01 September 2009

In-car GPS navigation system to make life easier

One activity that is constant in the life of every electrical contractor is travel. For an electrician, time is money. We cannot afford to get lost even if we've never heard of the place a prospective customer calls from. On the job we might need to drive out again to get some supplies from the nearest Middy's or other wholesale electrical supplier. Along the way, we might need to grab a quick burger to keep us going. And doing all this travelling and route planning would be next to impossible without our in-car GPS navigation system.

We bought a NAVMAN S150 in February, right after we bought our van. At $390, it comes with the following features:

  • Bluetooth so the phone can be connected to this and used handsfree
  • 3D lane guidance. At intersections, the lanes and nearby landmarks are shown in 3D, with prominent arrows making choosing the right lane and taking the turn easier
  • Local Live Search: You can search for places of interest such as restaurants, railway stations, parks, gas stations in the surrounding area. With job sites often in areas we are not familiar with, this feature comes in quite handy
  • Safety and alerts for speed limits, speed cameras, school zones, black spots and railway crossing
  • Audio navigation guidance with distance, street and direction to turn into. This is pretty much a given for all in-car navigation systems these days. However some free maps that can be used on high-end phones or other hand-held gadgets may not have this spoken street names feature. A blue dot showing where you are and a red showing the target may be ok for a day trip, but quite frustrating for an ever-travelling tradesperson. So invest in a system that gives detailed instructions. It will even let you choose what woman and with what accent you'd want to be told where to go! :)

    The more premium S-series models (S200 and S300T) come with FM transmitters, media players and live traffic updates. The new MY500XT even has live weather updates and travel books. We have found that the S150 suits our needs fully and we'd hardly use the additional features the higher end models offer. There are also a host of other companies that offer in-car GPS navigation systems - Garmin and TomTom being the top two that come to mind. Head over to forums like CNET Australia to see what other users say about each of them and choose what suits you best.

    Do not throw out the Melway or other maps you used before you bought the GPS. At the rate our cities are growing, GPS maps do not always keep up with new suburbs and it is worth having a backup for finding all the new homes we wire up. New maps are updated by Navman once a year. Checking up on Google Maps is also useful for new estates.

    And finally, once you buy one of these - keep it safe. Never leave it in your car on the windshield or dashboard. We had our van broken into and the GPS stolen when we did that. We had to replace the Navman and also shell out a few hundred more to replace the broken side window! Lesson learnt: Never leave valuables (GPS included) in the car, especially overnight on a regular basis.  However, we did come up with a way to not have to take out the GPS everytime we left the van at a work site.  More about this in this post.