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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 11/23/2010

Thanksgiving travel tip: Use GPS apps to look for traffic (with video)

By Rob Pegoraro

In this week's video episode, I turn to an unavoidable unpleasantness of this time of year: Thanksgiving traffic.

I've spent the past few years trying different devices and programs that might offer some guidance about that. The clip below shows how three options -- two free with your existing smartphone, one that costs extra on an iPhone -- might solve that problem.

(For earlier episodes, such as last week's review of Apple's MacBook Air, see the video channel we've set up.)

Now, my thoughts on each of these options:

* Google Maps Navigation. About the only thing I don't like about this program is the way it sucks an Android phone's battery dry so quickly. A year ago, I would have also cited its requirement for constant wireless bandwidth -- but that hasn't been a factor in my own day-to-day use. (One reason: If there are enough people driving around to require the traffic-sensitive navigation that Google excels at, you can usually count on decent mobile coverage.)

* Add-on navigation programs for the iPhone. These have improved immensely since their disappointing debuts in 2009, but the fact that you need to spend extra for a traffic option after buying the app itself stings a bit. (The Navigon app I used in the video allowed me to buy that add-on through my App Store account, while a TomTom app wanted me to open an account with the company before making an equivalent purchase.) You do get offline navigation in the bargain, thanks to these apps' including their own map databases.

* A human copilot with a smartphone. This relatively low-tech solution has become my most common solution on long drives where I've long since memorized the route (hello again, New Jersey Turnpike!) and want to know if I should stay on the current highway. For that, I only need to know what Google Maps' traffic data shows. Having a second person in the passenger seat to read off that information neatly addresses this issue, along with such other tasks as changing CDs or playlists and taking a turn behind the wheel when I get tired.

I didn't address a fourth option in the video: the $10/month navigation services that wireless carriers sell. They can be a reasonable option if they come free with your plan (as is the case with Sprint's Everything Data offerings) or if you can turn the service on and off as needed. Otherwise, route around them.

What's your traffic-avoidance tactic? Share your tip -- or your complaint about the last time GPS navigation steered your wrong -- in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  | November 23, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Location awareness, Mobile, Weekly video  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Apple ships iOS 4.2 update for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch (updated with AirPlay review)
Next: Apple posts Black Friday teaser. But who doesn't these days?


iPhone and iPad have Google Maps with the traffic layer and IO pay nothing more for it. Typical poor newspaper research.

Posted by: pdqlmnop | November 23, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

A few months back, we got a standalone GPS unit that does free traffic (though it does occasionally display a small ad at the top of the screen)). It's pretty nice, actually, and the traffic info has helped us several times. It'll be interesting to see how it performs with Thanksgiving traffic.

Posted by: rjm1 | November 23, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

The co-pilot option has worked best for us, using the Inrix Traffic App on a 3G iPhone, which we've found to be pretty accurate (if anything, we've found it occasionally over-estimates traffic, a nice surprise). The driver can focus on driving, and the co-pilot can start scoping out the traffic well ahead of time.

Combined with a Sirius/XM subscription where you can tune into the traffic of major markets, you can avoid the worst of the traffic that way.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | November 23, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Many folks with BlackBerrys don't realize that Google Maps is available for BlackBerry. It's the single best BB download out there. Maps include traffic.

Posted by: Meezer | November 23, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

The Mapquest app for iPhone has workable navigation and directions capability, and it's free.

Posted by: JkR- | November 23, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

DEar Sir,

The Tidings brought to us by good cheer have en'thralled all of us here in the little Village Communit ny' of Prospect Heights.
Your vision ' is heart warming and met with well reception.

Thank you

Posted by: kadija1 | November 23, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Your comments are well recieved

Posted by: kadija1 | November 23, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Goog maps for blackberry is def the way to go. Live traffic saves me daily. I am also a fan of the Latitude feature. Tracks me & allows me share my location. Very handy to share with the spouse or in case I end up in a ditch.

Posted by: spagball | November 23, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

iPhone and iPad have Google Maps with the traffic layer and IO pay nothing more for it. Typical poor newspaper research.
Posted by: pdqlmnop | November 23, 2010 7:52 AM |

Genetically perfect Apple fanboy still have fatty fingers apparently.

