Simplicity is a virtue with TrafficGauge. Lacking any controls besides a backlight button, the device's sole purpose is to display current traffic conditions. Its screen is large enough and its information design simple enough that drivers won't have to take their eyes off the road for long while using it. TrafficGauge gets local traffic information from a radio signal and updates it every few minutes. Most important, the information is accurate. That said, the device has its drawbacks. If you don't live in one of the few regional markets (San Francisco, Los Angeles/Orange County, and Seattle) covered, you're out of luck. The static freeway graphic on its screen is also a little faint for limited light conditions, such as dusk. The unit as a whole doesn't have the most graceful form factor either. TrafficGauge costs $79.95 with one month of free traffic service; to continue service afterward, you'll have to pay $6.99 per month.
LCD traffic display
TrafficGauge is about the size of a PDA--and looks like one too. The face of the device is dominated by the screen, with a static graphic of whichever region the device is designed for. Traffic information is displayed as static or blinking black LCD bars over the freeway graphics. Traffic moving between 20mph and 40mph is indicated by a static bar, and traffic moving at less than 20mph is displayed as a blinking bar. In handing the device to people around the office, we noticed a tendency to try to control the display by tapping; however, it's not a touch screen.
A button on the lower front bezel turns on TrafficGauge's backlight so that it can be used at night. The back of TrafficGauge has a removable panel for its power pack, which includes two AA batteries. The device is thick compared with other handheld devices and is somewhat bulky to carry around.
Simplicity has its limitations
Since its LCD and its radio receiver don't draw much power, TrafficGauge is designed to always be on. There is very little interaction with the device; it simply serves as an information display. But the information it shows can save users time and frustration by letting them plan alternate routes around traffic or delay setting out. We found the information displayed fascinating around rush hour, even while sitting in our office. Icons for local stadiums also light up if an event is scheduled, which could indicate bad traffic.
We reviewed the San Francisco Bay Area version of TrafficGauge; the device is also available for Los Angeles and Seattle, with more markets on the way. But this is the price that TrafficGauge pays for its simplicity--each device is tied to a single region and is useless outside of it. TrafficGauge also covers only freeway traffic, so surface street-route alternatives might be just as congested.
In our tests, the information displayed by TrafficGauge was accurate, and we found that the device has very good coverage throughout the region. Its information is generated by local road authorities, such as CalTrans for the San Francisco version. It takes no more than a glance to assess upcoming traffic conditions, although we would have liked a vehicle mount; plus, the freeway graphics are a little faint, and it's hard to see where many roads bunch together. The individual bulbs of the backlight are visible when turned on. They do an OK job illuminating the display, but it's not a smooth solution. The two AA batteries last about three months.