Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Which GPS features are worth the trip?

Consumer Reports looks at new portable GPS models and which features are worth. This appears in the magazine's December issue:

Traffic information. This shows traffic flow along major highways, often indicated by color-coded lines, as well as the location of accidents and road construction. It can warn you of congestion along your route, and some systems even reroute around it. At one time traffic info was available only by subscription, for about $60 per year. But many newer models provide it free of charge supported by small onscreen ads. That is the way to go.

Bottom line: It can be useful for metro-area commuters or for navigating around rush-hour traffic in an unfamiliar city. But CR found that it can be limited and its accuracy can vary. You can often get similar information by listening to radio traffic reports.

Connected services: By using a built-in cellular modem, some high-end Garmin and TomTom models can deliver real-time online information for items such as local weather, fuel prices, and movie times. Or you can perform a Google search for a nearby business or point of interest. After an initial period of free service, a subscription is required ($10 per month for TomTom, $60 per year for Garmin).

Bottom line: If you don't mind the fee, the service can be handy for if you frequently make local searches or want access to the most up-to-date information. But keep in mind that if you're in an area with no data connection, it won't help you.

Voice recognition. This allows you to enter a destination and perform other functions simply by speaking a command. It's available in a few high-end models.

Bottom line: It's handy but not essential. It can reduce distraction by helping you keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. But patience is often needed. CR found Garmin's system to be the most helpful.

Text-to-speech. Also called "spoken street names." It lets a unit say specific street names or highway numbers when it gives directions, rather than simply saying a generic "turn left."

Bottom line: It makes directions more precise and is available even in lower-priced models.

Reality view/lane assist. These are often packaged together. Reality view displays a 3D view of exits, intersections, and overhead signs as you approach them. Lane assist shows the best lane to be in for an upcoming turn.

Bottom line: These are worth it. They make highway transitions easier to navigate.

In addition, here are some of CR's Recommended GPS navigators for several price-points:

* Best for $150 or less: Magellan Maestro 4350, $150; TomTomOne140S, $100
* Best for $250 or less: Garmin Nuvi 1490T, $250; TomTomGo740 Live, $250
* Best for more than $250: Garmin Nuvi 3760T, $400; Motorola Motonav TN765t, $280


Additional information on holiday shopping appears in the December issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

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