Thoughts on the Dash Express

Now that I’ve been using my Dash Express on a daily basis for several months, it’s time to sum up my thoughts on the device and the service. In a sentence: The Dash Express is good—and getting better with each software update—but not great.

Is it worth $300 plus $10 a month? Maybe. It depends heavily on where you live and what kind of driving you do. I commute about 34 miles a day through San Jose, California on Highway 101, so the Dash’s live traffic info is both very accurate (due to the high density of Dash users in the area) and very useful. On the other hand, if my commute were shorter, or if I lived in an area where traffic was less of a problem, the Dash would probably be a waste of money.

It’s possible to use the Dash as a plain old GPS device without the live traffic info or Yahoo! Local and avoid paying the monthly fee, but without the always-on connectivity the Dash is nothing special. Its routing functionality, mapping capabilities, and turn-by-turn directions are respectable, but as you would expect from a first-generation device, the Dash isn’t as refined as competing devices from companies like Garmin and TomTom, who’ve had years to perfect their products.

Case in point: the Dash’s directions, while usually accurate, occasionally fail in inexplicable ways. On the final leg of my morning commute, there’s about a 50% chance that the Dash will instruct me to keep left on the Great America exit ramp when I really need to keep right. Some days it knows I should keep right, some days it doesn’t; there doesn’t seem to be any pattern.

Routing oddities aside, the live traffic information and the ability to choose from multiple routes (and route around unexpected traffic) are the Dash’s killer features. For me at least, they make up for its shortcomings. I’ve found the traffic info and drive-time estimates to be absolutely spot on. When Google Maps or Yahoo! Maps tell me my commute will take 35 minutes and the Dash says 23, I always trust the Dash. So far it hasn’t let me down.

The ability to search Yahoo! Local from the device is nice, but sometimes backfires. A month or two ago I ran over a bolt and needed to find a tire shop. The first three tire shops Y! Local directed me to didn’t actually exist (one was a house). This is more Yahoo!‘s fault than the Dash’s, but it was frustrating all the same. In the end, I used my iPhone to find a shop and then entered the address into the Dash.

Third-party hacks and POI feeds are touted as major selling points of the Dash. While there are certainly some cool hacks (like Twitter and Fire Eagle integration), they don’t mesh well at all with the Dash UI. This makes them feel flimsy and bolted on. There’s a lot of room for improvement here, but the good news is that the Dash’s over-the-air software updates make it very likely that, if we’re patient enough, we actually will see improvements.

It’s important to note that while many device makers claim they’ll offer fancy new features and bug fixes in software updates but fail to follow through, the Dash software has already received several minor updates and one major one, and many of my early gripes have been fixed.

This is really the key: if these software updates continue to be as frequent as they have been so far, especially if they keep fixing common complaints and adding useful features, then the Dash could easily become one of the best GPS devices on the market. At the moment, though, it’s still a 1.1 device with room for improvement.