Posted by: Rocc00 | November 23, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Stay home and have your company come to you, that's how I'd avoid it. Or leave at midnight and hope no construction slows you up.

Posted by: dcfdny | November 23, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Concur with Google Maps on Blackberry. If you are on Verizon, it has probably already been pushed to your BB and you just haven't noticed the icon.

Rob, As for northbound on the Jersey TP, you don't need a smartphone for the southern half. Take I-295 to I-195 to Exit 7A. It is always faster and less congested (and toll-free).

Posted by: hisroc | November 23, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

I've been very happy with the iPhone app AT&T Navigator. The app is free, you pay $10/month or $70/year for the service -- which means you always have current maps.

As Rob said, a car charger is a must-have when running one of these GPS apps.

Posted by: phs123 | November 23, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Also, the AT&T Navigator app now warns you about those annoying red-light cameras.

Posted by: phs123 | November 23, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Error...not red-light cameras -- it warns you about the speeding enforcement cameras.

Posted by: phs123 | November 23, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Oh, hisroc - you just let the cat out of the bag and blew the good route...

It can be pretty wild southbound though - you have to go through the 6 to 3 lane squeeze. Always good for a little crossword solving.

Posted by: AMac1 | November 23, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

My GPS doesnt work I had a smoorgusboard of Television and Radio OPS/Phone Grids and
subway information-until I read the C++ Manual to my APPLE GPS PHONE adaption.
Apparently, Live Channel and STORED information are interchangable on my phone.

I'd SUBSCRIBE to the Edison Bell Magazine Ed.

Posted by: kadija1 | November 23, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

The Worst is the Conversation Model
in which a Web Cam is installed for confrence calls-no one has to show up at work they'd call from Golf or Parachuting Jumps and resume.
This type of Model has been around since the 90's-00ees there is not much room for improvement except a doen'grade see CPS Manual for STORING INFORMATION on

Posted by: kadija1 | November 23, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

I use the Google Maps traffic, but I don't trust it at all. Last night at 6 pm it said that 395 South was all green. It was stopped from the Pentagon to Edsall road. I'd love for it to be useful, but it just isn't.

Posted by: smo06 | November 23, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

I use a standalone GPS with free traffic reports built in. On a trip from Northern Virginia to Boston Tuesday, I was alerted by a traffic sign to a 7-mile back-up on I-95 in Connecticut. Just after seeing that, my GPS directed me off at the next exit to the Merritt Parkway, then to I-81 and the Mass Pike. I continued on my way without a single traffic delay the entire trip. The free traffic reports have also gotten me around delays and quickly across the GW Bridge in NYC numerous times. The rule in our car is go where the GPS takes you.

Posted by: alannpro | November 23, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Personally, although the technological phenomena that are sweeping this nation are “cool”, I feel enough emphasis is not put on safety. If we are to glorify the majesty of using a GPS in a car, it is kind of ironic that using a phone in a car and texting are greatly looked down upon. I feel that all of our technological prowess should be used to research alternatives to handheld navigation. Handheld navigation veers your view away from the road where it belongs. Handheld navigation is very distracting, and has the capacity to lead to just as many accidents as phones.
I propose that apple, and other smart-phone providers come up with a way so that the gps does not have to be handheld. Any way to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the wheel is making the world a safer place.
Now, I don’t want to put down gps technology altogether, I believe they definitely have their place. A digital map is inspiring and definitely belongs in a car, however, constantly looking down to see it is hindering your driving ability. The eye is drawn to the constant movement of the car on the gps so what I say is we take out the animation and constant movement and make gps’ solely audio and digital maps with no animation

Posted by: kdd5872 | November 24, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for all the comments. To add my own: Google Maps failed us this time around when it didn't offer any heads-up about a roughly five-mile backup around Maryland House Tuesday night. (Did any of you get stuck in that?)

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | November 24, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

According to my estimate, GPS traffic data is about 5 years from being better than 50% reliable.

Posted by: gpsman | November 26, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

It would be faster to walk to your destination rather than try to use the app on your iPhone - good luck getting an AT&T wireless signal:

Posted by: VaishWords | November 29, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

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