- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Buyers of the latest automobiles can get in-car navigation systems that also feature real-time traffic reports. For the rest of us, Global Positioning Systems devices have long been available, but without the addition of traffic info, at least until now.

For several weeks, I’ve been testing Delphi NAV200. For $449, you get a package which equals some of the systems I’ve seen advertised on the new car commercials without the attendant subscription fees.

While no two products in this category can be truly equivalent — navigation software differs, for one thing — the Delphi solution offers what I think is a good value, especially if your car is recent enough that you’re not thinking of a trade-in right now.

In common with some other recent products, including the far-less-than-desirable Magellan RoadMate 6000T, the NAV200 tries to do a lot. Along with the navigation system, there’s an MP3 player, a photo viewer, a world clock, a calculator and even a game. Then again, the NAV200 is detachable and can be carried around as a personal GPS unit.

However, my sense is that most of these units will spend their time inside a vehicle; the extra features may be distractions at best.

In operation, the Delphi takes a bit of getting used to: select “navigation” from the menu and you must first agree to a disclaimer about safely using a GPS unit before the navigation mode kicks in. The display is clear, unless sunlight is hitting it; the colors then are washed out and the map is hard to follow. Repositioning helps, as do overpasses; there’s a night-mode display setting that makes things a bit easier after dark.

Unlike some units, there’s not much in the way of voice options; the volume control is a help, keeping the robotic “speaker” at an acceptable level. I couldn’t find a way to show a series of turn-by-turn directions, but the unit was very good in providing the right guidance at the proper moment.

What really makes this unit interesting, though, is the addition of the $199 “Real Time Traffic Kit” (which I already did in pricing the total package at $449). This kit utilizes Radio Data System-Traffic Message Channel (RDS-TMC) technology, a service of Clear Channel Communications to update your travel route and, when necessary, interrupt your directions to alert you to a problem ahead. There’s no reading of the warning, but a visual signal, and a recommendation of either “ignore” or “reroute.” It was an “ignore” that flashed before my eyes Friday morning as I was heading to an office in Greenbelt. An accident slowed traffic on the Capital Beltway, but there really was no alternative and I was guided accordingly. Such a “co-pilot” is invaluable, especially for those driving in one of the 68 markets in which this service is available.

What’s not to like about the NAV200? Those extra features, as noted, are distracting, as is the constant need to OK a disclaimer when seeking navigation. The unit somehow thinks my residence is in a “government restricted area” and won’t store my street address; using geographic coordinates, however, gets me to and from home easily. I’d also like to find a way to override things.

But the NAV200 is a very good start for a combination of technologies that most of us living in or near cities will continue to need. Traffic isn’t getting any lighter, and congestion is inevitable. If $449 is the price of avoiding at least some it, it’s a reasonable price.

Read Mark Kellner’s Tech Blog at www.washingtontimes.com.

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