You’re stuck in traffic and you have 10 minutes to get to a meeting with a client. You look at the directions and can’t figure out which lane you need to be in. You miss your turn and have to drive to another exit and turn around, finally arriving at your destination a few minutes late and completely frazzled, not to mention the extra gas you wasted.
The whole scenario could have been avoided with a global positioning system. With options such as lane assistance, traffic updates, and 3D images of intersections, GPS is making it easier to get to your destination efficiently, saving you time and gas. If you aren’t already taking advantage of this technology, familiarize yourself with some of the available features to determine which model could work best for your particular needs.
Starting with the basics, make sure you choose a screen size that will be easy enough to see while you’re driving. Sizes typically range from 3.5 to 4.3 inches, diagonally, although larger options are available. Make sure you can read the screen, or upgrading to a model with 3D intersections won’t do you much good.
Most units come with preloaded maps of the continental United States at minimum, and many, such as the Garmin nuvi series, cover all of North America. You can also purchase additional maps of Europe, the Middle East, and more. Remember that maps need to be updated as roads change and points of interest, such as restaurants, open and close. Garmin and Magellan annual map updates for North America run about $80. Navigon offers FreshMaps, which gives you 12 updates over three years for $80, allowing you to update maps quarterly.
If you’re in an unfamiliar area and running low on gas, points of interest will also come in handy. Usually containing anywhere from 1 million to 6 million stored POIs, the devices can direct you to gas stations, restaurants, ATMs, hotels, and more, as well as provide phone numbers for the locations. Some also allow you to load your own points.
Rather than looking at a map repeatedly, you can use text-to-speech to tell you where to turn, including the specific street name, a major improvement over “turn left in 100 feet.” This will prevent the confusion that caused The Office boss Michael Scott to end up in a lake while on a road trip. A voice command feature lets you enter your address by speaking rather than having to physically enter the information.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to receive traffic updates through your device. Your GPS can then reroute you around accidents or congestion. You usually have to pay an additional subscription fee for the traffic service. Before subscribing, make sure that the roads you travel most frequently are covered.
If you can dream it, a company probably offers it. For example, the TomTom GO can calculate your route based on past traffic information, tell you which lane you need to be in to exit, and provide 3D images of intersections. Then there are also Bluetooth capability, Zagat ratings, and speed assistance, which tells you when you go over the speed limit.
Keep in mind that while some of these features sound good in theory, they may still be a work in progress. Decide which extras are most important to you and then check out reviews from editors and users on sites such as GPS magazine. Manufacturers, including Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom, allow you to conduct side-by-side comparisons of various models on their sites. Even with the most basic models, fumbling with printed directions and missing exits will become things of the past.