Do You Really Trust Your GPS???

During our recent visit to Puerto Rico early this year, I brought along my Garmin NUVI 660 to test its accuracy as well as its dependability. Since we bought the unit about middle of 2007, it had been our constant travel companion for much of our trips around California and had been quite dependable on most occasions.

The Garmin NUVI 660 is the company’s best-selling unit for a quite a number of reasons. Its 4.3″ color screen seems to be the right size for any automobile without a built-in GPS navigation system. The included windshield attachment is not only durable but also well-designed.

Other features like hands-free calling via Bluetooth-compatible phones, MP3 player, FM transmitter, travel kit, picture viewer as well as storage expansion via the SD card slot makes it the hands-down choice among first-time automobile GPS buyers.

But it is the simple yet very functional user-interface that made Garmin’s NUVI series a winner. A few taps on the display screen and you’re ready to navigate. And, if your Bluetooth-compatible phone rings while navigating around, simply tap the phone icon and you’re ready to answer the call via the built-in microphone & speaker!

Except for new constructions and a few interior roads, the built-in North American map had been generally accurate. I updated -via DVD software – it only to the latest 2008 North American map when I discovered that our car was literally running through the waters of the Benicia Strait as we passed through the newly constructed Benicia-Martinez Toll Bridge – the gateway that connects I-680N to I-80N.

We had booked our rental car with Hertz weeks ahead for a six-day tour of this U.S. territory in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico’s main airport is in San Juan while our hotel was booked in the second-largest city in the islands – Ponce – which was a good 65 miles away. This would be a good initial test for the GPS unit in beautiful Puerto Rico.

I had already saved some of our intended destinations in the Favorites folder of the GPS unit. So, after getting our rental car – a mint-green 2008 Toyota Yaris – from the Hertz compound 2 hours after we landed in the Luis Munoz Marin Airport in San Juan, I hooked-up the unit unto the car’s windshield (unlike in CA – where I had to use a friction-mount –, attaching it on the windshield in PR is not illegal), tapped on a few icons as soon as it powered-up and on we headed to our hotel in Ponce!

Profile of the Garmin NUVI 660 with its raised antenna to pick up GPS signal
The Garmin NUVI 660
Some of the bundled & optional accesories of the Garmin NUVI 660 GPS
Accessories bundled with the Garmin NUVI 660 GPS

It passed the initial test with only a minor quirk. While it guided us correctly to up to the main city, it failed to recognize the mostly one-way and narrow streets where our hotel was situated in downtown Ponce. I had to park the car a few blocks away and looked for our hotel…yes, with the GPS on my hands!

The following day, on our trip to the Arecibo Observatory, the GPS unit’s accuracy was at its lowest point. While it can accurately track the main highways, it kept telling us ‘to turn left -or, right- along Highway 111’ while we’re already traversing the steep, twisting ascents of the same highway!

We also had a lot of ‘dead-spots’ while cruising along a few mountain stretches. I thought that as long a you have a view of the open sky, your GPS unit can pick-up the satellite signals quite easily. Of course, just like in most densely populated cities like San Francisco it takes a while for the unit to pick-up the satellite signals, I was surprised that it could easily get a reading in the metropolis of San Juan.

One very useful feature of this gadget is the ability to track you where you are and from your location, get all the useful information – auto services, hotel, gas stations, food, etc – that you may need.

A good example would the time when we were in Plaza del Mercado (a public market) in Santurce, San Juan, PR and it was raining a lot. Looking for a taxi was extremely difficult as the place was a little off the beaten path.

Garmin NUVI 660 to the rescue.  I simply raised the unit’s antenna, tap the ‘Food, Lodging’, then, ‘Spell Name’ icon, entered, “Taxi” and voila…I got the names as well as phone numbers of the available taxicab companies in the nearby area. A quick call to the taxicab company of our choice and in a few minutes, a taxi appeared from nowhere to get us back to our hotel!

Overall, I was quite satisfied with the performance of the NUVI 660. It not only gave us peace of mind that we will get to where we want to go to but also for the other little things the device can offer you.

The Garmin NUVI 660 is a must-have device for travelers. Highly recommended.