I recently did a complete Global Positioning System (GPS) unit roundup for our sister publication, TOOLS OF THE TRADE. I was amazed by how powerful and inexpensive these units have become — and how useful they would be for a remodeler or handyman trying to get from job to office to supply house and back as quickly as possible.

Photo: Frank J. Borkowski Here's some of what I learned, but you can check out the whole review at www.toolsofthetrade.net.

  • lt's all about the maps: Name-brand GPS units will have the most up-to-date maps and will be the easiest to update. Some off-brand units I encountered had maps from the year 2000 and no way to update them.
  • Get “text-to-speech”: This feature lets the GPS unit speak what is actually coming next — like “turn right on Second Street” instead of just “turn right.” That one simple thing makes all the difference when you're driving in unfamiliar terrain.
  • Can you hear me now?: Some units are definitely easier to hear and understand in a noisy truck than others. The egg-shaped Garmin StreetPilot might look clunky, but it's loud and clear.
  • Go for “route optimization”: This is a feature on higher-end GPS units that will calculate the best route between multiple destinations — a must for handymen, service techs, and delivery folks.
  • Traffic notification: I found this feature to be disappointing. There are several competing services and how well they work depends on where you're located, so what works well in New York City might not be so great in Des Moines, Iowa. A good service might cost you a monthly subscription but would be worth it if you really needed this feature.

—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant and the director of builder operations for Dynami Solutions; www.jstoddard.com.