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GPS For Bad Spellers


I’ll admit that I’m a terrible speller. But what does this have to do with GPS? Some devices are friendlier than others when it comes to spelling mistakes. Some require you to have the correct spelling to find an address while other devices tend to be more helpful. While picking a GPS device based on how “bad speller friendly” it is might not be practical, it is worth noting that some devices could be less frustrating than others. Let’s take a look at the major GPS brands (and a few websites) to compare how spelling strict they might be.

For the test we’ll take a look at one address that might be spelled incorrectly, and see how each device performs. The address we will use is “1 Allerton Street, Boston, MA”. That is the correct spelling, we will try to find that address by spelling Allerton “Alerton” which is something you might do if you only hear someone read the address to you or if you miss the second “l”. Here are the results, in alphabetical order. :)


The Garmin devices did not find Allerton after searching “Alerton”, resulting in “No Matches Found”. Spelling “Alerto” resulted in no matches found. “Alert” resulted in no matches found. “Aler” gave me no matches found. “Ale” gave me Alexander St. Finally by going back and only typing in “Al” it did complete the search and allowed me to locate Allerton by scrolling through the 60 streets in Boston which start with “Al”.


On The LG models, after typing in “Ale” it offers Alexander St. Then you go back and type in “Al” and you can scroll through the 67 or so results to find Allerton on the list.


The Lowrance models told me “no matches found” after typing in “Ale”. This is interesting because it didn’t suggest Alexander Street like the other devices did. But anyway I then typed in “Al” and let it search. Most of the other devices then restrict to streets which being with the letter combination you typed in. The Lowrance model included any streets which had “al” in the name. I didn’t count the number of streets in that group of search results because it was so large, however they were sorted alphabetically so I could scroll through the approximately 65 streets beginning with “Al”.


Many Magellan devices have a feature called QuickSpell which helps prevent you from making spelling mistakes and can make data entry faster. After typing in part of the address the onscreen keyboard will eliminate letters which are no longer possible as part of any spelling combinations of street names. After typing in “Ale” the system realized that the only combination of those letters was “Alexander St”. Since that wasn’t my destination I knew fairly quick I had made a spelling error. Therefore I had a clue as to where my spelling mistake might have occurred. By typing in “Al” I was able to scroll through the list of 64 addresses to find the Allerton I was looking for.


The Mio devices perform almost the exact same way as the Magellan devices. There is a feature similar to QuickSpell which eliminates letters no longer possible based on what you have already typed in. After typing in “Ale” it found Alexander St. Therefore I clicked back and just typed in “Al” which allowed me to scroll through the list of 74 streets matching “Al” in Boston.


The TomTom device performs a search and displays the top three search results as you type. After selecting the city and state, I typed in “Alert” and “Allerton” was right there in the number two position of the search results. You might not even know you’ve made a spelling error and just click on the correct street name at that point. I never had to go back and retype in anything, or guess at where the spelling mistake might have been made.

Other Brands

I have a few GPS devices from other brands kicking around, most of those use the same navigation software as the Mio devices, therefore I won’t repeat those results here.

Online Services
Google Maps gave me “Did you mean Allerton St?” so they pass with flying colors. MSN Maps gave me “Your search resulted in a close match” and listed Allerton St so they pass as well. Yahoo Maps told me the address couldn’t be found, but here is a map of the whole city… Not very helpful. Likewise with MapQuest, they couldn’t find the street but offered a map showing all of Boston.

Final Results

The TomTom devices were by far the most user friendly when it comes to spelling errors in address entry. The “live” search results while typing in letters plus the ability to search for closest matches gives those devices top honors among bad spellers.

The Magellan and Mio devices were the next best. While they didn’t provide as intelligent of search results, they were quick in notification that there were no more combinations of street names matching the spelling I had typed in so far.

Surprisingly, the Garmin devices were the least friendly when it comes to poor spelling. They let me spell out “Alerton” entirely without giving me any indication there were no results for that letter combination in the city I was looking in. Without that indication I had no idea how far back my spelling error might have been I had to keep experimenting with dropping off one letter at a time before I started to see results.

Most of the time people navigate to an address I suspect they do so while looking at a printed address. It might come from a website, a printed brochure, or a magazine. Therefore spelling mistakes might not be common. But also consider that it is sometimes difficult to tap out those letters on tiny GPS screens and you might not notice you have struck the wrong key. Additionally, if you are entering an address based on an address someone is verbally telling you, that might be a place where you may be more likely to make a spelling mistake.

