Garmin Streetpilot 2820 GPS: 30 days in

Recently, I was asked by a friend for my one-month in appraisal of my Garmin Streetpilot 2820 GPS car navigation device. His friend has an X5 and needs to retrofit something, and wanted some of my initial impressions. So here it is:

I’ve used my Garmin 2820 a total of perhaps five times now, as living in the GTA usually doesn’t require it.

The sound is clear and it even has an audio out jack for my auxiliary input jack of my stereo. So, if I’m *really* paranoid about missing audio cues when I’m driving, I don’t miss them now. Alternatively, if you pair it with a bluetooth headset, you should be able to get the same in ear (of course you could also use the audio out for regular headphones while driving, say one earbud in, if you wanted).

The interface is very logical and anticipates what you want reasonably well. The navigation at a couple of weird spots in Toronto was a bit disappointing. Don’t know whether to attribute to less attention to the Canadian map data or just a sampling anomaly. For example, I punched in a Wynford drive address (cultural centre) and after it took me off the DVP, it didn’t tell me to turn onto a crucial cross street (was highly unintuitive at night) to actually get to the entrance of the destination. I’m used to these things generally routing you right to the front door.

Conversely, going to a friends new condo in Downsview, everything was perfect and I got right to the front entrance.

The thing with the 2820 is that like with most of these portable units, I don’t leave it on the dash ready to use, b/c it’s of course, more of a theft target, alarm notwithstanding. So I wrap it up in a little sports bag and whip it out when I need nav help. It’s too big for the glove box (unless you have a really big glove box with nothing else in it). Often, I’ll leave the GPS in the trunk so there’s less for wandering eyes to wonder about. I really wish I had a unit built into the vehicle I didn’t have to fold away, unplug etc.

Really, these units are best for travelers. In one’s main car, I’d recommend going to the mobile audio/nav specialty shop and installing something.

While my 2820 has a bigger display than the Garmin ones with the “c” prefix (the smaller square shaped ones), I noticed that the extra screen space is mostly used for extra stats like distance to destination, ETA, current speed etc. In hindsight, the smaller “c” models that you can shove in your glovebox with effectively the same map display area, are probably better. That is – if it’s going to be portable than make it fit in your glove box – otherwise – go with a properly installed permanent device.

Having used the device, I realized my concerns about a slightly larger screen size than the “c” models provide, was unfounded. Perhaps there’s a mode I can set mine to to take up the full screen, sans the stats. It would be of negligible impact however. The audio cues and a quick glance over seem to really be all that one needs – even with a smaller model.

My 2820 is definitely a solid piece of technology and it does the job. It’ll always get me in the area, if not to the doorstep of where I need to go. I’ve not used the “places of interest” and other such look ups, but my brother in law and cousin have the smaller Garmin units that do this as well, and they’ve been happy with those functions.

With respect to your friend’s X5, if he can get one mounted and retrofit into his existing audio setup, that’s the best bet. I’m guessing it’s too late for that without redoing a lot. So, the next option is the 2820, if one is willing to leave it out on the dash all the time (perhaps windows sufficiently tinted or the alarm sufficiently ominous). If it’s going to get pulled out only when needed, I think the “c” units that can go in the glove box are both workable and most practical.