An Overview of the GPS

Introduction, Display and Navigation Features

GPS devices have come a long way the past couple of years and with prices dropping, features rising, and more people hopping aboard the GPS bandwagon, you might be wondering if it's time to throw out your old paper maps and make your travel plans easier. If so, you've come to the right place. Let this guide help you in your search for the perfect digital navigator! We'll be providing an overview of the most useful GPS features inside.

GPS Display Screen
Generally, a bigger screen is a better one - as you drive, you'll be going through various lighting - a quality screen should be easy to read even when light is shining on it directly, and have backlighting for readability at night. While bigger is usually better when purchasing a GPS screen, keep your own vehicle in mind - a GPS that's too large for the vehicle will be tough to travel with and read. Screens with higher resolutions will appear crisp and be easy to read while less expensive GPS devices may not be as clear or have as great a viewing angle. Remember that a screen that looks blurry in a store will be even tougher to read when you glance at it on the road. The display isn't the flashiest feature you'll read about, but it could be the most important, because you'll be interacting with it regularly.

Navigation
No matter what features your device has, your experience will suffer without quality maps - look for a model that includes detailed street-level maps and text to speech voice prompts that refer to travel routes and destinations using specific names instead of merely telling the driver to "turn right". Make it a sticking point as you comparison shop, because even lower-end GPS systems have this feature now. This will make it easier for you to follow the routes in an unfamiliar area, and just as importantly, keep your eyes on the road for safety.

Most GPS systems have a feature called points of interest: general places a driver might visit in unfamiliar territory, like parking lots, eateries, malls, and emergency services. Different devices will have a different number of these, some are as high as ten million. While your need for this feature will depend on how often you travel, you should also look for the ability to add your own points of interests - relatives, jobs, and other destinations that you might travel between day to day. It's a useful feature that won't add much to the bottom line.
Good route planning is critical to good navigation. Even a simple GPS should let you easily punch in addresses and destinations, and it shouldn't be a hassle to program a trip with waypoints, for times when you need to run errands, or have more than one destination in mind. More advanced units will allow you to set priorities for your route - a preference for a fast trip over highways over a shorter distance on the road, for example, or a fuel efficient route based on road speed, topography, and vehicle acceleration data. Since it demands a lot of complex math, these features are generally found in more expensive GPS devices.

Urban drivers should take note of a couple of features tailored to improve their experience: some mid-range and high-end portable GPS units are integrated with traffic transmitters that can alert you to traffic accidents, road maintenance, and other inconveniences, and suggest alternate routes. MSN Direct, the most famous of these services, is shutting down in 2012, so they might not be a great longterm investment - but Clear Channel, XM, and automakers like Ford are already rushing to fill the void. Additionally, there's a feature called Lane Assist - which indicates lane you should be traveling in to stay on course, cutting down on missed exits on busy highways.

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November 17, 2009

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