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High-Tech Help For Lost Souls


Here's a smart gift for people you know who hate asking for directions or admitting that they're lost: a GPS receiver that can answer the question, "Where am I? " I've taken a look at the latest batch of global positioning system receivers, from battery-operated, $100 handhelds good for hiking and biking to elaborate car navigation systems that intone turn-by-turn directions and go for $1,500 or more.

These receivers search the sky for as many GPS satellites as they can find and use the signals to triangulate your location. The results are displayed on a screen and often overlaid on a map. If you plan to take your GPS off-road, make sure it has a feature called WAAS, for wide area augmentation system. That makes the receiver about five times more accurate, allowing the device to pinpoint a location to within 10 feet. Here are some recommendations:

You can't go wrong with the bright chartreuse Geko 201 from Garmin (garmin.com). It's the size of a cell phone, waterproof, and runs for 12 hours on a set of batteries. Expect to pay $120 to $140. Garmin makes cheaper models, but you can hook up the Geko 201 to your PC to store waypoints and routes. This one's good for hikers and anglers to mark campsites, fishing holes, and the route back to where they started from. And it's a must-have for the new sport of geocaching -- a high-tech treasure hunt in which you're given a latitude and longitude to help you find a hidden stash.

On the other end of the price scale are systems designed for route planning and guidance in cars. I like Magellan's brand new RoadMate 700 (magellangps.com). It's the same technology found in the NeverLost GPS system in Hertz rental cars, and it's the first in-car portable GPS -- it plugs into the cigarette lighter -- with detailed, street-level maps of the entire U.S. built-in. Once you enter a destination, a voice prompts you through all the turns. If you miss one, RoadMate will recalculate a new route almost instantaneously.

CROSS-COUNTRY GUIDE

You should be able to buy the RoadMate 700 for between $1,200 and $1,300. If you don't make cross-country road trips, you probably can get by with the nearly identical RoadMate 500 for about $300 less. The difference: The maps aren't built in. You have to transfer the regional and city maps that you need from the included CDs to a memory card that pops into the side of the unit.

If your rudderless friend is never without a Palm or Pocket PC, here's an alternative. Buy a GPS receiver that's designed to work with the device. For the Pocket PC, ALK Technologies (alk.com) has new CoPilot Live guidance software and a new Bluetooth GPS receiver. The bundle is $349. I used it with a Bluetooth-equipped iPAQ 1945 Pocket PC from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). The Bluetooth wireless link means that you don't have to plug the receiver in to the Pocket PC; you can throw it on the dash for the best reception and leave the iPAQ on the seat.

For Palm buffs, the best solution is to buy a new one: Garmin's iQue 3600 ($550), a Palm with a GPS receiver built in. Click on the next appointment on your calendar, and driving directions pop up. It's the first Palm (PALM) GPS that can recalculate your route if you miss a turn or need to detour to avoid traffic.

Any of these gadgets will help lost souls get their bearings. At the very least, the owners will have a more comfortable, even trendy, way to admit they're lost: "I guess I transposed my coordinates." By Larry Armstrong


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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