Even though many new cars sold today have the option of adding an in-dash navigation system, nothing beats the convenience of having a portable unit. However, one glance at the market can confuse anyone who simply wants a GPS navigator with useful features and good performance. We’ve narrowed down the selection and categorized them with respect to their particular advantages. For more information about how to pick a good GPS, have a look at the buyer's guide below.
Best all-around GPS:
While portable GPS devices have fallen in popularity due to smartphones in recent years, there are compelling reasons why you should consider one. The picks below have the ability to work in tandem with your smartphone for added functionality such as displaying call information, text messages, and map information overlaid with traffic conditions. Portable GPS systems also work great for people who travel off the beaten path without worrying about a network connection being lost like on a cell phone.
The Garmin DriveSmart 55 is feature-packed from its clear screen, numerous POIs, Bluetooth and app connectivity, and lifetime map updates. This Garmin will be a valuable companion for the average commuter to the avid explorer. Read Full Review
Garmin's DriveAssist 51 combines an easy-to-use GPS navigator with a built-in dash cam that opens up several unique features. Beyond detailed maps and live traffic alerts for North America, the camera enables this unit to provide alerts for forward collision, lane departure, and even a "go" alert if you inadvertently find yourself distracted in traffic. 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.
Finding the Best Car 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.