Dash Express: When The Internet & GPS Are Combined

I’ve avoided the GPS scene and have relied instead on printing out maps from Google/Mapquest/Live maps. But having recently moved to a new city, I decided it was time to make the plunge. After some basic research and asking around, I went for the Dash Express. Here’s my first impression of the Dash Express and GPS in general:

I don’t know how I’ve lived without this thing until now. It’s not perfect (more on that in a sec) but is so much more convenient than what I have been doing. In fact, I think it’s an even bigger jump in convenience than my first jump years ago (the jump from using an outdated map you keep in your car to printing out turn-by-turn directions).

Truth be told, though, I don’t think I would have been happy with a GPS system had I given it a try before the Dash. The reasoning revolves around a number of features that are, as far as I can tell, exclusive to the Dash Express. The most important one (for me) is Send2Car.

Send2Car is basically a God-send for anyone converting to GPS from map/directions printing. It’s simple. Using an online account at dash.net, you can send addresses to your Dash Express. The next time you power it on, it shows the latest address(es) you’ve sent to it and asks you if you want to map / get directions to that location. It’s just that it’s so much faster and more convenient than dealing with looking up an address and/or typing it in manually while in your car.

And what’s even better is the browser plugin (I use Firefox). This makes it so that any address I find anywhere online I just highlight, right click, and click on “Send2Car” from my regular ol’ right click popup menu. As an example, I like browsing for new restuarants on my computer and reading reviews from various sites. Any time I want to give one a try, right click, Send2Car.

I only wish the feature would go one step further and let me manage my “Send2Car” addresses from within my online dash.net account. As it is, it only sends addresses to your car. If you want to look up or delete a previous address you’ve sent to your device, you have to do that from the device itself. But I brought this up with one of Dash’s tech support guys, and he said that this feature will probably happen eventually.

Other nifty features include real-time traffic and automatic alternate route calculation. All Dash GPS units are part of a network and give feedback on traffic conditions. So if there are enough Dash users in a given area (which there are in my area), you see real-time traffic on the route you’ll be taking. And the device automatically gives you two other routes to choose from and compare traffic with, if necessary.

Also, the device is integrated with Yahoo Local search so that you can browse a pretty comprehensive database of points of interest. You can get movie listings or even compare the current price of gas among gas stations in your area, all directly from the device while driving. It actually has a bunch of other advanced features that I haven’t even dived into (such as GeoRSS and a developer API for add-ons from third party services).

As for the GPS part of the Dash Express, I find it works very well. The voice isn’t annoying and turn-by-turn directions are spoken/displayed in an intuitive fashion. The user interface overall is very simple and clutter-free while also displaying most relevant information when you need it. If you make a wrong turn or skip a direction, I find that it recalculates your route very quickly.

But like I mentioned earlier, it’s not perfect. It takes way too long to get new “Send2Car” addresses showing up on the device. The problem is that once you turn it on, it takes a couple minutes to find an internet connection and resync. In the meantime, unless you pull over and wait, you have to know the first few steps of wherever you’re going before you get access to the address you sent to yourself earlier from your computer.

Part of the problem, for me specifically, is that our car is in a parking garage below our apartment complex. And when we pull out of the parking garage into the open, there’s nowhere to really hang out while waiting for the thing to get connected. So we have to drive around a bit. I’m not sure if this problem can be fixed easily, but even halving the wait time would be a great improvement.

I’ve heard some complaints of size. The standard picture floating around online (see picture above) scared me off initially. But once I received the device, I was pleasantly surprised. Keep in mind that this is my first GPS, so I’m not necessarily used to a tiny device. It seems about the right size and is much smaller than I thought. The picture above seems more like a marketing blunder to me. It makes it look like one of those older, portable cube TVs. It’s actually not a cube and is much smaller and better looking than it appears in that picture.

When it’s all said and done, this is a nearly flawless GPS device that does much more than what I was able to find via other devices. The only other downside might be the price, $299, though plenty of other GPS devices that do less are priced similiarly. But there is a monthly fee of $10 to $13 (depending on how much you prepay) to use the Send2Car and live traffic services. (It has a nice, long trial period; the first three months are free.) Although, personally, I’m fine paying a small incremental fee for value-added services I use that aren’t available from the competition.

*Update* Amazon now has the Dash Express selling for $254.49.