Consumer Reports: Navigating for Less

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Global positioning satellites, the same ones that helped American missiles find targets in Iraq, are helping drivers get from one place to another. Navigation systems that come installed in your car cost thousands of dollars. Consumer Reports just tested portable systems that cost far less to see how they compare.

Limousine drivers are always traveling unfamiliar routes to unfamiliar locations. Joseph Valenza (PRON: Vah-LEN-zuh) programs any address he's looking for into his navigation system and it guides him there.

"Left turn, left turn ahead."

But these systems are expensive, about two thousand dollars.

Consumer Reports' Tom Mutchler tested portable devices that cost anywhere from 150 to $1000. Some sit on the dashboard and you plug them into the cigarette lighter for power. Others are systems you use with a personal digital assistant or PDA.

But the PDA screens are fairly small. And you have to put in information with a stylus. That means tapping in each letter of the address — a tedious process.

And the systems that use Palm PDAs have another disadvantage.

"Most navigation systems let you pick a route from within the car. The Palm systems, every time you go somewhere you need to download a route from your computer at home."

However, Consumer Reports did find several devices that come close to the in-dash systems. Some give you turn-by-turn voice directions.

"Drive point two miles, then turn right."

And if you miss an exit or make a wrong turn, some will automatically recalculate your route.

"Recalculating. In 300 feet turn right."

One of the best in the tests is the Garmin Street Pilot Three for $1000.

It sits up on the dash and does a good job of navigating — whether you're travelling city streets or country roads.

"In point one mile turn right. Then arrive at destination."

View more Consumer Reports stories here.

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