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.
Garmin DriveSmart 55 & Traffic Portable Vehicle GPS
TomTom GO Comfort 5 Portable Vehicle GPS
Garmin DriveAssist 51 LMT-S Portable Vehicle GPS
The Garmin DriveSmart 55 offers up lots of useful features at a price point that is relatively low, which makes this a great value proposition. The 5.5” touchscreen is clear and bright coming in at 1280 x 720 pixels. The display edges are minimal which gives it compact dimensions while having a larger screen. The DriveSmart 55 comes preloaded with street maps for the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Bahamas which gives this an advantage over your cell phone where you would need to download each one separately and take up a large amount of memory. Built-in WiFi keeps maps up to date with free lifetime updates. If you are an explorer, you will appreciate the included HISTORY Database, national parks directory, and TripAdvisor travel ratings. The voice guidance is solid, and you can even connect your cell phone via Bluetooth for hands-free calling. Using your phone and the Garmin Drive app unlocks even more features such as live parking, photoLive traffic cameras (where available), and text message notifications.
If you prefer a larger screen, the Garmin DriveSmart 65 is available with a 6.95”, 1024 x 600 pixel screen. It includes all the features of the DriveSmart 55 in a larger, easier-to-view display.
The TomTom Go Comfort is our pick for the best budget portable GPS. It includes many of the features the Garmin DriveSmart 55 has with a few compromises. First, all the good stuff: the Go Comfort comes with TomTom’s insanely accurate turn-by-turn directions, Bluetooth connectivity, lifetime map updates via Wi-Fi (no need for a computer), real-time traffic, and cell phone pairing. These features are enough to consider it over the DriveSmart 55 but some corners had to be cut to keep the price down such as a smaller, lower resolution screen, larger bezels, and support for only the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The TomTom Go Comfort has the value proposition locked down with a plethora of features from an industry leader. If you do not plan on exploring some of the islands and do not need a higher resolution screen, the Go Comfort should be at the top of your list.
If you are looking for added security and functionality, the Garmin DriveAssist 51 LMT-S will fit that bill. Not only do you get great features such as a 5” touchscreen, real-time live traffic and weather, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and detailed maps of North America with free lifetime updates, but also a built-in dash cam and advanced driver alerts such as forward collision warning. Dash cams provide a recording for an eyewitness account as it will continuously record your drive and store footage if it senses an impact. Since it is equipped with GPS as well, it will track where the event occurred. Not only does the dash cam record video, it is utilized to alert the driver when traffic has started moving, when following the vehicle ahead too closely, or if you drift off the road or into oncoming traffic by triggering a lane departure warning. Garmin’s Real Vision feature will help you navigate difficult to read addresses and will display an arrow that points you where to go.
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.