By Mark Chapman; edited by Natasha Dennis
The current generation of GPS systems is becoming more sophisticated to meet the needs of the customer who wants a unit that goes beyond just A to B. The latest systems will tell you where the traffic is right now, how to get round it, and what you can do when you reach your destination. They're also not just available in-car, but for motorcycles and for those who love cycling as well. Here are some key features you should look for in your new GPS.
1. Screen size
Most GPS systems have a screen size of either 3.5" (8.9cm) or 4.3" (10.9cm), measured diagonally, as you'd measure a television screen. Modern screen technology allows both screen sizes to display a great deal of detail, but the larger screen does offer more information, and is easier to glance at while driving. There are also a few devices on the market that come with a 5" (12.7cm) screen, for maximum visibility.
2. Map coverage - Canada, the US, and Europe
Most GPS systems are sold pre-loaded with up-to-date maps of Canada, the US, Europe and more. Many manufacturers offer free regular map updates as part of the purchase price, but even if they don't, it is worth buying an update once a year or so (or subscribing to a regular update service). Some companies offer the facility for users to send in their own updates on new roads, construction and even traffic jams, to offer a completely up-to-the-minute information service. Recent maps are particularly important if you're relying on the unit when travelling in foreign countries. Be warned though, GPS coverage is by no means worldwide, and maps are limited, out of date or unavailable for certain parts of the world.
3. Points of Interest
Points of Interest (POIs) are just what the name suggests - places in the local area that may be of interest, highlighted on your GPS. This includes local tourist sites like museums, ancient monuments and so forth, but also handy locations for the driver, such as gas stations, shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and various other useful local amenities. Most current GPS systems will let you key in and store a number of your own points of interest, such as your home and other regular destinations. There are similar applications for the current generation of GPS-enabled smartphones, which use GPS to pinpoint the location of the user, and show them what destinations and amenities are in the immediate area. These are available for the most popular phone operating systems, including Apple iPhone, Symbian, Android and Java from most leading manufacturers.
4. Text-to-speech (TTS) road names and direction
Text-to-speech is an advanced GPS function that provides spoken information such as full street names and road numbers, using built-in speech synthesis. This extra detail can be very useful when visiting unfamiliar areas, or in very built-up cities where a command to turn left could mean any of three different streets.
5. Bluetooth-enabled GPS systems
Many GPS units offer Bluetooth functionality, and can be linked wirelessly with a compatible Bluetooth cell phone. This allows you to use the GPS as a hands-free unit for your phone, so you can make phone calls safely without having to take your hands off the wheel.
6. Real time traffic updates
Real time local traffic updates offer up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions - some of it uploaded instantly from other cars on the same GPS network - and many units will also suggest alternative routes around the problem. One benefit of this is that your estimated time of arrival (ETA) is constantly updated depending on road conditions, so you will have a very good idea of when you'll arrive, and be able to inform those waiting for you if you're running late. The more advanced systems provide a range of other real-time advice, such as local weather conditions, fuel prices and other useful information. Real time traffic update services generally require the user to pay a monthly subscription fee (check the manufacturer's website for details).
7. Lane Guidance
At complex junctions with multiple lanes, turn-offs and slip roads, a GPS system with this feature will let you know which lane you should be in to carry on in your chosen direction easily. It may also offer Junction View, which displays a detailed visual of the junction you are approaching, as you would see it from behind the wheel. These systems use information gleaned by actually driving the roads, so they tend to be very accurate.
All GPS systems offer options to go from A to B via the shortest or fastest route, but systems such as ecoRoute or Eco Routes (depending on the manufacturer) also offer the option to plan a route that uses the least fuel. It works this out by referencing road speed data and vehicle acceleration data for any given route. A GPS equipped with the ecoRoute system will also maintain an ongoing report of how much fuel you use over multiple journeys.
9. Google Local Search
A GPS system equipped with Google Local Search enables you to type in keywords on the touch screen and search the Google Local database for nearby services including restaurants, hotels, garages, ATMs, shopping malls, entertainment venues, hospitals, and tourist attractions. Then, with one click, the device will plan a route to get you from where you are to where you want to be.