Don't get lost shopping for a GPS
Navigation gadgets are now so widely available no one needs to worry about getting lost anymore — except when they're trying to choose the right device.
All global-positioning system devices for cars give turn-by-turn voice directions, estimate travel times and list points of interest such as gas stations, banks, hotels and restaurants. GPS models geared for outdoor pursuits emphasize other features.
For all models, the prices rise with the number of bells and whistles.
Once you balance price against the features you want, the biggest differences you'll see will be in how the devices present maps, how their navigation interfaces work, the number of points of interest they include and the quality and size of their screens.
Here's a wide sampling:
Mio Digiwalker C230
The Mio Digiwalker C230 is a compact, affordable and easy-to-use basic model. It comes ready for action, preloaded with maps of the United States and a million points of interest, which is the minimum for a decent system. It also gives text-to-speech directions. The helpful function, likely to be a standard GPS feature soon, means the voice prompt can name streets, as in "right turn on Main Street" instead of "right turn in 200 yards." The 3.5-inch display is on the small side but does the job. (MSRP: $249.95)
Garmin nuvi 760
The Garmin nuvi 760 lands on the high-end. It's a Bluetooth speaker phone and transfers the contacts from your cell phone so you can make calls directly from its brilliant, 4.3-inch touch screen. At night, there's no annoying white glare because the display automatically switches to a black background.
With more than 6 million points of interest, and the capacity to add your own, the 760 has one of the biggest directories available. It also includes an MP3 player and an FM transmitter so you can listen through your car stereo. Slim enough to fit into a pocket, the device will even remember where you parked and lead you there with text-to-speech directions. (MSRP: $749.99)
TomTom GO 720
A unique feature of the mid-range TomTom GO 720 is its "MapShare" technology, which allows you to modify maps, adding street names or construction projects, and then upload them to the Internet to share. It also has popular extras such as Bluetooth calling, the ability to work with iPod music players (so you can select songs from its 4.3-inch screen) and branded point-of-interest icons so maps might show what restaurant you're nearing, not just a fork-and-knife symbol, for example. It also can record your voice to give directions. (MSRP: $399.95 after a manufacturer rebate)
Garmin's GPSMAP 60CSx is still widely considered one of the best GPS devices for hikers, backpackers or fans of geocaching — a popular treasure hunt game played using geographic coordinates. But aficionados are anxiously awaiting Magellan's high-end Triton models to hit the market within weeks. The Triton 1500 and 2000 have bigger displays than the lower-end models such as the 200, plus sleeker design and more frills. The 1500 is waterproof and has a flashlight and voice recorder. The 2000 adds a 2-megapixel-camera. (MSRP: $129 for the 200 model to $499 for the 2000 model.)
Delorme Earthmate PN-20
Delorme Earthmate PN-20 represents a new breed of handhelds. Besides the usual terrain maps, compass and readings, it displays aerial satellite imagery much like Google Earth's. But those cool maps hog storage space, so you may want to download selected regions onto a removable card. The waterproof device comes with a Topo USA map on DVD and a coupon for $100 worth of aerial map downloads. But don't expect speed: the PN-20 is sluggish when panning images, switching map types and downloading maps. The 2.2-inch color screen feels small given the mapping detail. (MSRP: $369.95)
Garmin Forerunner 305
GPS technology isn't just for motorists, boaters, pilots and outdoor adventurers. A sports watch like the Garmin Forerunner 305 uses it to calculate pace and distance, and pairs it with a heart-rate monitor to track your workout. You can transfer the data to a computer for analysis, and you can set up a virtual running partner with whom you'd like to keep pace. A bread-crumb feature remembers your starting point and can show the path back. The 205, without the heart-rate monitor, costs about $100 less. (MSRP: $299.99)
Microsoft Streets & Trips software
This is not a gadget, but laptop-bearing map geeks will like it, and it could be handy for an alpha trip planner.
Streets & Trips can be purchased with a small GPS receiver, however, so it can provide directions based on your location. Otherwise, the software can help plan multiple destinations and routes — down to the point, if desired, of telling you where along the way to stop for gas. It'll even estimate travel costs. But the computing interface has different window panes, similar to Yahoo's online maps, so if you're driving, a passenger should help with any data input. (MSRP: $39.95 or $99.95 bundled with GPS Locator)