Hertz Neverlost Navigation System*

  • GPS-based navigation
  • Bright color LCD display mounted on arm in center console
  • US$6/day extra rental fee
  • Not available in every US location, nor is it available in every vehicle type
  • Reserve a Neverlost-vehicle in advance, if possible, since some locations have a limited number of equipped vehicles

*A nearly identical unit is sold to consumers as the Magellan NAV 750 (US$2500 installed, with one of nine US geographical areas activated).

Photo: Neverlost in a Ford Explorer. Yes, the instruction sheet is permanently attached to the pod.

On a recent magazine assignment I was asked to navigate on the roads of Utah using only the Neverlost GPS navigation system in a Ford Explorer rented from Hertz. While I was pleasantly surprised at some aspects of this Magellan-based gadget, I doubt that it will appeal to everyone. At least not in its current state.

Neverlost-equipped vehicles have a GPs receiver backed up with a road database on disc. You have several choices of how to navigate:

A few other options are available, such as entering a city name. Surprisingly, you can't enter a GPs coordinate, despite the fact that the unit is based upon that technology. This means that Neverlost is solely a streets-only tool; off-road enthusiasts won't find it useful. On my assignment, that actually turned out to be a problem, which was only solved by also carrying a handheld GPs

Data entry for Neverlost is performed by using arrow keys and an array of additional keys along the outside edge of the unit, including the ubiquitous Enter and Cancel keys. If you've got a long address to enter, it'll take awhile to get it entered. While Neverlost tries to give you some help by only displaying the next logical choices in its database, you still have to enter everything letter by letter, and the unit always starts from a neutral (non-letter) position. I've entered data on my cell phone faster than I could on the Neverlost.

Once you've entered a destination, Neverlost calculates a route (fastest, least distance, most use of freeways, or most use of streets) and the LCD displays a moving map with your current position and the route. A female voice asks you to "Please Proceed to the Highlighted Route." When you're first starting out, you're often in a parking lot or garage, so you position may be "off road."

In Salt Lake City I found several real problems with the road database. It didn't know about all the pre-Olympic road construction, which has closed Highway 80 going across town and a number of interchanges along Highways 15 and 215. I simply couldn't follow the route Neverlost calculated.

You may wonder what happens when you go off-route. Since my Salt Lake City experience involved quite a bit of that, I can tell you. When you first get off the calculated route, the voice again asks you to "Please proceed to the highlighted route." That message repeats up to twice. Once Neverlost has repeated that instruction, or once you get more than a certain distance off-route, the voice announces that Neverlost is recalculating the route and the whole dance starts over. In attempting to navigate across Salt Lake City, it took Neverlost three attempts to find a route that wasn't affected by closed roads or interchanges. To its credit, it continued to show me my location and eventually calculated a correct route.

Once on the open roads outside the city, I noticed some other interesting behaviors. Big bumps, especially on turns, tended to bounce the current location marker off the road, resulting in the "Please proceed..." message being repeated until the unit refound the current location.

And while Neverlost was generally quite good at road nuances (e.g., "Prepare to bear left in point five miles"), In the course of 600+ miles Neverlost twice made curious mistakes. For example, if you're traveling SE on Highway 24, there's one junction where if you continue "straight" you'll find yourself suddenly on Highway 135. Neverlost was curiously silent about this left across traffic. I caught it by looking down at the LCD map at the right moment. I could imagine seeing the turn too late, panicking, and making a left across traffic without signaling, surprising any oncoming traffic.

In another section of the state, Neverlost announced an upcoming left turn. Not only was it 100 yards early, Neverlost didn't note that the left needed to be followed by an immediately veer to the right (e.g., the left immediately forked into two different roads).

In all the above cases, the worst that might have happened is that you might have gone a few hundred yards out of your way before Neverlost noted that you were off-route and asked you to return to the route. In both cases, it would have been obvious what the other (right) choice should be.

Unfortunately, Neverlost has an Achilles heel, as I discovered on my return to Salt Lake City. In heavy snow, the GPs lost its grasp on the satellites it uses to navigate. When this happens, indicators turn red on the LCD and the position doesn't update. In one case, the unit went back into the satellite acquisition screen ("1 Satellites found..."), in two others, the unit stayed frozen at the last known position. This has several consequences. If you don't know where you're going, the fact that the map isn't updating means you'll quickly outdrive the map. If you don't have a paper map as backup, you'd better know where you're going. Since I'm pretty familiar with Utah, it's hard for me to get lost there. But since I was rushing to catch a plane at the airport, the primary thing that I missed was the update of my estimated time of arrival.

As an emerging technology, Neverlost certainly shows promise. However, my experience with it showed a few glitches:

Nevertheless, I was impressed by several aspects of Neverlost:

Should you rent a vehicle with Neverlost? Yes, if you're comfortable with almost-there technologies and don't mind the occasional glitch or backtrack. No, if you want 100% reliability and a fiddle-free interface. Personally, I could live with the system as is, but the product manager and interface designer in me sees plenty of opportunity for improvement.

