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Top Traffic Toys

Top Traffic Toys

Did you see my Top Traffic Toys segment on NBC's Today Show? Here are the things I talked about:

Before you leave the house . . .

- You've got a computer and a broadband connection -- use them. Your local TV news departments are all in a death battle to outdo each other with the best traffic maps and cameras. And while there are national traffic sources, nobody does traffic like a local TV station. So check their web sites.

- No time to look at anything? Well, if you have XM or Sirius satellite radio in your house remember that both have dedicated traffic & weather channels for the major metro areas around the U.S. A lot of their subscribers forget about that. Turn it on for the last 5-10 minutes before you head out the door and you should be up to speed -- without having to use your eyeballs.

Once you're in the car . . .

- The Garmin C550 is one good example of a great GPS nav device with live traffic. It has the compact "mini TV" form factor that is taking the sector by storm, and doubles as a handsfree speakerphone and MP3 player. It's not cheap (Almost $800, plus $60/year for traffic service), but it's one of the best and can easily be moved from car to car.

- Pioneer's AVIC Z1 is very much a top drawer piece. It's an in-dash entertainment, navigation and traffic powerhouse. What I love is its unusual ability to learn your favorite back streets as it notices you take them consistently -- other nav units just opt for the same predictable streets and highways every time. List price on this monster is over $2,200, but I see some CNET merchants have it for less than $1,600 -- plus a $4-$10 additional monthly fee for the traffic data via XM.

- The TrafficGauge is as simple at the AVIC Z-1 is complex. This thing looks like a PDA, but with virtually no buttons to push. It's just on, showing freeway traffic in your metro area. No zoom, no navigation, no text. Just the basics. It's uniquely suited to the technophobic. The price is right at around $80, plus a $5-$7 monthly subscription. Only works in S.F., L.A. and Seattle right now, but most major cities are promised soon.

Everywhere else . . .

- The Verizon/Samsung SCH-A990 is a good example of what today's broadband enabled phones can do. It supports the VZ Navigator service, which turns the phone into a sort of poor man's Garmin C550. The graphical navigation directions and text traffic alerts arrive via different applications within the phone, but that's not a bad trade off once you learn the shortcuts to access each easily. Customized traffic alerts cost either a few cents each or a few bucks a month, depending on your plan. Navigation is $10 a month or $3 per use.

- Google just added traffic data to their Google Mobile service. If you don't have a J2ME (Java) enabled phone, you can tune out now. But a lot of phones do have J2ME, which means they can run this free navigation and traffic program. Its the best example today of where phones are heading as they seek to clobber the standalone navigation & traffic devices. Like most Google services, it's free (yes, I too am waiting for the other shoe to drop on all these Google freebies), but will gobble up data so make sure your wireless plan has a either a lot or unlimited amount of it.