About two years ago, I bought a Magellan RoadMate 700 for use in my car. At the time, there were very few dashboard-sized GPS units available. Today they are much more popular and have come down in price. Magellan and Garmin have been producing them the longest and both have excellent reputations. However, they have many competitors today, so you may want to do some research to find out which ones are best.
Most of the dashboard-type units have a fairly standard set of features, such as points of interest, on-screen location tracking and directions, and voice-guided directions. You use a touch screen to enter information and select your choices.
Older models get their power from the cigarette-lighter connection but I have seen some newer models that use batteries. Assuming that they work well over long periods of time, I would prefer the battery-operated ones. Having to attach a cord to the cigarette lighter each time that I want to use the Magellan is a pain. I have to find a place to put the lighter and the cord interferes with my cup holder.
You should be able to select from a number of routing options, such as fastest route, shortest route, most use of highways, and least use of highways. However, the ability to create a custom route may be limited. In some cases, you might have to do it one destination at a time.
The quality of the display, the size of the geographic area covered by the pre-loaded database, the number of points of interest, and the ease of updating the unit's database are all important. Some displays are very difficult to see in the daytime. I would tend to favor units where data for the entire continent of North America was pre-loaded.
I don't do much traveling outside of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Most of my trips are within 40 miles of my home. I use the Magellan primarily when I am visiting a new client in an unfamiliar area.
The main reason why I bought the GPS was its voice-guided directions. I find them to be invaluable. My eyesight is not as good as it used to be, and in the area where I live, readable street signs and good lighting at intersections are almost nonexistent. Sometimes I will use the GPS even when I know the area because hearing the directions helps me to stay alert.
Others, particularly those with younger eyes, might be more concerned with the number of amenities such as gas stations and restaurants as well as points of interest. If you do a lot of long-distance traveling, these data points, as well as the geographic area covered by the pre-loaded database, could be very important.
It's helpful to understand how all trip planners work. If you select the fastest route, for example, they will use the following hierarchy to select the roads to use, based on typical speed limits:
1--Interstate highways, such as I-66 in the Washington, DC area.
2--U.S. highways, such as U.S. 50.
5--Local roads and residential streets.
All trip routers suffer from one major drawback: They don't know local driving conditions. For example, in my area, the Fairfax County Parkway is a relatively new, four-lane divided highway with a 50 mph speed limit. The entrance to the parkway is only three miles from my house in Sterling, Virginia. If I need to go to a location in Springfield, Virginia, for example, that is close to the parkway, obviously I would want to use it.
However, the trip planners know it only as a county road. They will invariably have me drive 10 miles out of my way on Route 7, a state road, to the Capital Beltway (I-495), then take I-95 south to get to Springfield. Anyone who has lived in the Washington, DC area knows that the Springfield interchange is one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the entire area and should be avoided at all costs.
Here's another example: When returning home on Route 7, I can save five minutes and half a mile, and also avoid three traffic lights, if I exit onto Augusta Drive, a local residential street. However, the trip planners insist that I go all the way down to Potomac View, a county road.
Whatever unit you buy, it will likely come with a suction cup arrangement for mounting it to your windshield. I would recommend spending a little extra and getting a removable dashboard mount designed specifically for the unit. I bought one for my Magellan. It's very sturdy and the heavy rubber feet can be adjusted to fit the dashboard wherever I choose to mount it. This also makes it much easier to remove the unit.
I never leave the Magellan in my car except when I am using it. I keep it in a nondescript canvas bag when I am parked and I bring it in the house with me when I return home. GPS trip planners are expensive items, and leaving them in plain view is an invitation to theft.
Submitted by: Robert S.
All GPS (Global Positioning System) units work under the same concept, triangulation. There are currently 30 GPS satellites in active use and are circling the earth as we speak. Many GPS units have external antennas, with universal receiver versions on most "car" GPS systems and "quad-helix" versions on most handheld versions. Some models of GPS also have internal antennas and typically are lower-end and do not receive as well. Understanding the way GPS truly works will aid greatly in your...understanding. The satellites in space are constantly running on a timecode that is constantly being transmitted. Your receiver is also running it's own timecode as soon as you power it on. Based on the time of day, and any received signals, it will begin to attempt to locate and lock a satellite. Once it finds a satellite and locks onto it's signal, it will sync this timecode and compare the difference in the code between the time it takes to get the signal from the satellite to your unit. This gives it a general location on the earth. At this point it will know what other satellites to connect to, and choose another candidate to lock onto. This will typically narrow down your location on earth to anywhere from a few hundred feet to a few miles, not bad for 40 (or so) seconds of searching. At this point (a 2D lock, as it's called) you will know where you are in a fairly accurate manner, but it will then call on a third satellite to verify the findings of the first two, as it checks their positions, it will find two points, one in space and one on Earth. It then eliminates the location in space and now you have what is called 3D lock, thus the triangulation. This narrows your location down to as little as 7 feet, sometimes smaller. Depending on what exactly you are going to use it for, I will divide this answer into two categories.
