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To paraphrase a famous platitude, the journey's the thing, not the destination -- especially if you like to drive. If you've got someone on your holiday gift list who loves to get behind the wheel, there are plenty of gadgets to make the ride a bit smoother.
Here are three of the year's best gadgets for the road:
Get Your Car Connected
Someday soon, all cars will have connections to the Internet. But you don't have to buy a new $30,000 vehicle to get handy connected features. The $170 Car Connection from Audiovox is the size of a Fig Newton and simply plugs into the OBD-II (on-board diagnostic system) port that's under the dashboard of any car built since 1996.
Once attached, the device connects to the Internet via its own cellular data connection. So you can track the location of the car from a Web browser, receive text alerts should the vehicle move without your authorization, and even mark its parked location. Parents will appreciate the fact that the Car Connection can also e-mail them alerts should the car stray outside of a pre-set area (known as geofencing) or travel faster than 75 mph.
The Car Connection requires a monthly $9.95 subscription, plus a one-time $19.95 activation fee. There are less expensive smart phone-based options, but they can't track a vehicle and they stop working once the phone is out of the car.
Keep Your Head Up
Even helpful gadgets, such as navigation systems, can be a distraction in the car. Every time you want to check on the next turn, you have to look down at the dash -- or up at a portable nav system that creates a blind spot above the dash. The solution: Use a head-up display.
The Garmin HUD is the first head-up navigation device you can install in any car. It projects a translucent image in the lower part of the windshield and uses blue turn arrows and large text to display such information as your current speed, estimated time of arrival, and distance to the next turn. It works at night and in broad daylight so that all you have to do is shift your gaze slightly to check on the directions. It also uses spoken instructions conveyed through a connected smart phone. It works with Android, iPhone or Windows Phone handsets running either the Navigon or StreetPilot navigation app ($30 and up).
Souped Up Radar
The days of Smokey standing on the side of the Interstate picking off speeders with a radar gun may one day become a quaint anachronism. Increasingly, municipalities are using fixed speed cameras and red light cameras and simply mailing out tickets to unsuspecting motorists. No police intervention required.
Fortunately, radar detectors are keeping up with the technological changes. Escort's $550 Passport Max is one example. It has built-in GPS so that it can compare your location to a database of fixed camera locations and warn you before you get into trouble. In fact, many towns make the location of red light cameras public in order to warn drivers of dangerous intersections and encourage people to slow down. Of course, the Max also warns you about standard Ka radar guns and looks for laser hits.
To weed out false alarms from security systems and emitters like garage door openers, the Passport Max learns your route and eliminates excessive pings from these innocuous devices. To get the most out of the device, a one-year $19.95 subscription for camera location updates is recommended.