What's the best way to find your way, and to take advantage of the ever-growing list of location-based services; a smartphone or a dedicated car GPS? For frequent travelers, the answer is increasingly – both.
Despite solid gains in the functionality and usefulness of smartphone turn-by-turn directions apps, for me, dedicated GPS units are still the in-car navigation champs. The larger (4.3 inches vs. 3.5 inches for the typical smartphone) screen size, built-in speaker, and plug-n-play ease of use, and ease of windshield mounting all cause me to reach for a car GPS rather than my iPhone when I have to drive to a new destination in an unfamiliar area.
But a funny thing happens along the way. If I want to get an overview of the area where I'm traveling, I'll wait until I'm stopped at a light, then reach for my iPhone's Google Maps utility to zoom in and out, and pan the map. It's easier to do this on a connected smartphone than on a car GPS.
The same thing is true for finding a good restaurant. Location services such as Yelp tend to be much more up-to-date and thorough (including customer reviews) than a car GPS's points-of-interest database search.
When you're out of the car, and on foot, the smartphone with GPS again proves to be a better choice, providing you with all of your connected services, plus an easy-to-pan and zoom map showing your current location. Car GPS devices often have pedestrian modes, but these seem a bit clunky compared to smartphone options such as Google Maps, Yelp, and FourSquare, just to name a few.
There are also ways that your smartphone and dedicated car GPS can work together, making the sum better than the parts. For example, linking your smartphone to your car GPS via Bluetooth can turn your car GPS into a speaker and control terminal for hands-free calling – a perfect combo for the road warrior.
With smartphones providing so many of our connected services, it makes sense to keep our data bills with our smartphones, and not subscribe to fee-based connectivity for in-car GPS devices. That said, an increasing number of GPS makers are offering free traffic detection and avoidance connectivity, which is a terrific addition to the travel toolkit.
The balance of technology may tip yet again, but for now, based on what I see when I travel, and an informal survey, road warriors aren't asking how to use either/or a smartphone or car GPS, but rather, how to get the most out of both.