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After years of resisting the urge to buy a GPS — I generally know where I am going — GPS prices have come down so much that I broke down and paid $190 on Amazon for a Garmin Nuvi 760 that cost $399 last year.

I know it’s a short-term piece of equipment. Next year’s smartphone acquisition will probably replace it. But for now, the Nuvi 760’s big 4.3-inch screen, solid casing, fairly loud volume, turn-by-turn directions and Bluetooth capability for in-phone calling seemed like winning features. It seems like a huge improvement over the 3.5-inch screens (although they are REALLY cheap). And I pinch myself thinking I’ve got the same capabilities as the $2,000 built-in GPS in many new cars.

But those are all almost beside the point. Mostly, of course, I’m intrigued by Garmin’s local information features (points of interest, favorite, local maps, shopping, etc.). I like that you can designate “drive” or “walk” as well. I do a lot of walking in big cities.

So, technically speaking, how did the trip to Santa Barbara Wine Country go last week?  It was decidedly mixed, mostly due to the high learning curve for this device (which comes with almost no directions).

On the plus side, it was great to have the automatic distance count before turns, and the turn-by-turn directions to the obscure but recommended Chamomile Bakery in Carpinteria. It figured out where I wanted to go after typing just a few  letters. After lunch, it accurately put me onto 154, the mountain route, to the Ballard Inn, rather than the longer ocean drive that some maps would put me on.

But the GPS drive time to Ballard was off by more than an hour. And I definitely missed being on a real Internet-connected service. At this point of Web 2.0, I’m used to getting reviews and recommendations. There was also no place in the car to easily put the thing.

In California, it is illegal to use the suction cup on the windshield. I’ll have to buy a beanbag mount for the dash.

The next day was more of a challenge. First up, I needed some gas. And it it gave me a nice selection of gas stations, complete with distances. But the list of vineyards was lacking a major location — the one I had a coupon for.

And then, disaster struck. The battery died and I didn’t have the plug with me. This thing is very colorful and only has a few hours of unassisted battery life. But you don’t want to turn it off because it takes several minutes to “locate satellites.” And I had no way of knowing how to get to lunch or back to the inn because I didn’t print out any directions, as I usually do. There I was, asking for directions at a local bakery.

The next day, on my trip back south, I learned to plug the Nuvi into the charger. And once again, I found it reassuring to drive on the 405 knowing exactly how far major turns are.

But then I got hungry and looked for food 20 miles ahead of my location. It couldn’t do that. It kept on looking for restaurants where I was. I thought I’d work around the system by typing in the “Costa Mesa Mall” as a shortcut to the food. But I had the wrong name. It is actually called “South Coast Plaza.” Google knows this, but the Nuvi does not.

And a search for stores that I know to be at the mall came up blank as well. Luckily, I took my eyes off the Garmin long enough to eye a Macy’s off the freeway at Westminster, and we got to a food court in time. I didn’t get home on time, however. The Nuvi optimistically had me getting home an hour and half before I opened the door.

Do I love this device? Not yet, although it is very impressive. And while the categories are great, there doesn’t seem to be a way to call up a custom map to compare proximity for the category listings. We’re getting spoiled on the Internet. Maybe I’ll eventually learn how to do this.

Do I want to return it? Not really. But it makes me look forward to the next, much improved generation. And it’s going to have a phone, camera and Internet connection.

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