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Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Friday, 14 December 2007

Tracking down the right GPS

By Marc Cieslak
Reporter, BBC Click

In-built satellite navigation

If you possess the navigational skills of Christopher Columbus with a broken compass, a GPS device should make getting around much simpler.

They are pretty versatile bits of kit and do not just provide the user with maps; a GPS will be able to plot a route and create a real-time update to the user's exact position as they follow that route.

Most devices will now provide a 2D top-down representation of the user's location as well as a 3D view which provides a viewpoint similar to what the user should actually be seeing on the roads.

GPS devices come in a variety of flavours, with different bits of kit suitable for different circumstances.

Sat-nav route
In-built sat-navs are fitted with a speech option

Lots of modern cars have GPS devices already fitted into the dashboard. Although these vary in accuracy and ease of use from car manufacturer to manufacturer.

But if your car does not come fitted with one, do not despair, there are lots of portable units available.

These sorts of unit are usually completely self contained. They often come pre-loaded with a map of the country you have purchased it in.

Maps for other countries can usually be found at the individual manufacturer's website and can be downloaded and installed into the GPS via little SD cards or USB onto internal storage.

All of these sorts of devices come with a speech option which handily tells the driver when to turn and which roads or exits to take. Newer portable devices will also say the names of roads as opposed to the road's number, making driving in an unfamiliar town much easier.

Hand-held options

Portable units often come with all manners of joints and lazy arms which allow them to be attached to a car as well as chargers for use with the cigarette lighter.

Speed camera
Some sat-navs reveal where speed cameras are located

These are great if you are driving but increasingly GPS enabled phones and PDAs have started to appear.

GPS in your pocket in a device you are probably going to be carrying with you anyway, is very handy.

There are inevitable compromises though. Phones have lots of different features, not least making phone calls, so the GPS element of these devices tends to be slower or slightly less accurate than dedicated alternatives.

Some handsets have an in-built GPS feature, which is OK but there are now a number of third party software solutions which are available and plug-in using memory sticks, which provide more accurate and faster route planning.

They also come with attachments too so the handset can be used in a car.

Another smartphone option is Bluetooth GPS dongles. If your handset does not have GPS functionality this will provide it.

Just enable the phone's Bluetooth connectivity features and the box will act as a wireless GPS receiver for the handset. You have to check the handsets that these little dongles work with before purchase, because they will not work with all smartphones.

Useful additions

So that is some of the GPS options available but what sorts of additional features should you be looking out for in your navigational device.

POI or points of interest can very handy. This will highlight useful or interesting sites which you are approaching and not just things like landmarks: petrol stations, cash points and speed cameras also pop up.

Bluetooth pairing means as well as traffic updates you can make hands-free calls, read text messages aloud, sync contacts, provide traffic updates and stream MP3s.

Traffic information is very useful for avoiding bumper-to-bumper congestion. Some Traffic information systems are better than others; the most advanced will plot a new route away or around heavy traffic.

It is also worth mentioning that at present most of these systems are designed to work inside cars, so they plot routes using roads, rarely accounting for routes a pedestrian might be able to use.

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