Turning Your Cellphone Into a GPS Navigator

Find your way for $10 per month.

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Lost? Your cellphone just might find your way. For as little as $3, a cellphone can navigate for you, doing the basic job just about as well as a dedicated GPS receiver. It's a cheap way to get a taste of what the receivers are like, or a quick way to save your skin when you're looking for directions.

Many newer phones, particularly those from Sprint and Verizon Wireless, contain a chip that gets location data from the GPS satellites circling above. Almost all of these GPS handsets also can "read" the directions to you, using the loudspeaker that's part of the phone. They can even pay their way by helping you find cheaper gas out of several nearby filling stations.

Most GPS-capable cellphones, such as the popular Motorola Razr and LG's VX phones, tap a navigation service across the network. They also can get maps and directions from the wireless network's Internet server. The price is a subscription fee, usually $10 a month. Some carriers will sell one-day access for $3, which is a great service for those who only occasionally venture into neighborhoods unknown. The downside is that you've got to have a good wireless service connection to get the directions.

Smartphones, such as Treos and BlackBerrys, can do their own mapping. A few BlackBerry models even come with maps and software ready to go. Others require a one-time purchase price for the maps but carry no subscription fees. One advantage that a smartphone has over a cellphone is that a smartphone can carry the charts on the device itself, which also has the computing power to calculate routes.

But many smartphones, including all Palm phones such as Treos, don't have a GPS receiver built in. You can buy one separately for about $100.

By the way, Apple's iPhone does not have a GPS chip. And so far, there aren't any add-ons to make the iPhone a real-time navigator.

Finally, be warned: If you don't have a data plan for your phone, the navigation services might eat up your voice minutes. Check with your carrier, which decides how much you'll be charged—and often chooses the services you can use.