I still don’t have a good handle on my GPS Navigator yet. I don’t use it too much so that’s an easy explanation but then again the thing isn’t that easy to use. Well, it is but it isn’t. It’s a Garmin nĂ¼vi 285W/285WT unit that I got over a year ago. It’s easy to use in that all I have to do is type in an address and hit go but it’s not easy to use in that I have no control over the route. At least no easy control.

The one way I know to exert some control over the route is to insert “Via” points. Except I haven’t been able to successfully do this yet. I last used the GPS to drive to Long Island on the Sunday before Memorial Day and was not able to add a single Via Point because I couldn’t figure out how to. I was playing with the machine the day before and couldn’t even find the Via Point menu. The only time I’ve been able to locate the Via Point menu is when I was driving and accidentally stumbled on it. A little late. I’m no novice when it comes to tech so if it’s this hard to even find out how to program a route I blame the software design.

I’ve never had a particularly good sense of direction so I like to check out the route ahead of time. I’m usually driving alone so having some clue about the way to go is helpful. I like to check out the best route on Google maps or Mapquest. Those are easy to uses sites for planning a trip and it’s real easy to choose which route to take. You can just drag Via Points onto the map in order to set the exact way you want to go. The GPS has a touch screen and it would be nice to be able to do click and drag on it. But you can’t. That’s one of its frustrations.

When I start out a trip using the GPS I drive the route I want to take and wait for the GPS to adjust. It’ll adjust it’s route on the fly to keep up with where you are. In the beginning, because I’m close to home and know that part of the trip, it’s easy to keep track of. It’s when I get further afield that things start to get tricky.

Now that I think about it things got tricky for me right away when using the GPS. Things got tricky in ways I didn’t anticipate. The first problem I had was where to put the thing. I have a 2009 Civic and the dashboard is pretty far away and curvy. I was thinking about getting a vent clip but the steering wheel blocks my vision of the vent. I used the suction cup holder that came with the thing but, just as I feared, it fell off of the windshield after about half an hour. I ended up putting the GPS on the console in between the two front seats.

Of course no matter where I put it the darned thing was a distraction. Try driving while looking at a little video game of where you’re supposed to be going. I have good eyes and good concentration and still found it too much. I looked at it as little as possible and still almost rear ended someone. It wasn’t even close really. Stopped at a red light I started to go a little before the car in front of me did. I leave room between me and the car in front at lights so there was plenty of room to stop but it still unnerved me a little. I had just been looking at the GPS while we were stopped and clearly I was distracted by it when starting to go. That is why I try to only listen to it and not look.

I got this GPS model because it speaks the street names. Even never having used one before I thought that was a good idea. I think most of them do that now but not when I got this one. That leads me to mention the second of the tricky things. It’s tough to hear the GPS if I’ve got music on in the car. I never thought of that until I used it. Since I don’t know where I’m going I don’t know when the GPS is going to start speaking directions. It could be anytime. Even if two people are in the car just talking they might miss the spoken directions. It’s tough to be constantly listening up for the GPS voice to speak.

All that is why I like to plan out my route (I even print out the maps) to familiarize myself with the roads. This usually cuts down my confusion but the whole thing seem to always break down when I’m nearest to my destination and I have to take the local streets. The GPS always picks different local streets than I do on the map and I’m not familiar enough with the streets to ignore the GPS at this point. I always end up driving through a maze of small streets rather than a main one. But the GPS does get me there in the end. It’s worth it just for that.

One other thing I wanted to do on this recent trip was to test the battery life. I hadn’t done that before. I’ve only been on short trips, not that this one was especially long, and had no idea how long the battery would last. Sure I could plug it in to the cigarette lighter but I haven’t even bothered with that yet. It turns out that the battery lasts about two hours. It turned itself off on the way back home. It’s a good thing I knew where I was by then or I would have had to pull over and plug it in.

One last annoying thing about the battery is that if you don’t use the USB cable that came with the GPS then the battery won’t charge via USB. I have a bunch of USB cables that fit it and will make it mount on my computer’s desktop but they won’t charge it. That is an inconvenience. I had to label my GPS cable when I realized this. Before that confusion reigned.

On one recent trip I had to abandon the GPS altogether. I was on my way back from somewhere in NJ and wanted to take the local roads. It was mostly one local road but the GPS didn’t want me to take it. I made the mistake of following its instructions and made a wrong turn. I realized it quickly and turned around but later on missed a turn I wanted to take. The whole time I was driving north the GPS wanted to take me south.

After I realized I had missed a turn somewhere I decided to stop ignoring the GPS and started following it. It brought me back to the beginning of my route! I had gone about five or so miles backwards. Then I turned the thing off. I checked the maps I printed, found the turn I missed and made sure to make it this time. Out of curiosity I turned it back on to see where it wanted me to go (actually I had a passenger with me on this trip so he was the one who was handling the GPS). It wanted me to turn the car around again. Crazy thing.

I can see why I’d want a GPS built into my car. It would have a place on the dashboard so there would be no need to find a place to put it plus they would have it hooked up to the sound system to interrupt any music that was playing. Also no battery to worry about. So I say that if you have a chance and the money to get a car with a built in GPS it’s probably worth it. At least that’s my conclusion from using a non-built-in one.