Many of us will be hitting the road for vacation this summer. No matter where you go, a GPS unit will help. Whether you're going across town or the state, the units make road trips a breeze.
GPS units used to provide little more than driving directions. Today's GPS units offer many more features. You'll find points of interest and real-time traffic information. You'll arrive where you want to be at the right time.
But before you purchase a GPS unit, do some research. First, there are several types of GPS units. Marine units are designed for boating. Trail units are helpful to hikers. You may want a street GPS unit to help you navigate streets and cities.
No matter which GPS unit you choose, it should be easy to use. But there are other factors to consider, too.
Some units incorporate live traffic information. You'll need to pay a monthly fee for this feature.
The traffic information helps you avoid gridlock and save travel time. This in turn helps you conserve gas. You can find alternate routes. Some even recommend detours.
One unit to consider is the Dash Express ($400). This two-way Internet-connected system is unlike any other. It provides real-time traffic data from other Dash users. You can also access locally relevant information from the Internet.
The Dash lets you plan routes and send them to the GPS unit. A monthly plan is required for connected features. A month-to-month plan is $13. Yearly rates are lower.
It doesn't matter what features a GPS unit offers. If you can't read the screen, it won't be helpful. Look for a bright color screen and a wide angle of view. You're a safer driver when you're not squinting at a GPS screen.
TomTom's One XL S ($350) features a large 4.3-inch touch screen. It can be updated with real-time traffic service. You can also share your maps with others.
A crisp screen helps when you're driving. But it can't match text-to-speech. The unit reads directions to you. You don't need to watch the screen. The GPS unit announces upcoming turns.
But text-to-speech is not created equal. Look for one that announces both distance and street names.
Garmin's Nuvi 350 ($400) announces the names of exits and streets. Two- and three-dimensional maps will help you find your way. A receiver for traffic information can be added.
Points of Interest
A GPS can help you navigate a strange city, but that's no help if you don't know where the attractions are located.
So look for a unit that has a large database of points of interest. You'll find cultural spots and tourist attractions. Restaurants, hotels and other businesses are also listed.
Magellan's Maestro 3250 ($400) features six million points of interest. You can also access AAA TourBook information. The 3250 also provides voice directions and accepts voice commands. A traffic receiver is built in for real-time traffic.
Most of us are on a budget. So ask yourself this: Do you really need a dedicated GPS unit? Or could you get by with something less?
GPS add-ons are available for many gadgets. You'll find them for some music players, PDAs and cell phones. Most of these are relatively inexpensive, but you will probably give up some convenience. These are likely to be smaller and harder to read.
Editor's Note: Kim Komando's column will move to Monday beginning next week.