With sales of smartphones, such as the iPhone, and Android operating system phones still growing briskly, and with dedicated car GPS sales waning, you might think that smartphones have won the car navigation war. But without an accessory windshield mount and a good app installed, a smartphone still doesn't measure up to a car GPS for providing turn-by-turn directions in challenging conditions.
But something happened on the way to what may be regarded as the conclusion of the smartphone vs. GPS battle. The prices for dedicated car GPS devices came way down, even as their feature sets improved significantly. They are still best for turn-by-turn directions for frequent travelers. And most of us are carrying smartphones that we don't necessarily want to tie up as windshield-mounted GPS devices. Why not make the best of both devices when you travel?
As good as car GPS devices are, they are still weak on getting a quick overview of your route with a zoomable map. By contrast, I find smartphone maps apps to be the best way to plug in a destination, get a quick overview of the route, and to zoom and pan a map to understand your route. And while you have the preview open, you can use the map's traffic layer to see if there is any problem traffic on your route.
When you are satisfied with your route, it's time to hand over navigation duty to your car GPS. Why? A car GPS has a larger screen, making everything easier to see. Most car GPS device screens are 4.3 inches (measured diagonally), and many are now available with 5-inch screens. A car GPS has a built-in speaker that's louder than a smartphone's. It stays plugged into your car's power port, so you can spare your smartphone battery for calls and other duties.
Data Connectivity and Hands-Free Calling
There's another important way that smartphones and dedicated car GPS devices complement each other: Connectivity. It's possible to get data plans for car GPS devices, but why pay for a data plan twice when you already have a smartphone? Smartphones may be set up to link to car GPS via Bluetooth, letting the GPS pull down data on the fly, powering search features, gas prices comparisons, and even enabling your GPS to post Twitter or Facebook updates about your trip's progress and arrival time.
Perhaps the best use of car-GPS-to-smartphone data connectivity is enabling hands-free calling. It works like this: Sync your smartphone to the GPS via Bluetooth (GPS makers publish phone compatibility lists) and then use the microphone, loudspeaker, and touchscreen interface of the GPS to make and receive calls. It's a great way to multi-task your devices, and save money and time, while improving safety.
Use Your Co-Pilot
Another great way to use the one-two technological punch of a car GPS and a smartphone is to get your front-seat passenger into the act. If you are on your way to an unfamiliar city and starting to get hungry, for example, why not let your co-pilot use one of the powerful apps, such as Yelp or OpenTable, to find restaurants, read reviews, and get an address that can be plugged in for navigation? Recommendations from trusted sources and to-the-front-door turn-by-turn directions: What a great way to travel. In particularly difficult navigation settings, your passenger can use the smartphone to look at street view images of the destination to get a preview of the locale. It's clear that the best way to get from here to there, and to get the most from your trip, is by using the best that dedicated car GPS devices and smartphones have to offer and getting the devices to work together.