Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Comparative GPS

This morning I had an interesting experience that set me thinking. I will explain the situation later, but first, my history of GPS use.

My first GPS device was a Garmin 62s with a separately purchased map pack that collectively set me back about $750 in 2011 or thereabouts. It's best for hiking (and geocaching) but is capable of navigation. I bought a car mount and tried it out. The results weren't great. It had no idea where Fullarton Road or occasionally, entire suburbs, might be and directed me to take illegal or impossible turns. If made to recalculate more than three times it would stop navigation in a huff. Worst, it could only beep. I returned to using paper maps though still use this otherwise rugged and reliable unit - just not as a driving GPS.

The majority of my experience is with the function built into Samsung Android phones, particularly an s2 and a note 3. This does have peculiar ideas about pronunciation and what constitutes a slight turn vs. a turn but the verbal instructions are timely and clear. I don't even have to remove my phone from my bag once it's set. It is patient with recalculation and has good traffic data that lets me know the best route at the time I want it.

This brings me to the experiences I have had in the last week. I have had the opportunity to drive a 2014 Subaru with inbuilt factory GPS while moving. It's a very nice car. I am already regretting not having cruise control in my own. The first few times I used the inbuilt GPS it went well. I really liked the indication on which lane to pick and the pronunciation was no worse than my phone's. This was until I visited friends last night and had a slightly unfamiliar route to take afterwards. I chose a point along the way rather than the destination as it was easier and I was tired. As I did not stop at the destination the car nav kept telling me to turn around all the way home and I could not see how to cancel it.

In the morning, it attempted to start navigating to the same place. I didn't have time to figure out how to cancel, so just programmed my destination from the device's history - the house I have just left and am cleaning, a trip of around 50km and,  in decent traffic, about an hour. I know the drive between my parents' house and my own very, very well. The route the car chose without benefit of traffic data was absurd. With peak hour in full swing it would go through many of Adelaide's most congested areas. I drove another way - South Road was very congested but quite quickly I was on a series of linked expressways and highways and flying along at 90-110kph with the aid of cruise control and none of the congestion. I thought it would be interesting to see when it recalculated to my route. I was first concerned before I even reached the first expressway as it asked me to turn from the underpass onto a road more than five metres directly overhead. It constantly nagged for u-turns and asked me to take every single expressway exit.

As I drew closer to my destination the game instead became one of seeing how close I could get to my destination without it agreeing with me. The answer amazed me. I arrived,  parked in the driveway and looked at the display informing me that while my car was on the nav map's finish flag I had 92km and over an hour and a half to get to where I already was. Since it's such a strange result I took a picture so you can see the truth of it.

I zoomed out and noticed that it wanted me to go back to a place on its route shortly after I deviated from its plans. I think that I will use my phone from here on. With SA requirements I can't look at that at all, but at least it is not so mind-blowingly daft.