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5/23/2008
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Top 10 GPS Tips And Tricks

Get the most from your TomTom, Garmin, Magellan, or other GPS device by learning how to speed satellite lock, send maps from your PC, create POIs, and more from our GPS expert.

With global positioning system (GPS) devices more popular and affordable than ever, here are some of the best ways to get more from your personal navigator. What follows are 10 tips and tricks, along with some bonus pointers for owners of the two most popular brands, Garmin and TomTom.

1
Speed Up Satellite Lock

When you turn on your GPS for the first time, it downloads almanac information from GPS satellites. No, this isn't the Farmer's Almanac, though it does have to do with the position of objects in the sky. In this case, your unit is receiving data about where GPS satellites are located from your current location. Having this information on your unit will speed satellite lock, also known as time-to-first-fix (TTFF).

To download this information efficiently, leave your GPS powered on and under an open sky, motionless, for 20 minutes. Ideally, you will do this the first time you turn the unit on, but it can be done any time after as well. It's an especially good first step to take if you notice satellite acquisition taking longer than normal.




The TomTom GO 920T features live traffic and voice commands.
(click for image gallery)


Another time you can speed satellite lock is when you hop in a rental car following a cross-country flight. Many GPS units have a "new location" option on the satellite screen menu. Use this when you've travelled more than a hundred miles or so to give your unit an idea of what part of the world you're in, speeding up satellite lock in the process.

On some units the new location feature will come up automatically if satellite acquisition is taking too long. For a better understanding of the technology behind GPS, check out Garmin's GPS Guide For Beginners.

2
Deter GPS Theft

GPS units are some of the hottest gadgets around, and I do mean hottest in every sense of the word. Smash and grab thieves can steal your GPS in less time than even the fastest unit can lock onto satellites, so to keep your GPS off eBay, and your car's windows intact, here are a few simple precautions:

  • Take your unit with you whenever you leave your car.
  • Remove the suction cup mount from the windshield and wipe away any telltale marks (a microfiber cloth works great for this).
  • Better yet, ditch the suction mount altogether and buy a friction mount. These weighted mounts grip nearly any shape dash and are easy to hide under the seat or in the glove compartment. They don't fall off the windshield or leave suction cup marks behind.

    This is my favorite type of GPS mount. I can easily grab the entire mount/GPS assembly and place it on the passenger seat before I pull into a parking lot, ensuring that no one sees me disconnecting and hiding my GPS.

3
Update Firmware

Firmware is software that is embedded in your GPS. The frequency of firmware releases for a particular model varies according to the manufacturer; some provide ongoing support better than others. Firmware updates can fix system glitches and make your GPS operate more smoothly. And some firmware updates actually add new features and capabilities.

Updates are pretty painless. They typically involve connecting your GPS to a computer (most receivers come with a mini-USB cable) and running the firmware update file. Garmin has simplified the process with its WebUpdater application, which will check for new updates, or you can go to the Web site for a list of the current firmware version for your model. You can find updates for Magellan devices on its support page, while TomTom updates are now handled through the TomTom HOME application.

There is always the possibility that a major bug will make its way into a new firmware release. One way to resolve this is to roll your unit back by installing an older version of firmware. Fortunately, GPSInformation.org has an archive page of older firmware, for this very reason.

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