I have just refurbished my vehicle navigation system. For many years I had been running a Garmin GPS 3+ interfaced to a laptop running Terrain Navigator topo mapping software . The first two laptops (an HP and a Dell) eventually just fell apart from vibration. Then I decided to get serious and bought a used Panasonic Toughbook CF29. This combo has worked fine for four years. The Toughbook is definitely TOUGH!! Then I changed vehicles to a Jeep JKU and had to install the navigation system. I can swap the system between vehicles (both are Jeeps). When I fired up the nav system in the JK the GPS 3+ was dead! Now I was in trouble. I had no idea what to replace the 3+ with (Garmin no longer supports the 3+).
I had several requirements that I wanted the new GPS to meet. First, I use a serial old fashioned RS 232 computer port to communicate with the GPS. The connector at the GPS end is proprietary Garmin and old fashioned and also provided vehicle power to the GPS. Since this worked well, I wanted to retain the same cables and connectors. Most all new GPS units use a USB interface with a separate power connector. My older Toughbook only has one USB port and I use that one for a 64 GB thumb drive where I have the mapping software and maps stored to save wear and tear on the computers hard disk. So, I didn't have a spare USB port for the GPS. The USB interface requirement eliminated many of the newer GPS units from consideration, maybe all. I wasn't sure at this point.
I got on the Garmin site and was overwhelmed by the variety of Garmin GPS's. I really had no idea! Where to start? So, I brought up the Terrain Navigator GPS set up utility to get a list of compatible Garmin units. There were about 50! This narrowed it down a little. Then I called Garmin's Automotive Group for advice. The Customer Service rep had no idea what I was talking about when I spoke about interfacing to a computer. I was talking to the wrong folks. I was guided around the Garmin organization and finally landed in the Outdoors group. Here was someone who spoke my language and understood exactly what I wanted to do. He suggested the Garmin 78 which was is new. It is basically designed to be used as a handheld for hiking but had a dashboard mount available. It had the proper connector and was not terribly expensive. You see, when I have my computer on board I only use the GPS for GPS data points to feed the computer. All references to maps are on the computer. In this case I set the GPS unit to display its trip computer or compass. I rarely use the GPS internal maps which are instead provided by the computer. This would be the situation if I am on a back country trek or even a long highway trip. But in the city I typically use just the GPS unit and leave the computer at home. I don't want my expensive Toughbook stolen.
OK, I was not perfectly satisfied because the 78 is a vertically oriented unit which is appropriate for hiking but obtrusive on the dash (sticks up further than my old horizontally designed 3+). I thought I could live with this defect given that I could not find a reasonable alternative. I checked with My Topo, who provides the Terrain Navigator mapping software, and learned that the new 78 should be plug and play with the software. GOOD! So I bought one from Amazon.
It arrived and I plugged it in right away and went for a drive with the software set for real time vehicle tracking and recording and displaying the track on the map. It worked fine-for about a half a mile! Then I got a software error message and the software switched out of the real time tracking mode. I repeated this several times before I was convinced I was in trouble. I called My Topo tech support and it was a mystery to them. Ed at My Topo suggested that I upgrade my software version (I was only one generation out-of-date). I was sent an upgrade DVD free of charge. It arrived two days later. After the upgrade was installed I went for a ride. Yahoo! The problem was solved! I now have a new nav system that works just like I want it to work.
Now some words about the new 78 GPS unit.
The GPS 78 is better than my old 3+. It's Sat acquisition time is much faster. It almost never looses Sat lock. It gives reliable elevation data. The display is in color and its brightness is adequate. And it provides more functionality for navigation, routes, tracks, and markers. All in all it is very impressive. Where it falls down is its internal maps. They are close to non existent. Oh, all the major highways are present but things like neighborhood streets or even lesser major streets are totally missing in action. If this is the only navigation tool you have it is inadequate, almost non-useful. Of course, it does provide the very useful breadcrumb track so you don't get hopelessly lost.
However, the 78 can accept a wide variety of Garmin maps which you have to buy separately. It has the ability to use additional microSD memory cards (none are provided) to store downloaded maps. Clearly, Garmin decided to provide almost no mapping in the unit with the hope that their optional maps would be purchased. Well, I bit, with the appropriate amount of grumbling.
I guess there are several ways this can be viewed. To keeps costs down, Garmin ships a minimal unit but with an excellent ability to upgrade the maps with any package the user wants. Do understand, this is basically a hiking unit where highways and city roads are not part of the equation. So, I am asking this unit to function in a non-native mode. Perhaps this is really the best situation since I can now customize with my maps of choice. How well it functions in the city is yet to be determined.
I ordered the City Maps for North America package. It should arrive today. I have serious doubts about this experiment. The display on the 78 is small compared to the usual size of of an automotive GPS unit. Will I be able to actually see the maps in sufficient detail for it to be useful? I don't know. But, without the City Nav maps the GPS unit is very limited especially for navigation with out the computer hooked up. Today I will find out. After I get a sense of the situation, I will update this report.
Other than the map situation (an important consideration), I find the 78 to be a very good unit. Oh, it looks good too.
An important final thought. My Topo is a fine company. It's willingness to provide quality customer support is a huge factor in my decision to stay with them. Also, the mapping software is first rate.