A couple months ago, I purchased a Garmin 1490T GPS at Costco. Although I’ve wanted a car GPS for some time, but couldn’t justify it just for driving around Phoenix. The pending trip to DisneyLand, smack in the middle of the freeway hell that is the Los Angeles metropolitan area, was ample justification. While I’ve had the unit and have gotten very familiar with its operation, I didn’t want to review it until it had its trial by fire.
I’m pleased to report that the unit came through with flying colors, in fact, it exceeded my expectations at every level. There was only one instance when I took a wrong turn and, to be honest, it was entirely my own fault. I made an assumption that the GPS was wrong and… it turns out I was wrong and it was right. We’ll say no more about that.
The 1490T has a large touchscreen interface, but unlike the iPhone’s glass screen, the 1490T has a soft plastic screen, which isn’t very responsive compared to the iPhone. I found myself having to push extra times on the screen, particularly when entering text. Apart from that, the interface is logical and easy to navigate.
The unit comes equipped with the ability to speak street names, and has several “voices” it can use. I’ve chosen to use the female “British” voice, but there are both male and female voices in American, British and Australian accents. The accents aren’t particularly strong, but it was initially confusing by the British voice’s insistent to call on-ramps and off-ramps “slip roads”. It’s a term I’ve never heard.
The GPS can also use a variety of voices in other languages, as well as ones you create and load yourself; however, these voice give only generic instructions such as “turn right” instead of speaking the street names, as in “turn right on N Beaver Rd.”
In particular, the feature that turned out to be the most helpful was the “free” traffic updates. These updates are supplied by FM radio in major metropolitan areas and are ad-sponsored, and so periodically, ads for Red Lobster pop up (discretely) on the screen. The GPS takes your current route and compares it to the traffic database and arrives at a delay estimate, which is displayed on the screen. The GPS compares your current route, including traffic delays, against other routes to the same destination. If an alternate route is determined to be faster the GPS changes your route to avoid the problem.
I’d tested this a number of times in Phoenix and it was less than impressive. The unit would show me that there was a delay of several minutes, but would not re-route me. You can have it show you where the traffic problems are and even “force” it to avoid the traffic; however, in every instance it would complain it me, telling me this really was the best route and even if I told it to avoid anyway, it didn’t seem to do so.
If you know anything about the route from Phoenix to Los Angeles, you’ll know there aren’t any practical alternatives to Interstate I-10. Once you’ve gotten a certain distance outside of Phoenix (around 400th Ave), I-10 is the only choice for crossing the vast wasteland in any kind of direct route. Other alternatives take you hundreds of miles out of the way.
As we left town on I-10, at around 130th Ave, the traffic delay indicator started to go crazy. FIrst it read 10 minutes delay, then 20, 30, 45 and finally 53 minutes before it announced it was recalculating due to severe traffic. It then routed us along a series of byways as we got progressively farther out into the middle of nowhere and it finally returned us to I-10 at 339th Ave, at which point we could see there was a major construction project and that traffic was backed up in both directions as far as the eye could see.
There was a second couple traveling in a different car about an hour behind us. They chose not to heed my warning and spent two hours stuck in the jam. For this event alone, the Garmin 1490T GPS has won a permanent place in my car on road trips.
I recommend this GPS.