Car models will typically have a large color screen and an external antenna that may be placed in different angles, they will usually also have a mounting system (brackets, suction cups, etc.) Typically they will range from $200 to $5000, depending on how much STUFF you want with it. Larger and more expensive models usually have more interfaces, custom menus, and large touchscreens. If you live in a large city or one with many tall buildings in the area you intend to use it, I would suggest you also consider purchasing an internal GPS receiver/antenna. Many of the features are really up to the user to determine. If you want a larger screen, get one with a larger screen, if you want a touchscreen, get one with a touchscreen. Modern electronics are being packed with seemingly useless features, many GPS units will now come with mp3 players, search listings, and everything else that no sane person would honestly use while driving. I guess this is the reason for the warning "Do Not Use While Driving" eh? The only KEY feature you should look for if you are in the continental United States is WAAS, Wide Angle Augmentation System. It is a federally funded project that involves two (may be more today) correctional satellites at both the East and West Coasts that when activated and synced with your GPS unit, corrects for current atmospheric abnormalities and any weather conditions as well as any cosmic interference. This is mostly CRITICAL if you can get it, as it means the difference between helping you drive to work and leading you three blocks over and into the mountains somewhere. The best models from my experience are made by Garmin, but there are other manufacturers out there that may be found by a simple search (Magellan, TomTom, etc.) It is best to find one that comes with software and a USB cable (or other similar cables) that allow you to sync the unit with your computer. The salesman will most likely tell you some very untrue information such as "GPS units never need updating, even the police never update theirs". I know this because someone tried to sell me with this garbage, unknowing that he was talking to a police State Comm technician. THEY DO need to be updated, the more often the better. Your GPS is only going to give your position on the earth, it will not tell you what street you are on or where to go. You will rely on the software built into the unit to guide you to work, the gym, school, or wherever else you may go. Therefore, the more updated it is, the better. Many newer better units will come with the usual life "funs", and allow you to search restaurants, movie theaters, and other data on the go, but again, they have to be updated ever so often. Most units will also come with a "talking voice" that tells you "turn left" or whatnot, in some rare occasion where you can't take your eyes off the road for a glance. Civilian GPS may be used by ANYONE, anywhere in the world, with no fees or charges. Certainly those who live in the US will have a much greater advantage with the WAAS system in place.
These are typically NEVER used for transportation or navigation in a vehicle, and they should not be. They will only provide you with a basic terrain map and your location on earth (altitude, incline, decline, speed, location, etc.) In a vehicle they will usually not be able to process the signals unless you have it near the windshield. They are also built smaller, designed to be held on your belt, and usually have a simple black and white backlit screen and water-resistant rugged construction. My experience has mostly been with Garmin, and compared to other brands they offer you the most "bang for your buck". If this is what you are looking for, you can look for their Rino models (see my detailed review of the Rino 110) which come with more features that one can possibly use, a fast and accurate quad-helix transceiver and a shock and water protected case. I have fell on my Rino 110 several times, used it in the rain and even dropped it in mud puddles and ditches, it still works perfectly fine. It also has built in FRS/GMRS radio, great for those short distance outings or whatnot. These are also cheaper because they require less processors and much more basic programming. Some may come with topographic maps build in, but expect to find most units without any maps at all, only your position on earth and where you are going. These will also allow you (typically) to insert waypoints, places where you have been or will go and will only help you get there in a straight line, if at all. These units are usually only useful for the outdoorsman, those who go hiking and trekking without having to worry how to get back to camp.
Submitted by: Brian T. of Boise, Idaho
Global Positioning Systems (GPS)
First of all you want a consultant and most of us make our living doing so. What I will do is give a little history on "C" Lorain the forerunner of GPS and a little bit about GPS. How it is used and a list of manufacturers.
