GPS Options: Many Ways to Find Your Way
Two-Way Connected Device
Best for: People who don't have a smartphone but want navigation help, live traffic, weather, and search information.
Hardware tested: TomTom XL 340S Live
Price: $240 (street)
A two-way connected GPS--known in the technology industry as a portable navigation device, or PND--makes sense only if you need connected services such as weather data, advanced traffic updates, fuel prices, and Google local search, and if you can't use a smartphone to get the information. Connected GPS units are more expensive initially than other dedicated GPS devices, and they require you to pay for a monthly data subscription.
Standard GPS devices, which get traffic information from signals broadcast by commercial FM stations, can only receive data. Connected GPS models can initiate requests for data as well as receive it. Such two-way communication supports real-time traffic updates, weather information, and local fuel prices. Some two-way products can also identify scheduled movie showtimes at nearby theaters, as well as airline flight arrival and departure information. In addition, you can use Google local search to identify and obtain addresses for restaurants or stores that aren't included in the GPS device's points-of-interest database.
The greatest disadvantage of a connected GPS device is its cost. The price of TomTom's XL 340S Live is $80 higher than that of the similarly featured but unconnected XL 340S; and even so, it covers only three months of data service. Subsequently, you'll pay $10 per month for the accompanying live services--a steep price when you consider that the money could be going toward something significantly more versatile, such as a smartphone data plan.
The XL 340S Live's fuel-prices feature lets you select a fuel grade and then search for the cheapest source nearby or in a wider area. Alternatively, you can search by price area-wide, by distance, or by cheapest price along the planned route. I checked local fuel prices along my route as I drove, and the TomTom-reported prices appeared to be up-to-date.
Google local search supplements the TomTom device's internal database of 7 million points of interest, letting you search near your current location, within a city, or in another location. If you choose ‘another location', you can use any of the Navigate To search options, including home, address, favorites, recent destinations, points of interest, current location, point on a map, GPS coordinates, or the position of the last stop. When you select a point of interest that Google local search suggests, you can add it as a favorite, show the location on the map, or navigate to it.
The Live connection also provides live traffic data. You can browse traffic incidents on a map, show traffic on a planned route, and (if you set locations for home and work) check traffic on your daily commute--more options than most other traffic services offer. The XL 340S Live can read traffic updates aloud, too.
If you aren't already paying for a smartphone with an associated data plan, the XL 340S Live might make sense for you. But consider the long-term cost before you commit to it or to any other two-way connected GPS unit.
Check These, Too
Currently, four connected GPS devices are available: the XL 340S Live that I tested; the larger and more expensive TomTom Go 740 Live ($350); the Garmin Nuvi 1690 ($400); and our Best Buy, the Insignia NS-CNV43 ($200). Like TomTom's devices, the Insignia NS-CNV43 comes with three months of free data. Thereafter, plans for continued coverage range from $5 for three days of service to $99 for a year of service. The unit's two-way connectivity covers movie times and an interface to Twitter--features not found on either Garmin or TomTom products.