How do you spell expensive?

Five years ago when CNET Australia was born into the cyberworld we weren't even looking at GPS devices. By the time we started in 2005, sat nav units cost upwards of AU$1000 and resembled a small TV. Nowadays, you can find portable sat nav units from AU$200 in stores, and GPS receivers are now baked into devices from phones to cameras and camcorders.

The first GPS we reviewed on

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The TV years

Many GPS units from 2005 and before, such as the Garmin StreetPilot c320, resembled mini TVs. Thankfully, there were no cathode ray tubes inside...

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Where are those pennies?

In 2006, prices began to fall within the realms of acceptability. This entry-level TomTom One was priced at AU$699, which sounds suspiciously close to AU$500, when it's really not.

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Buttons, remember them?

By 2007 physical buttons — except for power, naturally — had all but died out. This Navman F20 from 2006 even had shortcuts to petrol and parking stations.

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Please come back

We loved the Mio DigiWalker C520 — witness that stellar score of 9.2! — and it's to our eternal regret that its "splitscreen" feature never lived on, as having the next couple of turns displayed prominently on screen proved quite handy for us.

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GPS on your phone!

2007 saw the launch of the Nokia 6110 Navigator. It certainly wasn't the first phone to feature GPS navigation, but a prominent ad campaign featuring a lost astronaut got everyone thinking about how wonderful it would be to fuse a phone and a portable nav device together. Nokia didn't quite nail it the first time around though. As a phone it was great, but the screen was too tiny for in-car duties and entering destinations via the keypad was a right royal pain.

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When done correctly converging devices makes sense, witness phones successfully mind melding with GPS units, MP3 players and cameras. But fusing together a gaming device or media player with a portable nav unit makes as much sense as a vegetarian eating beef.

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Stuck in a jam and you're to blame, you give GPS a bad name

By mid-2008 traffic messaging became a reality in Sydney and Brisbane, as well as Melbourne. Take up and consumer reaction hasn't been totally positive. Some of this is undoubtedly due to the system's limitations, such as phantom traffic delays and incidents that had yet to be picked up, but there have also been upgrade issues for users of "traffic ready" GPS devices. Oh, and because the service is not yet available in Adelaide and Perth, retail outlets have resisted going in on the hard sell.

(Traffic jam image by Sanja Gjenero, royalty free)

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So what does the future hold?

Fast forward to 2009 and it's been clear to a lot of us for a while now that the iPhone or any large touchscreen phone are perfect devices to finally meld phone and GPS into one usable entity. Since the release of OS 3.0 for the iPhone, licensing restrictions on turn-by-turn navigation have now been swept away and the floodgates can be opened.

We've already reviewed the first nav app for the iPhone, Sygic's Mobile Maps, and while it's good value, it's in need of a good spit and polish. More significantly, TomTom's nav app is just around the corner and unlike Mobile Maps it seems to feature a more iPhone-esque interface.

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