Mobile Computing: GPS Buyers Guide
Navigational devices are affordable, but the
choices are confusing. Here's help.
Ah, the lure of the open
road in summer. You take time off work, hop in the car, roll the
windows down, turn the radio up, push the pedal to the metal,
and head for the highway. Then, while you're peeling the pickles
off your fast-food cheeseburger, you miss your exit. So you take
the next one, three miles later. But you can't get back to the
highway from that exit, and you're forced to turn right when you
want to go left. Before you know it, you're lost.
Can the global positioning
system save you from such an ignominious fate? Perhaps: I've
found that a GPS receiver keeps me on track and, in the event of
a misstep, gets me back to where I need to be.
But as with most
electronic gadgets, there are various types of GPS products
aimed at different types of user and budget levels. This week I
present a guide to help you determine which device is best for
At its most basic, a GPS
receiver is an electronic instrument that pinpoints your current
location on a map. GPS devices for consumers are generally
available as add-on accessories for Palm OS and Pocket PC PDAs;
as stand-alone devices used by hikers, urban explorers, and
others; and as navigational systems built into high-end
A few rental car agencies,
most notably Hertz, provide in-car GPS navigational devices as
an option. The Hertz NeverLost system is a color LCD panel that
displays maps and allows you to enter information using
on-screen buttons. Along with pinpointing your location, the
Hertz NeverLost system provides turn-by-turn audio driving
directions (to minimize driver distraction). When it's time to
turn right, for instance, a gentle voice prompts you.
The GPS network of
satellites was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense
during the Cold War as a way to quickly pinpoint the precise
locations of surfaced nuclear submarines, according to Trimble,
a GPS developer. According to Trimble's Web site, the cost of
developing the GPS was $12 billion. In other words, your
parents' tax dollars paid for today's GPS infrastructure.
Do You Often Travel to Unfamiliar Places?
Before you shop for a GPS
device, consider how often you end up in new cities or towns
during the course of a year.
To me, the ideal candidate
for a GPS device is someone who travels to unfamiliar areas at
least five times a year and, while there, must find their way to
several locations (such as a client's office, a convention
center, a restaurant, and so on).
The frequent business
traveler to unfamiliar lands has too much at stake not to
consider a GPS receiver. For instance, years ago I became
hopelessly lost en route to an interview with a CEO in Tampa, a
city I knew nothing about. Needless to say, the executive was
fuming when I finally arrived an hour late (this was in the days
before cell phones or consumer GPS devices) and the interview
was a bust.
How Would You Use the GPS?
The circumstances in which
you'd use a GPS receiver should also play a role in your buying
decision. Some examples:
Do you often drive by
yourself? If so, you need a device
that provides audible driving directions, so you can keep your
eyes on the road. Example: Garmin International's StreetPilot
III (see the "GPS Gallery" below for more details on this and
Do you often need to
find your location on a map while walking?
In that case, consider an add-on to a PDA (or a
stand-alone handheld GPS device). Because they're small, the
devices are easily carried around. Example: Mapopolis' GPS
receivers for Palms and Pocket PCs.
Do you often travel by
car with a notebook but only occasionally need help?
Then a GPS accessory that works on your notebook
may be just the ticket. Example: Navman GPS E Series for
Notebooks, which connects to a portable computer via USB port.
Do you always drive
your own car, or do you rent? If you
make frequent business trips with your own wheels, consider
investing in an in-car navigation system. They're expensive but
could be worth the money. Some BMWs, Cadillacs, and other
high-end automobiles offer navigation systems as options. On the
other hand, if you often rent a car, consider booking a Hertz
NeverLost-equipped vehicle. Or buy a GPS device that sits on the
dashboard and can be moved from one car to another, such as the
Garmin StreetPilot III.