Jeepers, GPS is a cool tool
There are now enough in-car devices on the market to drive you to distraction, and a Global Positioning System just adds to the dashboard clutter.
But man, is it cool. It can direct you to the nearest Starbucks when you need a caffeine fix, warn you when you’re about to get nabbed by a red-light camera and even speak in other tongues.
If your IT I.Q. is low, you might want to avoid the GPS models in the low-end, $280 range, since you have to download your own maps. You might want to pay a little more for something like the $400 Garmin Street Pilot C320, says Jesse Sampson, applications manager for Calgary-based gpscentral.ca. Not only do you get preloaded maps, you also get a touch-screen bigger than a postage stamp with colour graphics.
The first thing you need to decide is where on earth you’re going to use the GPS. If you travel mainly in Canada, avoid mapping software by TeleAtlas. Navteq or DMTI Spatial won’t steer you wrong.
When it comes to in-car satellite receivers, Sampson recommends the Garmin Street Pilot C550, Garmin Nuvi 660 and the TomTom 910, which is good in Canadian cities but pretty much useless once you’re in the countryside.
If you want to turn on a dime, the Wide Area Augmentation System is a series of ground-based U.S. stations that take into account all the errors that can interrupt a radio signal in the ionosphere, and improves accuracy within two to three metres, 95 per cent of the time.
The in-car models all talk, supposedly to prevent you from taking your eyes off the road and the newest versions have what’s called voice-to-text, which means the little person inside the box will not only tell you when to turn but will tell you the name of the street you want to turn on to.
At the very high end, GPS systems come with Bluetooth, so you can run your cellphone through them, and some now have satellite radio built in. They also include points of interest, such as the nearest Canadian Tire or coffee shop, and can direct you there. But you can also, for example, download the location of red-light cameras in your city from the Web, add it to the POI list, and have your receiver give you a proximity alert when you’re approaching an intersection with a spy cam. Unfortunately, as Sampson can personally attest, they cannot detect radar traps.
Although you can stick a navigation program on a laptop, a PDA or even a cellphone, the newer GPS systems are also portable. And some customers are using them to help out in their travels. For about $80 you can buy a language guide for the higher-end units such as the Nuvi 660, load it in and take it to Harry’s Bar in Venice. Decide what you want to say — for verisimilitude, we’ll use, “Two beers, please” — hold it up to the waiter, and press a button.
If you live in the big city, you might want to spend a wad on the new SiRF chip, which allows you to grab a signal faster and lock it in even in the middle of all those bank towers at King and Bay.
What’s on the horizon? A subscription service for traffic reports in major U.S. cities that is expected to be rolled out in Toronto and Montreal next year. Good thing, because with all the bells and whistles on these hi-tech toys, there may be a few more accidents to avoid.