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GPS Navigation Buyer's Guide

Posted in Features on July 1, 2006
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Photographers: Courtesy the Manufacturers

We're wondering if anyone uses a Thomas Guide anymore-or more specifically, whether ours will become a collector's item worth a few bills in about 10 years. (We figure if musclecars are going for $2 mil at auctions, everything automotive will be valuable in the future!) No one seems to use this dandy reference book, instead heading to Mapquest or Yahoo! Maps for directions (Godspeed).

However, even those two driving assistance options are quickly becoming old school, as this is officially the age of GPS and navigation systems. Even rental cars now come with the technology. And Microsoft and Volkswagen have buddied up to design 3D in-car navigation that will be so advanced, you actually will be able to match the topography on-screen with what's outside of the vehicle (think urban settings, like buildings). There's no denying navigation systems are hot right now, whether handheld or in-car, street-oriented units or devices for The Great Outdoors.

Unit: Blackbird
What it is: Portable navigation
Features: Has maps for the U.S. and Canada. Also offers driving directions and a traffic and weather service (no additional hardware needed for that).
Also: Can be used for navigation as well as for playing MP3s
MSRP: $750 (docking station is separate)
Who's got it: Alpine Electronics of America,

Unit: A2 Attitude
What it is: A diesel controller with GPS
Features: Five power levels to choose from on the fly allow for adding up to 125 more horsepower, with integrated GPS navigation with verbal directions, ETA, points of interest, and rerouting. It also can tell you 0-60 mph and 11/44-mile times.
Also: A wireless back-up camera is coming
MSRP: With U.S. maps, it's $1,199, U.S. and Canada, $1,219, or just Canada, $1,159.
Who's got it: Edge Products, 888/360-3343 or 801/476-3343,

Unit: GPSMAP 376C
What it is: Portable GPS for loading topo maps for four wheeling
Features: It can store up to 3,000 waypoints, has alarms (such as if you go off course), and is waterproof.
Also: It's XM-capable, so you can get XM radio and XM WX Satellite Weather
MSRP: $999.99 (XM service starts at $12.99)
Who's got it: Garmin Intl., 800/800-1020,

Unit: NAV ONE 4500
What it is: Portable navigation
Features: It has a matchbook-sized traffic receiver, 7.6 million points of interest, and personalized route preference.
Also: There's a function for comparing two routes

MSRP: $1,099.95
Who's got it: Cobra Electronics, 773/889-3087,

Unit: CoPilot Live/Pocket PC 6
What it is: Navigation software for mobile phones and PDAs
Features: There's turn-by-turn voice guidance, a zip-code and points-of-interest search, and detailed street maps.
Also: Live tracking and Internet messaging, so people can monitor your progress while on the road (yup, your friends can be Big Brother).
MSRP: $299
Who's got it: ALK Technologies, 888/872-8768,

Unit: GlobalMap Baja 480c
What it is: Mobile GPS designed for backcountry travel
Features: The sealed, weatherproof, and shock resistant system has memory-card versatility for recording trail info; maps for on-road use, too.
Also: Can store 1,000 waypoints, 1,000 event markers, 100 routes, 100 retraceable plot trails, and 10,000 points in any trail.
MSRP: $549
Who's got it: Lowrance, 800/324-1356 (U.S.) or 800/661-3983 (Canada),

Unit: Terrain Navigator Pro
What it is: Topographical-map and aerial-photo software
Features: It has GPS interactivity, Shapefile export, street-address overlays, and 3D maps
Also: The "route polygon" tool allows for drawing right on the topo map.
SRP: $299.95
Who's got it: Maptech, 888/839-5551,

Voice-prompted navigation is nothing new-but choosing whose voice is telling you to hang that left is! Enter Navtones (, which allows you to pick celebrity dulcet tones to get you to your destination, including Mr. T, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds, and Bubba (Harold Roscoe Jenkins Jr. IV). Voices are available for $10 each; Navtones is supported by TomTom and many other navigation systems.

Unit: explorist XL
What it is: Handheld GPS receiver
Features: Has a built-in base map of major roads, highways, and airports. You can download MapSend software to drive to the destination, then switch to the Topo 3D software to venture onto trails.
Also: It can store an unlimited number of waypoints and routes.
MSRP: $449
Who's got it: Magellan, 909/394-5000,

Unit: Pharos Traveler GPS 525
What it is: Pocket GPS with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Windows Mobile 5.0 software
Features: It has preloaded maps of 50 U.S. metropolitan areas, can sync up with Outlook contacts, and has voice-guided directions, points of interest, and multistop routing.
Also: You can do high-speed downloads of maps and get real-time traffic details.
MSRP: $599.95 (there's also a $50 mail-in rebate)
Who's got it: CompUSA, 800/COMP-USA, (for more details,

Unit: nav-u
What it is: Handheld navigation
Features: Will help map a destination, avoid traffic, and find points of interest.
Also: A DVD-ROM with full maps of Alaska, Canada, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico is included.

MSRP: $600
Who's got it: Sony,

Unit: Street & Trips with GPS Locator
What it is: Map and travel-planning software for the U.S. and Canada
Features: Voice-prompted directions, 1.8-million points of interest, and re-route alert. Even road-construction updates are part of the package.
Also: Stick the plug-and-play GPS receiver into a notebook PC USB port to view maps and travel routes in real time.
MSRP: $129.95
Who's got it: Microsoft, 888/218-5617,

Unit: Turn-By-Turn Navigation
What it is: Factory-installed GPS
Features: You can talk to a live advisor, who will then send step-by-step directions to the vehicle via the OnStar system.
Also: This will be standard in about 1 million '07 GM cars and trucks
MSRP: To be announced
Who's got it: OnStar,

Unit: Trimble Outdoors
What it is: Software that works with GPS-enabled cell phones and conventional GPS receivers
Features: There are three components: Adventure Planner software, Trimble Outdoors GPS Java application available on many Nextel phones for off-pavement navigation, and the Trimble Web site for researching trips posted by users.
Also: You can add photos or notes to your trip route
MSRP: The service varies, from $6.99-$20 per month. However, Motorola GPS-enabled cell phones with Trimble Outdoors (i415 or i855) already installed run $230 and $385.
Who's got it: Your cell-phone provider, but for more details visit

Unit: X9i
What it is: Trail-ready GPS wrist-top computer
Features: Download waypoints and routes from TOPO! Software, then it will display directions, distance to waypoints, current speed, distance traveled, and ETA.
Also: Includes an altimeter, barometer, and 3D compass
MSRP: $499
Who's got it:, or such dealers as REI and Sport Chalet

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