Knowing Your GPS System

What the heck is a...?

A Global Positioning System (GPS) is exactly what the name implies – a way to to see where you are or where you want to go according to the destination's position on the globe. GPS technology was developed by the United States Department of Defense. Over two dozen GPS satellites orbit the Earth and send signals that enable GPS receivers to figure out the location, direction and speed of the receiver's location. The management of these satellites is handled by the 50th Space Wing of the United States Air Force.

What the heck are you supposed to do with this high-tech gadget?

Personal GPS systems are streamlined and simple. Many cars today offer owners the option of having built-in navigation systems. Everyone is realizing the value of owning a GPS system. In fact, a recent survey found that seniors are more than twice as likely to buy or own a GPS system than other folks in America. This reiterates the old adage that states, “With age comes wisdom.”

Owning a GPS system allows a person to find out where they are on a map and trace the person's path as they move. Maps are stored in the receiver's memory. Additional maps may be downloaded from a computer through connecting ports, or supplied through plug-in cartridges... depending on the GPS system.

The GPS system provides user with the current time, the distance traveled, the average speed of travel, the current speed of travel, a trail showing the path traveled, and the estimated time of arrival at the intended destination. Portable GPS systems can be used to gather this information while traveling in cars, hiking, camping, boating, bicycling and even flying. These pertinent facts can save time, energy and even prevent possible harm.

Will I be able to figure out how to use this gizmo?

Consider the fact that seniors are the biggest buyers of GPS systems. Despite how older generations were not raised with computers, senior citizens find GPS systems easy and beneficial to use. Using a GPS system also saves the user from having to ask for directions from a menacing stranger or from getting endlessly lost in a dangerous neighborhood.

The basic GPS systems simply offer the user location and directions. More sophisticated systems speak in a detailed manner to the user and offer live traffic updates. Some even feature “Bluetooth” technology, which allows the GPS system to be in sync with the user's cell phone. These systems range in price from $200 to $1,500, depending on the number of additional features the user selects.

Regardless of the GPS system chosen, they all basically have a power button, a reset button, and an interactive touch screen that communicates location, directions, time, and speed. Some GPS systems use a remote control type device to communicate with the screen. The remainder of GPS systems work by touching the screen and selecting options so the user can navigate almost any situation. A mounting device is usually included to affix the unit to the user's windshield or dashboard.

Who are the leaders in the GPS industry?

The biggest makers of GPS systems today are Garmin, Magellan and TomTom. In a recent survey of the top ten GPS system available, the majority were made by Garmin, with TomTom coming in second. The results of this research mirror my opinion about the brands since Garmin happens to be my personal favorite, with TomTom coming in a close second for me.

Garmin features updated technology, ease of use, and excellent service. The TomTom is striving to compete with Garmin in a competitive market, and also offers some nifty features in comparison such as a realistic speaking voice. The voice used by the Garmin GPS system has that familiar robotic ring to it.

How do these GPS systems stack up?

There are wide variety of GPS systems available today, so I will provide a brief overview of my favorite GPS system from each major brand. The systems offer different features and range in price, but my opinions are based on general overall functionality for the price and ease of use.

Garmin Street Pilot 330

The Garmin Street Pilot 330 is my personal GPS system of choice because it is compact, simple, and has reliable maps. The screen is incredibly clear and almost appears high-definition. The unit is easily customizable and exceeded my expectations for the price.

TomTom GO 510

The TomTom GO 510 has cool features such as a 3-D display, speaker phone with Bluetooth technology, and realistic voices. Plus, it includes countless options for travel, weather, and updated information. The extra features make the TomTom unit fun to use, and the maps are accurate making it equally reliable.

Magellan RoadMate 700

The Magellan RoadMate 700 features Bluetooth, a built-in hard drive with maps, and a joystick remote control to communicate with the unit's 3-D screen. Although the remote control uses a joystick to choose the letters, it is quicker than touching the screen, and Magellan's maps are dependable.

Costs and Cutting to the Chase:

The Garmin 330 is the least expensive unit that can be purchased for around $250, making it quite functional for a decent price. The TomTom offers exciting bells and whistles for about a hundred bucks more, though more features means more to learn how to use. The Magellan RoadMate is ideal for someone who wants the latest features along with the ease of using a remote control. Of course, the user will pay for these goodies because the Magellan runs about $1,000.

In the end, consider what you need the unit for, and purchase a GPS system that is simple and suitable for your personal needs.


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