How it all started
It all started with a system developed by "Motorola" (founded by Paul V. Galvin as the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation, in Chicago, Illinois, in 1928). It was called "C" Lorain. It was first used in planes. The pilot would pick up a strong radio station. by moving a movable antenna to get a fix on their position. Eventually the military used it to guide planes and boats. "C" Lorain uses a triangulation and still inn use today, but it uses a tone and at a given set of frequencies. Now we have low altitude satellites put up by the military and they go from pole to pole (these satellites occasionally have to be replaced because they eventually fall to Earth due to atmospheric drag. Russia transmits TV signals from satellites that go from pole to pole). A signal is sent down to the receiver from the satellite, the GPS receiver calculates how long the signal takes to be transmitted and gives a position through that calculation. Originally the signal was made to only as accurate as a mile or two. But the more one stayed in one place eventually, the more accurate the position became. So today they are accurate to within 50 feet of where you want to be in the commercial ones.
Vehicle Tracking - Two way communications
Boats, trains, planes, trucks and automobiles, add to that snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles so no so forth. Prime example is Lo-Jack, but Lo-Jacks are an example of triangulation devices, an anti-theft tracker. On the other hand we have North Star which is a combination GPS, telephone and is run by G.M.. This one is truly a satellite tracking system. The North Star has been used by the police to listen in on criminal conversations, really. It was remotely activated by G.M. to hear the crooks talk (the conversation was recorded) about an up and coming crime they were going to commit. Then we have the logistics (trucking), transportation companies, trains that have the devices permanently connected to vehicles that transmit to the satellite the position of their property so as to get real time whereabouts of that property. Truckers used to take a day or two paid for vacations before the companies put the transmitters on their trucks. Not only that, the dispatcher can guide a detour route if need be for the drive to get round road problems and the trucker does not have to be familiar with the area to get around. These GPS devices are one way, they transmit, but do not receive. Then there is the GPS that is activated through some crisis, such as a crash (North Star automatically activates if the air bags deploy and gives a location), by train, plane or automobile and boat/ship. What happens in the case of a plane, train or boat is that during the crisis the GPS transmitter is activated and the appropriate a authorities are alerted and given the location. Planes and boats/ships it is the Coast Guard. Trains and trucks, locals are alerted. One caveat, woe be tied if the GPS device should be activated accidental and the appropriate authorities are not told everything is okay, no emergency is happening.
Types of GPS
One is portable hand held, the other is permanently installed in a vehicle, then there are the ones that are portable and put into a dash holder and usually plugged in the cigarette lighter/device port. The last one is a portable none the less. The personal is the hand held one that you may see people carry. Some uses maybe: (seriously) to find your vehicle in a large parking lot such as a mall, sporting event or a downtown parking lot. The personal type can be used for hiking, going for walks in unfamiliar cities. You might start our with the origin point, hotel/motel, a relatives home as your starting point. Then you would make what is called "way points" and associate it with a landmark. These "way points" are where one would turn right or left or simply go straight ahead.
Fine Digital http://www.finedigitalusa.com/2006/index.htm
Lowrance Electronics http://www.lowrance.com/automotive/default.asp
Pharos Science & Applications http://www.pharosgps.com/
Thales Navigation http://us.thalesgroup.com/companies/navigation/
Submitted by: Rick B.
I am going to make an assumption here; I assume you are planning to use the GPS system in a vehicle. Next, to address a few of your questions: coverage depends upon having a clear look at the sky. Surprisingly, large cities are very bad places for GPS. Recently, while traveling through San Francisco, I was unable to use my GPS just when I needed it the most, because the skyscrapers blocked the satellite signals. Most systems require a minimum number of satellites (5 to 8) to get an accurate 3D fix. 3D means your unit will give you elevation as well as location.
Some handheld units come with a minimum of software and require that you purchase extra cds for different areas. Stay away from such units because there are also many which come with full maps of the US and Canada. As to the fee issue, in a word-nope, there aren't any fees as the satellites belong to the American people.
As I have owned a number of GPS units (DeLorme, Magellan, Garmin, Microsoft and a couple of others) since they first became available to the public, I have learned a wee bit about GPS and how to use them. If money were of no concern, then Trimble is probably the best available. As money is definitely a concern, my choice- DeLorme Earthmate receiver with Street Atlas.
