Best all-around GPS:
The following picks were selected due to their outstanding combination of features, performance, and value for money. If you're shopping for GPS navigators, you'll likely want to consider these models first.
The Garmin nuvi 2595LMT offers a string of convenient features that allow this model to stand out from the crowd. This model supports voice activation for route guidance, and the built-in Bluetooth receiver enables hands-free phone usage while driving. Read Full Review »
This top-of-the-line GPS navigator is best-suited for those who demand the best features. The premium design resembles current smartphones/tablets, and the interface supports multi-touch gestures as well. 3D landmarks and photorealistic representations of intersections supplement the maps. Read Full Review »
TomTom's VIA 1535TM offers more features than the competition - at a lower price. This particular model comes with voice-activated navigation, as well as a built-in Bluetooth receiver that allows hands-free phone conversations. Read Full Review »
The nuvi 2455LMT may well represent the "sweet spot" for most drivers looking for a reliable GPS unit. The 4.3-inch screen displays maps and graphics easily, and the more manageable size takes up less room on the windshield or dashboard. Read Full Review »
Magellan GPS models have a dedicated following thanks to their unique customizable interface and easy-to-read maps. The RoadMate 5045-LM receives lifetime map updates as well, and the low price practically makes this a steal. Read Full Review »
Best Budget GPS:
These days, there are plenty of "budget" GPS options available for less than $200. Some of the better models offer large screens, text-to-speech capabilities, and lifetime map updates from the manufacturer.
The large 5-inch screen provides ample real estate to display Garmin's time-tested interface and maps. The nvi 50LM also offers turn-by-turn directions and lane guidance, and is supported with a lifetime map update policy. Read Full Review »
Garmin's affordable nvi 40LM covers the basics of automobile navigation, thanks to its 4.3-inch screen and detailed maps. Spoken street names and lane guidance are nice features to have, but the real draw of this "budget" model is the lifetime eligibility for map updates. Read Full Review »
If you want the largest screen for the least amount of money, consider the TomTom Start 55 TM. This model comes with all of the features you expect from a modern GPS navigator, and is backed up by TomTom's lifetime map update policy. Read Full Review »
Although the nvi 30 may seem downright minuscule next to the 5-inch screens listed above, it also carries the advantage of the lowest price of the group. The 3.5-inch screen is still fully legible, but tucks neatly out of the way so as not to disturb forward visibility. Read Full Review »
This model is TomTom's most affordable GPS navigator, yet comes loaded with desirable features such as a large 4.3-inch screen, spoken street names, and lane guidance. Given its low price, the Start 45 should be given top consideration when shopping on a limited budget. Read Full Review »
Best GPS for Europe:
The GPS models selected here come pre-loaded with road maps of most of Europe, which saves time and money compared to having to download maps individually.
TomTom's top-of-the-line GO2535 TM World Traveler Edition comes loaded with the company's best features, as well as detailed maps of 30 European countries. This model comes with lifetime map updates and live traffic reporting, though these features are restricted to North American maps only. Read Full Review »
The nuvi 2475LT is Garmin's sole offering with coverage for European roads. Bluetooth connectivity with Garmin's Smartphone Link turns your Android phone into a remote control, and the 2475LT still offers live traffic updates for North America. Read Full Review »
Magellan's midrange 5045T-EU is the only model out of the company's entire lineup that comes pre-loaded with road maps for Europe. This model is best suited for fans of Magellan's devices who frequently find themselves on European roads. Read Full Review »
Finding the Best GPS
When selecting a portable GPS unit, it's important to consider several important factors before making a decision. Some of the best GPS units strike a good balance between performance, features, price, and value. You want to make sure that the GPS unit you're potentially going to live with for the next couple years or so has all of the features you want, but you also want to make sure that you aren't overpaying for a feature-laden unit which performs poorly. All of the picks here approach that 'ideal' balance in different ways, so here's how we rate each according to our criteria.
Any good GPS unit will offer outstanding performance. We, like everyone else, prefer a GPS system that processes data quickly. A GPS unit with good performance will obtain a GPS lock relatively early, and will be able to plot routes and directions without much delay. The interface must be intuitive and responsive, and system slowdowns and crashes are not considered acceptable. Detailed maps are a must, and missing or incomplete streets are penalized.
Another side of the equation is features. Simply having quick performance does not necessarily make a GPS unit a 'Best Pick'. The best GPS units will have widescreen displays, text-to-speech directions with spoken street names, lane guidance, and a high POI count (6 million or more). Better GPS units offer even more such as Bluetooth phone pairing, live traffic feeds, user-adjustable maps, and multiple guidance modes and capabilities. The general rule with features is 'the more, the merrier'. But, be sure that the features you want are also features that you truly need and will actually be used, or you may end up overpaying for your GPS.
That leads us neatly to the price aspect. It's relatively easy for a manufacturer to offer a GPS unit that has blazing performance and tons of features, but these units usually end up costing much more than what most people are willing to pay. On the other end of the scale, there are bare-bones models which seem attractively priced at first glance. In a nutshell, what we're looking for when judging price is if the features justify the investment.
Finally, a 'Best Pick' must offer outstanding value. A GPS unit priced at $1500 which offers the best performance and most features is not a good value simply because the price is too high. Likewise, a GPS unit that costs $80 but does not offer much in the way of features or performance is not considered a good value because there are much better options available. But when it comes to judging value, it's important to not get too hung up on the price. A GPS system which is loaded with features and performs well is a better value at $300 than one which has few features and basic maps for $150. A good value offering can also be referred to as a 'good deal' - you know it when you see it.
Each of our picks approaches this equation in its own unique way. Garmin's products dominate the market simply because they do things better. The highly detailed maps and long list of user-friendly features that come with each Garmin GPS unit are the gold standard in this market. The only flaw is the fact that not all of Garmin's products can be considered to be the best value when compared to the competition.