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Finding the way with Satnav


In a country known for its zeal to adopt new technology as early as possible, the roads must have been full of frustrated Kiwi motorists unable to get their hands on that great new gizmo, satellite navigation.

For ages, New Zealand dragged the chain while motorists in many other parts of the world were being directed to their destinations by colourful screen maps and gentle female voices who never became irritated when the driver missed a turn. Our problem was a lack of the essential map software, in turn partly a result of our small population and the software’s high cost of development. All that’s sorted now, and we can indulge in our national lust for the latest electronic device. Satnav is becoming widely available in luxury vehicles and is starting to filter down the ranks. You can even get factory satnav on a Toyota Corolla, as an option. Meanwhile, electronics stores are awash with portable units, usually from the three manufacturers Navman Tom Tom and Garmin, and ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to around a thousand. As usual, the more you pay, the more features you get. First, an explanation. Satellite navigation uses the Global Position System (GPS), a network of 24 or so satellites. The car’s system triangulates its position using signals from several, then combines it with mapping information from the software to pinpoint an exact position and calculate a route. This is basically what we’ve always done with a printed map, so the first question to ask is whether you really need satnav at all? One advantage is that the verbal prompts and screen display mean, if driving alone, you don’t have to keep stopping to double-check the map. If you make a mistake following the satnav directions, the system will quickly recalculate the route and tell you how to get back on track.

Some systems, like the one in the Toyota Land Cruiser 200 I’m driving now, will also just keep track on the big screen map of where you are, as you drive. I find this useful. Though satnav can be very good, it’s not perfect. Ask any taxi or courier driver who uses it daily and you’ll be regaled with stories about being directed along back alleys, through paddocks and along railway lines. However, the technology is always being improved and maps updated. Recently, a British publication pitted a highly rated aftermarket satnav against a London cabbie in a relatively complex route across the metropolis. The cab beat satnav by 27 minutes, partly because of congestion and roadworks the nav didn’t know about, and partly because it didn’t know shortcuts the cabbie used. You’ll find, if you get satnav, that it rarely uses your favourite time-saving shortcuts – but then there’s no point using it if you already know the way!

Navigating the choices

Stand-alone satnav systems have become extremely popular as prices drop. An obvious advantage is that they can be moved from vehicle to vehicle – a feature that then makes theft easier. They’re a favourite target. Some screens use a wide16:9 aspect ratio, compared to the standard 4:3.You may or may not find this useful. Some screens are physically larger. This could be an advantage when displaying two graphic images in ‘split-screen’ mode, giving for example a detailed view of the next intersection next to a map view showing the overall direction. The quality of graphics and text varies. Make sure the model you like is easy to understand – remember, you’ll be glancing at it while driving. Some units provide an “angled” or “three-dimensional” view of the map, a form of display that many people like, but others loathe. Find the one that suits you best. Is the screen bright enough to be seen in daylight (it’ll look good in the shop), and does it have anti-glare qualities? Are the controls easily used and intuitive. How easy is it to load a destination? How easy it is to download updates? That’s also a question to ask if you’re buying a factory system. How often is the information updated and is there a fee? You may have to subscribe to an update service. Does the unit offer a variety of points of interest like petrol stations and tourist sights, and are these important to you? How often will you use other features on higher priced models, including the ability to take photos?


Actually no, it’s not what you think your garage has just done, but the continual charging of a battery after it has reached its normally charged condition. If this happens, you risk damaging the battery and being over-charged for a new one.


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