Choosing a GPS

The latest "you are here" technology appeals to the Mr. Magoo in all of us.

If you have better things to do with your time than play Marco Polo in your business jaunts around town or across the country, a Global Positioning System (GPS) may be the ticket. These systems—which, for consumers, start at about $100 and top out at just over $1,000—enable you to pinpoint your location on a computerized map anywhere on earth. In addition, most GPS units can plot point-to-point driving directions to and from any town or city, no matter how remote.

If your orientation skills on foot are less than stellar, GPS manufacturers also have units that allow you to mark your path with electronic “bread crumbs,” which you can use to easily retrace your steps to your starting point.

All of this wizardry is possible thanks to a 24-satellite navigation system continuously circling the earth, which started life as a military project back in the late ’70s, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Fortunately, the DOD opened up the system to civilian use a few years later, and today every GPS manufacturer uses the system to let millions of people know just where they are.

Over the years, GPS manufacturers have done a great job of offering the technology across an ever-widening spectrum of hardware formats. Indeed, these days, you can get GPS technology in a standalone unit or as a laptop add-on or PDA enhancement—and even on some mobile phones. Which choice is the right one for you?

Here’s a sampling of the best the GPS industry has to offer right now. (All prices quoted are list prices; you’ll probably get a better deal if you shop around.)

In-Car Portable Units

In-car GPS portables are the most robust standalone units you can buy. Three units lead the pack in this category: the Garmin StreetPilot 2620 ($1,071), the Lowrance iWay 500 C ($799) and the Magellan RoadMate 700 ($749). All three offer extremely bright screens, highly accurate point-to-point directions, storage of previously traveled routes and relatively large hard drives that can hold more maps than the GPS you’ll find on most PDAs and similar handheld units. You’ll also find richer location detail with these higher-end units, such as pointers to more gas stations, lodgings and restaurants.

Essentially, these are the units you’ll want to choose from if you’re looking for a top-of-the-line product at the consumer level.

Laptop Software

Of course, if you’ve already got a laptop in tow, GPS-enabling your unit involves little more than buying a GPS software/GPS receiver kit. The advantages of this spin include cost (some packages go for just over $100), as well as the luxury of viewing your point-to-point directions on the large screen of your laptop. The laptop systems are just as reliable as the in-car GPS portables and, generally speaking, can store as many maps and routes. If you haven’t already installed some sort of mounting system for your laptop in your car, you’ll need to add one along with your new GPS.

A top mover in this category is the Delorme Earthmate GPS LT-20 ($99). Delorme makes its own mapping software to go along with the unit, although you’ll also have the option of adding mapping software from another company if you prefer. Microsoft also competes in this space with the Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006 with GPS Locator ($129).

Handheld Products

If you’re based in an urban area and think walks around town seem more like disorienting safaris, a handheld GPS may be the ticket for you. Most of these units give point-to-point directions. The major plus is that they are significantly less expensive than those on the higher end. However, you will have to do a bit of sacrificing for the savings. Screens in this category are smaller, and your unit won’t hold as many maps.

Still, these offerings are worth it simply for the peace of mind of knowing you’ll always be able to find your way back home when you’re tooling around in a strange town or city. Tops in the category in terms of performance and price is the Garmin eTrex ($106), which sports a monochrome screen, and uses “waypoints” to enable you to track any route you take. Essentially, these waypoints are the modern-day equivalent of Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs, enabling you to leave a computerized trail you can use to find your way back. The biggest drawback? This entry-level eTrex does not store maps at all, so it won’t tell you how to get where you are going, though it will show you the way back.

Other hardy units among the handhelds are the Garmin eTrex Legend ($182), which does offer map storage and the ability to store 20 routes; the Garmin GPSMAP 76S ($430), known for great accuracy; and the Magellan eXplorist XL North America ($419), which, unlike the other handhelds, sports a color screen.

Bluetooth GPS for PDAs

Not surprisingly, GPS manufacturers are also trying to penetrate the PDA market. If you happen to have a PDA that’s Bluetooth-ready, you’re in luck: The TomTom Navigator 5 Bluetooth GPS ($299) should be a perfect fit. One of Navigator’s primary advantages is that it has been proven to work well with a wide spectrum of PDAs, including those from Dell and several PocketPC PDAs based on Microsoft Mobile software, as well as the Palm Treo mobile phone.

If you’ve yet to buy a PDA and would rather have one that has GPS built in, you’ll want to check out the Garmin iQue M5 ($699). Essentially, if you can find the unit’s on-off switch, you’ll have GPS ready to go.

Biking/Hiking Solutions

Given fitness professionals’ passion for the active life, a second GPS for biking or hiking makes sense. These units tend to be more rugged than their more delicate cousins, although like the handhelds, they’re smaller and less sophisticated than higher-end products. Offerings to check out in this genre include the Garmin Edge 305CAD ($379) for cyclists, and the Garmin Forerunner 205 ($267) and Forerunner 305 ($376) for walkers and runners. Unfortunately, these GPS units—like handheld GPS products—cannot double as in-car solutions since they do not feature street maps.



This section of the article is still in the process of conversion to the web.

Given fitness professionals’ passion for the active life, a second GPS for biking or hiking makes sense. These units tend to be more rugged than their more delicate cousins, although like the handhelds, they’re smaller and less sophisticated than higher-end products. Offerings to check out in this genre include the Garmin Edge 305CAD ($379) for cyclists, and the Garmin Forerunner 205 ($267) and Forerunner 305 ($376) for walkers and runners. Unfortunately, these GPS units—like handheld GPS products—cannot double as in-car solutions since they do not feature street maps.

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Joe Dysart

IDEA Author/Presenter
Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, California. You... more less
April 2006

© 2006 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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