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GPS on cell phones put to the test

January 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Many new cell phones, including the Samsung Instinct and the iPhone, are GPS-enabled. Consumer Reports tested cell phone GPS navigation to see how it stacks up against portable GPS units.Testing showed cell phone GPS is comparable to that of portable GPS devices. Many carriers offer traffic information, too.

If your cell phone has a GPS feature, you may need to pay a fee to use it, which can cost about $3 a day or $10 a month.

Most cell phone screens and controls are small compared to a portable device. But like portable units, many GPS-enabled cell phones give spoken turn-by-turn directions, so you don't need to look at the screen.

However, a couple of the most popular cell phones, like the Google phone and the iPhone, don't offer spoken directions.

"If you're an occasional GPS user, say using it for business purposes or on vacation, cell phone-based GPS can be a good alternative," said Consumer Reports' Jeff Bartlett.

You want to look for a phone with a large screen and an easy-to-use keyboard, like ones on the Samsung Instinct or the Glyde.

But paying for a monthly GPS subscription for your cell phone can cost as much as buying a dedicated GPS device. If you're a heavy GPS user, Consumer Reports says you're better off getting a low-cost portable unit.

Consumer Reports says a good basic GPS unit is the Garmin Nuvi 200. It's easy to use and costs about $150.

If you buy a GPS system, you could pay an annual subscription of about $60. But, some of the newest portable GPS units by Garmin and Navigon provide this service free of charge.