Top notch GPS models

Today, GPS is a beautiful thing. A receiver in your car can learn its own location from 24 government owned satellites overhead your tax money at work. You're guided to a destination with colorful moving maps on a touch screen and an authoritative voice.

But good GPS models must fulfill three requirements. First, each must be tiny, self contained and battery operated, so you can take it hiking or biking.

Second, each must display live traffic and accident data - and offer to reroute you as necessary. And finally, each must pronounce actual street names not just "Turn right," but "Turn right on South Maple Street." That feature makes an enormous difference when you're flying blind in a new town. Here are a few top notch GPS models:

Magellan Maestro 4250 ($450): Like any gadget in a car, GPS receivers are a distraction, and therefore a safety risk. So it's amazing that speech recognition didn't arrive in these units sooner.

On the Magellan, it's not much; you can say things like "Magellan, go home," or "Magellan, nearest ATM".

The Maestro's price is the lowest of the bunch - not a bad feature. Neither is its built in AAA database of restaurant, lodging and travel blurbs.

The screen display is excellent and the navigation is good, especially the magnified split-screen view that appears at each turn. On the downside, the Magellan can be slow to compute routes, or recompute them when a wrong turn is made.

Garmin Nuvi 680 ($620): Garmin's top domestic model is smooth, fast and good looking. The screen is incredibly bright, with 2-D or 3-D maps.

The Nuvi can receive MSN Direct, the wireless data broadcast that Microsoft originally created for its wireless wristwatches. Once you've signed up, traffic flow is indi cated with colour coding on the maps. Better yet, you also get weather, local movie s h ow t i m e s and even lo cal gas prices. It's pretty great to have all that right on your dashboard.

TomTom GO 920T ($500): This top of the line TomTom looks stunning, even before you turn it on.
Its 3-D display is the most elegant available, with the smoothest animation and smartest layout.

A light sensor dims the screen at night; a speed sensor tracks your place even in tunnels; and an audio sensor cranks the voice volume when the road gets loud.

Then there's the speech recognition:

Rather than fussing with a touch keyboard to input your destina tions, you can just speak them when prompted. You're on your way in seconds.


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