By Ryan Williams, TechBetter.com - Greetings all. This is a special summer vacation product review tech tip. My family and I just returned from a weeklong vacation in which we spent a lot of time driving. I'm sure every rational person reading this is already thinking that with gas prices being so high I must have a screw loose. So if I told you I did so with two children ages four and one, you'd probably think I was really nuts. Then, if I told you about halfway into the first day's drive, we realized our one year old had a stomach virus and proceeded to pass the virus to each of us over the next couple days, you'd just begin to get an idea as to how much fun we had on our vacation. But that is a story for another blog. :-)
In this tech tip, I'm going to discuss one technology and two software applications that were a rare bright spot in this year's vacation. The technology was GPS. Now, I realize GPS is old news, but the two software applications I relied on are still relatively young. The software apps were TeleNav (http://www.telenav.com) and Google Maps (http://www.google.com/mobile/default/maps/index.html) both running on my cell phone. A TeleNav subscription runs $10 per month, and Google Maps is free. The combination of the two made this year's vacation road trip a breeze. Here are the highlights:
The beauty of TeleNav is that you can plan your trip itinerary on TeleNav's website, and when it is finished, you can easily synchronize the itinerary with your cell phone. This allows for easier searching and inputting of addresses and points of interest along the trip. Another feature TeleNav offers that Google Maps does not is spoken directions. If configured to do so, TeleNav will verbally prompt you when and which direction to turn as with most vehicle navigation systems. However, unlike most other vehicle navigation systems, both TeleNav and Google Maps are always up-to-date with the latest maps because the maps are downloaded real-time from the internet via the cell phone's internet connection each time a route is planned.
Now, you may be wondering where Google Maps fit in to the summer vacation plans. I'm sure the suspense is killing you, so I'll tell you. Google Maps will also provide real-time driving directions, but unlike TeleNav it will not speak to you. You have to pay attention to the screen which can be dangerous. For this reason alone, I use TeleNav while driving. Google Maps does do two things better than TeleNav in my opinion. If you want to search for an impromptu place of interest, Google Maps' search feature seems to be a bit more robust and accurate, not surprising since searching is Google's bread and butter. The most used Google Maps feature for me on this trip, however, was the "favorites" feature. Since cell phone GPS is accurate to within about 3 meters, each time we parked the vehicle to walk I pulled out the cell phone and marked the vehicle's location in Google Maps using the favorites feature. This placed a star on the map which I labeled "vehicle." We then set out to walk the town, the nature trail, the mall or whatever. When we were ready to leave, I just pulled out the cell phone and found our current location in relation to our vehicle. We didn't need this feature all the time, of course, but it sure came in handy when we did need it.
Well that's about it for this tech tip. If you are considering using either or both of these apps for your next road trip, I highly suggest purchasing a windshield suction cell phone holder. This way you can position your phone above your vehicle's dashboard, and you won't have to take your eyes off the road. It is also helpful to have a cell phone with built-in GPS. You can use an external GPS receiver but having the GPS built into the phone is much more convenient. I use a BlackBerry Curve however there are many phones that offer built in GPS.
I hope you found this tech tip useful. As always, if you have anything you'd like me to address in future tech tips, please contact me using the information below.
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