What should you know about GPS units?
The demand for automotive navigation has increased for both the portable car units that retail from $150 and the high-tech systems built directly into luxury cars. The following list covers the top features for satellite navigation systems and will serve as a useful resource for would-be buyers. This list is for portable automotive navigation solutions from traditional manufacturers such as DeLorme, Magellan, and Garmin.
1. Mapping data - Mistakes in GPS mapping data are the subject of numerous tales of ridicule in which hapless owners of navigation systems drive into a lake or the wrong way up a motorway after mindlessly following the voice prompts. While this is an extreme scenario, most road systems are in a constant state of flux, so drivers will benefit from having the most current maps while allowing for the fact that mistakes are still bound to crop up.
Accuracy is often sold as a key feature of navigation systems, but the fact is that most of the popular devices on the market in the United States rely on local mapping data supplied by either Navteq or Tele Atlas. It is important to check how much you will have to pay for map updates, how often map updates are made available, and whether you can easily obtain maps for traveling overseas.
Most units give you a number of options to allow you to avoid toll roads or congested areas in advance as well as calculating new routes on the fly should you encounter a traffic jam or other delay.
2. Voice capabilities - Turn-by-turn voice commands have become the standard for all automotive navigation systems primarily because they remove the distraction of having to look away from the road ahead. They provide you with basic guidelines on whether to go left, right, or straight ahead during your journey and some even offer verbal alerts such as when you are traveling over the speed limit or are approaching a red-light camera.
If you are growing tired of the very polite voice inhabiting your GPS, some units allow you to switch the voice between several choices including gender and national accent.
For those looking for more functional voice upgrades, forking out a little extra cash will fund the more sophisticated text-to-speech capabilities currently found in products at the top end of the market which will read out street names. Thus, instead of "turn right in 40 feet" you'll hear "turn right at Indian School Road." No more ambiguity!
3. Screen - When it comes to GPS displays, bigger generally costs more among established brand line with sizes ranging from about 2.2" wide to 6.1" wide. The bigger the screen, the easier it will be for you to key in addresses and check out the map at a glance. Most units come with either a windshield or dash mount (generally using a suction cup), but some states have specific regulations against windshield mounts. Likewise, investigate ease of use of the unit, especially if the simple task of programming directions involves accessing numerous menus and keystrokes.
Different units also vary in how much information they attempt to display on the screen, but too much can compromise the core mapping data. An appealing feature is the ability to switch from a 2D to a 3D mode, but an even more practical feature to look for is an automatic switch between day and night displays based on the GPS's own internal clock.
Finally, some units won't even include a screen. These units are designed to plug into a laptop. You'll have to get an automotive mount for your laptop, or else hope it doesn't move around too much on the passenger seat. The obvious advantage of a laptop is that your screen size will be better than any portable or built-in automotive GPS device. You'll also have the advantage of a full size keyboard, the ability to upgrade your graphic and sound cards if needed, and access to other programs on your laptop once you've arrived at your destination.
4. Battery life - Unlike hand-held GPS systems which tend to have a long life, automotive systems typically have no more than two to five hours battery life. The fact that most of these are powered and recharged by the car's own internal cigarette lighter means this should only become an issue if the user wants to use the unit extensively in pedestrian mode. Some units even skip having a battery at all, depending completely on being plugged into the vehicle or other electrical outlet.
5. Bluetooth speaker phone connectivity - This was once a feature associated only with high end devices but is becoming increasingly commonplace. Bluetooth technology enables navigation systems to integrate the wireless technology into their own microphone and speakers, allowing them to act as a hands-free system for a compatible Bluetooth phone. Many can also synchronize with contacts stored on the phone to allow you to make in and out-bound calls through the GPS address book - which is a handy little feature if you don't already have a hands-free system for your car. If you are paying extra for Bluetooth functionality, you may like to check that sound quality of the unit meets your expectations.
6. Audio player/photo viewer - Previously the purview of only high end units, an emerging mid-level feature is that of an integrated music player, audiobook player, and photographic image display. These tempting add-ons assume that the navigation application has priority. This means the navigator will have to mute your favorite tunes while it gives verbal directions, then unmute again for your listening pleasure.
Another upside is that having a stash of photos loaded into your GPS can stand in as a mini-album to show friends far afield, and the audio book player might also come into its own on a long journey. Worth considering, however, is whether the sound quality of music played through the unit itself is adequate and whether you can route it through your car stereo.
7. Customization and community - Garmin has harnessed community spirit with its POI Loader which allows users to share knowledge and directions to points of interest such as restaurants, hotels, post offices, emergency services, school zones, and speed traps.
8. Live traffic data - Live traffic data that warns drivers about traffic accidents, construction or parade detours, and other disruptions such as police or other emergency actions is available in a fast-growing number of cities throughout North America and Europe. The TMC traffic alerting system works on an FM sideband signal which utilizes RDS (Radio Data Service) technology. Digitized and coded real-time traffic broadcasts are received via a "silent" FM data channel — which means that drivers can still listen to music or news programming on their car radios, without interference from the incoming FM traffic data transmissions. In most areas, depending on the service provider, TMC traffic broadcasts are continuous — there's no waiting for scheduled traffic news updates or random alerts.
Buy GPS Products Online directly from Wide World Maps & More!