When is the last time you found yourself digging underneath your car seat searching for a crumpled-up paper map? Chances are good it has been a while, thanks to the popularity of GPS apps on smartphones. In fact, GPS apps are so ubiquitous nowadays that you may wonder why you even need a standalone car GPS. Portable GPS devices do offer many benefits, however, and for those who love to travel and explore, they can be indispensable.
Thinking about purchasing a car GPS, but not sure where to begin in your search for the right portable GPS device? Check out the table below to compare features and pricing on top products.
|Garmin Drive 50||Check Price on Amazon|
|Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S||Check Price on Amazon|
|Garmin Nuvi 57LM||Check Price on Amazon|
|TomTom VIA 1625TM||Check Price on Amazon|
|TomTom VIA 1515M||Check Price on Amazon|
If you still are not ready to choose the best car GPS for your needs, read on to learn more about these handy navigation aids.
What is a Car GPS?
A car GPS is precisely what it sounds like—an electronic navigational system you keep in your car to help you find your way from point A to point B. While there are in-dash systems built into some cars, it is more common these days to purchase a small portable GPS. Sometimes a portable GPS is also known as a portable navigation device (PND).
How Does a Car GPS Work?
All GPS technology works by checking in with a network of orbiting satellites. These satellites continuously transmit radio signals broadcasting the time and their positions. The GPS checks its location with reference to several satellites simultaneously, and then uses this information to extrapolate your exact coordinates on earth.
Do you really need a GPS?
A lot of people actually can get by with a GPS app on their smartphone. But a portable standalone GPS device offers some benefits a smartphone doesn’t: a larger screen, a focused function (no multi-tasking), a more streamlined interface, and extra features which your smartphone might lack. Plus, you do not necessarily want to share your phone with family members, but a GPS contains no private data. So if you do a lot of exploring or you want something you can share with other users, it makes sense to buy a car GPS.
What size do you need?
A larger screen is much easier to use, but you do not want the screen to be too large or it could occlude your windshield view. Think about where you will mount the device and then calculate the screen size that will be an ideal fit for your vehicle. If the device will be used in more than one vehicle, be sure to take that into account.
Do you need a traffic feature?
Some GPS devices offer free traffic data for the lifetime of your device; others do not, and you have to purchase a premium subscription service to get that data. The quality of the premium data is usually higher, but it can add significantly to your price. Then again, if you live in a rural setting, you may not need traffic data at all.
Recommended Features For Car GPS
Every portable GPS device can be plugged into the 12-volt socket in your car, and every car GPS should also have an onboard battery. Two to four hours of battery life is typical. How much you need depends on how much you expect to take the GPS out of the car and use it while hiking, cycling, geocaching, or so on.
See roadwork up ahead, or perhaps a traffic jam you want to avoid? Some GPS devices have a quick detour button which you can push (or say “detour”) to prompt the device to offer up an alternative route. This allows you to navigate around roadblocks on the fly.
Written driving directions are usually clear—but not always. When you are merging in or out of a highway and there are eight lanes of traffic and multiple exit lanes which take you in wildly different directions, it can be next to impossible to know if you are really taking the right lane. Street view, sometimes called junction view, shows you a realistic 3D rendering of the upcoming junction, highlighting the appropriate lane.
Before you buy a car GPS, check your local laws to make sure you understand mounting rules. Then pick a unit which will be easy to mount and un-mount. Those which have the cord plugging into the mount itself rather than the actual GPS unit tend to be the most convenient. This configuration makes it easier to take the GPS in and out of your car (as you do not need to keeping plugging in and unplugging the device).
GPS maps can quickly go out of date. Lifetime maps is a fantastic feature as it allows you to update your maps for the lifetime of the device. You may be limited to doing this just once or several times a year with some devices; others may let you update anytime. If you do not get a GPS with free lifetime maps, you will have to buy updated maps in the future if you want your data to stay current.
Voice technology, cameras, and more
There are a number of other cool features that many car GPS devices include. Some can read directions to you aloud and may be voice-operated as well. Others may include cameras—very helpful in a situation involving a traffic violation or accident. Some GPS devices may alert you when you are approaching a school zone, or might allow you to set custom alerts for restaurants, gas stations, and shops up ahead.
Now you are familiar with why you need a car GPS and what types of features are important to look for when you are shopping. Ready to find the perfect GPS for your automobile? Scroll back up to the top of the page to take a closer look at our comparison chart!
1. Garmin Drive 50: An Easy-to-Use GPS System With Driver Alerts
If you are looking for a GPS device which can help you to boost your awareness on the road, the Garmin Drive 50 is it. The intuitive use features combined with driver alerts allow you to stay focused on your environment and all that is going on around you.
