dropping a waypoint.

    Accuracy I like because if I turn on snapping to road, it frequently snaps to the wrong road, so I turn it off, and use the accuracy circle to gauge where I might be.

    Geof
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  7. EmmEff

    EmmEff Long timer

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    As far as I know, you can configure the Oregon to put LAT/LON on the map screen. To me this is only useful if I am working from paper topo maps and actually tracking my location concurrently. This is not something I can do while I ride.

    Also, the Oregon has a satellite signal strength screen but like tbirdsp mentions, this is something not really required with the modern GPS chipsets unless you're in deep brush where the signal strength might be minimal.
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  8. Yardstick

    Yardstick Hydrophobic

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    I agree with abruzzi! I want the GPS nerd functions, dammit! :D I don't care about the bluetoothMP3cameraXMradiogeocaching crap. I've played with a couple of Oregon units and haven't been that impressed. It seems like the menu is the main focus rather than the navigation screen and I could not find a satellite strength screen at all. Also there is no provision for applying external power and keeping the device waterproof. I do like the shape/size since it could be mounted on a dirtbike without being obtrusive like a larger street unit would, but it still has a large enough screen to be useful for basic navigation on the road.

    Edit: Okay, the Oregon units I have tried didn't respond when I touched the bars indicating signal strength, but apparently touching there should show the individual satellite strength screen! Slightly more interested now...
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  9. Twohondas

    Twohondas Long timer

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    The Zumo is not for GPS nerds but it does show Lat/lon, elevation, accuracy and navigates. It does have a cell phone signal strength meter for those GPS birds and same thing for the internal battery.

    AND is had one for the cell phone tooooooooooo!
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  10. EmmEff

    EmmEff Long timer

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    Geekiness aside, why is the satellite signal strength screen so important? I've never used it once on my Oregon 450. And before you question my geekiness, I'm a lifelong professional software developer :D:D
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  11. SnowMule

    SnowMule still learning what is and isn't edible Super Supporter

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    i think it's more about market.

    The majority of people that buy a vehicle navigation system at $electronics_megastore really don't know or care how GPS works. They just know that this little box with a touchscreen knows where they are, shows all the roads, and can take them to an address. Hell, I bet half the people using them aren't familiar with latitude and longitude, let alone satellite constellations, how multipath interference affects position accuracy, or what "HDOP" is.

    Most receivers have a diagnostic or self-test mode that can display a lot more info than what's brought out to the UI... not that it's helpful in the field, though.

    When you really get down to it, GPS receivers really don't know all that much. Real accurate time from all the birds in teh sky, and where those birds are... the rest of it's computed. A lot of that data may not be exposed to the user, but it's available through serial/USB connections...
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  12. EmmEff

    EmmEff Long timer

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    More to the point, is this interesting information for getting navigational direction from one's"current location to another location? I think not.

    FWIW, I upload/download waypoints, routes, and maps to/from my Oregon 450 and it does what I need to track my off-road adventures. It also works perfectly fine as an on-road navigator, albeit with some of the fancy features missing that the Nuvi/Zumos have. The "feature" is truly miss the most is screen size.
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  13. Jäger_

    Jäger_ Osons

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    They sell because people like bells and whistles. You can't apply a horizon mask to your GPS, nor set the S/N filter, nor set a DOP filter. But people still get SV signal strength bars anyways.

    They similarly fixate on how accurate their GPS is, most not even knowing the implications of CEP, versus RMS, versus 2 sigma and how that affects the claimed accuracy.

    Elevation is another thing. How many understand that, as WGS84 is a 3D datum all those elevations are therefore ellipsoidal. And THAT means that orthometric (i.e. mean sea level based) elevations for the WGS84 geoid have inherent accuracy errors of as much as 10-20 meters worldwide. So they're quibbling about 10 or 20 feet of elevation variation, while the geoid errors has up to 60 feet of built in error before you even start considering systemic errors added by the error budget and the GPS itself.

    If recreational GPS makers all displayed their horizontal and vertical positional accuracy to 2 sigma or better like professional GPS have to do, the public would take one look at the numbers and straight out flip. Their GPS would be just as capable as it ever was, but they would get hung right up on the numbers. Instead, the makers set the GPS units up to meet the expected demands of the consumer.

    And as we're a society of gadget crazed individuals always demanding more cutting edge bells and whistles, recreational GPS units are going to continue collecting bells and whistles
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  14. sellmeyer

    sellmeyer Been here awhile

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    getting back to the meat of the OP; I'm sort of old-school when it comes to favoring older Garmin units. What I liked about the III+, and most of the 76cs units, was the ability to setup the unit to provide the user with the kinds of information they needed/wanted. That is to say that with these units you could customize what 'pages' were displayed and what information was visible in each page. With the 76cs and the x76 series I was even able to add/remove pages that are displayed and adjust sort order of those pages.

    The ability to pick and choose what I want/need goes a long way to configuring this instrument to serve me in the way that I want it to without all of the things that I don't want.

    It seems to me that the trend in recent years has been moving in the direction of 'dumbed' down units, as previously mentioned, whereby the customer has to eat what is served regardless of what the customer wants to order. In Garmin's case the assumption is that more consumers are willing to order a gps, in terms of making a purchase, and then eat all of the ingridients that garmin puts in that unit. They seem to think that general hardware features are the only things that consumers want to choose from and they have lost the idea that maybe consumers want to pick and choose software features as well.

