We had a gizmo attack. A gizmo attack is when some new gizmo comes out and you feel you have to have it. Normally you should lie down and wait for this feeling to pass. But not always. So we went for it.

We spent $500 for a driving aid called “Navdy.” This is a hamburger-sized device that sits on your car’s dashboard and projects a head-up display that brings you directions, text messages, phone calls and many other now necessary aspects of the modern world. Think of it as the same kind of display fighter pilots see — at least while there still are fighter pilots.

In our case, we fitted this device in our 17 year-old Honda minivan which doesn’t have any other fancy car tech. The only problem we’ve had with the car is that Joy sometimes gets lost. So she figured this would be a great navigation aid, with a lot more features besides. A small step for womankind.

The Navdy projects a picture of your route onto a small clear plastic screen. It doesn’t interfere with your view; your eyes stay on the road. But if an exciting message is displayed before you, that may be a different problem. Texting while driving has become a major cause of the increased accident rate of the last couple of years. We’ve never done it. However, the Navdy user doesn’t have to either because this feature can be turned off.

As Bob pulled away, a diagram of the road ahead and the cross streets was immediately projected as if into the air between the steering wheel and the windshield. (Joy likes it when Bob drives.) He cycled through messages by pressing a button/wheel combination attached to the steering wheel. He waved his hand to see an incoming phone call, while an image of the caller hovered before him. (He didn’t answer; no talking on phone while driving. Never liked that guy anyway.) He scrolled with his thumb on the steering wheel to see gas mileage, a compass and other info.

If we had entered a destination, directions would appear as if in the air. If the road curved off, the display showed it curving. All fairly remarkable. After a few blocks we drove home, dismantled the device, boxed it up and sent it back to Amazon. The nice thing about Amazon is they let you return things and get your money back.

Because when all was said and done, one over-riding question remained: Did the device eliminate distractions while driving? The answer was no. Though Bob was rather enjoying himself, Joy felt sure an accident was imminent. And Bob admitted it did take attention away from what was happening around him.

Well, that was crucial, wasn’t it? It’s not that the device didn’t work, it worked just as advertised. But the main purpose was to make you driving experience safer. It certainly didn’t feel safer. We don’t know about you, but messages in the air, even if you can see past them to oncoming cars, are about as subtle as a hand floating between you and the window.

The Navdy gets rave reviews from PC Magazine and 97 percent of reviewers on Amazon, but it’s not for us. Even without messages and road diagrams in your face, the mounted device itself is a distraction. If you like bobble-heads, wiggly hula dancers or fuzzy dice moving around in front of your windshield, Navdy probably won’t bother you. But it was too much for us. Besides, we prefer Waze (a free app owned by Google) to Google Maps, which is what Navdy uses for navigation.

Finally, if you need directions, why not just let your cellphone tell you as you go? Joy puts her phone in the cup holder and lets Waze call out directions. She never has to look at it. Bob looks at a map just once, never asks directions and has never gotten lost. He also always knows where our car is in parking garages. (Oh, stop bragging.)

A Tip From Vanna

It’s not often you get a tech tip from Wheel of Fortune. But co-host Vanna White gave everyone a good one the other night.
When saving a great photo to your computer, put “fav” after the name. Later, when you’re searching for your favorite photos, you’ll find them easily, even if they’re scattered all over the hard drive. Just search on “fav.”

Getting a Cheap Smartphone

A reader told us she’s ready for her first smartphone because she’s going on a long road trip. It’ll be handy to get maps and make motel reservations on the road. The good news is they cost very little.
The same cheap TracFone service that works with so-called “flip phones” also works with cheap smartphones. Our neighbor got the Alcatel OneTouch Pixi Pulsar from Walmart for $20 and has a TracFone service costing $7 a month. She plays games on it every day, uses it to hail Uber cabs, and gets maps, email and text messages. The big difference is storage space and photo quality. The phone can’t

Alcatel Pixi Pulsar

hold more than a few basic apps. She can play “Word Chums” or “Scrabble” but not both. Otherwise, it does everything she needs it to do, such as going on the web.
To get started, search on the phrase “TracFone, bring your own smartphone.” Then when you click “smartphone plans,” you’ll see that under “90 day pay as you go” there’s one that costs only $7 a month. Or, start at, click “shop phones” to get an idea of which smartphones are compatible with their service. Instead of buying one from TracFone, you can get better prices elsewhere. The same Alcatel phone selling for $20 at Walmart is $30 on the TracFone site.

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