Nearly the same satellite technology that allows cruise missiles to hit targets routinely appears in most rental cars. Admittedly, the flurry of new commercial GPS devices do not benefit from the Defense Department's near-centimeter accuracy. Happily, today's public-use GPS navigating tools are accurate to about 12 feet which is good enough to find your way back home. Even better, functional GPS-enabled devices are moving out of the auto and are being combined into personal digital assistants, radios, phones, and even watches. With any of the new GPS devices described below, there is no way you can stay lost for long. Think "Father's Day" here folks…
When boating, I usually take a GPS along but always wanted some inexpensive and integrated device that could signal for help in an emergency. Uniden's new Mystic handheld marine radio offers terrific GPS navigation with a one-button emergency call to alert the Coast Guard to your position. This is a sturdy submersible DSC VHF radio with a large monochrome backlit screen for navigation. It seems perfect for any small boater or as a critical backup system for larger craft. The Mystic features a good rechargeable lithium ion battery. Naturally, as a marine radio, it has all maritime channels plus the NOAA weather alerts. While the built-in database had a complete listing of the buoys and key features, additional land and maritime databases are available to download onto this unit. It was a snap to program, use, and enjoy, but sadly, it is too darn big to take everywhere. About $500.
Garmin's GPSMAP 60CS
When it comes to GPS handhelds, I must confess I've always had a bias in favor of Garmin's sleek designs and excellent interfaces. The Garmin Legend, which I've written about before, is a fabulous little unit that's just about perfect for most outdoor needs. But if you're ready to kick it up a notch, Garmin's new GPSMAP 60CS is a hard-charging, feature rich robust unit designed for the great outdoors. I'll admit, this is more rugged (bigger) than many units out there and it has a hard GPS antenna sticking up from the top like an antler. But the idea here is to get as many functions into a single device and it works for me! Waterproof, with a large TFT color screen, the GPSMAP 60CS comes with a "few" useful extras: Barometer, altimeter, electronic compass, plus celestial tables built in for the best times to hunt and fish. The GPSMAP acquires a lock onto satellite signals gratifyingly fast. Aware that many folks want simple connections between GPS and laptops, the GPSMAP 60CS has separate USB and serial port connections that are quite handy. There are a number of GPS "games" built-in and special features for nerdy folks who love "geocaching" (a high-tech sport of hide and seek using GPS.) About $500.
Garmin's Foretrex 101 Personal Navigator
For joggers, kayakers, cycling and more fast-moving pursuits, Garmin's new Foretrex 101 is a wrist-mounted GPS receiver offering basic navigation at low cost. Store 500 waypoints with symbols and ten tracks to retrace your path. The trip computer tracks your speed, sunset, and distance. With two AAA batteries, the Foretrex 101 will run for about 15 hours and is very rugged yet lightweight. About $125.
Fabulous folks from Finland fabricate fine fun… Sorry, a little alliteration is a lot. But Suunto's X9 watch is so over-the-top that you really must be impressed. Put a GPS into a chronograph; add a compass, barometer, altimeter and you are off to the races. Now, just getting a GPS receiver into something the size of a watch has always been a technological challenge to put it mildly. GPS receivers do use up power quickly, so Suunto wisely made this a rechargeable watch. The charging dock also connects to your computer so you can view your progress and store waypoints and routes using the supplied software. As much as I love this watch, one must confess that acquiring a signal takes more time than desirable. Figuring out the controls on this watch also requires actually reading the manual (horrors!) or checking the instruction card, but after a while even I got the hang of it. Last night, as I sat on an old fireboat cruising joyously around Manhattan Island, I was equally in bliss as I captured the exact route of our journey with this watch. (I can hear my daughter doing her best Bart Simpson: "Loser!") Let me reiterate: if you want a device that's easy to use, pick one of the devices mentioned above; Suunto makes precision instruments and this sophisticated one is not for the faint of heart. But it's fun to know where you're going just checking your wrist!
Suggested retail $769
Now for an emerging category of hybrid devices: personal digital assistants with GPS functionality: PalmOne's GPS Navigator; the CoPilot from ALK (for Windows Pocket PC) and Navman's PIN PDA.
PalmOne's GPS Navigator by TomTom
If you have Palm's Tungsten T3 or the very cool Zire 72, you can transform your handheld into a full-function GPS navigation system for the automobile. I've dumped on the over-hyped Bluetooth technology long enough: here the GPS device is in a separate receiver module which communicates with the Palm handheld happily through Bluetooth. The GPS Navigator kit comes with almost everything you need to make your Palm device do double duty for voice-guided in-car navigation: with cigarette lighter adapter, recharging cables, device cradle with suction cups, and a comprehensive set of map CDs. The TomTom software suite offers comprehensive directions and an impressive selection of points of interest. The 3D navigational view is outstanding. (You will need a 64 MB expansion Card that is not included in the GPS Navigator package.)
I confess an idiosyncratic desire to have my in-car GPS system separate from my PDA so this Navigator is not ultimately for me. But PalmOne and TomTom have done a nice job here with a fairly inexpensive package for those who want to get the most out of their Palm devices. (Again, only the Tungsten T3 and Zire 72 are compatible with this kit.) Available now at $299.
ALK's CoPilot Live, Version 5
For those who prefer Pocket PC devices, ALK Technologies offers a similar Bluetooth add-on solution as described above for the Palm. After pairing your Pocket PC handheld device to the CoPilot Bluetooth GPS receiver, you can navigate your car using a similar 3D display and other modes. ALK also offers turn-by-turn voice instructions and comes with maps and features stored on your PDA. This car kit includes cables, a charger, and a somewhat flimsy visor and/or dashboard mount. Starting at $199, depending on the Pocket PC model you have.
Navman's PiN Pocket PC
For a complete handheld solution, Navman has about to release the Pocket PC PiN (for "Personal Interactive Navigation." This is a complete PDA with GPS receiver and navigation software on a multimedia card. The unit features a bright backlit TFT screen with a form factor that rivals most Pocket PC units, but adds a thin GPS receiving antenna that snaps out when needed. Maps for different regions are provided on CDs and you need to load areas you will be navigating in onto this nifty device. Navman PiN takes the Pocket PC system and adds voice recording, MP3 recording and playback, plus a full GPS, which can be used for car or other navigation. Getting a GPS fix took longer than I expected, but the bright screen and fairly decent battery-life was a plus. Maybe it was clumsy me, but I found that Navman PiN often turned on when I didn't expect it, so I was a tad anxious that I might have the unit running when I didn't mean to. On the plus side, the form factor is convenient, lean, and comfortable. It comes with an in-car charger and a mounting bracket for the PDA. The price for this unit has not been announced.
By Daniel Dubno