This is a laptop computer based system, which requires, obviously, a laptop. At first this sounds like a very expensive way to go, but I use an Averatec 12" machine which I purchased for $700 at Staples a couple of years ago. As an aside, Averatec is not a well known maker, but I have recommended their units to a number of my customers (I am a computer tech/consultant) and they are all happy. Also, Averatec has the best tech support I have seen this side of APC.
Anyway, as you can find the Earthmate/Street Atlas combo for less than $100, the combined total is equal to or less than, what most good in car GPS systems will cost. A big plus is that you can use the laptop for computer things.
One drawback to laptop based systems is that you need somewhere to put the computer; there are several mounting systems available,however.
The Earthmate is the receiver and Street Atlas is a very good mapping/routing, etc. program.
The learning curve can be as shallow or as steep as you desire, as the feature list and capabilities of the system are phenomenal. It does just about anything one would want from a GPS system; finding places, routing, tracking, waypoints, logging of travel, finding where the nearest Wal-Mart is to where you happen to be and then showing you the route to get there. It has turn by turn navigation and gives those directions audibly, if you desire, and can follow voice commands with a microphone attached.
One can even add roads which have been constructed since the last release of software. DeLorme publishes a major upgrade each year which contains all types of new data.
If you choose, you can track and log your travel, then play back the trip at any time. Helps me to keep a record of where that 'special thing' was that I saw, but can't recall the location.
If you own a handheld computer, Palm or any of the others, version 2007 of Street Atlas can send maps to the unit which can be used with the gps receiver. It can even put routed maps onto a handheld video device.
Of course, I am speaking of In Car type systems here. If you are looking for a handheld, Magellan and Garmin both make good units although the Garmin I have is one of those which required me to purchase separate map software. They may have stopped that by now.
Microsoft has recently released a new version of their gps software which includes a receiver and works much like the DeLorme product; each has some neat features the other doesn't, but I still prefer DeLorme.
One last item: DeLorme is now offering, for a price, of course, actual satellite/airplane photo overlays which gives you a Google Earth type view of the map. Kind of useful in some situations.
Hope this helps.
Submitted by: David R. of Venice, Florida
I have the exact same problem. I don't know my north from my east and get lost easily.
So, I went out and bought a GPS unit. I got a Garmin c330. There are newer ones out there and I would suggest that you check the newer ones out before getting the one I got.
The one I got does pretty much everything I need, including clear, spoken English to tell me which way to turn (instead of saying east or west, it says turn right or left--which is the way to go). Now, I'm able to go practically anywhere I want to go. I've even gone to cities I've never even thought of going by myself before. (Before the GPS, I NEVER went to a town or city that I didn't know very well without someone else with me.)
As far as features, BE SURE that it has the voice features--that it'll talk to you. That way, you don't have to constantly look at the screen. Having to look at the screen constantly is not only an irritant, but can be dangerous as it takes your eyes off the road. Also be sure that you can upgrade the programming AND the maps!! Not all GPS units will allow you to upgrade the maps.
Figure on spending AT LEAST $400 on one. (Although be sure to check around--especially on the web. You may be able to find even better deals.) You don't necessarily need all the bells and whistles if all you need it for is to get you from here to there. There are those that have mp3 players in them, or will probably even let you record off the radio (not sure about that one), but forget about them. Just get the one that will suit your needs best.
As far as trustworthiness goes, I can't really tell you. I have a Garmin and it does pretty much all I need it to do.
I know that Garmin, at least, will usually include maps that will cover the entire United States and Canada. You can buy other maps if you need them for other countries. For the GPS I have, there are no service fees. The updates to the programming are usually free. However, there will probably be a charge for updated maps, unless the updated maps came out just before you bought the unit. In that case, they may throw in one map update. (There are charges for updates for mine. Probably plan on spending about $50-$75 for updates to the maps.)
As far as the extended coverage for warranty, my advice would normally be no. However, in the case of a GPS, I would say get a good extended coverage for it. Anything can go wrong with it, and it is good for piece of mind. I'm going to have to replace the cigarette lighter adapter for it.
Just be sure to check out any model you can--and see if you can get the store to give you a demo--that way you can get a feel for what it offers. Best Buy (where I got mine) usually will let you see how it runs. I'm betting that other places will too. There are other brands besides Garmin (such as TomTom). They may be better than the one, and they may be worse. I just know that I'm happy with mine.
