Thursday, January 22, 2009

Good Luck/Bad Luck

It is true that I turn 28 tomorrow. It is also true that today is payday. When these two events combine, along with a timely (and very thoughtful) birthday 'cash infusion' from my parents, we went to buy our groceries…and pick up the GPS I've had my eye on since last October.

I need to be absolutely clear on this. The GPS I wanted was put on sale at my local Aldi in October 2008. Directly after Christmas they dropped the price by a hundred dollars, then another fifty two weeks ago. Thinking the price was too good to be true, I researched it and every review I'd read raved about it. They all said the same thing: You get the features of a five hundred dollar unit for $250. Given that the clearance price was just $120 dollars…not only was my gadget-sense blaring like a car alarm, my bargain-sense was going off like a tom cat with his nuts caught in the cat-flap.

So we arrived at the grocery store and I went straight to the display case where this thing has sat for over four months.

It wasn't there.

It wasn't FREAKING THERE!!!!

According to the store manager, it had been 'returned to corporate' two days ago.

You can imagine how I was feeling. In fact, that's a lie…you can't, because I ended up laughing my ass off. I've gotten so used to having terrible luck that I'm sure that on some level I was expecting it not to be there.

However, my amazing missus, the one bit of good luck I can count on, suggested we pop across the road to the Walmart and see if they had any at a price we could afford.

I ended up leaving Walmart with a 'Tomtom ONE'. Walmart was actually having a sale and had recently reduced the price, so I got it for just ten dollars more than I was planning to spend on the other unit. Awesome, huh?

Well, I got it home, took it out of the packaging…and broke it almost immediately.

You see, what I attempted to do was connect it to the PC and update it. Just to shift a little of the blame, the instructions (I know, I read them…shameful) said this should be the absolute first thing you should do. So I plugged it in, the software built into the unit installed onto my PC, and it downloaded all kinds of updates. Everything from new maps to OS upgrades and all kinds of things that I really like and absolutely have to have, while not actually knowing what they are or what they do.

Then something terrible happened. I'd downloaded the updates, and halfway through installing them, my computer froze.

I restarted and tried to turn on the GPS, it started but all I could get was an error message.

I pulled out the instructions again, looking for the DVD that usually comes with these things…and discovered Tomtom don't supply one. Then I read in the tiny teeny-weeny semi-microscopic print, that the absolute first thing you should do is backup the unit.

So, in less than an hour of getting home I'd turned my whizz-bang GPS into a paperweight.

I won't bore you with the details, but a couple of hours of copying and manually placing files, I managed to fix it and get it working. I quickly discovered that as a stand-alone unit it really is awesome, but once you connect it to your computer it gets extremely flaky. Sometimes the PC will detect it, sometimes it won't. Sometimes it detects it, but detects it as a different device. Normally these problems can be fixed by rebooting, or unplugging and re-plugging the device…but it can get a little annoying.

Luckily, once it's set up, there's no real reason to connect it to your PC except to back up your address book occasionally or charge it through its USB connection (which means it doesn't matter if it gets detected or not), so I'm not holding it against it.

Anyway, my first experience at driving with it was absolutely fricking awesome. As well as the spoken directions, when you have absolutely no idea where you are (and around where I live there are a LOT of rural roads that all look exactly the same to me) it's nice to be able to glance down and see a 3D view that lets you know what to expect. I'll admit that I'm a nervous driver anyway, and there are a ton of turnings and blind curves where I live that you can't see until you're directly on top of them. Having a visual and audible warning in plenty of time just makes driving a hundred times less stressful for me.

It has some obvious drawbacks that are common to all GPS's simply because a computer is working out the route instead of a human brain. For example, it plans the route to Sunny's job going directly through the town center, because that's technically the shortest and fastest route. However, anyone who lives near a major population center will tell you that just because a road goes in the straightest line and has the highest speed limit doesn't mean it's the fastest.

It does everything else well, though. At one point I deliberately took a wrong turn and it recalculated the route in a matter of seconds. I honestly hadn't gone a hundred yards before it had me back on track. It does some other neat little things like adjust the volume of the spoken directions depending on how fast you're going so you can always hear it when you're blasting down the freeway but not get deafened by it when you're below 30mph. The sound is extremely clear and the screen is nice and visible even in bright sunlight. The only other real downside is the battery life, because with the screen set to always on, it'll run down in less than an hour and a half. Of course, this doesn't really matter much because it comes with a USB car charger, meaning you can just plug it in when you're driving.

One of the things I was really surprised and geek-happy to see was that you could download and install a ton of different voices to give you directions.

Want to know my new geek credentials?

Darth Vader, GlaDOS and a Dalek give me driving directions.


Sunny said...

Unfortunately, MY first choice for the navigational voice wasn't on there to choose.....Who?

Mr. Spock, of course.

marie said...

Dear god, everything does NOT go back to star wars paul! jeez...:)

Sunny said...

Ummmmm, Marie....have you MET Paul????? Star Wars is the Alpha and the Omega with him.

Darth Vader is his Satan and Obe-wan is his God.

Paulius said...

Actually, Star Wars is about THIRD on the list.

Oh, and you got it TOTALLY wrong (snigger), a far more effective analogy would have the EMPEROR as the devil and Yoda as God.