Tuesday, December 08, 2009

These boots aren't made for walking

Rider's Eye View

This post is about GPS navigation, so it’s only fair that Abdulla Mohammed Ibrahim General Trading Est. (AMIT) is located using Lat/Long. The showroom is at N25 15.978' E055 17.715' where traffic is hideous and parking is a nightmare unless you’re on two wheels.

I originally bought my Garmin 276c way back in late 2004. It came with the City Select Europe map and a kit for mounting it on a car dashboard.

Naturally the Europe map was of only academic interest here in the UAE, so I immediately bought a copy of City Navigator Middle East. This of course went out of date almost immediately, but nevertheless remains of use especially away from the latest piece of concrete spaghetti. There are no roads in the desert or on the ocean, which is where I originally intended to use the unit.

In August 2007 I took the GPS to the USA and discovered that the base mapping was close to useless. Actually, the main lithium ion battery had also died after three years of abuse, cooking on the dashboard of the Goatmobile: luckily I’d found a supplier of a replacement, ordered one on line, and had it mailed to me all the way from California to Virginia.

And then late in 2008 the internal battery died. There’s a watch battery soldered to the circuit board whose purpose is to keep the internal clock running while the unit is switched off. That way, when it is switched on again, the GPS already has an idea of the correct time and can thus work out where to look for the satellites. Why this isn't user-replaceable like on a computer mother board remains a conundrum.

I found all this out from a GPS forum on the Interwebs, and perceived wisdom was that it would cost many money to get the internal battery changed and I’d be better off replacing the entire unit. Aieee, expense!

And then I remembered AMIT. The GPS mechanic took the unit for a few days, returned it good as new with a new internal battery, and charged me Dh75. Huzzah!

The 276c has performed faultlessly ever since. I bought a motorcycle mounting kit rather than a new Zumo. I also bought the North America road map for use during last August’s road trip. And that was when Beloved Wife and I started calling the machine ‘Clarissa’.

One shouldn’t anthropomorphise machines. They hate it when you do that.

To my disappointment the internal battery died last week, so I took Clarissa back to AMIT and explained. Instead of keeping track of the correct time, Clarissa was waking up and looking for satellites based on the date being New Year’s Day 2000 at 4am. AMIT advised that this time it would only take half an hour to fix, so I wandered off to the Naif souq to do some other shopping, and gave myself some blisters. Motorcycle boots are certainly not made for walking.

An hour later, and I was invited upstairs at AMIT to be shown that the wire connecting the battery to the printed circuit board had become mysteriously disconnected and I’d have to buy a new GPS. This was clearly unacceptable, and I began to prepare for a heated argument. Obviously the wire had been pulled out by the technician when either installing a battery two years ago or while trying to remove it today. He wished to imply that I’d somehow broken the wire myself, and was rather surprised when I told him the date AMIT had previously done the work and how much it had cost. Some of us never throw away old receipts.

Garmin mapping software is expensive and only works on a specific GPS receiver. After buying the data disks and uploading, it’s necessary to register the software with Garmin and tell the website the GPS’s unique serial number. It’s then impossible to upload the data and get it to run on to any other machine without buying another licence. This is all to stop the nefarious from buying one map and giving (or selling) copies to all their mates.

I was therefore forthright in that I wanted my unit repaired. I also had no real desire to replace the car mounting kit, the bike mounting kit and replacement mapping software. I left it with the man and his fine-point soldering iron. There’s no way I could repair it myself; my soldering always looks like it’s been sprayed on from ten paces.

Three days later, and I received a phone call. Clarissa was all better: repaired, fully working with a new backup battery, and there would be no charge. Huzzah again!

So what do I conclude?
  • I’ve had several GPS receivers, and the 276c has proved to be excellent for road and marine navigation. It has a long (8 hours or more) battery life and is easy to read and to use. The battery can be recharged by plugging it in at home, or using the fag-lighter socket while on the move.

  • Despite the Garmin mapping software being expensive and single-user, the maps are useful, usable and accurate.

  • AMIT can supply the receivers, all sorts of creatively-designed mounting hardware, and will carry out software upgrades and hardware repairs. They’ll do this in-house, quickly, reliably, and won’t charge the earth.

Clarissa is now five years old and is on her second main battery and third backup battery. I’m looking forward to at least a couple more years of use before my next foray into GPS repairs. I also hope to get lots more use out of my maps.



Mme Cyn said...

You may also take it from me that the Garmin 276c is easy enough for your techno-inept Beloved Wife to use -- which to most of us is high praise!

Ian the Dog said...

Allegedly, if you google 'Mapsource unlock generator' you will find a neat way to bypass Garmin's stranglehold on your software. (I, of course, would not know. It's just a rumour.)


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