Gps the Key to the Highway


This is the age of information technology: the internet, cell phones, iPods/iPhones, the Blackberry, Bluetooth, OnStar, the list goes on and on. Some of these are helpful, others are just plain annoying. All cost money for their initial purchase; some require ongoing service fees that add up to real dollars over years of service. With all of these choices, it takes a wise consumer to avoid an unnecessary, impulse purchase. For me, a GPS (global positioning satellite) unit always seemed to be an unnecessary luxury but has now turned out to become a great tool (and toy).

The GPS unit for your vehicle is now affordable, and portable, providing real value for its owner. My first exposure to GPS technology in automobiles was several years ago with my brother-in-law’s Acura. They initially appeared in vehicles as a permanently installed luxury item, a $2000+ option. GPS units provide the comfort and convenience of accurate, real-time mapping information for the driver, and depending on the unit, so much more. I was immediately intrigued when I saw it used very effectively in the Acura, but then thought, “Why would I pay $2000 for what a $2 map could provide?” That was then and this is now.

This past holiday shopping season, GPS units were offered in just about every store and they were on many shopping lists. I was still intrigued, but disciplined (the $2 map). However, the more I thought about all of my family’s out of state trips, travel soccer games and hockey tournaments, the more GPS seemed to make sense. After extensive research, I gave into temptation and bought one. There are many manufacturers, but I went with the well known, name brand of Garmin, and bought their NUVI 350 for less than $300 (starter units go for as little as $150). What $2 map can give you maps for the entire Continental United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico; fits easily in the palm of your hand, portable enough to use walking about town; has an Mp3 Player; and the ability to download additional software for travel reviews/information, language translation, and books on disk?

Unlike other techno-gadgets, the NUVI 350 is easily mastered in minutes. Its bright display and sensitive keypad make it a breeze to use. In addition to providing the driver point-to-point directions, its database includes points of interest including restaurants, theatres, and gas stations along the way. The maps are accurate, and the verbal commands are even better. Many units do not include the actual street names in their verbal presentation.

I think that this is a must and worth any extra that you may need to pay. It is easy to navigate by verbal commands alone and there is no need to even take your eye off the road to reference the maps. The female voice is very patient and compassionate, even when you miss a turn and she has to “recalculate.” The download into the Mp3 player is as simple as plugging the unit into the home computer. I spent the extra $51 for the language translator and my son finds it to be very helpful with his Spanish homework assignments.

How the unit mounts in your car is a matter of personal preference. The general method is a suction cup to the windshield or the dash. I do not like the idea of either. I found that on the windshield the unit was in my way affecting my visibility for driving. Mounting an adhesive disk to the dash was out of the question since I needed the flexibility of moving the unit between cars. The solution was the purchase of a $30 “friction mount” which lays securely on the dash and is easily moved from car to car, or placed in the trunk for safety.

My whole family is now sold on the value (and fun) of the portable GPS unit. It is entertaining and educational no matter how long the trip; getting lost is a thing of the past. Not an essential item, but it sure is a lot of fun. Buy one and let it guide you to your favorite dealer for that next automobile purchase. Use the $2000 saved for another option. How about the Sport Package that you always wanted?

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