- Alerts keep you safe. When the speed limit is going to increase or decrease, a school zone is ahead, a red light is coming up, or the road is about to curve, the device will alert you in advance so you can be ready.
- Intuitive directions. The driving directions not only include references to streets and lights, but also to structures and landmarks.
- Up next. This feature is perfect for road trips or travel in remote regions. See gas stations, restaurants, and other services before you reach them, as well as distances to the next set of services. That way you can make an informed decision about when to stop.
- Pair up this product with cameras. You can set up a camera on the rear of your vehicle to help you back up, with the image being transmitted to your GPS screen. You can do the same with the backseat to keep an eye on children. The only devices listed as being compatible are the BC™ 30 wireless backup camera and the babyCam™ from Garmin.
- The ease-of-use is a bit debatable. Most users will probably find the Garmin Drive 50 simple to use, but some may find the interface to be a bit convoluted in some respects. There may be a bit of a learning curve.
2. Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S: A GPS Which Provides Smart Features for Smart Driving
If you are searching for a GPS device which can provide you with current data on traffic, parking and more as you are driving, the sophisticated Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S may fit the bill. This model is packed with features and offers reliable performance.
- Large, beautiful screen. Measuring 6.95 inches, this display is bright and easy to read, day or night.
- Maps are included. Not only that, but they can be updated for the lifetime of your device without paying for a subscription.
- Real-time data. One of the most impressive features of this smart GPS device is the real-time updates you receive on traffic jams, weather, parking availability and more. Get suggestions for alternate routes on the fly, and allow your friends to see your location you if you wish through LiveTrack.
- Truly hands-free. You can use your voice to activate the navigation features of this GPS. Moreover, you can connect it to your mobile device. This allows you to talk to friends without picking up the phone or dialing. Additionally, alerts are sent to your GPS when you receive texts or calls. That way you do not have to manually check if family or friends are trying to reach you.
- Searching for addresses is a pain. This is because the model forces you to wait while it checks the full database for a list. This can take a couple of minutes.
3. Garmin Nuvi 57LM: Integrated FourSquare Data
The Garmin Nuvi 57LM proves why Garmin was able to corner the market for GPS devices. This nifty device has plenty of features that’ll get you pointed in the right direction: a user-friendly menu, free map updates plus a large, bright display. Once you get where you’re going, FourSquare data integration will help you find a fun way to spend your time.
- Super user friendly. Garmin has been building GPS units for years, and this easy-to-use GPS unit is evidence that they’ve invested big in user experience development.
- Free map updates. Some GPS makers try to squeeze extra money out of their customers by charging them for map updates, but Garmin gives them away for free.
- Landmark recognition. Spoken directions reference real life landmarks, making it even easier for you to know where you’re going.
- FourSquare integration. Data pulled from FourSquare lets you know what the hottest, most popular attractions are in your area.
- Large display. The 57LM’s 6 inch display is bigger and brighter compared to most other GPS units.
- Customizable voices. Just plug the 57LM into your Mac or PC to download additional voices.
- Avoid speed tickets. The speed limit indicator turns light red when you’re going too fast.
- The 57LM’s traffic avoidance system is awesome, but it doesn’t work unless you live in a major metropolitan area.
4. TomTom VIA 1625TM: A High Value GPS for Easy Navigation
Looking for a GPS which delivers great features for a reasonable price? The TomTom VIA 1625TM is built with simplicity in mind. With an emphasis on ease-of-use and cost-effectiveness, it is a great bang for your buck with excellent features and support.
- Large screen. This is the 6-inch version of the device, featuring a large, colourful, bright display. You can get a smaller version if you prefer; 4-inch and 5-inch displays are available as well.
- Traffic updates. The TomTom VIA 1625TM is live and connected at all times, and constantly updates its traffic information. That means that as traffic situations develop, the device will make real-time adjustments to route you around jams and obstructions. This service is free for the lifetime of the GPS.
- Up-to-date maps. This is also a free service included with your purchase. For as long as your GPS lasts, you can get updated maps with current data.
- Advanced Lane Guidance. When there is an intersection or an exit coming up ahead, this feature alerts you. It also provides you with a recommendation so that you know which way to go. This helps you arrive on time at your destination and drive more safely.
- Multilingual. There is support for 30 languages included with this device. Whatever language you need to hear your instructions in, this GPS can deliver.
- The device can sometimes be a bit slow to respond. This thankfully is not a major issue on most units, and perception of the issue is also subjective.
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