Just around the Corner: GPS Navigation Evolved

As one of the hottest consumer tech items over the past decade, you probably know quite a bit about GPS navigation.

You’re aware they communicate with satellites above the earth to pinpoint your exact location. And with the help of mapping software and a friendly voice, these dashboard devices can help you navigate from point A to point B and perhaps find nearby points of interest (POIs), such as gas stations and restaurants.

You also likely know many models offer Bluetooth connectivity that turns your GPS unit into a hands-free speakerphone; many of these gadgets feature text-to-voice translation so you can hear spoken street names, and many GPS units can store and play other digital media such as music, audiobooks, photos and videos.

But this is just the beginning. Today’s – and tomorrow’s – GPS navigation units go beyond these core features. So here’s a peek at some current trends and upcoming ones to look for in case you’re saving or shopping for a roadworthy upgrade.

Free traffic updates

Many of today’s GPS units can steer you away from heavily congested areas on the road, caused by construction, accidents or rush-hour volume in most major cities in the U.S. and Canada. Thankfully, GPS manufacturers have stopped charging for the service that used to cost about $60 a year.

Garmin now offers free lifetime traffic warnings in products with the letter “T” in its name, such as the Garmin nüvi 765T ($219.99). Many TomTom and Magellan GPS units also support free traffic updates, but it depends on the model; examples include the TomTom GO 740 LIVE ($299.99) and Magellan RoadMate 3065 ($249.99).

In fact, the 4.7-inch Magellan RoadMate 3065 also includes a feature called Traffic Wakeup that powers on your GPS device and provides real-time traffic updates when you want them (such as in the morning before you leave the house).


Rather than purchasing a standalone GPS unit, many smartphone owners are downloading navigation applications (“apps”) for their smartphone of choice, be it the iPhone, BlackBerry or Android-powered handset.

After all, you never leave home without your smartphone, so why not get accurate directions wherever life takes you?

Some solutions are a one-time download – such as the Navigon Mobile Navigator ($79.95) and TomTom U.S. & Canada ($39.95) for iPhone – while others are a GPS service for about $10 a month or $100 a year, such as TeleNav GPS Navigator for BlackBerry smartphones.

Note: Google Maps, which uses GPS technology, is free on many smartphones, but because it doesn’t offer audio-based turn-by-turn instructions it renders it useless while you’re behind the wheel. Some Android phones, like Motorola’s Droid, offer Google Maps Navigation, which does include this crucial feature.

Who ya gonna call?

While many are downloading GPS apps for their smartphone, some GPS manufacturers are getting into the phone business.

Garminfone ($199.99 with 2-year T-Mobile plan), for example, is an Android-based phone with a car charger and mount included. As with other Android phones, you can access many Google services, download apps, check e-mail, surf the Web, chat with friends and get navigation instructions for driving and walking (pedestrian maps, by the way, let you walk down the wrong way of a one-way street).

Speaking of Google and Garmin, some products like the Garmin nuvi 1690 ($399.99) features nuLink! services that push real-time data for your location directly to the GPS nav unit. This includes gas prices, weather, movie times, real-time traffic, local events, and more. One year of free service is included with the purchase of supported device, and then it costs $60 a year for nuLink! after that.

Speak to me

While TomTom has offered downloadable voice packs for a few years now – from Homer Simpson to John Cleese – the company’s latest is sure to please sci-fi fans looking to spice up their road trip.

Darth Vader is the first of four Star Wars downloads available this summer for $12.95 apiece – followed by C-3PO, Yoda and Han Solo – each of which adds familiar character voices to your turn-by-turn directions.

The Sith Lord, for instance says things like “Bear left, to the dark side. Then in 200 yards you have reached your destination. The Force is with you, but you are not a Jedi yet.”

Sound effects from the films are also incorporated, such as lightsaber hums and soaring TIE fighters. John Williams’ orchestral music, including the iconic Imperial March, is also peppered throughout the navigation instructions.

One caveat: these voice packs will only work with standalone TomTom nav units and not the TomTom iPhone app.

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