Sunday, November 16, 2008

No More Stopping to Ask for Directions - GPS Devices

j0432597 Don't have a GPS (global positioning system / auto navigation system) if you travel often or live in large metro areas? Then consider getting one.

In the old days, we would often ask for directions from a friend and/or gas station attendant, and often later finding out they were either given wrong or incorrectly written down, GPS devices can dynamically help with directions.  Its true that web based map programs allow you to print your directions work, but if you run into a detour, bad traffic or a emergency road closure, the printed maps are no good.

If you travel often or live in large metro areas such as NYC, D.C., Chicago, Houston, SF, and LA, then buying a GPS device is money well spent.

There are basically three ways you can use GPS devices. One, plan a route to go from point "A" to point "B". Secondly, they can be used as a follow along map to show you where you are. This is good way to learn about the area you are in when traveling or moving.  Lastly, they can help you find the near points of interest (poi) from where you are. Points of interest can be gas stations, restaurants, hotels, and museums. Some devices have emergency location services for pointing you to the nearest hospital, police or fire station.

Going from point "A" to point "B" doesn't have to be going across the country, but rather to specific points. Like from your home to a particular museum downtown or a specific address. When using a GPS device, if you plan a route in advance and encounter obstacles such as road closures, construction or other issues, you can specify there is a detour and get automatically re-routed with a new route. GPS devices are also helpful if you miss an exit for any reason - to help you get back on track to your destination.

Many of your are wondering about using GPS or navigation services from their handheld devices - which usually requires a monthly fee.

While I haven't subscribed to such services, in a review of my travel demands, I determined that its cheaper in the long run to buy one, which will pay for itself in about 2 or 3 years depending on the model selected.  For instance, if the monthly fee is $9.99 a month - in 2 years, you would spend $239.00.  Just enough to buy and own a good GPS device.

If you are deaf/hh then skip devices that have Bluetooth / cell phone capabilities / spoken commands. These not needed features cost extra and can set you back hundreds of dollars.  Also by having a dedicated GPS device, you don't tie up your handheld/phone from email when traveling.

GPS devices have larger screens and can be mounted on the dash or windshield. They can be moved between vehicles like to a rental car. For those that have deep pockets, get a built in dash system (In a few years they may become more common and standard in cars like air bags).

Some of my findings in using a Garmin GPS for a year now.

  • They are useful for short and long trips.
  • At times they can produce an error or contain outdated exits or roads. This is often in the case within growing suburban areas - like in Dallas.
  • Learn to use it before embarking on a long trip.
  • Learn to set it up and glance at the screen instead of fiddling with it while driving.
  • Input favorite locations (frequent travel destinations) in advance.
  • Directions sometimes stop working or get confused when going through parking lots or quickly turning around.  Once you exit a parking lot and drive a couple hundred feet, the maps start working again.
  • If available, utilize passwords to lock the device to protect your information.
  • Put away / take the device with you when leaving the vehicle to reduce the likelihood of theft. Even on your own driveway.  Like laptops, they are high on the theft list.
  • I don't utilize the screen saver mode for pictures, since it creates a driving distraction. Its a feature that's not needed and its mostly a marketing gimmick to get you to buy the device.
  • Lastly, don't be overly reliant on the device.  Sometimes you have to make judgement calls / ignore the provided directions.

You can read more about GPS devices on the web. Garmin and Tomtom are two well known brands. Visit their web sites and your local electronics store to research and determine which device is best for your needs.

Happy travels.

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