“The beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom, as the jungle shadows fall.” — Cole Porter

What’s hot? GPS, that’s what’s hot. That stands for Global Positioning System, and what it means is you may not know where you are, but the spy in the sky does.

There are dozens of GPS locators on the market right now, but the one getting the buzz is the TomTom Go 910 (tomtom.com). That’s because of the beautiful color screen: 2 by 3 1/2 inches and remarkably sharp. You get a 3-DTom Tom Go 910 view of where you are and where you should be heading. If you’re annoyed by the voice directing you to your destination, you can download the voice of comedian John Cleese for a one-time charge of about $10, other voices for about $6. You can also listen to music or view photos.

That’s the good news. The bad news is the price, around $450, and then there’s the competition — lots and lots of competition. The biggest competition comes from Garmin, which is probably the leading maker of GPS receivers and has several models.

Most of Garmin’s GPS receivers are designed with the expectation that they will be used in a vehicle. They can also be removed and carried around. Note: The TomTom is too heavy and bulky for easy handheld use, so it’s best left mounted in a car. Most of these units can also be used with a cell phone, meaning you can dial with your cell phone and connect through the GPS unit, talking and listening as you go. This makes cell phone use hands-free.

The Garmin Nuvi 660 is probably the best unit for moving between car and pocket. It’s lightweight and has a display that equals the TomTom for size and clarity. The price was a stiff $640 when we searched the Web, but the maps cover North America and Puerto Rico, and you can get others for Europe, Asia and South America, along with built-in translators. You can use voice commands to ask for locations and voice commands when you want to turn it off. The TomTom has maps for these areas as well as for Australia and South Africa.

More maps can be downloaded or plugged in with some of these devices. By plugged in, we mean getting maps that are already loaded onto flas memory cards, and plugging those into the units. PDAs and many cell phones have slots that accept extra memory cards, usually the same size and shape as you would buy for digital cameras.

Blackberry users can get the TeleNav service for the Blackberry 7500 or 7100i, powered by Sprint or Nextel, for $10 a month. This is just the edge of the wedge as additional competition will be coming from cell phone makers, some of whom are already selling GPS-enabled phones, again not cheap.

In all of these cases, the quality of the maps is an important issue. Cheap maps can have lots of mistakes. Asking for directions to a “point of interest,” like a hotel, restaurant or amusement site, might lead you to some abandoned building — because that’s where the POI, as they call it, was when the map was made.

Verizon offers navigation software that can be downloaded to any phone that has the “get it now” feature, and these are becoming more common. The Nokia N95, recently available in the US, is its first phone with built-in GPS. At $732, it’s one of the most expensive cell phones you can buy. It has a slot for adding memory cards, and this is the way all cell phones are going to have to go pretty soon, as it opens the door for plugging in powerful extra features already loaded onto the cards. The Nokia has so many features it’s called a multimedia computer.

All of this information is just a starter for one of the most active areas in electronics today. Careful, don’t get lost.

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  1. Very interesting article, i bookmarked your blog for future referrence
    Best regards