12 Responses

  1. I too am a bad speller. It seems you normally like Garmain units but they did not do as well here. You also mentioned that with a Nuvi one has to spell out the whole state. Since I live in MA now and even forget how to spell it sometimes, which brand should I be looking into where I do not need to spell out Mass….?

    John - July 7th, 2007
  2. I wouldn’t necessarily say I normally like Garmin. I try to pick the best device for each individual’s needs which may or may not be a Garmin.

    The Garmin devices don’t make you spell out the whole state, when you type in “MAS” it recognizes there are no other possibilities.

    The TomTom devices offer the most flexibility when it comes to making spelling errors in address entry.

    Tim - July 7th, 2007
  3. I thought you said in another report that one had to spell out the whole state “new york” or was that for just the Nuvi350? Sorry if I misread. It is good news that I would only need to spell Mas each time.

    John - July 7th, 2007
  4. For NY you need to spell out “N E W – Y” in order for it to get New York.

    Tim - July 7th, 2007
  5. one thing that you didn’t try which i have tried is dealing with special characters. i’ve played around with the various models and garmin seems to be the only unit that will find pios in whic you leave out a specail character or put it in the wrong place. i.e. “wal-mart” vs. “walmart” or “tacobell” vs “taco bell”. Other units require you to spell everything exactly.

    just my 2 cents

    sam - July 27th, 2007
  6. Good point, Sam. I’ve come across that as well when looking for place names like “Pat’s Pizza” or “Bill’s Pizza”. Other devices can deal okay with or without the space (as in your tacobell example) but many choke on dashes and apostrophes.

    Tim - August 2nd, 2007
  7. I have Acura with build in Navigation and I can enter the phone number of the business and it will find it and navigate to it, Is there any aftermarket unit that will let me do the same?
    Thank you so much!

    Len - November 12th, 2007
  8. Len, that is something I don’t recall trying before. I just checked on a number of different devices and didn’t see any that would do it.

    Tim - November 13th, 2007
  9. Hi,

    I’ve just come across this site in my search for my first GPS. However, after reading the “N-E-W-Y-BACKSPACE-SPACE-Y” to bring up New York State, this article on bad spelling, & another article on people’s expectations of GPSs changing in the space of just one drive, from amazement to “it doesn’t even have last month’s roadworks”, I have this to add.

    I’m a computer programmer by trade. Therefore, it amazes me that there wouldn’t be a greater flexibility when it comes to dealing with spelling errors by the majority of these GPS devices. (I’m also Australian, and so find USA spellings to be rather unusual at any time, let alone in a GPS device.)

    A very simple, generally available system has been available in computer programmes for many years, called “soundex”. That would have allowed Allerton to be found if you typed in any of the following:

    Alarton, Allarton, Alarten, Alartan, Alartin, Elarton, Elarten, Elartin, Ellerton, Ellartan, etc, etc,

    In fact, it would have matched successfully for any combinations that started with Al-, All-, El-, Ell-,
    had a middle syllable of: -ar-, -er-, -arr-, -err-, -yr-, -aer-, etc,
    and final syllable of: -tan, -ten, -tin, -ton, -tun, -tyn, -tone, -tonn, -taun, -toun, -town, etc.

    All of those combinations of spellings could and would bring up the correct street if the computer code included a simple call to the “soundex()” function.

    Surely, I can’t be the only person who has ever thought of this?

    Good website, reviews, & public comments, by the way. Very informative.

    Kevin - December 15th, 2007
  10. Kevin – Thanks for stopping by. I agree, with the exception of TomTom I don’t understand why GPS manufacturers make us know the exact spelling of everything. Likewise with not allowing us to use abbreviations for states and provinces. Certainly if I was in Australia and the GPS asked for a state/province it should know what I mean by NSW.

    Tim - December 16th, 2007
  11. I’d also like to see GPS devices utilise mor computer programming as suggested by Kevin above. I’m a cabbie and that stuff would be really useful. Words like Riley St and Reilly St can often be problematic. I’d also like to see an option to simply be able to select from like last 20 cities/suburbs I have used e.g. I might be looking for a street in Beresfield ( which is the only B suburb I do) but I’ll have to type in Bere before I get an option… just a B should be enough if I have the device set to most recently used suburbs…. this would also be great and save time….I’m hoping we get smarter GPS’s real soon.

    Paul McCosker - January 1st, 2008
  12. The only thing being forgotton here is Route66 software – where for an address you just type in the whole thing e.g. 12 john street – it’s fuzzy search and will bring up all possible results – I find it better than the routine of picking city, house number, street etc.

    stephen - September 1st, 2008

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