Please return to the highlighted route…

Johnny and I drove down from PEI to New Hampshire over Tuesday and Wednesday. The weather was beautiful, and I was glad to have Johnny along, as the hours went by much more quickly with our witty aphorism-trading filling the air.

This being a rare road trip for me — I prefer to emit my carbon higher in the atmosphere for maximum deleterious effect — it was a good time to take the GPS features of my new Nokia N95 out for a ride. Not only does the phone have an internal GPS, but its Nokia Maps application purports to be a reasonable approximation of a in-car navigation system.

Things didn’t exactly go well.

First, it’s obvious that Nokia Maps, although it will run without an Internet connection (it has a basic set of street maps built-in), is relatively useless without one: it’s rare that you don’t know that you’re on the I95 going south (which is on the default maps) — when you need help is when you pull off the road in Fredericton looking for a place to eat lunch. Which is where you need the street-level maps that the application needs to pull from the network. Without them, we were left with our GPS location represented on a vague outline of Fredericton; more distracting and frustrating than useful.

After lunch at Ponderosa we used the city-wide free wifi to load up a route from Fredericton to the Maine border at Houlton. This worked well and quickly, and the man in the machine accurately guided us onto the highway north (“turn left in 300m” and so on). Unfortunately something caused the phone to reboot itself after about 20 minutes, and once it rebooted the route was lost and, without a network connection, we couldn’t re-establish it.

Stopping in Houlton we found free wifi at the tourist information centre, but all attempts to plot a route from Houlton to the door of our hotel in Waterville failed with a “no route” error. Sigh. So we had to rely on our wits (and Maine’s excellent highway signage) to guide us in.

The next morning we needed to stop at the Target store in Augusta on our way south. Although Nokia Maps couldn’t find the location with its address search, I found it in Google Maps and created a Plaze, and magically teleported it into the phone as a landmark. And then let the navigation begin.

Things started off well, as we got routed off the highway, told when to turn where, and seemed to be in a likely Target-holding neighbourhood. But then the phone told us to turn left down an unlikely residential street, and we decided to overrule it. But then, when Target didn’t rise out of the mists, we stopped and asked a man sweeping up a parking lot (we dubbed him “The Old Prospector”) where Target was. Because of his prospector-like demeanor, I became immediately afraid of him and so when he said things like “you know where the Kennebec Journal office is?” I would say “yep.” So when we were done with him we were as lost as we ever were.

I pulled a U-turn, and decided to put faith back in the GPS. We took the originally designated turn, drove into the residential area, and about a mile later the friendly robot GPS man said “you have arrived at your destination.” Except that we were in front of a bunch of 20 young children playing outside a home-daycare operation. They did not appear to have any Michael Graves-deigned tea kettles on offer.

After 10 more minutes of bemused wandering, we stopped at a tire store and got more helpful directions, albeit ones that included the phrase “go through the roundabout, then, as if your brakes were failing, roll on down the hill.” But they worked, and we found Target. On the other side of town.

This particular failure was really more a Google Maps failure than a Nokia Maps failure: this is where Google things Target is and it’s actually way over here. So our GPS got us to the right place, it just wasn’t the right place.

At this point, we quietly put the GPS and Nokia Maps to sleep for a while. Of course this may have contributed to our dipping well into Massachusetts on our way to southern New Hampshire (after an ill-conceived dodge off the highway that let us through Haverill on on the 495 south). But at least we were able to recover from that by navigating on our wits alone (as soon as I93 appeared I knew where we were).

As it stands, Johnny may have lost all faith in Nokia Maps as an aid to better living. I’m still willing to suspend my disbelief, but only because I have confidence that, with tenacity, any piece of technology can be wrenched to do what you want.

In the meantime, we may end up in Florida en route back to PEI on Friday.


Ann's picture
Ann on April 17, 2008 - 17:09 Permalink

If it shuts down again and you are traveling from Houlton to Waterville — just stay on the highway and head south. Hard to go wrong.

Alan's picture
Alan on April 17, 2008 - 18:26 Permalink

Get a map.

Nathan's picture
Nathan on April 17, 2008 - 20:53 Permalink

If you had a map you’d see that Houlton is not on the shortest route between PEI and NH.

Dan James's picture
Dan James on April 18, 2008 - 04:58 Permalink

Shortest route no, but Google recommended. With the highway now being four lanes from Shediac to the border I would say it is almost as fast as the airline route.

Alan's picture
Alan on April 18, 2008 - 12:47 Permalink

Better snacks on Route 1 or the Airline. Plus you get to see Brew-ah.

James's picture
James on April 22, 2008 - 16:13 Permalink

Best route and shortest from Fredericton-Bangor is to take the Hanwell Road (NB #640) to Harvey, then NB Route #3 to Manners Sutton and continue on NB Route #4 through McAdam (get a photo at the largest CPR station in eastern Canada) to the border at Vanceboro. Continue on Maine #6 from Vanceboro to Lincoln in the beautiful Penobscot valley where you can get on I-95, or just stay on Maine #2 down through Old Town to Bangor. Too many people treat Maine just like New Brunswick — a drive-through. It is really quite beautiful and you know the saying, “getting there is half the fun”.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on April 22, 2008 - 17:24 Permalink

If you are interested in learning more about Vanceboro, I encourage you to track down a copy of The Education of a Yankee: An American Memoir, by Jud Hale, Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine. It is a compelling read, and much of the action takes place in Vanceboro and environs.

James's picture
James on April 23, 2008 - 15:38 Permalink

I will. Many thanks for pointing out the book Pete!