My opportunity to test Garmin's nuvi 285WT, one of the many GPS units that include Microsoft's MSN Direct enhancement, couldn't have come at a better time. It coincided perfectly with an all-too-rare road trip to San Diego, Calif., a place that I'm not exactly familiar with. The enhanced information is transmitted on an otherwise unused part of the FM radio spectrum, and is available in many areas.
And, boy, was it useful.
I took advantage of one of MSN Direct's features to make some preparations ahead of time -- namely, MSN Direct can synch up with Microsoft's Windows Live service. From my work machine, I fired up Windows Live maps functionality, input my friends' San Diego address into it, then, using a mere click, uploaded that info to the GPS. Not that typing on the Garmin's touch screen is a chore, but being able to put a cache of desired destinations in ahead of time is much preferable to doing it while cramped in the driver's seat.
The GPS had us on the right track, and traffic, amazingly, was fine cruising past LAX. With dozens of miles to go before the next road change, my wife took advantage of MSN Direct's news headlines service. I can't see that being of much use to a driver, at least not while driving, but it's certainly nice for passengers and perhaps while parked.
My wife also checked out the enhanced weather features. Not much to look at on a beautiful Southern California day. More on that later.
We arrived at our pre-programmed destination in fine time, a little too early in fact. We stopped to buy our hosts a bottle of wine and, so long as we were detoured, I tried out the local gas price search on the device. Finding that a nearby station was a good 7 cents per gallon cheaper than what I'd seen in Los Angeles. Accordingly, despite my remaining quarter tank, I filled 'er up.
A third couple was set to join us, flying in from Washington, D.C. that night. I figured "what the heck" and used MSN Direct to check that the couple's flight was due to come in on time. I suppose that feature is particularly useful for people attempting to perfectly time curbside pickup at an airport and avoid exorbitant lot fees.
On the way back, a couple days later, we did hit some rain. Using the enhanced weather feature, I checked the doppler-generated cloud graphics all the way up the coast back to Santa Barbara. It didn't look too bad; no reason to delay. The ride back proved almost as smooth as the ride down.
All in all, the MSN Direct features were a nice complement to a very good GPS device. A three-month free trial of MSN Direct comes with any compatible device makes it easy to test it yourself. If you go ahead with it, it's a one-time fee of $129.95 that lasts for the life of the device. Alternately, you can pay $50 a year . . . which you save in airport pickup parking fees in no time.
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