A Guide to GPS
GPS (Global Positioning System) is one of the hottest technologies of the moment and its use is finding paths into many activities way beyond getting someone to a destination. Having originally been designed for military purposes with the first satellite being launched way back in 1978 we now have many satellites in orbit ready to provide us with location based data and time referencing.
The question is how you can take advantage of this technology to simplify your life and we will start by looking at driving solutions which can be broken up into three types of GPS device-
Standalone systems include everything you need in one box to help you navigate from A-B. The prime example is the TomTom GO range of devices but there are now a huge range of models available from a variety of manufacturers all competing in the same market space. The benefit of this to you is that prices are dropping all of the time even though new features appear on the latest models every month- these features are explored in more detailed further down. A standalone system is less likely to be affected by conflicting software on a PDA or Smartphone and will almost certainly prove to be a very reliable unit for your needs.
The adoption of software based GPS systems can be a more cost efficient way to attain full GPS functionality without paying for a full system. You need to have a PDA or phone that is compatible with the software and also a built in or separate GPS receiver. When you consider the reducing costs of standalone systems if you are after a basic solution then this may be a better option but chances are you always have your phone with you so you can do some advanced planning wherever you are if needed. There is the added hassle of having to keep two devices charged so a dual cigarette charger may be needed for in car use.
A PND (Personal Navigation Device) can be used to describe a standalone system but is more commonly used to describe devices which include GPS as their main feature alongside extras such as music playing, movies and even games. They tend to be a lot smaller and are often well priced- be aware though that smaller is not always better for GPS because you need to see information whilst driving.
The main requirement of any GPS system is to get you to your desired location as quickly as possible and to do that with the increasing amounts of traffic on the road and of course the ever growing number of safety cameras you may want to take advantage of extras that are included in some systems.
TomTom offer a subscription service (TomTom Traffic) for giving real time traffic information via a GPRS enabled mobile phone. Their newest devices have Bluetooth built in so that you can connect to a separate mobile and of course if you are using their software on your Smartphone everything is built in to one unit. You can set the software to automatically avoid traffic and to choose the quickest route- this can reduce not only the time you are driving but also the stress involved. Note that data charges will apply for receiving traffic information.
TMC is another option which is either available built in to some systems or via an optional extra component. In the UK it works primarily on major roads only but this is where the majority of traffic problems are so you should be OK. It is rare to be charged a subscription for TMC use.
Some manufacturers also include alternative traffic monitoring in their software so make sure you read the description if this is a feature you require.
Safety camera databases are included with certain software GPS titles and standalone systems and they can help to pay for the cost of the device itself. At this time it is perfectly legal to use such a system but there is talk of this changing in the future. These services are often by subscription service but it is common to get the first year free with your device or software purchase.
Points of interest
Almost all GPS devices and software solutions include a Points of Interest database which can prove very useful. From Petrol Stations to cash machines to toilets they can be shown on your map and you can choose the appropriate one when needed in a hurry. Almost all Points of Interest databases are more than complete so you should not overly concern yourself with checking the detail- just make sure such a database is included.
As the GPS market expands so does the amount of add-ons you can purchase or subscribe to. From up to date weather forecasts to AudioBooks the GPS developers are starting to find ways to expand the usefulness of their systems even further.
Ditch the car
GPS is not all about driving though because another very popular use is for navigating when walking. Memory Map 5 is a system which works on a desktop, laptop or Windows Mobile device and includes maps beyond the standard UK road network. These maps are a lot larger in memory size due to the amount of area they need to cover and as such you will usually install a particular area at a time. As an example a DVD is required to hold all of the UK whereas the road network can be held on a 256MB expansion card. If you are looking to use GPS extensively for walking it would be advisable to use a device with a built in GPS receiver to save you carrying two devices around- taking a spare battery would also be advisable.
What to look for
It is advisable to look for a device with a SiRFstar III receiver built in. Almost all new devices and receivers are of this type because the acquisition of signal and strength is greatly improved. If you see a device without this receiver check the detail carefully- a SiRFstar II receiver will still work perfectly well but if you can get the benefits of the latest technology you can ensure a smooth journey no matter where you are going.
Check the battery life claims if you are expecting to use a unit away from power for extended periods of time. Most units come with car chargers and AC power chargers so if driving is likely to be your main use the battery life may not be an issue.
There are many accessories available for GPS devices and some will certainly help prolong the life of your device whilst others will enable you to get more from your purchase. Almost all devices come with everything you need to get started such as windscreen holders and the relevant chargers.
GPS does not always get a good press but the reality is that used properly it can be one of the most useful investments you will ever make. A couple of missed speeding tickets, a few hours not being stuck in traffic on a hot sunny day and the security of not having to spend hours looking at maps to work out your route are just a few of the advantages.