Product Reviews

Garmin Nuvi 1300 LM Automotive GPS

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Rating:: ☻☻☻☻K

Note: I have updated this review several times, going from a negative first impression (2-smilies), through an acceptance (3-smilies), and now to an appreciation (4-smilies). There isn't an extensive user manual, but you can find out a lot by simply clicking through all the options.

I got this unit as a free gift for signing on to automatic payments for a loan. There were other gifts I could have chosen, but only one GPS unit, and only this model. This is a capable basic GPS model, but I would have opted for more features had I been shopping for myself.

I got it for free, so I can't complain. The MSR price is $179, but this exact model sells in WalMart and for around $100, give or take $5 or $10 now and then. If I was shopping for myself for a stand-alone GPS unit, I think I would have spent a little more for a model with more features. But for the average non-technical user, this unit will probably meet all their needs.

For techno-savvy users, the real comparison, in my opinion, should be against more powerful units and smart phones. Most smart phones have very capable GPS capability. So if you are in the market for a smart phone, check out its GPS capabilities - you might not need a stand-alone GPS - unless you are going to use it for aviation or marine purposes.

I have owned multi-thousand dollar Trimble Surveying and Vehicle Tracking units. I am also familiar with GPS theory and how it works. To really make a comparison, you should know a little bit about the GPS system and how it works.

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It was created by the US Military for military applications. It is based on the accurate timing of some 24 special satellites orbiting around the earth. The receivers (the GPS units) on earth are passive receivers that interpret the signals from three or more satellites simultaneously.

The GPS signal can render accurate 3-dimensional information (latitude, longitude, and altitude) as well as the velocity and direction a GPS receiver is traveling - anywhere on the globe. The locations can be very accurate if the full signal capability is accessed. But only the US Military has full access to that accuracy. In addition, the military has the capability to introduce deliberate error, called Selective Availability (SA), to deny the enemy accurate use. Only the US military GPS units can detect and correct for selective availability.

Commercial use of the GPS started almost as soon as the GPS satellites started broadcasting. Commercial users almost immediately found a way to overcome the deliberate signal degradation encountered by non-military GPS units. Some commercial enterprises set a GPS unit over a precisely known location, and then compared that with what the GPS unit was reporting. The differences were calculated every second and applied to GPS units as much as a hundred miles away. This technique is known as Differential Correction. It not only corrected for deliberate signal error, but also for atmospheric errors. It can be applied real time, or post-data acquisition. It was so successful and useful that it became possible for GPS to be used in precision instrument approaches for aircraft. The FAA eventually set up its own differential correction system, which it calls WAAS (wide area augmentation system.)

The military has moved on with better equipment and different signals. The military turned off SA in 2000 under Bill Clinton. But the original GPS signal system was left in place and maintained for non-military use. The statistical average accuracy of GPS available for civilian use now, without differential correction, is about 20 meters (66 feet.) With differential correction, it is less than 10 feet. That is the statistical average error. Occasionally, you will detect greater error.

The Nuvi 1300 is an older model, introduced in 2009 at a considerably higher price. That is now five years ago as I write this review. Considerably better models have been developed, as well as model improvements. This unit is nicely priced at the bottom tier of Garmin offerings.

The "LM" designation stands for "Lifetime Maps," which includes up to four free map updates a year. "Lifetime" means the life of the free updates - not necessarily your life or the life of the unit.

The Nuvi 1300LM does not have differential correction, so its reading can (will) be off by yards. I went out on my back patio and tapped the screen icon that said "Where Am I" and it said I was at a house a half a block away. But at least it was on the right street, and even the right side of the street. Despite this error, it is quite good enough for street navigation. And the velocity and direction you are traveling will be even more accurate. When I drive up to my home, the unit's announcer is right on, or, close enough.

Tap (TOOLS / WHERE AM I?) to show latitude, longitude, and altitude. For general automobile use, you might not care about latitude and longitude, but if you are out in the boondocks somewhere, you could give that to rescuers to pinpoint your location. This might also be very useful information for Google Earth on the Internet.

In civilization, the nearest address and nearest intersection are more useful, which display in the next two boxes down on the location screen. You can save the location displayed and give it a name. There are alo buttons for nearest hospitals, police stations, and fuel.

The most problematic measurement available is altitude. It matters a lot in aviation. It is generally unimportant in automobiles. You can toggle between Direction of Travel, Elevation, or Time of Day to display on the map. To toggle between options, tap (VIEW MAP), then tap the direction block on the lower left screen and pick the option you want to display.

On the lower right of the map is the speed display. If you tap the speed block, a larger digital speed dial displays. To the right is also displayed bearing (direction), and Elevation. Cursor-ing down reveals some more trip details.

The Garman Nuvi 1300LM acquires its location in seconds - very rapidly. It must have a clear view of the sky to acquire a signal. You can't be indoors. In a vehicle, the best location is in the center and as far forward on your windshield as you can put it and still reach it comfortably. The location in the vehicle is restricted to the windshield because there is no provision for an external antenna.