    Last Summer I met up with a friend who had a zumo and an XM antenna with the Aviation weather package. He couldn't get it to work on his zumo and he gave it to me for the trip because I had a 376c that would take it. I plugged that antenna into my unit and became the weatherman for the trip.

    My buddy did most of the navigation at first...until we (I) discovered a pattern whereby the zumo was giving us very bad routing along our way. While I'm accustomed to bad routing, I have experienced this with my 76cs and my 376c, I am able to 'see' the route in such a way with both of these units that my buddy could not on the zumo. In his case he was prescribed a certain viewing experience which he could not alter; that viewing experience did not allow him to fully understand what the GPS was doing and he could not make his own decisions about what direction to go, for how long, when, etc. On the other hand, my 376c allowed me to make good navigation decisions based on useful information that was being presented to me. Subsequently I took over some of the navigation and had a better go at it than my buddy.

    It is hard to be specific in this example because I'm pressed for time, and I have no visuals, but I took away plenty from that experience. My buddy is a techno-guy and a private pilot who knows about navigation. He has at least as much time on the bike as I do and probably has more trips under his belt than I do. He simply could not get enough useful information out of his zumo because, as he said, it doesn't let you (fill in the blank). With the 376c I was able to quickly and easily get what I needed and make good judgements all the while remaining focused on riding the bike and enjoying the trip.

    Put it this way, while the ability to get under the hood of the 376 is more like messing with a windows computer, and the inability to get under the hood of a zumo is like trying to mess with a mac computer-the user experience is exactly opposit. Which is to say that with a 376c I can use it and get the job done with no fuss, much like using a mac, whereas it seemed using the zumo was like being routinely frustrated with using a windows computer.

    anyway; I agree with the notion that many of the new gps products coming out are very much simplified and don't allow the user to configure them to satisfy their specific needs.

    -lets hope that if the trend does not reverse, that at least folks like garmin will continue to make products like the III+, 76 series, x76 series, etc.
    -cheers
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  15. SnowMule

    SnowMule still learning what is and isn't edible Super Supporter

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    :rofl I see where your'e coming from, but I take it you haven't worked on many Macs recently.... There's a program called "Terminal", and when coupled with the "sudo" command will let you do -anything- if you know where to look. :wink:

    But yes, I think there's a lot of people that dont' want to put in the time and effort into really learning what their receivers are capable of doing. I've helped people with their 60/76's that had no idea you could add/remove pages from the page sequence. While it's better afterwards, the GPS still did what they wanted it to before. Just required more keypresses or a different method to get the information out.
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  16. EmmEff

    EmmEff Long timer

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    Took the words right out of my mouth... I love when we get commentary about Macs and OS X from people who've never used them.
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  17. abhibeckert

    abhibeckert Long timer

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    That's exactly how I feel too. I honestly don't care about the hardware anymore. As long as it doesn't break, and has reasonable reception, I'm happy.

    But the software needs to be perfect, because that's what you actually use every ride.
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  18. Twohondas

    Twohondas Long timer

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    I think in a lot of scenarios it is not about the GPS but the operator just like riding motorcycles. You know just like the stories of Wings eating up CRs.

    An experienced operator will wring or optimize his GPS system as best he can as well. No different in days past ... a good navigator is just as important as the machine.

    You just have to play with your GPS and really experiment with all its features and .........capabilities.
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  19. EmmEff

    EmmEff Long timer

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    With that said, you cannot make an "on-road" GPS as powerful as a handheld GPS. If you cannot load/save tracks, the GPS is functionally challenged for many, but certainly not all.

    I use an Oregon 450 which gives me the best of both worlds- on-road navigation (with suitable maps) as well as off-road routing and track saving capabilities. The GPSMAP 376/476/478 were great GPSes in their day, but their replacements are functionally challenged or perhaps dumbed down.

    Complaining that an entry level Garmin Nuvi car GPS, intended for mounting on the windshield of mom's minivan, doesn't have the capability of their top of the line handheld GPS is a futile at best.
    #19
  20. viverrid

    viverrid not dead yet

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    Yup, and the I'm-so-full-of-myself-'cuz-I'm-smarter-than-this-GPS types have gotta get real and understand that there are maybe 100 times as many people who want to buy a voice highway directions GPS to find an address, as there are people who give a flying fuck about lat/long, satellite circles, and crap like that.

    That stuff simply has NO applicability to the lives of the majority of GPS customers. Even when you call 9-1-1 to report a crash needing EMS, first thing they want is the ADDRESS and a lot of them can't parse lat/long. So go ahead and be snug about how stoopit everyone but you is, but those features you crave are NOT what Garmin's customers are looking for.

    My wife doesn't even look at the map on her GPS, just listens for the voice directions. We have company cars which we sometimes let our employees drive to meetings or training. I routinely have my car GPS set to North Up. Invariably when I give the car to employees, it comes back with the map set to Birdseye.

    That's the reality, and no business gets rich by telling their customers they are too stupid and that what they really need is lat/long and satellite circles.
    #20