Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Which GPS / Satellite Navigation Unit?

Of late I've had several enquiries about GPS Satellite Navigation (SatNav) units both in terms of what is considered to be a good buy and whether imported units will work here in Malaysia. So I thought it might be useful to consolidate the replies into one short post here in case others are pondering the same issues.

Personally I prefer Garmin units, I always have, but in Asia that preference is also dictated by the ease of availability.  Of the big branded GPS systems Garmin is the one I have found most widely available in SE Asia and well supported with software and map updates.

In terms of imported units, yes it will work.  A GPS is a fairly generic device and they will largely work anywhere BUT, and it's quite a big but, Garmin, like many other companies is a global company but is region specific.  Essentially that means that if you buy a GPS unit in the USA it will be USA compatible unit, here in Malaysia it will be Malaysia / Singapore specific while those from Europe will be European specific in terms of their operating system (OS).  In practical terms that translates into which of the more advanced features you will and will not be able to use.

The more advanced Garmin units offer two very useful functions 'Junction View' and 'Lane Assist'.  Basically, the former is a photographic rendition of a junction and signage as you approach it and the latter provides directional arrows telling you which lane you should be in at major junctions and on highways.  Now, these functions (and in particular 'Junction View') generally ONLY work on the device when it is used within it's own purchase region.  That is something to bear in mind if those facilities are important to you.  I have a UK sourced Garmin 3790T on which I have installed the City Navigator SE Maps.  They work, and are quite good, but no Junction view, it's just basic navigation.  Many units also offer 3D and 'Built Up Area' views which show a semi accurate picture of the area you are driving through, useful in cities.  Again, they only work on units with the OS for your region and the OS cannot be changed.

Another thing to consider is maps.  In some cases units are supplied with free lifetime updates for maps and Garmin updates them up to 4 times a year.  The City Navigator SE Asia map I have was a $99 download and is already out of date.  Once updated, after a year or two it will likely be out of date again.  So, the slightly more expensive units that come bundled with free lifetime updates can save you quite a lot in the long term.

A further consideration is which maps?  I use mostly Garmin maps but even they vary from region to region.  I travel a fair bit in Thailand and in Thailand by far the most useful map is the ESRI (now named Thai Street Map, or TSM) which is supplied by default on Thailand purchased Garmin GPS units.  This map I have to say is much better than the Garmin City Navigator SE Asia map and, at around 450 baht for the CD or SD card version, is a lot cheaper and cheaper to keep updated.  Many people also use maps which are available from or via the 'Malsing Maps' GPS portal which, as it happens, also has an excellent GPS Internet forum which offers a mine of information about all things GPS and even specific units here in Malaysia and Singapore.

The Garmin 3790 I have performs well and the SE Asia City Navigator maps are OK, but lack accuracy, detail and currency at times.  Given that I largely only drive in Malaysia and Thailand, at least for now, I'm not really looking to keep updating the SE Asia map each time it gets released at $90+.  It would however be useful to have constantly updated Malaysian maps, junction view and lane assist working and the most detailed map of Thailand available and to hand.

Garmin Nuvi 3560 LM
On that basis, these days I'd recommend the Garmin 3560 LM unit which has a slim profile and a wide 5.3" screen and all the bells and whistles of an advanced device including voice prompts, voice activation / search, bluetooth, updates via connected mobile phone etc etc. Full details can be found here. It retails at around RM 1,100, comes loaded with the Garmin City Navigator Malaysia / Singapore and 'Malsing' maps (I believe Garmin has an agreement with Malsing here) and has the free for life map updates. All I would do extra with this unit is buy the ESRI Thailand Map on SD when I visited Thailand and insert the SD into the slot, switching maps when crossing the border.  Another unit can be had for about half the price of the 3560 and that is the 2465 LM, there are of course many others.  It has less functionality of course but will certainly do the job and also has free for life map updates.  The Garmin site does offer a very useful comparison facility where you can check out up to three units at any one time side-by-sdie.  

I know some people like to use their GPS enabled smart-phones for navigation but my experience has been mixed.  Briefly, there are paid and free options.  Of the free ones I have tried Google Maps for iPhone is next to useless here.  It's turn-by-turn navigation is still in beta and Malaysia is not a supported country.  Thanks - delete.  Apple's own 'Maps' app is now much improved and does support Malaysia and it works OK, the problem with these free aps is that the navigation is less sophisticated, no lane support and less speedy recalculations if you make a wrong turn.  The other problem is that the two aps mentioned require a live data connection to access the maps, this maybe fine if you are travelling only in the country where you have your contract data service, but travelling cross border into another and needing to use roaming data rates - no thank you very much!  To get round this there are also paid options such as the 'Tom Tom SE Asia' ap (a bit pricey at around $49) and this benefits from having many of the features more readily associated with their dedicated units.  Overall though I find these aps less effective than dedicated devices, there often being problems with the GPS signal (as a visit to the device or ap associated chat forums will show).  Also, despite being a market leader the Tom Tom ap receives some mediocre reviews, such as this one here, with Navigon (another paid ap) being more highly rated.  The big problem here though is that the aps need to support mapping in SE Asia and Navigon doesn't.  So, for now, I stick with dedicated devices.

The one thing I do dislike about Garmin devices (and I hate it with a vengeance) is their route planning software for PC/Mac, 'Basecamp' an ap that allows you to plan your own route and transfer it to your GPS.  Rarely needed but it can be useful at times.  Problem is, it is absolutely awful, quite simply the worst mapping ap I have EVER used.  Google Maps makes entering a route and dragging it round to more suit your wishes an absolute doodle, a real breeze.  Garmin manages to turn such simplicity into a major chore, the software being counter-intuitive and laggy.  It really is so bad that I vouched not to use it again unless it is given a major overhaul.  Total garbage.  For the majority however, advanced route plotting, or amendment, will not be an issue so this piece of junk can thankfully be overlooked.

So, in a nutshell, I'd still recommend Garmin, I'd buy local, either from a shop or a reliable online retailer such as Superbuy and I'd source the ESRI Thailand maps in Thailand to load on SD.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.