Lost & Found with GPS

April 24, 2008 8:56:29 PM PDT
So many drivers turn to GPS systems, which promise to guide you to where you need to go! But which ones are reliable? And which ones may lead you astray? To find out, we put four popular models to an unscientific Action News road test. For our road trip, Action News staffers paired up to test the Garmin, Magellan, TomTom, and Nextar navigation systems.

They systems we tested cost between $150 to $300 depending on the extra bells and whistles on the GPS system.

Then we had our four teams set out to the same destinations.

Even before our testers head out one our first trip, from our studio on City Avenue to the New Jersey State House in Trenton, Team Nextar encountered problem number one:

Failure to recognize an address.

The Nextar wouldn't let our team input the State House address, so Team Nextar had to head to Trenton's city center, and then find the State House from there on their own.

"We even tried a number of variations with no luck," said Heather Grubola on Team Nextar.

Then, from Trenton, all of our teams headed to the Criminal Justice Center in Center City.

That was where Team TomTom encountered problem number two:

Incorrect directions.

"It told us to go left and you couldn't go left. It was a one way in the wrong direction," said Amy Brenholts with Team TomTom.

We then traveled from Center City to University City.

Our destination: The Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania on Spruce Street.

All our teams except Team Magellan encountered problem number three:

Signal drop out.

The Garmin, Nextar, and TomTom lost their satellite signal and had to re-calculate at numerous points in the city.

The companies told Action News that tall buildings probably played a role.

While my team's Magellan didn't drop out, it did direct us to go through a road closure.

A lesson learned.

The maps on these devices are updated only once a year. So be prepared to navigate yourself around most construction, road closures, or private gates.

We headed to Maple Shade, New Jersey to see how the Magellan Road Mate could get us there.

This is the leg where three of our teams encountered problem number four:

Late voice prompts.

Most of the time the systems beeped or dinged well in advance of a turn, alerting us a turn was coming!

From Maple Shade, it's time to meet the rest of our teams at Friendly's on Pennsylvania Avenue in Fort Washington.

It was on this trip that Team Nextar really got frustrated.

"We're doing it all over again?" said Cheryl Mettendorf with Team Nextar.

"It's making us do that whole loop again," added teammate Heather Grubola.

This brought us to problem number five: The system gets lost.

The Nextar was the only system that can't find Pennsylvania Avenue.

Finally, from Fort Washington we head to Pat's Steaks in South Philly and Team Nextar hits problem number six:

It failed to find the fastest route possible.

Even though we set all the systems to find the fastest route, the Nextar took our team on local streets instead of the Schuylkill Expressway.

"It took us forever. I mean Broad Street during rush hour it said 7 miles, but it took over an hour," said Grubola with Team Nextar.

There are no clear winners among the TomTom, the Garmin, or the Magellan.

But according to our Action News road test and factoring in the problems our teams identified, the Nextar is the clear loser.

Nextar was the only system that didn't find the New Jersey State House and got kept us going in circles instead of putting us on Pennsylvania Avenue. It also slowed our team down by taking Broad Street instead of 76.

Nextar tells Action News it continues to improve reception of its system in downtown areas. The company also blamed "user error" for several of Team Nextar's problems.

Magellan did not return our calls for comment for this report.