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GPS Buying GuideNotes From The Road

GPS Buying Guide
By Deb Murphy/

What to Know Before Shopping for a Personal Navigation System-
High-tech companies have a way of cramming more user-friendly features into smaller and smaller packages. And portable GPS (Global Positioning System) units are a prime example of this trend. A popular alternative to in-dash systems, the latest GPS devices not only aid travelers, they travel well themselves.

Some of the earliest handheld models were designed for lost backcountry travelers who compared the readings on the unit to a topographic map to determine where they were in relation to the rest of civilization. Not exactly a system that could be used to hike out of an urban traffic jam.
Once navigation systems were introduced as optional equipment on high-end autos, the tech wizards went a bit crazy. Today, those built-in systems are programmed to do everything short of flossing your teeth. But, there is hope for the directionally challenged among us who drive more basic vehicles with glove compartments loaded with old, misfolded maps or an outdated Thomas Guide in the trunk.
Portable GPS units are a fraction of the in-dash systems while still incorporating many of the same features and options. If the only thing between you and one of the portable, compact GPS units is figuring out what's out there and what you really need, read on.
Do You Need a GPS?
Drivers come in all shapes and sizes. Some cruise to the grocery store once a week, others head for the hills every chance they get. Some bring tuna sandwiches and bottled water to tide them over 'til they get home; others consider exploring new places to eat - an integral part of exploring new places to see. Obviously, the former may not need a GPS, whereas the latter may find it indispensable. Others, like contractors and salespeople on the road much of the day to meet with new, potential clients may need a GPS to help them find unfamiliar addresses with ease. Maybe you're on a road trip. It's much easier to enjoy the sites—and get to them—without having to read the fine print of paper map. Whatever your reasons, wherever you travel, here is some advice on what to look for when shopping for a personal GPS unit:

Portability is Key
First, the portable units come in a range of sizes. The critical factor is really the screen size and programming keypads that accommodate an adult finger. The larger models measure about seven inches (measured diagonally), but at that size and weight, their portability is compromised.

The beauty of a portable unit is obvious. You can move them from one car to another, take them along on bike rides, or on long walks through new towns. They pack in a suitcase for use in a rental car. You can program your destination and parameters into the portable at your leisure rather than only while in the car. "Consumer Reports" advises a screen size of 3.5-inches—that's big enough to see, along with a keypad big enough to use, and still be highly portable.

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