Let a GPS unit guide your travel

Many of us will be hitting the road for vacation this summer. Whether you're going across town or across the country, GPS units make road trips a breeze.

Global Positioning System units used to provide little more than driving directions. Today's GPS devices offer many more features. You'll find points of interest and real-time traffic information as well as MP3 players, photo viewers and audio book readers.

But before you buy a GPS unit, do some research. There are several different types of GPS units. Marine units are designed for boating. Trail GPS units are helpful to hikers. You want a street GPS unit to help you navigate streets and cities.

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 also 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 (about $13) is required for Internet-connected features. A one-year prepaid plan works out to about $11 a month and a two-year plan is about $10 a month.

Screen clarity

No 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. Units with text-to-speech capability read directions to you so you don't need to watch the screen. But all text-to-speech is not created equal. Look for a GPS unit that announces both distance and street names.

Garmin's nuvi 350 ($350) 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 unit 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 6 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.

Saving money

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 cellphones. See what's available at your local electronics store.

Most of these add-on options are relatively inexpensive, but you will probably give up some convenience. They will also likely be smaller and harder to read than a dedicated GPS unit.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet. To get the podcast or find the station nearest you, visit: www.komando.com/listen. To subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters, sign up at: www.komando.com/newsletters. Contact her at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.


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