This year, GPS navigation units will top many Christmas wish lists. GPS units aren’t just luxury items anymore. They’re ideal for heavy travelers, commuters and those who get lost frequently.
GPS (Global Positioning System) uses satellites to pinpoint your location. GPS units have chips that receive your coordinates from the satellites. Software inside the units plots your position on a map.
There are various types of GPS units. Some are designed for hikers or for boaters.
But most people want a trip GPS. These help you navigate cities and highways.
More than maps
These days, GPS units provide much more than maps. Manufacturers are including more features to help you in unfamiliar places. Some play MP3s, videos and pictures. Don’t worry about these things.
Instead, focus on navigation abilities. You want one that lists points of interest and alternate routes. You should be able to find nearby businesses by name or category. Alternate routes are handy too. Some even help drivers avoid toll roads.
Some provide turn-by-turn voice directions. Drivers won’t be distracted by looking at the screen. Make sure the unit includes both street names and distances in the directions.
Commuters will love real-time traffic information. The unit will show traffic flow and any tie-ups. It may also suggest alternate routes.
Not all units provide traffic information. Or, you may need to purchase a traffic receiver separately. Take this into consideration before you buy.
Traffic information may not be available in some areas. If traffic information is available, there will probably be a charge. Expect to pay $50 or more per year for the service. But lifetime plans can save you a bundle.
Garmin Nuvi 660
The Nuvi 660 ($600) features a large screen. It connects to a car stereo via a built-in FM transmitter.
It can play MP3s and give voice prompts. It also includes a traffic receiver.
The Nuvi 660 includes maps for the United States and Canada. The database includes almost six million points of interest.
TomTom GO 920 T
TomTom’s GO 920 T ($700) also features a large screen and FM transmitter. You can play MP3s and record your own navigation instructions. There’s also a traffic receiver.
TomTom says this unit’s maps are the most extensive in its product lineup.
Additionally, Map Share technology lets users update and personalize maps. Maps can also be shared with other users.
Magellan Maestro 3250
Magellan’s Maestro 3250 ($400) has a smaller screen than the others. It provides voice directions and accepts voice commands.
It includes a traffic receiver.
The maps cover the United States and Canada. There are six million points of interest in the database.
It also provides AAA TourBook information.
Before you buy a unit, test it. Make sure the screen is large enough, with a wide viewing angle.
The controls should also be easy. That way it won’t be so distracting to drivers.
GPS units are attractive targets to thieves.
Don’t leave them unattended in your car. You could even end up with a broken window if you leave the mount.
The maps also must be updated periodically.
They will include newer roads and points of interest.
Don’t get sticker shock! Maps can run hundreds of dollars.