Once you get one, it'll open up a whole new world for you--it did for me.
Submitted by: Carl R.
Here's one perspective on a personal GPS:
I already owned an HP iPaq pocketpc. For about $225 I bought a bluetooth GPS receiver bundled with Navigation software [OnCourse Navigator] and cables to power both the GPS receiver and the iPaq from a car battery outlet. With 8hr charge time on the GPS and about 6hrs on the iPaq, I can put these in my pockets and go for a hike! I am very happy with this setup! One of the features that I have this way is that I can click on a someone in my Contacts and it gets transferred to the navigation software and entered as the destination automatically. That is sweet. Also, now I dont have to shell out $1500 on every car I buy to include navigation options.
What features to look for? Some models dont work inside buildings [the building shields the unit from the satellite signals]. Otherwise I think the GPS receivers are pretty much alike. On the software side, first look for ease of data entry -- how you can enter your destination. the in-car systems Ive used are really clutzy and poor. I like being able to [bluetooth] over a contact from the PDA or cell phone to the GPS. You also want to be able to upgrade the maps somehow -- both for new roads and also to correct all the glitches in the databases. Also, what about if you travel to Hawaii ? Puerto Rico ? Europe ?? look for a brand that has maps there too. Finally, the OnCourse software I use has a detour feature: If I'm driving and hit a traffic jam or construction, its 2 clicks to say detour, tell it how far ahead of me the jam stretches and it quickly gives an alternate route. And as another feature, you want to be able to find the closest gas station or restaurant! so look for one with lists of nearby stuff: gas station, restaurant, hospitals, schools, museums, etc. etc.
But the last point is this: look at the convergence between cell phones, PDAs and GPS -- you might get all the functionality you want through your cell phone if you wait a few more months. this is a great option because it means you wont have to carry around a version of the database with you -- the cell phone company will do that and just download the route to you. the downside is that it probably wont work for hiking or motoring in areas with poor cell phone coverage.
Submitted by: Jim M. of Ann Arbor, Michigan
GPS units all do the same thing. They receive satellite signals, do some calculations, and then display information across a number of screens. Since the satellite signals are provided by satellites owned and maintained by the government there is no fee (other than your tax dollars) unless you subscribe to some value added service such as GM's OnStar.
Having said that, your selection criteria will be based on a number of questions:
Are you planning to use it more in daylight or darkness?
What kind of batteries does it use or can it be connected to your car/boat battery?
If using it on the water, is it waterproof?
Is the display big enough for you to read?
Are the buttons easy to use and clearly marked?
Are there any particular features you want or need?
What is your budget?
You can buy GPS unts from under a $100 to well into the thousands depending upon the features you need. Color displays and their sizes, available memory, and the ability to integrate with other pieces of equipment (mainly in marine environments) will drive up the cost. A unit that provides driving directions will run in the $400 to $1000 dollar range. Used units are always for sale on eBay.
Another bit of information, if you live near a US Coast Guard Auxiliary unit, you can sign up for a GPS class to learn how to use one. You can find the nearest flotilla here - http://ff.cgaux.org/ - you may be surprised how close it might be!
Submitted by: Ken B.
Some GPS devices acquire a wealth of data that aren't necessarily of use to a purchaser unless you're a data monitoring freak (which I am!). For example the Garmin eMap that I have (purchased about 5 years ago) provides, in addition to navigational maps, Sunset, Altitude, real time progress in location of satellites and their number, plus the usual navigational aids such as estimated arrival times, compass bearing, map contents in setup, etc.
Check out whether the GPS device is sensitive to trees and buildings, especially in wet weather. It's a little embarrassing to have satellite contact interrupted because there are too many trees about - in this respect going down country lanes with trees either side can give rise to a temporary problem, and at a bad time when the moment of decision arrives, such as at a junction. Also need to ask whether the GPS loses satellite contact when next switched on if not used for a few months. The problem is temporary as it is resolved by leaving device on for a couple of hours in an "accessible" location.
Also determine software availability for other continents as well as portability - in other words avoid, if possible, having it exclusively operated from within the car. It's a treasure for navigating through woodland and off the beaten track when it's hand-portable.
I suspect that the eMap that I have was a head of its time given the many useful monitoring facilities which appear not to be available with the latest devices, hence the need to address these issues.
Submitted by: Edward W.