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March 13, 2008 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Few things are more exciting than when military technology trickles down for civilian use. Even though you might be hard-pressed to find a bazooka or an M-16 at your local big-box store, GPS receivers are easy to find and relatively affordable.
The U.S. Department of Defense runs the 24-satellite system, which has been available for civilian use since the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan made access to the government system free for Americans and the rest of the world. Today, you can find GPS technology in anything from cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) to cars and airplanes.
Jessica Myers, senior media relations specialist for Garmin, a GPS company with headquarters in Olathe, Kan., says: “GPS receivers take information from the satellites and put them into an easy-to-use interface. Devices are becoming more powerful and less expensive.” These receivers come with seemingly endless options and features, so product choice depends on how much money you are willing to spend and which features you actually need.
One of the most popular uses for GPS receivers is for turn-by-turn driving directions that make folded paper maps and even MapQuest seem prehistoric. These magic machines are the best thing for road trippers since the invention of mix tapes because they allow drivers to relax and watch the road instead of agonizing over the tiny print and confusing symbols found on most road maps.
Here are five portable GPS devices matched up with the lifestyles and uses they cater to most.
Mio C230: The Thrifty Traveler
3.5” touch screen
With a modest price tag and the most common GPS receiver features, the Mio C230 is a good device for the thrifty traveler. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but it bills itself as the cheapest automotive GPS device that vocalizes both directions and street signs. If you are looking for a basic GPS to get you from point A to B, then the Mio C230 is an appropriate choice.
TomTom One XL-S: The Soccer Mom
4.3” touch screen
The TomTom One XL-S is an affordable and well-rounded GPS receiver with TomTom’s updateable maps and Map Share technology, which make this device more engaging for owners. Map Share allows users to update any errors or changes they might encounter while driving and in turn updates the maps for other drivers. This unit is a good choice for someone looking for a portable in-car GPS that has a few more features and a slightly larger screen.
Magellan CrossoverGPS: The Outdoor Adventurer
3.5” touch screen
The Magellan CrossoverGPS is a great device for outdoor adventurers because it works both on the road and on the trail. This unit has street maps and voice directions like other GPS receivers, but it also works while out of the car as it has topographic maps of the lower 48 states. Its rechargeable eight-hour battery and waterproof casing make it ideal for any off-road activity.
Garmin Nüvi® 270 : The World Traveler
3.5” touch screen
With preloaded maps of both North America and Europe, the Garmin Nüvi® 270 is the ultimate GPS system for international travelers. The Nüvi® 270 also has a rechargeable five-hour battery and other neat little applications for tourists such as a currency converter and a world clock. This GPS is small and is worth its weight in euros if you find yourself in a Jason Bourne-style car chase through the streets of a European city.
Garmin Streetpilot® 7200: The Truck Driver
7” touch screen
The Garmin Streetpilot® 7200 sports a lot of features and a hefty price tag. Its large 7-inch screen makes it ideal for truck and RV drivers because it’s readable regardless of how far away the driver is from the windshield. The Streetpilot® 7200 has preprogrammed POI (points of interest) and also lets you customize your must-stop locations, including truck stops. Its built-in MP3 player and FM transmitter allows you to play tunes throughout the cabin. With an optional XM satellite radio service and audiobooks, this device has everything but the kitchen sink.