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LG Portable Navigator

GPS has gone portable, with handheld units like the LG LN735 Portable Navigator. It's not quite pocket size at 4.3 x 3.2 x 0.7 inches and 1/3 pounds, but it's easy to carry and easy to fit in the car, even when loaded up for a trip. We tried it out for the past few months traveling the eastern seaboard, through New England, on the streets of Boston, and winding our way along the shoreline of Cape Cod.

You should expect today's GPS navigators to work well -- Start up quickly (in under a minute or so), stay on track, and recompute routes quickly when needed (some 10's of seconds). It's the interface that makes these units -- both while driving, and when setting up and entering new destinations -- with live map guidance displays for the driver, plus added options for the passenger, including review of turn-by-turn directions.

The LG has a good driving interface on the 3 1/2 inch touchscreen display, with options for 2D (overhead) and 3D maps (perspective), plus night mode with a darker display (there's also a brightness control in the menus). The unit speaks voice prompts for upcoming turns (in multiple languages), with options to name the road (typically quite well even for odd names), and/or the highway number.

Even when we were traveling on known routes, it was still helpful to have the unit on to remind up of an upcoming highway exit, just in case we were too involved in the audio book and not paying attention to signs. The display counting down miles to the next turn also helped pace long drives.

The LG also can be used as a music player (MP3, WMA) and photo viewer (JPEG, BMP), especially with an optional SD card. You can just drag and drop media files though the USB connection using Microsoft ActiveSync. LG also includes PC Portal software to install new and updated maps, back up settings, and import your own custom favorites.

The LG LN735 Portable Navigator is available for around $249. There's also a less-expensive LN730 with fewer points of interest, and an enhanced LN740 with a larger 4 inch display and longer battery life (6 vs. 4 hours).

See the Mobile Communications Gallery, under Mobile Navigation Systems for details and comparisons.

(Compare the Verizon VZ Navigator service for mobile phones.)

    Find the LG LN735 Portable Navigator on Amazon.com

More on navigating below ...

The LG Portable Navigator is indeed relatively light and portable, and has a pedestrian mode for using on walkabouts. The package includes a suction cup for dashboard or windshield mounting, although we were used it quite successfully just sitting on the console. It would alert occasionally when it lost GPS lock, but then reacquire within a handful of seconds.

The touch-screen menus are relatively intuitive, with an on-screen keyboard for entering destinations and options. It's still easier to enter any expected destinations before you leave (and even way points along the route), and then quickly call then up as favorites when you're in the car. The interface offers several options for entering destination addresses, including addresses, intersections, and local points of interest. However, it's very focused on which state you want, even if you're specifying a destination by zip code.

You also can pan and zoom in the map, and choose to display various categories of interest -- though the unit really wants to do this around the current GPS location, so it's not convenient for looking at other areas you want to explore later.

There's also an option to switch from fastest to shortest routing, and to avoid highways and tools, although in our testing the shortest route was a convoluted mess of local roads that not only would have taken much longer to drive, but also did not appear to any better than marginally shorter.

My main irritation was with the initial set-up. The LG has North America maps built in, but still needs you to explicitly load a regional map. Then on each power up, it takes 20+ seconds to start up (loading the map), and then demands that you agree to some legalize. And then if it does not have a good GPS signal it defaults to display an unnamed street in New York City. But once the unit is up and locked, it hums along nicely for the rest of the trip.

Just please use some common sense with any such device -- you can't rely totally on it, especially for a quick series of turns -- especially if it loses the signal, for example in Boston's many tunnels. And while the maps and GPS lock are usually pretty solid, it can get confused, as when the LG did not find the most direct path out of Boston to the adjacent highway, and or thought it had teleported to a near-by parallel road and suddenly demanded an immediate turn.

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