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Dashing Hope

Like the iPhone, the Dash Express GPS device automatically logs on when you're near a Wi-Fi hotspot, but it uses a cell connection when you're not. Among other things, this two-way connection transforms your car into a real-time traffic gauge. If you run into a snarl, the unit transmits that data to the Dash servers, which swiftly recalculate how long it will take you and everyone else crawling along that stretch of road to reach your destinations.

In theory, this arrangement provides more-accurate real-time traffic data than the content from MSN Direct or ClearChannel, which depend on road sensors and historical traffic data. But the info is only as good as the number of Dash drivers on the road at one time.

The Dash's other big Net-centric feature is live search. Most GPS units rely on a static (and often woefully out-of-date) "points of interest" database for info on local restaurants and shops. Dash augments that content with Yahoo Local Search, so you can search for things like "sushi" or "contact lenses." But the results are hit or miss. For example, a search for "books" found 16 stores but missed a Barnes & Noble 3 miles from my home. On the Web, Yahoo Local displays 38 stores, including the Barnes & Noble near me.

It's too soon to tell whether the Dash is better than a standard GPS device. It will cost you $299 plus $10 to $13 a month to find out.

Like most products on the front edge of technology, the Dash and the Kindle exhibit great promise, inconsistent execution, and high prices. But they lead toward a future in which we're all well connected--regardless of our pedigree.

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