Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dash Express: Early Reviews

As a follow-up to our earlier post on the new networked GPS navigation device, Dash Express, I thought it would be interesting to check out some early reviews of the product and related service.

CNET likes the device (there's a nice video summary here as well) and thinks it has the possibility to introduce revolutionary change to GPS navigation. But it's not there yet. The most troubling thing they found was that the actual GPS functionality is pretty substandard: "As we drove around [San Francisco], we noticed that the Dash was slightly off the mark with its tracking; most of the time it was behind by a block, but it could be as bad as up to three blocks off." A block to three blocks off = missed turns while driving. Not good for something that's supposed to get you where you want to go more efficiently.

Engadget is a bit more bullish, likening Dash's community features to those first introduced by TiVo: once you experience the benefits, you wonder how you'd ever settled for less. But they also experienced some poor navigation results, with a larger than expected number of lost signals, mainly.

GPSreview.net has a comprehensive review posted, based on about 500 miles of driving experience with the Dash Express. They conclude that the device is currently geared toward hard-core commuters, and it's not for people looking for guided navigation in unfamiliar areas.

PC Magazine spent some time with the Dash Express as well, and they come to a similar conclusion: Interesting, but other devices are adequate and cheaper, for now. They do post some photos of the device and its screens. And they point out that the unit is designed to work in the United States only, so if you want to use a GPS device in other countries, get a different one.

As for me, I plan to wait before springing for a new Dash. I love some of the unique features, but the truth is, I don't drive enough during heavily-trafficked times that its real-time traffic info would be too useful for me. And I really like to take the GPS device with me when out of the car (walking around a new city, for example), and the current Dash device seems too bulky for that, and its communication signal seems too unreliable. By waiting a bit, I can hopefully get a Dash device that is portable (i.e., smaller). And, in a year or two, Dash will hopefully have enough early adopters adding serious value to its network and community features. Finally, in a couple of years, Dash will hopefully have worked out some of the substandard navigation performance issues that some current users are reportedly experiencing.

9 comments:

Dave said...

Ideally, the various GPS makers will get together and agree on a common standard for sharing traffic information. That way, every GPS on the road could contribute information instead of each brand only talking to others with the same brand. You need a lot of information for it to be accurate, particularly in less-populated areas. A common standard that could be shared would go a long way to help that.

In addition, it would probably benefit Dash to join a common standard, because they could otherwise get stomped if Garmin or TomTom were to put out their own competing, proprietary format. They sell many more devices and would therefor have much better data.

Tim said...

The good news is that most of the issues I found with the Dash can be corrected through software updates. Dash has said they do plan new software updates and new features for the device, and can push those updates out to their users "over the air". I didn't experience (and still haven't) any of the "lag" issues a few other people have reported. The two Dash devices I have used have been spot on 100% of the time. But if you don't know where you are going and approach a confusing intersection, the Dash just isn't as easy to follow as other devices on the market.

Todd said...

Dave, dash may be going for it all. If they get a big enough user base, they will own the network that everyone will want to join, which would be valuable. While it would be great for consumers if there were one, common standard that every GPS user could contribute to, Dash might not see that as in their best interest if they think they have a realistic shot of owning the entire thing by going it alone.

Todd said...

Tim, it'll be interesting to see how quickly Dash can incorporate some of these improvements / software updates. One aspect of this that seems different to me than other devices on the market is Dash's ability to push out new maps, POIs, etc. via the updates as well. This could be hugely convenient for users. Users wouldn't have to worry whether they had the latest maps, etc. (and they wouldn't have to connect their device to the PC to check for new updates) because Dash should be updating those things automatically for them "over the air", as they say.

Tim said...

Right. They have mentioned that sometimes a larger map update might require a PC connection rather than pushing 1GB over wifi, however most other updates should be over the air.

Todd said...

Tim, I assume they'll at least inform users that a large map update requiring a PC download is available. Then, I'd know I needed to go hook up to the PC and it would be worth my while to do so.

BTW - where did you do your testing of Dash Express?

Todd said...

That is, inform users *via the Dash device* that a large map download is ready via PC connection.

Tim said...

Yes, that is my understanding. I expect that a service message would appear on the screen (something that we have seen before) indicating that a download is available, then you would probably signin to my.dash.net to download the installer.

I did most of my testing in the Boston, New Hampshire, and rural Maine. But it has taken a few field trips out of those locations too.

Todd said...

Thanks, Tim. I'd be really interested in hearing your further impressions regarding Dash in 3 (or 6 or 12) months. Please let us know if you follow up with another post over on your site.