Norman Unsworth [unsworth_norman@aclink.org] writes:

I was fortunate to get Neverlost free in a Hertz rental recently in Southern California. Not having experience with any other satellite navigation system this sophisticated, I was like a kid in a candy store. I found a couple of occasions when the instructions weren't quite clear enough--"keep to the right" followed by a "keep to the right"--but for the most part I got plenty of warning and not only did it do a great job of getting me around in a high traffic area with which I was not familiar. I had a lot of fun with the system. I didn't really find the interface klunky, but there were excessive menus level to go through. I also had a problem with the system not knowing what was happening with construction, but from the opposite point of view. Neverlost tried to take me across a pasture where new road construction was just beginning! I agree that one drawback to Neverlost is that I quickly became totally dependent on it. I did have a roadmap for a backup if I needed it (never did), but I never really got oriented to where I was because I was dependent on the satellite navigation. Oh well. The hazards of advancing technology.

José Kirchner [jose-k@midtown.net] writes:

I recently (March 2002) used NeverLost in an area of Florida I am not familiar with, under somewhat trying circumstances. We had flown down for some meetings and some socialization, but our delayed flight arrived at Ft. Lauderdale - Hollywood Airport at midnight. On picking up the car, I turned the NeverLost system on with trepidation, as I had never laid eyes on it before. Nonetheless I followed the prompts and menus, found our hotel and flawlessly was directed to within yards of the hotel. The database had not been updated with a new left turn from the middle divider, taking me 100 yards past the hotel- very easy to manage.

I continued using the NeverLost for three days, and found its forte to be prominent locations programmed into its database, such as hotels, etc. It was easy to use, though the small display requires layered menus that may become frustrating when the desired location is not in the "quick picks", and one should never make the incorrect assumption it is like the "real" Yellow Pages and offer ALL hotels and restaurants- we attempted using the nationwide database to find the Legal Seafoods restaurant in Sunrise, FL, and was able to get no closer than the Legal locations in New England! (Programming in the actual address worked, however...)

The system was often "off" locations by 50 yards or so, much more than one would expect using today's more accurate GPS system- making us miss a turn into a mall or selected store (but easily correctible with a couple of minutes invested into returning, much better than being lost or arguing with a "navigator" who does not read maps, something common in our family). The biggest flaw we found was some street numerations- when we programmed in a friend's house in Davie, FL for a visit, the unit gave us incorrect (180 degrees off!) directions when we were about ten blocks away. Using a paper map ("don't leave home without it or your destination's phone number so you can get driving information" still holds, even with NeverLost), we drove to the house- but as we turned from Griffin Rd. to SW 61st southbound to the home, the NeverLost began to prompt us, incorrectly, "make a legal u-turn".

On the other hand, the FLL airport Hertz rental return is off-site and a bit hard to find- but the NeverLost guided us over freeways, left-hand off-ramps and wandering streets with no difficulty, and I never had to pull over to reference Hertz maps with impractical scales, or my AAA backup maps, a real time- and sweat- saver!

So, the system is imperfect--some incorrect data is programmed into the database, some road construction and changes do not show, and a number of shops, restaurants, parks and attractions are not programmed into the system--but many of these do not show on paper maps at all, or are not shown because paper maps are usually a couple of years out of date due to data gathering publishing limitations.

Most of the time, the NeverLost was easy to use, accurate, reliable for major destinations, and a kind of high-tech "pacifier" in allowing me to concentrate on driving safely and reducing reliance and arguments with my "navigator" / passenger, who has difficulty reading maps of any kind. On the plus side, you can re-program the system to prompt in female or male voice, in seven languages (English, Spanish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese). As far as I was able to determine, you have the entire database online, rather than having to buy CD-ROMS, pay for extra regions and download partial databases, as required with some competing systems.

On a scale of 100, for the busy person who wants help navigating, I'd rate it an 85 or 90 at this stage of development (depending on whether you need GPS coordinates or not), for driving on major arterials or larger communities with reliable data. Much less for driving off-road or in rural areas. Is it worth the freight ($8 a day for Hertz rentals, $1699 MSRP (plus
installation) as the Magellan 750NAV for your car, or about $2000 as the Magellan 750M as a transportable, 7 lb system you can use in any vehicle)? Maybe--depending on how much you drive and how familiar you are with where you are going. If you serve many clients in different locations you are unfamiliar with, it's probably a good thing to have, it is portable, and you will be able to write the cost off as a business expense. If you want 100% accuracy and GPS coordinate-based travel, get a true GPS system and accept the hassles of downloadable data, etc.

José Kirchner [jose-k@midtown.net] writes:

It's not August 2002 and I still use Neverlost. What I have been told is the new, updated database seems more comprehensive and accurate. The upgraded database makes the system a joy on occasions such as when I arrived quite late (after midnight) on my flight to Portland and had to drive unfamiliar freeways and roads to my hotel in Tigard. I fired up the Neverlost, acquired satellites once outside the reinforced concrete rental car garage (you need to plan for this, as you can not program the Neverlost while in motion), pulled over into a safe spot and keyed int he destination, then used the "Yellow Pages" to select my hotel (about a minute or two) and voila, perfect voice guidance to my hotel (and to my client and the return to the airport rental car turn-in the next day).

One change in addition to an updated database: Hertz customers are demanding the Neverlost enough that they have raised rates by 33% to US$8 a day. A hint: you can often rent a midsie auto and request a Neverlost, and because many locations' installed base is mostly upper end autos (full size and higher), you are likely to get a free upgrade to a higher level of auto. Don't count on it, but I've been pleasantly surprised several times.

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