The right direction when buying a GPS Sat Nav
Do you really need GPS Sat Nav? Is the technology up to scratch? Is it easy to use? Or will it lead you down a dead-end?
Today’s in-car navigation systems are, dead-ends aside, amazing pieces of technology. But what’s it all about? Is it operated by pixies? Why will a map and some common sense not do? This guide is here to give you some information behind modern GPS and to help you look for the right things before you empty your piggy bank.
So, where did GPS come from? The Navstar GPS network was developed by the US Department of Defence back in the 70s. It’s basically 30 satellites that fly around the Earth twice a day. Five ground stations check their position in space. To get a good fix on your location, your speed, direction and height, a receiver pulls information from these satellites.
The GPS receiver sends your information onto map files within the sat-nav system. This shows your position on the map and where you’ve come from, too. The receiver constantly recalculates your position in relation to the satellite, so you’re constantly being tracked in real time. A bit like the velociraptor in Jurassic Park. But less scary.
How good your receiver is and what kind of terrain surrounds you determines the length of time it takes to get a 3D fix. If you’re hacking through a wood or are surrounded by office blocks, it’ll be trickier. Your GPS begins by collecting satellite information to work out where you are. This is called a cold start and, from here, most systems take a couple of minutes to get a fix. After that, it’s a matter of a few seconds. So, what else do you need to know?
GPS Sat Nav – Points to Ponder
Will it work for me?
Will a GPS work well in your car? This depends on where your antenna is. In a built-in unit, the antenna will probably be set so as to have an uninterrupted route to the satellites. This is great. Most suction-cup models, too, give the antenna a good look at the heavens.
Is it for me?
If you think paper roadmaps are a little on the technical side, GPS sat nav might not be for you. And, while the price is dropping all the time, it’s still dearer than a paper map. But if your job involves high mileage or you enjoy driving holidays, GPS can steer you away from the traffic and onto the back roads. Live traffic reports are also an increasing important feature of Sat Nav. Just remember that GPS Sat Nav shouldn’t be followed slavishly, as all too many lorry drivers wedged between stone walls on Devon cart tracks will testify. Remember, sat nav is not a sort of autopilot. You do need to use common sense. Oh, and steer. If you’re always getting lost, though, this could well be the answer.
Sat Nav Safety
You can’t use a mobile while driving, peel an orange or eat Battenberg cake, so don’t expect to be able to enter information into your GPS Sat Nav while at the wheel. If you feel tempted, buy one with a locking on-screen keyboard. Leave the searching and route-creation to a passenger or buy one that accepts voice commands.
Which type of GPS Sat Nav is best for me?
Which is best for your needs, an in-dash sat nav or a portable unit? There are good and bad bits for both. A lot of cars today come with GPS Sat Nav as an enticing extra or even as standard. This is good, but the technology will soon be far from state-of-the-art. It’ll be like playing ELO’s greatest hits on a dashboard tape player. Hmm. But consider that the earliest sat nav (not that long ago) was based around CDs. You needed an entire library of them just to get around the Lake District.
Today, a map of Britain will comfortably fit on just one or two DVDs. On the plus side for in-dash units, the screens are larger and they work better with other in-car gadgets. If you like doing things the hard way, you can have aftermarket in-dash models fitted, although this is a bit like building your house, putting your wallpaper up and then thinking about a rewire.
An in-dash unit does look a bit beautiful, though. It’s free from wires, power adaptors,
beanbags and suction cups. On the downside, it might get nicked, which will leave your car looking less than gorgeous, and you can’t take them with you when you change cars.
Portable GPS Sat Nav is easy to use, covers the country with its hard-drive maps, and is ready for use straight from the box. Removing them when you park your car is a doddle and they offer voice-guided directions.
GPS Sat Nav Features
Displays should be easy to see, whatever the light. A large, colour screen is best, although size does add to the price. Accept that some screens are hard to read when the sun pops out and don’t attempt cupping your hand over the screen as you drive, unless you want to practise your stunt driving.
Does your model feature street-level maps? You might get charged to unlock maps from the manufacturer’s website, which can mean only one thing: kerching. On portable units, you can connect to a computer to upload newly released maps. In-dash models usually use an integrated DVD player and you’ll need to update the disks from time to time.
Shapes and sizes
If you drive a number of cars, you’ll want a lightweight, easy-to-install model, rather than a permanently mounted version. If you opt for an in-dash model, don’t skimp on professional installation. The bloke in the pub who offers to undercut the manufacturer’s price by 70% will likely not be too careful about where he places the antenna. Proposing to set about your dashboard with a chisel should also set alarm bells ringing.
The more techie stuff crammed into your GPS sat nav, the more pennies will be vacuumed from your account. You do need certain standard features, however. Voice and text directions and street-level maps are pretty much bread and butter these days. If you want raspberry jam on it, you might want to consider text-to-speech technology that will tell you to turn left into Acacia Avenue, rather than merely to hang a left in 0.25 miles.
If it’s oysters you’re after, you might want to think about a Points of Interest database that’ll flag up airports, hotels, restaurants, petrol stations and so on. Nice extras include touch-screen control, automatic re-routing (for when you get lost and an argument and possible divorce are brewing), and different perspectives, like bird’s-eye views. Truffle territory is real-time traffic and weather information and big screens you can read in daylight.
Getting up and running should take only a few minutes. But what about accessories? Vehicle mounts and chargers usually come in the box. What else is available? Auxiliary antennas that sit under your windscreen can improve reception. What about a case to protect your GPS Sat Nav when you’re not using it? Mounting equipment for motorbikes? More maps? Flash memory cards? You can even buy AC adapters so that you can use your GPS Sat Nav at home. Which is great, except that posing with your elbow out of the window won’t have the same effect.
Hope that helped a bit. So, if you’re fed up with getting lost, check out some GPS Sat Nav reviews here.
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