GPS on the Go
GPS devices remain one of the hottest electronic gadgets. In fact, even during an economic downturn, the industry is on track to surpass 2008's 15.1 million units sold, according to USA Today. Carmakers and navigation technology companies are catching on to this growing trend and offering more choices for car navigation systems.
Virtually all carmakers today offer factory-installed, in-dash navigation systems in at least some of their models. Many 2009 and 2010 General Motors models, such as the Buick Enclave, come standard with a one-year subscription to OnStar GM's satellite service which now includes a Directions and Connections navigation plan. This semi-automated navigation system offers no visual cues, but gives drivers turn-by-turn voice prompts.
Factory-installed in-dash navigation systems feature monitors that usually sit level in the dashboard. They cost roughly $2,000, plus installation fees. Dealer-installed ones have monitors that either sit level or flip out and up, depending on the size of the dash opening, and can cost from $1,000 to $2,000, plus installation fees. In-dash systems often consist of a CD stereo with a built-in monitor that ranges from 6.5-7 inches. Most in-dash systems require an external GPS antenna, can play DVDs, and transmit the system's voice prompts through the stereo.
For the commitment-wary, plug-and-play navigation systems that can mount onto the windshield or dash are available. They often come equipped with built-in speakers and antennas. They are typically portable, such as TomTom, Garmin, Navman, Navigon or Magellan models, and have built-in rechargeable batteries so you can plan your trip before setting foot in the car. Plug-and-play models commonly feature more points of interest, and the monitors range from 3.5-7 inches. These models can cost from $100 to $1,600, depending on the size and sophistication of the unit.
|In-Dash vs. Plug-and-Play|
What to Buy
Whether an in-dash or plug-and-play model is right for you will depend in large part on how often you plan to use it. The system should fit the layout of your car so it doesn't obstruct air vents, the passenger seat or your view of the road, and the screen size and resolution should make maps easy to read. More complex models will take longer to install, and manufacturers warn they will void your warranty if an in-dash navigation system is installed by a consumer or unauthorized dealer.
Keep the navigation system's storage capacity in mind when deciding what to buy. You'll need room for the data updates for maps and points of interest that the system's manufacturer should offer via either the internet or CD-ROM, and it should have enough internal memory to allow you to program routes and play CDs or DVDs while navigating. Also, some plug-and-play navigation systems feature additional detailed maps available for upload via the internet.
The most important things to look for in a navigation system are accuracy and speed and ease of use. Your system should provide multiple ways of getting to your destination, vocal and graphic directions, and a strong GPS satellite signal reception. "Text-to-speech" technology eases travel by giving specific street names rather than a general directive. Be sure you're comfortable with operating the menu via touch-screen controls, exterior buttons or a remote control, and make sure the system won't distract you as you're driving.
One other factor may be what extra features a system offers. Some include MP3-play capability, satellite radio controls, Bluetooth capability and real-time traffic data.
What's in Store
Technological advances are allowing companies to expand the range of navigation system features. Navman introduced a camera that stores GPS information in image files you can share online with friends. TomTom now offers Buddies, a system that tracks the location of friends and family who are also logged into the TomTom system. You can then share interesting sites with each other or use the available "hiding" feature to conceal your location from your buddies at any time.
Cell phones have been compatible with navigation technology for a while now, but they've mostly been marketed as on-foot navigation systems. However, the iPhone and Android cell phones both come with navigation apps powered by Google, providing more than 12 billion miles of GPS-guided driving and walking directions per year, the company says.
Google Maps comes standard with the iPhone, with similar features as are offered only on higher-end navigation systems, including live traffic and Google Earth view. An iPhone mount allows drivers to safely navigate in the car. Android phones have a Google Navigation app that provides turn-by-turn voice directions, and Google Voice Search lets Android users speak their destinations instead of typing it manually, a feature that is especially helpful when behind the wheel. Another perk for Android users is that Google Navigation can download enough data to the user's device to reroute a destination even when online connection is temporarily lost.
Google, Volkswagen and nVidia, a graphic chip maker, are working on a photo-realistic 3D Google Earth navigation system. TomTom now offers downloadable celebrity voices, so you can have stars like Mr. T guide you to your destination, along with downloadable logos that show the location of favorite vendors, such as Dunkin Donuts or Cold Stone Creamery. Garmin provides an optional database that maps popular retailers and offers users discounts.