Not long ago, GPS devices were expensive, frequently inaccurate and unable to do anything more than tell you where you were. Now all manner of products are using the technology in affordable and innovative ways. Manufacturers of cell phones, cars, cameras, sports equipment and even toys are finding ways to incorporate GPS into their latest products.
With so many GPS-equipped gadgets to choose from, picking the right device for your needs can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you navigate the changing GPS landscape, along with some exciting products to look out for.
Garmin's handheld eTrex Legend is waterproof and lightweight, making it a good choice for outdoor enthusiasts and travelers.
Adding GPS to your mobile phone:
GPS capabilities are now integrated into many cell phones, smart phones and PDAs, so you might not need a dedicated GPS device. In fact, GPS device manufacturers like
are expected to post declines on many of their products as more consumers use GPS with their mobile devices.
All major cell-phone carriers offer GPS applications.
wireless customers, for example, can pay $3 a day or $10 a month to use
, a service that provides maps, directions, weather reports and real-time traffic information.
With a Bluetooth-enabled PDA you can access more advanced GPS features by connecting your device to a GPS receiver such as
($200). The receiver enables your PDA to work as a dedicated GPS device while retaining its other functions.
Buying a handheld device:
For as little as $100 you can purchase a handheld GPS device that will provide the basic information you need to orient yourself wherever you are. Garmin's
($167) comes with several database maps on which you can track your position. The device is waterproof and lightweight at 5.3 ounces. A handheld model like the eTrex is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, frequent travelers or anyone on a tight budget.
Installing GPS in your vehicle:
With a GPS device in your car or SUV, you can get where you're going faster and more efficiently. Most devices designed for cars will still occasionally send you on a circuitous route, but they are quickly becoming smarter and more versatile.
($600) is widely considered to be one of the best portable GPS devices due to its accuracy and sharp display. Like most car-oriented GPS devices, the Maestro provides maps and directions for any location, as well as traffic information and voice-command capability. Moreover, the Maestro features a high-resolution touch screen, so you can select from among your favorite destinations with a few quick taps.
Another option is to buy a car with a pre-installed GPS system. You won't be able to remove the device if you want to use it in a different car, but it will take up less space and you won't have to worry about mounting it or plugging in a power adapter.
recently announced that many of its 2010 models will come with GPS-assisted navigation capabilities, and other automakers, like
, have been offering GPS systems for years.
Using GPS for other tasks:
Ever forgotten where you took a photo? That wouldn't happen if you use GPS to "geotag" the time and location of your shots. You can do this with a geotagging device like Sony's
($150), which coordinates with your digital camera so you can map out the history of your photo album.
GPS devices for athletes are becoming common too. Serious bikers can mount Garmin's GPS-enabled
($349) on their handlebars and access an enormous amount of highly accurate information, from speed and distance to elevation and heart rate.
For pure GPS fun, try out the 10-inch-tall WiFi-enabled roving robot
($199), manufactured by
. Rovio will cruise around your home on its three wheels guided by its built-in GPS system, and record its encounters with its Webcam. You can operate Rovio with your cell-phone, laptop or PDA.
Zack Anchors is a freelance writer from Portland, Maine.