Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are quickly becoming popular and affordable.
A GPS receiver is a satellite(s)-based navigation system that automatically locate your current position and guide you to a desired destination.
Once you purchase a GPS receiver, you do not need anything else: no subscription fees and no locking into a particular plan.
Whereas previous generations GPS receivers were basically large and mounted to a boat or car, newer models are slim and portable: you can remove a GPS receiver from its mount and carry it in your pocket. Which means, you can enquire it at any time, from anywhere — not just from the confines of your car.
Of course, if all a GPS receiver tells you is your location and how to get to a destination, there wouldn’t be much point in carrying it with you. But the newer models can help you find points of interest, such as a movie theatre, a restaurant, a touristic attraction, etc. and allow you to explore a city you are not familiar with — without advertising yourself as a clueless tourist peering at a fold-out map. Since it gives you step-by-step direction in reaching your desired destination, it becomes an invaluable travel companion.
What this all amounts to is that, equipped with a portable GPS receiver, you never ever have to be — or feel — lost, whether on the road driving in a foreign city (or country since some GPS receivers have maps for US, Canada and Europe), looking for a place for a bite, and finding your way back home again.
Some of the more popular features include:
- 3D navigation – A 3D view of the map is more intuitive for most people to follow.
- Text to Speech – Instead of simply saying, “Turn right at the next intersection,” it will say, “Turn right on Yonge street.”
- Waypoints – Points of interest, including gas stations, restaurants, etc. are marked along your driving path. Some more fancy receivers list the associated phone numbers of a waypoint (e.g. the phone number of a restaurant or motel).
- Trackpoint – You drive by a place you may want to visit later, just mark it with a trackpoint
- Itinerary – If you are very familiar with an area and have an alternate route that you prefer to take (or a friend suggest you an alternate route to take), say because traffic is horrible in the morning rush hour, then you can create an itinerary and then call it up and use it instead of the built-in directions. This is a must-have for me because I find all these small roads that bypass snarled traffic and want to be able to save them and use them when needed.
- Long battery life – OK, if your GPS receiver lasts only 2 hours and you are planning a trip and you also plan to use it as a portable GPS where you walk about town visiting interesting spots, it’ll be dead and useless real quick. And dangerous if you went far and now cannot find your way back to your hotel because the unit’s battery is kaput.
- Anti-Glare Screen – This one goes without saying. If you cannot read the screen because of the glare, then all the fancy features are useless.
- Secure Mount – Don’t laugh! Many excellent GPS receivers have been returned simply because the mount was just horrible and you could not mount your receiver in the car. If you cannot mount it securely, you cannot use it. Also, if the receiver has a SD card compartment or other connections at the bottom (you’d be plugging it in your lighter when driving), this will restrict how low to the dashboard you can mount it. Some people like to mount their GPS receiver to the left on the dashboard (closer an deasier to read) and so an appropriate mount (preferably that has right side connections) is highly desirable.
- Bluetooth enabled – It will synch with your Bluetooth-enabled cellphone and allow you to receive and place calls hands-free. That’s not all! Paired with Waypoints that list phone numbers, you can call ahead prior to arriving to a location and reserve a table at a restaurant, a room at a motel, etc.
- MP3-enabled – Play your favorite music on those long trips, or even listen to an audio book. If you can listen to an audio book while driving safely (I know some of you cannot do that), I’ve found this to be one of the most effective way to lower my stress level while driving. Slow drivers, rude drivers, snarled traffic — nothing fazes me if the audio book is an especially good one.
- Language Translation – Yep, it’ll even allow you to order in a foreign language. Select the phrase you want to translate, choose the language and play it to your waiter so you don’t end up with a surprise dish.
There are many brands to choose from, but the more popular brands include Garmin, TomTom, and Pioneer.
While a GPS receiver is the perfect “guy” present (you know, hating to admit he’s lost and ask directions, that sort of thing) and makes a perfect Father’s Day gift — as a safety device, everyone should have a personal portable GPS.
Learn more about GPS receivers and compare features: