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FALL 2012
The Long andWinding Road...
…made a little shorter and straighter with GPS and turn-by-turn navigation
by Andrew Moore-Crispin
The days of in-car arguments about which
road to take at the fork, whether to pull
over to ask for directions or about who’s
ultimately responsible for sign-spotting
are over. Thanks in large part to the Global
Positioning System, GPS.
Even if you know your regular routes cold,
a GPS receiver can still offer value. For one,
they can help you around difficulties; if
there’s roadwork or an accident ahead, a
couple of button presses can route you
around the problems. If you’re watching
the gas gauge edge ever closer to the E,
your GPS system can find the nearest gas
station. GPS navigation systems are pre-
loaded with literally millions of “points of
interest” (POIs). Everything frommuseums,
golf courses and scenic lookouts to hotels,
banks and restaurants is covered.
When it comes to in-car GPS, there are
two main categories which we’ll consider
here: in-dash systems and stand-alone,
in-car GPS units. GPS applications for
your Android, iPhone, Windows Phone or
BlackBerry do exist and can work quite
well. However, these would require a
column unto themselves.
How does
GPS work?
There’s a lot happening in
the background that lets
your GPS receiver figure
out exactly where in the
world it is.
The Global Positioning
System (GPS) was
actually created by the
U.S. military, but has
since been opened up
for civilian use. Twenty-
seven GPS satellites orbit
the globe on differing
trajectories. Each has an
atomic clock on board. At
any one time, four will be
“visible” from anywhere
you find yourself on the
A GPS receiver figures
out how far away each
of these satellites is
from itself and, through
trilateration, deduces
exactly where you are on
the surface of the earth,
down to a couple of feet.
HowStuffWorks has an
excellent explanation, if
you’d like to read more:
In-dash GPS
An in-dash navigation system is usually part of the larger
in-car entertainment or climate system. Just about every
automaker will offer an in-dash navigation system as part
of an upgrade package.
Having your GPS navigation system so tightly tied
to your vehicle certainly has its benefits. First, the in-
dash navigation system will have access to specific
information and data about the car itself. Everything
from tire rotation, current fuel volume, time since the
last oil change and much more can be passed along to
the GPS navigation system. Rather than requiring any
intervention from you, these systems can take empirical
data from the car and make intelligent suggestions, or
just figure out your driving habits.
Broad strokes: in-dash navigation systems are found in
the top tiers of the available upgrade and trim levels at
the dealership. As such, they’re generally bundled with
packages that cost at least a couple of thousand dollars.
With these systems, it can also be more expensive to get
the latest maps and point-of-interest updates; rather
than downloading a map pack for free or for a nominal
fee, you’ll have to go to the dealership and drop a couple
or a few hundred dollars for the latest updates. Similarly,
if something goes wrong with your navigation system,
it’s the difference between a trip to the “shop” to have it
fixed and a trip to the shop to buy a new one.
Tightly integrated with your car.
Larger screens than other options.
You can’t forget to bring the GPS navigation along!
An expensive add-on at the dealership.
Expensive to update or upgrade later.
Stand-alone GPS navigators
These handy devices are made by the likes
of Garmin, Magellan and TomTom. They’ve
come down significantly in price over the
past several years. You can pick up a nice
in-car GPS navigator with voice control, a
4.3-inch screen and lifetime traffic and map
updates (the TomTomVia 1435TM) for $200
MSRP. Less, if you shop around.
While these navigators aren’t integrated
with your car and are therefore less elegant,
they offer their own unique benefits.
These can be shared between vehicles.
If you opt for a model that offers lifetime
maps, updating maps is a pretty simple
affair using your laptop and the included
USB cable. You’re also spoiled for choice.
Where there are usually only two options
for a factory-installed, in-dash navigation
system when purchasing a new vehicle
– get it or don’t – there are dozens of
models from which to choose (from
several different manufacturers) when
you’re purchasing a dedicated in-car GPS
Relatively inexpensive.
Easy to update maps.
Can be moved between vehicles (or
even used on foot, in some cases).
No integration with vehicle.
Less elegant.
Can be lost or stolen.