We’ve been driving around just outside of “Obama Town,” (Chicago), with GPS direction devices attached. We learned a couple of things right away: One is that watching scrolling maps is 

Telenav dangerous to ourselves and everybody around us. The other is that there are lots of ways of getting somewhere, not all of them helpful.

We started with Microsoft’s latest edition of “Streets and Trips,” which costs $79 with the GPS or $35 for the software alone. The software runs off a CD, so you have to take a laptop computer along to use Streets and Trips. The program now calls out street names, instead of having to look at the screen.

Bob says he is left with the nagging feeling that a simple paper map would be enough. Having to bring along a laptop is a nuisance and an added attraction to thieves. The advantage to using the software seems to be locating a restaurant, gas station, golf course, etc. and being able to plan the most efficient route. Streets and Trips has1.5 million locations stored on disk.

We switched to the Navigon 7200T, which has a list price of $450. It also has lot of high praises from users voicing their opinions on the web. Once again, this makes us wonder who’s making the comments and what are their connections to the manufacturer. Because using this thing was funny, as in humorous.

It takes voice directions but it couldn’t understand either of us. It doesn’t seem to understand number sets, as in “sixteen thirty Main Street.” It understood only if each number was spoken separately, as in “one, six, three, zero.” It advised us to turn at every street we passed that seemed to take us in the right direction. This went on for blocks, even for streets that were closed off, didn’t go through or had lots of stop signs. Knowing an area well, which we did, revealed how silly, even stupid, the directions were.

A gentle voice advised us of possible traffic problems along the way. Even though we were only a mile from our destination, the voice advised us there was heavy traffic at a point more than 20 miles beyond. Who cares? Pulling into a parking lot threw everything up for grabs. This is true for many GPS driving aids.The good news is you don’t need to bring along a computer for the Navigon and it showed points of interest many miles ahead, giving you time to think.

— A wrap-up of what’s good and what’s bad:

A reader in Arkansas said his Garmin GPS was invaluable for long trips but went bananas when he crossed into Canada and never worked right after that. They sent him a new one. He noted that GPS maps were really good in cities, not so good in rural areas. At one point his Garmin advised him to turn up a dirt track that was fenced off for a hunting preserve. Don’t go there.

The new “Shotgun” GPS device from TeleNav is only $299 and is an “Internet connected” device. This doesn’t mean you can surf the Internet on it, but it does mean that when you’re on the Internet using some other device, you can send info to your Shotgun. It would probably be something fairly obscure, because the Shotgun already has a database of 11 million points of interest.


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