The Unit's location limitation also means that the unit will be in the sunlight much of the time. The unit is designed to shut off the charger if the sun is shining on it - to prevent the battery from overheating and blowing up or catching on fire. That means that much of the time in your vehicle, the charger won't work, and you are on the rather short 4-hour battery time. 

One way to circumvent this sunlight--battery-off  link is to shield the unit from the sun with a thin plastic or paper hood over the unit.  Paper or thin plastic won't interfere with signal acquisition.     

The lack of an external antenna option keeps the price low (relatively speaking), but reduces the unit's usability, especially for long trips. Unless you receive this model as a gift, do yourself a favor and look for a model that has an external antenna option.

The display has two display modes -- Day and Night. 

The Day mode is a white background screen, which, because it is white, uses battery faster. 

The Night mode is a black background screen, which because it is black, uses less battery.  In my opinion, the Night mode (black background screen) shows detail better than the Day mode (white background screen) day or night.  I use the Night mode all the time. 

Sunlight on the face of the unit makes the screen hard to read, you can increase the screen brightness (Tools/Settings/Display/Brightness) to compensate. Increasing brightness reduces battery life. You could make a little screen visor, or a hood, to keep the face shaded, and then keep the brightness reduced with a longer battery life.

This is a very simple unit. You can not do multi-stop route planning, or complex trip planning with multiple stops or waypoints, at least not directly. But you can enter all the stops for the trip as separate waypoints (favorite locations). You will have to choose the order they will be selected, and then choose them as a destination one at a time. For most trips, this is sufficient

Fortunately, you don't have to input your starting point, only your destination. The unit knows where it is, as long as it is receiving a signal. All you have to do is tap "Go To" and select your waypoint (pre-stored as a favorite location). .

You can store up to 1000 locations (waypoints) as "Favorites" in advance. That will make the job of entering each leg easier. Waypoints can be Points of Interest that are already in the database, road/street intersections, points you pick off the unit's map, or addresses that you input and store. To store an Address waypoint, for example, follow these submenus: [WHERE TO? >> ADDRESS >> (input state, city, house number, street name) >> SAVE.

Points of Interest in the database will already have a name, such a "Sea World." But addresses you input will usually not have a name. They will show up in the Favorites list as the house number and street name you input. To enter a name for a favorite address, follow these submenus: [Where To? >> Favorites >> (pick the waypoint you stored) >> Edit >> (input the name) >> Done].

Storing and naming waypoints (favorites) is fairly easy. You can assign a name to any waypoint (favorite) you save.

This unit is not designed for serious automatic vehicle tracking. You can, however, enable the TRIP LOG (TOOLS/SETTINGS/MAP/(then tap the trip log block)/select SHOW/OK). When set to SHOW, the Trip Log will show your actual path on the map as a dotted blue line. However I have not found a way to recover location and time for trip stops

This feature only works when the unit is on, and it can easily be disabled by your errant spouse or child. If you want to play detective, your best bet is to give your errant one a smart phone that you have covertly subscribed to a tracking service.

You can also track yourself manually by tapping TOOLS, then "WHERE AM I?", and storing the location as a waypoint (favorite), and giving it a name, such as T1, and subsequent points as T2, T3, ..., etc.

This might be useful for trekking off road and storing the location of that neat waterfall or cave you discovered, or finding your way back on an unmarked trail. If you are going off-road, you want to set the mode to off-road, and store coordinates rather than addresses. The map, however, when you are off road, is useless to you, as it does not contain terrain features - and you can't use terrain maps with this model.

This unit has three modes of route determination - Fastest, Shortest, Least Fuel, and Off Road.

Faster Time -- Restricted to major roads and limited access highways.  Most people will use this setting most of the time.

Shorter Distance -- Uses any road available.  If you deviate from its chosen path, it will recalculate based on your present position.

Less Fuel -- This will combine shortest distance with fewest traffic lights and stops.

Off Road -- Here you will discover a quirk of automotive GPS units.  The unit normally restricts you to the closest road or street, which masks the inherrent error so you don't see it.   But when you select off road, your "trail" can be all over the place, because it has no error-correction mechanism. 

Example: I keep the trip log showing (a blue dotted line showing my paths traveled.  When I turn into my garage, the path into the garage (about 25 feet) displays as a scatter of lines all over the map, as far as a block away.  So don't expect a lot of accuracy in the Off Road mode.

EVALUATION - this model does the basics well -- that is it gets you from point A (where you are now) to Point B (where you want to go.) It is accurate enough for street navigation. The text to voice works well, and announces turns well in advance, coming up on them, and when you are there. For most people, it does everything you want it to - for automobile traffic.

You can zoom out on the map and see where you have been. And you can review the trip log (dotted blue line) to see where you have been, and how efficiently you drove.

This model is still being sold, even though later models are available with a few more bells & whistles.

Would I recommend this to a friend? Depends on the friend, their budget, and their needs. For ordinary people wanting a little easy navigation help on a budget - Yes, definitely. For techno-savvy explorers wanting a do-all GPS -- No. For people with a smart phone -- Maybe.

First posted 21 March 2012 at

2012  Simon Revere Mouer III, PhD, PE, all rights reserved