How to Get Driving Directions WITHOUT a GPS
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Even recent studies have shown that navigation systems tend to become must haves in the next few years, pointing that future cars, starting with model year 2009, will include such devices as standard.
There are millions of GPS units out there but, let’s be honest, buying a decent one, featuring well-developed maps and without bugs or other glitches, costs at least a few hundred dollars with lots of high-end products priced at more than one thousand bucks.
However, there are a few cheaper/free alternatives for those people who don’t want to pay a fortune for a GPS device. The best idea is to acquire a mobile phone featuring GPS navigation but this also needs money and today’s article is not about this thing.
So, how can you get driving directions without a GPS unit? Fortunately, the Internet giants, including here companies such as Google, Yahoo and others, have developed web-based or downloadable products which can guide you on the streets of a crowded city by pressing a single button.
…is a multi-platform (compatible with Windows, Linux and Mac systems) downloadable application that brings high-resolution satellite imagery straight to your desktop. Beside the impressive amount of details showed by Google Earth’s images, the software also provides a couple of features that may help you forget about the stand-alone GPS.
First of all, there’s the “Directions” function that lets you specify the starting point and the destination of your trip. Google Earth calculates distance and time needed to reach the final point and marks the route on a detailed map of the area. In addition, this function provides step-by-step instructions, providing accurate information regarding route and distance (e.g. “turn left at N Bragg Blvd/NC-24/NC-87, continue to follow NC-87”). All these instructions are provided in a separate box in the left part of the screen, just under the “Directions” tab.
Secondly, there are two features that simply turn the stand-alone navigation systems into a waste of money: Traffic and Street View. Although they have pretty self-explanatory names, here’s what they actually do: the Traffic function marks all roads with different colors, each of them with a different meaning (red = traffic jams, yellow = crowded roads, green = clear roads) while Street View provides street-level high-resolution images with the selected location.
Beside all of these, Google’s application also provides GPS integration but this feature in only available for premium users (an account costs $400 per year).
Unfortunately, Google Earth is only useful in case you’re traveling with a laptop so, if you’re looking for a different tool, you should try…
Often called “the web version of Google Earth”, Google Maps is a web-based service which provides almost the same features as the downloadable application. However, there are two main differences between Google Maps and Google Earth:
1. Google Maps is only accessible via web-browser so a web connection is required every time you want to configure a new route
2. Google Maps is also compatible with Java-capable mobile phones and Blackberries which means you can easily install the service on your cellphone and get directions wherever you area (note that the service is freeware but, since web connectivity is required, charges may be applied by the network operator).
Similar to Google Earth, Google Maps provides step-by-step instructions, combined with Street View but without traffic conditions. Have a look at the following pictures to see the service at work.
…is a web-based service designed by the Sunnyvale-based company and supposed to compete with the aforementioned products released by Google. Although it features a pretty attractive interface, Yahoo Maps is actually quite limited when it comes to features. For instance, it allows you to configure a route just like Google Maps but it does not provide street-level photos or live traffic information (even though it does have a traffic feature, it only works in certain areas). Moreover, the service is full with ads which may prove to be quite annoying for some people.
We’re not going to talk too much about Yahoo Maps but we really think you should give it a shot and who knows, maybe you really like it.
That being said, web-based services may prove to be the most useful and accessible replacement for stand-alone devices. Until we’ll all have Google Maps-connected cars, try testing the above applications and let us know what you think.
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