My Early Experiences with My Dash Express GPS Unit

I was one of the beta testers for the Dash Express GPS unit, a very cool GPS unit from Dash Navigation that includes a Wi-Fi radio, a GPRS radio, and all of the features you’ve come to know and love from modern GPS units. This is the first and only GPS unit I’ve ever owned in my entire life. I’m including a few comments about the device and the market below. Overall, I think it’s a great device and I hope the next generation pushes the envelope even further. I have a bunch of comments below, organized more as snippets and thoughts than organized prose.

Form Factor – My one minor “complaint” about the Dash Express is the form factor. It is larger, bulkier, and heavier than most of the other GPS units I looked at buying – specifically the Nuvi series. I chalk the larger size up to the fact that the device has a lot on the inside – aside from being a great navigation unit, it has radios for Wi-Fi and GPRS connectivity. That has to add to the bulk. I am mildly jealous of my friends who have slimmer form factor GPS units, but they’re all envious of the connectivity I have in my unit.

The screen is bright and easy to read, especially at night. A bit more anti-glare treatment would help, though – I sometimes find the screen to have a lot of glare during early afternoon driving if I don’t have it angled just right. I am also really glad that they beefed up the on-board battery in the device – it can now work without being plugged into my cigarette lighter, which is key when I need to charge other devices.

User Interface – Overall, the user interface is clean and easy to use. I like the touch screen functionality and it generally works well. I found typing using the keyboard to be a bit of a challenge, largely because the keys are really close together on the screen and I frequently hit the wrong key when typing. Also, I wish the UI were a bit “zippier” at times – some times there’s a notable lag between key entry and when the device responds to said input. The menu system is easy to navigate and learn.

Navigation Accuracy – Overall, the Dash GPS does a very good job at its core tasks, which are providing good driving directions and accurate time of arrival estimates. There are a few things that plague this device, though. I find that it constantly gets “lost” in the Financial District in San Francisco. I’m guessing this is due to the challenge of getting an accurate GPS signal in tight quarters. I also find that I often wish that I could force the device to find and maintain a GPRS or Wi-Fi connection. There are a great deal more places available via the Yahoo search interface than the device has in its onboard memory. I haven’t yet figured out how to force the device to connect to look up a location. Sometimes I end up using the Google Maps app on my Blackberry to get the address before entering that same address into the device.

Should Dash fear Google Maps and Telenav? I don’t think so, actually. Even if I could mount my Blackberry in such a way that I could easily see it and use it as a navigational aid, it doesn’t beat a dedicated device. However, what is the “killer combination” is having a passenger with a Blackberry. If you, as the driver, don’t need to see and operate the device, having a passenger with a Blackberry who can navigate and provide directions is a reasonable substitute. Until the display and interface for such devices is larger, I think there’s a strong use case for a dedicated device.

Send-to-car is an awesome feature. My favorite feature is send to car. It’s a huge time saver to be able to send addresses for upcoming appointments directly from my desktop computer while I’m working and know that those addresses will eventually show up in the list of navigable places on my device. It’s also cool that I can have friends / co-workers send addresses to the device as well. I do, however, wish that I could send addresses to my own device via SMS – that would be a very nice feature to add.

What About Voice? This device needs a voice interface. It simply isn’t safe to try to interact with the device via a touchscreen UI while driving. A voice interface with some very simple commands like “find alternate route”, “new address”, etc would really help. Bay Area traffic is dynamic and I wish I could safely interact with the device while driving.

Feels like TiVo – This product reminds me a lot of TiVo. Everyone I know who has one (including me) really likes it and tells lots of other people about how much they like it. But right now it feels like the audience for a connected GPS unit is fairly niche. Like TiVo, the company has a business model that combines an upfront hardware cost and a monthly subscription fee. I’ll be interested to see how the business model evolves over time.

  • It has been great reading your blog and I am happy you included this one. I am getting ready to buy my Mom a GPS Unit…. and the decision has been harder than I expected.

    Cheers,
    Charlane
    http://charlanebrady.blogspot.com/

  • Charles-thanks for the great review. I've been eyeing dash with great hopes for some time, so it's very helpful to hear some detailed feedback from an early owner. 🙂 I confess I'm a total TiVo addict and have been since day one, so we'll see if the same is true with dash. 😉 js