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GPS Is My Co-Pilot

I still take pride in my ability to figure out where I'm at and where I need to go to next from just the scenery and the angle of the sun (plus, if strictly necessary) a map. I don't stop and ask for a directions either. But I have to admit it: I've gotten awfully comfortable with Global Positioning System guidance.

The Toyota Prius my wife and I bought in 2005 includes GPS, and we use that all the time. Even when we know the route and the destination, it's still great to see the car count down the miles and minutes remaining. (Trying to beat those numbers, along with trying to run up the MPG figure for the current tank of gas, have to be two of the most popular pastimes of Prius drivers.)

I had been thinking about comparing some stand-alone GPS receivers for a while, but two things finally convinced me. One, I had two or three readers in a row ask me where they could read my last writeup of GPS receivers; two, the crime reports we run on Thursdays have started listing a lot of these items under the "Thefts From Vehicle" category.

Today's column (and podcast) looks at three pocket-sized GPS receivers. Each is made for an in-car setup (but don't suction-cup them to the windshield in California or Minnesota) and also allows walking-around use also:

* Garmin's Nuvi 680 (Yes, that page lists a price of $964.27, not $900 as I wrote--Garmin's PR rep assured me that $900 is the real figure.)

* LG's LN740

* Magellan's Maestro 4050 (here's the amazing sight of a technology company confessing that it will need to shut down its online store for half a month to upgrade its software.)

One thing I didn't go into in today's story was the comparison between built-in and aftermarket GPS hardware in cars. The add-on devices have a huge cost advantage--even paying $900 for the Nuvi 680 looks like a deal compared to the $2,000 or $3,000 it will cost to get this feature from the vehicle manufacturer (though that often includes a variety of other upgrades beyond GPS). You can also use the aftermarket model outside the vehicle.

Then again, in-dash GPS provides a much larger screen, with correspondingly larger buttons. Some models even come with their own live traffic-data service--and for those that don't, a passenger with a smartphone running Google Maps can provide the same information. (Or you could just pay attention to the radio and highway message signs.)

If you get into higher-end options like Bluetooth, built-in systems can provide additional advantages: They can mute the stereo automatically when a call comes in, and the phone buttons are real buttons, right on the steering wheel.

What kind of technology do you use to stay on course and on time when you're driving: GPS? Maps? Sextant? Astrolabe?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 2, 2007; 10:24 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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