Archive for Sunday, February 18, 2007

Toplikar: Finding your way with GPS

GPS devices can be your travel partner on or off the road

February 18, 2007


GPS devices are becoming more common to help drivers - and runners - get where they're going. above, the Garmin 680 is a portable device that can be carried or placed on a vehicle's windshield. Below is the Forerunner, a watch-like model with a GPS receiver.

GPS devices are becoming more common to help drivers - and runners - get where they're going. above, the Garmin 680 is a portable device that can be carried or placed on a vehicle's windshield. Below is the Forerunner, a watch-like model with a GPS receiver.

The ring shattered the brittle 15-degree air. "Sorry," I told the other two guys, panting as I dropped back.

"Hi Dad."

Julie sounded sleepy. She and a friend were heading out the door early on Saturday morning to make the five-hour drive to see her twin, Bonnie, at the University of Iowa.

"We're trying to get directions on Google. Do you know what county Bonnie is in?"

I couldn't remember.

"Juhhhss . . .tyhhhpe-in . . . hhIowa City."

"Dad? What's wrong?" she said.

"I'm running," I said, panting as I tried not to drop too far behind Mike McCafferty and Mike Miller on the South Lawrence Trafficway bike path.

After a brief conversation, I started thinking it might be time to get the family a portable GPS device we could share for trips.

New nüvis

In the last few years, GPS receivers are becoming much more common to help drivers get directions without using traditional paper maps.

Global Positioning System devices use the U.S. Defense Department's 30-satellite constellation system to help people find their way from point A to point B, and all points in between.

You need to have the devices outside or on a dashboard so that they can see at least three of the satellites.

I called Jessica Myers, a spokeswoman for Garmin International Inc., one of the world's leader in GPS devices, which is based just down the road in Olathe.

I told her I was interested in one I could swap out from car to car, depending on who in the family was taking a trip. No problem, she said - most of Garmin's models are portable.

"You can move them from your car to a rental car to a spouse's car to walking with them on a sidewalk," she said.

One of Garmin's most popular portables is the nüvi, which comes in two formats. The 300 models are about the size of a deck of cards and have 3.5-inch diagonal screens. The models run about $650 to $950.

The 600 models are about the size of a checkbook and have a 4.3-inch diagonal screen. They run from about $660 to $1,071.

"They have different features in the guts of them," Myers said. "They're nice and small and portable and literally, I walk around with them all the time. I used them yesterday walking various sidewalks, getting where I needed to go. They're fabulous."

They are pretty easy to just pick up and use.

"If you can use a pay-at-the-pump or an ATM, you can use this device," she said.

When you turn it on, the screen will say "Where to?" or "View Map." If you pick "Where to," you type in the name of a restaurant or the name of a city on the touchscreen.

If you don't know the name of a restaurant, you can just find out what's nearby. Or if you want a specific cup of coffee, "you can just type in Starbucks," she said.

After you pick your destination, a voice begins giving you turn-by-turn directions until you arrive.

Make a wrong turn? The nüvi won't get mad. It'll simply recalculate and quickly direct you back on course.

The nüvi has a lot of other features, such as an mp3 player, an audiobook player and a photo viewer.

"Some of the nüvis do real-time traffic," she said. "They do real-time gas prices, real-time movie listings and weather. It gives you information in addition to the turn-by-turn directions. But the turn-by-turn directions is obviously the core of the device."

The nüvi also has wireless Bluetooth capabilities and will connect to a Bluetooth mobile phone.

"It becomes like a speaker phone in your car," she said. "It can send your voice as well as receive your voice and send it out over the Bluetooth signal, via your cell phone."

Garmin also sells devices that work specifically on mobile phones, called Garmin mobile.

Running around

If you like to run, Garmin has a GPS device called a Forerunner, which come in two models.

"It's a watch-like device that has a GPS receiver in it," she said. "So as you're moving, the GPS satellites are able to track you. And through algorithms, it knows your time, your speed, your distance, your pace."

The higher-end Forerunner 305 ($376) comes with a heartrate monitor.

As you run, the Forerunner tracks how far you've gone and it has a "bread crumb trail" map function. If you're out on a five-mile run and you don't know how to get back, you can set it up so it will retrace your path.

The Forerunner also has a virtual training partner built in.

Just key in a specific pace for that training partner and it lets you see if you're running ahead or behind it.

"It's very motivating," Myers said. "You never like that little digital runner to beat you. Trust me."

You also can race against your own previous times or the times of someone else who has used the device.

Logging your workout is easy. Just download the information into a computer, which keeps track of how you did day to day and on various types of terrain.

"You can really start to analyze it however deep you want to go with it," she said. You can see what part of the run your heart did well or where it didn't do well or see how the weather affected the run.

Heading back

I caught up to the other runners and we trotted along, dodging more ice and snow. Our workout leader, Don "Red Dog" Gardner, had sent us off to the south from Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive, then east.

"What do you think about turning around at the bridge?" one of the guys asked as we came up to a wooden bridge crossing a creek.

I didn't object.

None of us was wearing a GPS device.

But my heavy breathing and the tired sensations in my legs already had roughly calculated the mileage we had traveled:



Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 3 months ago

Man, how have I managed to travel to various places, do my job, find a place to spend the night, and then find my way back home without this modern age gimcrack???? Could it be, no, not possible!!! I used my brain to learn how to read a map, read signs and get directions from customers before departing!!! I managed to do all these things without the aid of garmins, laptops, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries or whatever other electronic devices that the overseas egineers have devised to separate fools from their money. Gads, we are becoming a nation of dullards that cannot get out of a wet paper bag with a sharp knife and a flashlight! These gadgets are for people who could not pour water our of a boot with the instructions printed on a heel!

gerbilsniper 11 years, 3 months ago

I've wanted them to get rid of this guy for a while, his advice is usually incorrect, biased, or in some cases dangerous. ..and by reading this guy's articles half the time, he'd buy the first thing you shove in his face.

jayhawkfan07 11 years, 3 months ago

Do you think this guy could afford to buy even half the stuff he writes about? Come on "gerbilsniper", he works for the Journal World. You can't expect him to get paid that much. Also, he's not a technology specialist. Just a normal guy like you and me who writes about new technology because his boss asks him to. Obviously they like him because he's been doing it for years. Give him a break, you prick.

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