What's new with GPS?
Text to speech (TTS), where a GPS voice announces the full name of the road, is now reasonably common even on the units priced below $200. Thankfully, several units also give you the opportunity to choose another voice if the default choice becomes too irritating. One thing to note about the huge variety of voices available to download onto your car GPS - including Homer Simpson, Darth Vader and John Cleese - is that only the completely computer-generated voices provide TTS. This means that while Homer or Darth Vader will tell you to turn left in 200 metres, only the computer-generated voice will tell you to turn left into Smith Street in 200 metres.
- Another feature filtering down into the cheaper car GPS devices is lane guidance, where the unit recognises when you're on a multi-lane road and informs you when to start moving across to the exit lane well before making the turn. This may remove the sense of panic drivers often feel when found in an unfamiliar area on a freeway. Onscreen arrows show you the best lane to be in when approaching a turn, or else a voice suggests when it might be time to move towards the far left or far right lane approaching an exit.
- One feature that has not really caught on yet is 3D Landmarks, where well-known buildings are rendered in 3D supposedly to help you become more confident when you see them on the screen. However, for now only the Navman MY500XT and MY55T have this feature, and the number of objects rendered in 3D is very limited.
Traffic updates SUNA
Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Gold Coast drivers can save time by learning about traffic incidents before it’s too late. Many of the models we tested support SUNA live traffic updates (see www.sunatraffic.com.au) through the use of an external antenna and one-off subscription.
If your car GPS supports SUNA, information such as what’s causing a delay, where the incident is, the length of the delay if you stay on the original route and detour options are readily available. Some units have this support built into the unit, while other models need an optional attachment to receive the information. However, don’t expect your GPS to highlight any delays that would be expected during periods of high activity, such as peak hour traffic.
Locked in to the map
The two main map choices available to car GPS users in Australia are Whereis and Navteq. The car GPS you choose determines which map you get, so you can’t use a Whereis map in a GPS that uses Navteq and vice versa.
You can purchase map upgrades to keep up to date on the inevitable changes in roads, traffic directions and speed limits. However, these upgrades cost anywhere from about $100 up to $180 (see table for upgrade pricing), so you might want to check with the company to clarify its map upgrade policy. Some companies offer to upgrade the car GPS to the latest maps if a new version is released within a month of purchase, other companies include one upgrade to the next map version when it arrives and some offer nothing.
The GPS units with Navteq maps performed marginally better than units that use Whereis maps in the city, however, the models that use Navteq map data scored significantly worse in our country driving test. However, the quality of the information provided to the user is not only dependent on the map provider but also the companies that make the car GPS units. This is why our CHOICE tester observed several differences in map accuracy on models using supposedly the same map data.