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Paper Maps or GPS: Which Is Better?

Posted in How To on September 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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There are a two schools of thought when it comes to maps and navigation. Low-tech, old-school cartographers stick to paper maps because of their reliability and simplicity, while the geeky brainiac types spend their time behind the LCD screens of high-tech GPS navigation units.

We have reviewed the Garmin Nuvi 265W before (“Wants, Needs & Gotta-Haves,” June ’10) but thought we would update you on its performance after a year of use. We find the dependable GPS extremely easy to use. Although the device is not without issues, it was worth the cash we plopped down for it, and without its navigation capabilities we would kind of feel like we were driving blind.

This breakdown of the kind of people who choose a paper map over GPS, or vice versa, might be a little flippant, but each has its ardent fans. There are pros and cons. Maps have been in use since hairy Neanderthals scratched them in the dirt with sticks. Maps were refined around 225 B.C. when Eratosthenes started using a system of latitudes and longitudes. GPS has only been around since the early ’70s, but it is an accurate and highly refined technological wonder.

Paper maps are a great navigational tool but limited. They’re susceptible to spills and tearing, and they wear out with heavy use. Weatherproof maps are available from companies such as National Geographic and are great for outdoor excursions.

Both maps and GPS have a place in our world but also have their useful differences and awkward flaws. We took the Garmin Nuvi 265W we picked up at Costco about a year ago and some paper maps and books and made these comparative observations.

The Nuvi has a number of easy touch screens for entering information and scrolling. We don’t recommend doing this while driving; the unit can be taken out of its cradle and handed to the passenger to update or enter information. One problem we have noticed about the Nuvi is that the touch screen isn’t as sensitive as it should be. Sometimes it takes a number of hard finger taps or drags in order to change the screen.

We use many of the features on the Nuvi often, such as address navigation, home, and favorites. We really appreciate the elevation, GPS coordinates, and real-time speed that the unit displays. Entering a destination address is simple with a separate screen for street number, street, city, and state. Once the information is entered, the software does the rest.

Once you have entered a destination into the unit, the GPS guides you with a highlighted route. The Nuvi is supposed to guide you with a voice, but the voice on our unit went on the fritz about six months ago and hasn’t returned. However, we still find the unit invaluable for navigation and love the speed indicator since most of our vehicles run oversized tires and uncalibrated speedometers.

The difference between a foldout paper map and a compact GPS unit is obvious. The paper maps are great for mapping out a trip at home but are difficult and dangerous to use while driving. They aren’t practical in the cab of any vehicle.

We’re amazed that a whole generation of wheelers have become dependent on electronics and are unable to plot coordinates or navigate using maps, much less have an innate sense of direction based on the sun. Mapping is fun and an important skill that everyone should know. Teach your children.

Rand McNally’s road atlases and maps are a good way to learn regions of the United States and the world. Maps are a great way for familes and kids to scrapbook their travel adventures. We found it a fun way to get kids interested in travel and mapping, and it gives them a way to look back on family adventures. Paper maps are also great for keeping travel notes.

If we had to choose one, we would go with a good GPS navigational unit even though maps are fun and educational. The GPS features and benefits far outweigh a paper map. (Of course, we aren’t sure where we would get the juice to run it in a post-apocalyptic world!) We are leery of saving electronic data, but if it’s saved right it can always be recovered with a PC.

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Sources

Garmin
Olathe, KS 66062
913-397-8200
www.garmin.com
National Geographic
800-437-5521
http://www.shop.nationalgeographic.com
Rand McNally
847-329-8100
http://www.randmcnally.com

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