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.

Ethernet over home power lines to extend your LAN

Sometimes, laying ethernet cable everywhere you need to in the home isn’t very practical or easy. Sure, you’ll get the 100 Mbps or even 1 Gbps (depending on the equipment you have), but some physical structures and distances make it prohibitive.

Enter WiFi, right? Well, sort of. Sometimes. The signal can be choppy in homes and it’s hit and miss. Some computers, after losing a WiFi (802.11 a/b/g) signal never gracefully reconnect themselves. This is a pain.

Enter Ethernet networking over powerlines. Yes, that’s right. Over your electrical wiring in the home. While hydro (power) companies are finalizing technology to be your broadband provider the way cable companies already are, devices are already on the market that allow you to use your home or apartment’s own electrical wiring to extend your home network.

Have an electrical socket in a room? Then you have Ethernet.

I just bought the Netgear XE104 device (you need at least two). Mine cost me just over $100 CDN. See http://www.netgear.com/products/details/XE104.php.

While advertised at up to 85 Mbps, depending on the quality of your internal wiring, distance etc., many people have commented that they don’t get even 25% of that speed. However, I’ve tested in a 20 year old condo, and am getting a steady 58 Mbps. I am impressed. I am pleased.

I would highly recommend this product to anyone who needs a moderately fast local network extension in their home that won’t flake on and off like 802.11x.

Desktop Search: And the winner is….Copernic

I’ve tried the major desktop search tools (Google, Yahoo! and Copernic) and I must say, Copernic is far superior to the rest.

For those of you not familiar with it, desktop search tools are a new breed of tools trying to do for your own hard drive what search engines have done for the Internet for years: help you find stuff quickly. These days, everyone has large hard drives with their data all over the place. You need a search engine to find your own stuff! Spending time to organize your computer contents mitigates this need, but even then, it’s nice to have a snappy tool to assist you in the search process. These tools search not only files on your hard drive, but also search all of your email, often inside attachments too.

Google gives you results in a web browser, similar to their Web Search that everyone is familiar with. However, Yahoo! and Copernic give you a more powerful rich client interface (application) that helps you segment and preview items much more easily.

The Yahoo! Desktop tool is currently in Beta and it felt like it. The indexing must have been messed up on my version – simple things in emails that it could find when I installed it – it could no longer find on subsequent attempts.

So I resorted to Copernic (I’ve used their general Internet Search Agent before) and I was very impressed. It worked. Flawlessly. I could preview items in one pane and get date sorted results in another – similar to Outlook 2003’s segmentation of folder contents. Copernic has been a joy to use and it is quick.

Copernic is highly recommended (and not just cause it’s from a Canadian company!).

Backup Solutions – Maxtor One Touch and Norton Ghost 2003

I really like my Maxtor “One Touch” backup drive. I got the 300 MB version (has both Firewire and USB 1.1/2.0 interfaces). I use the Firewire interface and connect it to my server. It was about $330 at CompUSA.

Note that the “one touch” button just launches any program you’d like, including backup software. Since I schedule a nightly incremental backup of data, it really isn’t necessary for me. If you had one of these one-touch drives attached to each of your computers, then I can see value in configuring it to do an incremental capture of the local system and data on demand.

There’s a flash demo available as well.

I use this for data file backups from shared (and secure) data folders across the home network. The Dantz Retrospect Express Software is very good. It takes a little getting used to, but then it works reliably.

For image backups, I recommend a copy of Norton Ghost 2003 for each machine to be backed up. Configure it so the image gets dropped to a file share on your server (the Maxtor drive, in fact), and everything is centralized for backups.