Garmin International
Garmin's Street Pilot C330 let you choose a 3-D or standard 'bird's eye' view of the road.
By Columnist
updated 7/22/2005 4:26:48 PM ET 2005-07-22T20:26:48

It used to be when you were driving somewhere and found yourself lost — when road maps no longer made any sense and you were forced to stop and ask for directions.  Not anymore.  Now, thanks to a system run by the U.S. Department of Defense you can actually have a device tell you where to go.

GPS stands for the Global Positioning System — a worldwide radio-navigation system which uses 24 satellites and their ground stations as reference points to triangulate exactly where you are.  In civilian form it’s accurate to a few yards.  In the advanced military form it’s accurate to within inches.

The first GPS receivers were large, bulky and very expensive.  All that has changed as integrated circuits evolved.  Today you can find GPS devices built into cars, boats, airplanes, computers, cell phones, and even farm machinery.

GPS systems for cars come in a few different form factors.  The unit that mounts on a dashboard is usually the most recognizable.  One of the leaders in the industry is Garmin International whose Street Pilot systems reside in many automobiles.

In its latest version, the Street Pilot C330, Garmin has made GPS piloting very easy.  The C330 features a simple 3.5 inch, color touch screen interface, with automatic route calculation and turn-by-turn voice-prompted directions along the way.  It allows you to choose between a three-dimensional navigation view or the more traditional “bird’s eye” overhead view.

The C330 has rechargeable batteries so you can use it outside the car for trip planning and comes pre-loaded with highly detailed MapSource street maps featuring more than five million points of interest—including hotels, restaurants, gas stations, ATMs, and attractions.

The Street Pilot is lightweight - 9.45 ounces.  Users can customize their unit’s appearance with an array of optional colored faceplates.  Price for the unit is $964.27 for the North America unit.

Garmin M5
Garmin International
Garmin's M5 runs the Windows Mobile perating system.  They have another that runs on Palm handheld devices.
Garmin also makes PDAs with GPS built inside.  The iQue 3200 (runs on the Palm OS) and the iQue M5 (Windows Mobile) are full-function handheld computers which can also tell you where you’re going.

You decide, in advance, where you’ll be traveling so you can load the appropriate maps from the CDs they give you onto a small memory card or cards.  Obviously, the more memory you have the more maps you can carry with you.  In both models, the antenna folds flush into the back of the PDA when not being used. 

I’ve tested both the 3200 and the M5.  Both were able to lead me to my destination with ease.  The iQue 3200 retails for $535.70 and the M5 sells for $749.99. 

Many companies make units that connect to you own personal computer or PDA either by some sort of serial/USB cord or via Bluetooth.  The GPS unit collects the data and sends it to the PDA – where it’s matched up with a map loaded into the computer’s memory. 

PalmOne GPS
PalmOne now has two GPS car units - one wired and another handles Bluetooth connections.
All of this is not as elegant solution as the all-in-one unit above but the advantage is that you can take your PDA or computer with you when you’re done and leave the GPS portion in your vehicle. 

For instance, PalmOne has just announced two GPS systems: a redesigned GPS Navigator (249.99 and connects with a cord) to be used with the new, top-of-the-line LifeDrive, plus the Treo 650 smart phone, and the Tungsten E2 and T5 handhelds will be available this month — and their new GPS Car Kit which connects with Bluetooth ($249.99) for the Tungsten E2 and T5 is coming in August.

GPS is also making an appearance in cell phones.  That’s because the government wants 911 providers to be able to find your location in an emergency.  So, the E911 program relies on GPS to be built-into cell phones, rather than having you tell an operator where you are.

Nextel i836
The Nextel i836 is small, light and features an E911 GPS sysetm.
Nextel has been in the forefront of equipping their handsets with GPS.  They currently have a large number of phones with integrated GPS services.  I’ve currently been playing with their newest compact device, the i836.  It’s a terrific phone and the GPS system has been able to tell me where I am when I’ve tested it on both coasts.  The i836 is currently selling for $199.99.

There are also services which use Nextel E911-enabled cell phones GPS to give you driving directions.  TeleNav gives you audio and video driving cues over your handset and lets you plan your trips in advance and download the information when you need it.  It costs $9.99 per month for unlimited service.

Finally, for the ultimate auto navigation system, there’s the brand new Pioneer AVIC-N2.  It’s a dashboard-mounted device that helps you get where you’re going like all of the previously mentioned items – but it just might help get you there a lot faster.

Pioneer GPS
Pioneer's next-generation GPS/entertainment unit synchs with XM traffic reports.
The Pioneer system is not only linked to GPS satellites but also to XM satellite radio’s NavRadio service.  It displays traffic incidents and road-flow conditions on a motorized, 6.5 inch touch-screen monitor.  The system tells you about accidents and road problems by means of traffic icons and suggests alternative routes around major traffic incidents and heavily congested roads.

Traffic flow is displayed in different colors – green for more than 40 MPH, yellow from 20-40 MPH and red for less than 20 MPH).  Additional icons inform you of road construction and closures.

By the way, this is not just a GPS/navigation unit.  It’s also a full, in-dash car entertainment system with AM/FM/XM radio, CD, DVD and MP3 playback.  Plus, there’s something called the Vehicle Dynamics Monitor which includes a visual interpretation of a clock, compass and voltage meter as well as being able to show you your vehicle’s G-forces (forward, backward and lateral), angular velocity and slope.

All in all, this next-generation system is very, very impressive.   Expect to pay for all this technology.  Pioneer’s AVIC-N2 retails for $1,999 although I’ve seen it available online for just under $1,500.  And don’t forget the monthly subscription fee needed for the XM radio service.

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