Looking for a stand-alone car GPS device that updates its maps over wifi
February 2, 2016 8:05 AM   Subscribe

I've a family member who wants to find a stand-alone GPS navigator for use in a car. But, she doesn't have easy access to a windows or mac computer and thus needs to be able to update the map database over wifi.

Other options that don't include custom platform-specific software running on a pc are also worth a try. For reasons that aren't worth going into, phones, tablets and other general purpose devices are not possible. Firmware updates are also good - but keeping the maps updated is the main concern. Does anyone happen to know for a fact that a particular GPS unit allows for updates over wifi? Both search attempts and browsing user manuals from the leading vendors have been surprisingly unhelpful. This seems like an obvious feature to include - but I'm having trouble finding explicit evidence for it. Older discontinued units are also fine options.
posted by eotvos to Technology (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Updating the maps is not vital. Most standalone GPS units are being used with the maps they shipped with from the factory, even years later.
posted by w0mbat at 8:22 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think any GPS-only devices have wifi built into them, because the updates are at most a few times a year, and there would be no other reason to build in wifi.

If the updates are that important to you/your family member, you could get something like this Garmin with lifetime updates and then do the updates for your family member when they come up. I think Garmin limits it to 4 times a year, is that doable?
posted by Huck500 at 8:35 AM on February 2, 2016

Seconding Huck500.

IMO though, toss in something to mount the sucker (pun intended). I used to have a Garmin Nuvi and it was always. falling. off. my. windshield.
posted by aperturescientist at 8:44 AM on February 2, 2016

This seems like an obvious feature to include

Well... only if you're not realising just how basic a stand-alone GPS operating system is. It is essentially the same as a dedicated app on your phone - as in it has nothing at all of the hardware or capabilities of the phone itself and would have to be a huge amount more complex to be able to add wifi capability and the associated complexity of user interface.

Also, adding a vote to the 'updating the maps is not such a big deal' thing. I have had GPS units that I drove 19,000 miles across the US with - one running maps 3 years old, one running maps 4 years old. Maybe twice it was an issue for us and even then it was just a matter of following obvious road signs. It was only really an issue at all because I was driving a 36 foot RV. If I'd been in a car it would have been no issue at all.

Standalone GPS units are pretty limited, but they do do the stuff they do VERY well. I heartily recommend a Garmin Nuvi (I have had 4) as they are excellent devices, apart from the clunky typing interface, but that is the same with all standalones. I just don't think you need to update maps more than *at most* once a year. Not even that unless you are using it in completely unfamiliar areas constantly. Road systems just don't change all that often.
posted by Brockles at 9:39 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering whether at this point in history, if you were to actually find what you're looking for, it would turn out to be a general-purpose device anyways that has somehow been crippled so that it will only run a mapping app and network configuration utilities.
posted by XMLicious at 9:49 AM on February 2, 2016

It occurs to me - the easiest option for you that fills the criteria is to use an ipod touch with a GPS navigation app on it. That would update over wifi and would give an approximate-ish screen size of a stand alone.

You have said that general purpose devices are not possible, but I can't see how that makes any sense. Just use an ipod touch and tell yourself its a stand alone device. Done. It is therefore a stand alone device.
posted by Brockles at 10:13 AM on February 2, 2016

Best answer: Look at Magellan. I have no experience with them, but they claim to have what you want:
Wi-Fi Software Updates
Keeps your navigator up-to-date with the latest software updates delivered automatically to your device.
As a general comment about not updating, if one drives in some place where roads do change relatively often like the DC area, an out of date GPS can be maddening or even dangerous.
posted by Candleman at 10:15 AM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

It occurs to me - the easiest option for you that fills the criteria is to use an ipod touch with a GPS navigation app on it.
The ipod touch does not have a GPS receiver.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:29 AM on February 2, 2016

It doesn't? Oh. Scratch that then. I thought it did.
posted by Brockles at 10:39 AM on February 2, 2016

the easiest option for you that fills the criteria is to use an ipod touch with a GPS navigation app on it.

An iPhone or Android phone (older ones would be fairly cheap) and no SIM with an offline capable navigation app like CoPilot would be an option, though phones tend to have significantly worse GPS receivers than standalone devices.
posted by Candleman at 10:46 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the more practical option, honestly, is to just offer to update it for the family member when you see them every year or so. That's basically what I do for my mom for all types of things. I assist her as much as I can over TeamViewer, but for some things where it would help to physically be there, I just do it for her when I visit her because she's not very tech savvy.

Maps don't need to be updated that often. It's rare that the maps think a road exists where it doesn't or doesn't know about a road, but when that does happen, it's usually minor and easy to either ignore or circumnavigate. I don't think an iPad or something like that is a viable option - a data plan would be required to make it work, unlike a standalone GPS.

(As a side note to the discussion about keeping the GPS mounted, I personally do use the windshield suction cup, but sometimes it falls off while I'm driving. I recommend this, so it can sit right on the dashboard.)
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:02 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

> Maps don't need to be updated that often.

This is true, but it is also true that you might be unable to get a map update for a GPS unit when you really need one.

We bought a Garmin with lifetime map updates for North America, specifically because I knew we would not have data coverage in Canada when driving from the US to Montreal. The day before we drove out, I spent an hour on the amazingly clunky interface to update the maps to the most current release via USB. Then we drove into Canada, got to a new-ish looking stretch of highway, and as far as the GPS was concerned, we were driving through an empty white no-man's land.

Compared to continually updated products like Google or Apple Maps, GPS is so last-century! I think you're unlikely to find a GPS that updates over WiFi, and the base maps are only updated very infrequently, so it doesn't matter.

(To be fair, the GPS worked just fine on Montreal's older roads, although its interpretation of French street names was frequently hysterical.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:26 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the suggestions and ideas.

The Magellan RoadMate 5175T that Candleman found appears to fit the bill. (Though the user manual bits of the website seem to be horribly broken, so it's tough to be absolutely sure.) There are a surprising number of other GPS units that have wifi radios and lots of silly networked applications in them, but that's the first one I've seen that will update itself and isn't five times more expensive and aimed at professional truckers. Thanks!

I'm very sympathetic to the idea of getting a more general purpose device, but have been told quite clearly that's not an option. This is due to some combination of having tried several different Android navigation apps and being disappointed in all of them, and a very strong desire to never discover the thing in an unfamiliar state. (It's not an opinion I would come up with myself.) I also agree that updating software for her is an obvious choice. It's what we did previously. But the hassle and time involved meant that it happened so rarely that out of date maps became a very real headache. She lives a plane flight away, my daily use laptop has no appropriate OS, and the frustration of waiting around to download several GB over a spotty internet connection meant that we put it off for years at a time.
posted by eotvos at 5:58 PM on February 4, 2016

Response by poster: To follow up, in case anyone else stumbles upon this, it turns out the RoadMate 5175T does not update its maps over wifi. It could, but they've gone out of their way to disable that option. This was confirmed by a senior tech person in the company. You can update the firmware over wifi, but you have to plug the thing into a windows PC to update the maps.

Thanks, all, for the advice. It turns out the world has no solution to this problem, aside from "redefine your problem." Or, buy a professional-trucker device that costs a lot more than getting a dedicated windows pc just to update your maps.
posted by eotvos at 1:07 PM on May 29, 2016

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