23 Februari 2010

Navigating by Laptop Light

Q.Is it possible to use a regular Windows laptop for GPS navigation in the car instead of buying a separate expensive gadget?

A.Turning your laptop computer into a large-screen global positioning system is certainly possible and can be done for less than $100, depending on the hardware and software you choose. You need a GPS receiver to connect to the laptop and mapping software for on-screen navigation.

External GPS receivers typically come with either USB or Bluetooth connections. Some USB models have a long cable so you can stick the receiver on the car’s windshield, while others sit close to the USB port like a flash drive. A Bluetooth receiver gives you a wireless connection, but you need to have a Bluetooth-capable laptop.

Several companies that make map software for the laptop will sell the program separately (for those who already have a GPS unit) or bundled together with a receiver. For example, Garmin has Windows software called Garmin Mobile PC that can be purchased with a USB (US$100) or Bluetooth receiver (US$150).

Other packages to consider include Microsoft Streets & Trips (US$70 with USB receiver), iGuidance (US$130 for a USB receiver or US$145 for the Bluetooth model) or the DeLorme EarthMate system, (US$70 and higher). You can find reviews and user forums discussing many laptop GPS programs at http://www.laptopgpsworld.com/.

Mac laptop owners don’t have to get lost out there, either. Programs like RouteBuddy and Mac-compatible GPS receivers from sites like the Last Stop Outpost bring navigation to Mac OS X. The Maps GPS Info site also has a list of free GPS software for Mac, Windows, Linux and several mobile phone systems.

One other thing to consider before taking a long trip with the laptop providing directions: power. Laptop batteries only provide a few hours of power, so you might want to get a charger that plugs into the car’s power port to keep the laptop running for the duration of the drive.

-New York Times, 2 Sept 2009
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