Saturday, May 12, 2007

Satellite Navigation - it's VERY USEFUL!!

I'm well known by friends as a gadget geek. In the last year I've been reading up on choices for portable satellite navigation units for the car or walking. The recent trip to Bordeaux kind of forced me into making my mind up on a purchase. For various timing and availability reasons we booked our flights in and out of Biarritz rather than Bordeaux. The prospect of driving a hired car up from Biarritz to a very rural chateau 30 minutes southeast of Bordeaux was kind of daunting - not to mention the local travelling we would be doing during the stay.

A few days before departure I finally purchased the latest TomTom 910 portable SatNav unit. It is an amazing unit - fitted with a micro 20GB hard disk it contains all the latest maps of everywhere in Europe (does Ireland very well too), North America and various other places on the hard disk. With a nice 4 inch screen it can also store your photographs, play MP3 music and act as a handsfree unit for your mobile phone via bluetooth.

Anyway - the cool thing was that I could programme the destination chateau's address into the unit when sitting planning in Dublin and it could demonstrate visually and aurally every step of the route for me from Biarritz airport all the way to the Chateau. This feature caused much amusement in the car when we eventually went on the real trip. I was saying things like - "Oh yea, I remember this junction!" My wife thought I had genuinely been there before!

The SatNav shows you your location as you go along and talks to you about junctions and next turns etc. It even bleeps when at a speed camera and tells you your speed and if you are over the speed limit etc. If you go wrong it can recalculate an alternative route within 5 seconds. It shows you where petrol stations and rest places and various other useful points of interest (POI) are. You can even make it phone the POI - e.g. restaurant - via the bluetooth link to your mobile phone (yes, it stores all the phone numbers of the POIs) to say make a booking. The unit brought us flawlessly on the two hour drive from Biarritz airport to the remote chateau without me going near a paper map. When we entered the courtyard of the correct chateau the unit calmly announced "Your have reached your destination". We cheered loudly and I felt like kissing the SatNav unit!

One really cool thing was when we wanted to go into Bordeaux to a particular recommended restaurant. I'd never been in Bordeaux in my life and it seemed a bit daunting to find this restaurant. We keyed into the unit the full restaurant address including the building number on the street. I gulped and nervously put my faith into the SatNav unit doing things right. I was stunned to experience the unit talking and guiding us into Bordeaux, through the streets and right up to - not just the correct street - but right outside the door of the restaurant, where it announced "You have reached your destination"! Brilliant!!

We also went on a trip to the lovely town of Saint Emilion one day. The safe predictable route for tourists was via main routes and motorways - which is how some friends in another car who left just before us went. However with SatNav - the unit guided us through very scenic and more direct smaller country roads. We had a much nicer view of vineyards and countryside and also arrived at the town long before the others - saving fuel money as well. I would never have attempted such a route with maps - we would be going crazy and getting lost at every small junction.

Anyway I'm hooked on the benefits of SatNav and I wont be going anywhere strange again without this baby! God bless technology.

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