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Gadgets I Love: GPS Automotive Navigation Devices

I was getting ready to write a couple of reviews of new products and realized I hadnít fully tested all the features. So Iíll save them for another time. But that got me thinking that I could at least give you the scoop on what Iím playing with at the moment.

Automotive Navigational Devices

Let me say that these are among the best gadgets to come out in a while. At first I thought they were simply luxury devices, but prices have gone down and I now own two, so Iíve decided they are a lot more than just fun toys.

I first got interested in GPS technology a few years back when GPS receivers were made available to the public at a reasonable cost. I traveled in my car quite a bit, so I thought having one would be useful. I would certainly never be one of those lost hikers you year about, or drive half way across the country in the wrong direction. Nope, not me and my little GPS receiver.

I was so excited the day it came. I took it out to my yard with the manual and started it up. It acquired the satellites and eventually pinpointed me. There was a little dot in the middle of Florida. I was extremely impressed (and a little unnerved, knowing just what those darned satellites can do up there).

I read about waypoints and calculating trips and some things I actually found hard to understand. Then I took my GPS to Atlanta and found it didnít help me at all. I mean, if I were on an expedition for National Geographic I might have used it. But for the average traveler, I was disappointed.

Then the automotive devices came out. Now thatís what I needed, I thought. But they were way too expensive. So when they finally came down in price, I just couldnít help myself. I got a Garmin C340 (which is now in our other car and I use the Nuvi). And let me tell you, I loved it. Still do.

While I can only speak to these two products by the same manufacturer, most of them have similar basic functions, and those are the ones I find most useful. So most of the information in this article should relate to most any auto GPS receiver out there.

As far as using it for directions, it works great, although personally I like to Mapquest my trip and print it out ahead of time. But itís still great for this purpose. Sometimes it takes me on strange routes, but mostly itís very accurate. I had to go to a job in Orlando a while back and it took me on a faster and cheaper (kept me off the toll roads) route.

Probably the best feature and one that I use a lot is to help me find places, whether itís a place I need to go and havenít been able to find it on a map before starting out, or being in an unfamiliar city and wanting to go to a specific restaurant or store.

For example, I had to take my son to an event out-of-town, and I was left with nothing to do for several hours. So I thought Iíd get some shopping done. I knew I could get a lot done at Target, but I had no idea where I Target was. So I just typed it into my GPS and it showed me where all the local Targets were. I picked the closest one and told it to take me there and it did.

Then yesterday I was at the beach with my son and we didnít feel like driving home, so we thought maybe weíd stay in a hotel. Instead of driving around looking for vacancies and checking prices, I just looked up ďlodgingĒ on my GPS, called a few places (they give you the phone number in addition to the address), then let it lead me to the hotel I chose.

That thing is great.

I also have a few addresses stored in it. Even though they are places I can drive to by memory, there have been times when Iíve wanted to get to a place while I was on the road and wasnít sure of the best route. Another example, I was coming home from the beach when I decided to stop at a friendís house. She lives quite a distance from me so we donít get together often. But this trip took me fairly close to her house. I wasnít quite sure how close I was or the best route, so I just punched up her address from my ďfavoritesĒ list and my GPS took it from there.

The Garmin C340 is a basic unit that is wonderful. When my son began driving I put it in the car he will be sharing with my mother. I feel so much better knowing he has that with him. If he needs gas or gets lost, it should be able to help him out.

I have the Nuvi in my car. It has a few more features (it plays MP3ís, so I can listen to music and audio books and has Bluetooth so I can use my cell phone with it Ė but I havenít tried these yet). The best thing about the Nuvi is that itís small and flat, so you can take it off your windshield and slid it into itís case and take it with you. I like this because I fear having a GPS unit in the car is an invitation to break in. Plus, if you really want to, you can use it while youíre walking around. The worst thing is that the windshield mount wonít stay stuck on (not a problem with the C340).

In any case, I think these things are wonderful, even for people like me who are usually pretty good with directions and have a car loaded with maps. Plus, every man should have one. That way they donít have to ask for directions. Instead they can discretely obtain them from their GPS unit. If anyone sees them using it, they simply look cool using their high-tech gadget. These things could usher in a whole new society of men getting places on time! (This observation was made to me by a man, I should note).

So I strongly suggest investing in one, especially if you have new driver in your family. And itís a must for road trips or for anyone who has just moved into a new city. The prices keep dropping and more varieties of units are available, so having one isnít as much a hit in the pocketbook as it once was. And if you go on vacation, take it with you. Some rental cars offer them now, but not all do, so why not bring your own? I canít tell you how much time mine saves me when Iím out of town.

So thatís the latest of my gadgets. Believe me, I have more, so Iíll share more in the future. In the meanwhile, stop by the Wireless and Cellular forum and tell us what your favorite gadgets are and why. You might be making someoneís day

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