June 10, 2007

Father’s Day GPS buying Guide

Father’s Day is right around the corners, and judging from the ad fliers, a lot of people are betting on Dad wanting a GPS. There are a lot out there, and I have been reviewing models for over two years now and have boiled the market down to a few models for easy consideration. There are dozens of models to choose from but there are some important features that make moving up in a product line worth it if it fits your budget. I’ll offer the picks and then the technology explanations after that. The industry has moved to flat form factors, as they are easy to pack and carry. I will only offer those models here.

Entry Level Model – Mio C220

This small wonder performs well and gets a quick fix on satellites. Mio may not be the first name in GPS units that most people known but they manufacture a lot of units for other brand names. They decided to market their own brand of GPS units and really came onto the US market last year. The Mio C220 is a new entry that is a solid little performer. It comes with maps of the US pre-loaded, works right out of the box and has verbal directions (“Turn Right in 400 yards”). This model can be had for <$200. For more information see me Review of the Mio C220.

  • Mio C220 at Amazon

    Text to Speech Model – Garmin Nuvi 350
    This is the most popular GPS model in the US right now and for good reason. It is from the largest manufacturer of GPS unit in the US, and it has an excellent interface. Garmin is one of the models that you would buy for your grandmother and not fear that she can’t use it; it’s that intuitive. The Nuvi 350 offers Text-to-Speech (TTS), which speaks the road names: “Turn right on Maple Street in 400 yards”, instead of “Turn right in 400 yards”. This is a great technology and helps out if you are navigating in semi-urban or urban areas where streets are tight and you could use the name of the street to be sure you are turning onto the correct street. You can add an optional Traffic adapter to this unit for a little over $100 (If you know you are going to do this, consider the Nuvi 660 below). The Nuvi 350 is about $370 online.

  • I most recently reviewed the Nuvi 360, which is the step up for the Nuvi 350. The only additional feature is the ability to integrate with your Bluetooth mobile phone. I liked the feature, but if you want a recent look at how the Nuvi 350 performs, read my Review of the Nuvi 360.
  • Garmin Nuvi 350 at Amazon

    Widescreen Model – Garmin Nuvi 650/660 or TomTom ONE XL

    The Garmin Nuvi line went wide last year and is an excellent choice for a slightly more upscale GPS. I believe that widescreen GPS units are a lot better experience from a usability and readability standpoint. Read more on this in my post on widescreen GPS units where you can see superimposed screenshots to see how much difference the larger screen makes. The Garmin Nuvi 650 has maps of North America, text-to-speech capability, and an extremely bright screen. The Nuvi 660 adds the ability to receive TMC traffic updates so that you can see traffic jams ahead and route around them. This is a subscription service that costs about $70 a year after the 3 month free trial period. I live near Boston and think that it’s worth it. The Nuvi 650 will cost a little more than $500 online and the Nuvi 660 will cost a little more than $600 online. Finally if you need to travel to Europe, consider the Nuvi 670 that has North American and European maps pre-loaded.

  • See my Review of the Nuvi 660. Again, the Nuvi 650 is identical except for the traffic capability, so you can get a good sense of its features from my Nuvi 660 review.
  • Garmin Nuvi 650 at Amazon
  • Garmin Nuvi 660 at Amazon
  • Garmin Nuvi 670 at Amazon

    The TomTom ONE XL is a more basic navigator from a well-respected company. Not as well known in the US, but #1 in Europe. They are a top-shelf manufacturer, and the TomTom ONE XL comes with Maps of the US, but not Text to Speech. The unit gives very good directions and the widescreen is very nice, not as bright as the Nuvi 650/660. There is one small blemish on the TomTom ONE XL – The interface to get find businesses and addresses as your destination is not as easy at the Garmin units. When finding a “Point of Interest” (POI) or an address to navigate to you have to wade through some screens that are harder to navigate. The maps are solid and the unit is a great price; less than $399 online.

  • See My Review of the TomTom ONE XL
  • TomTom ONE XL at Amazon

    Technology and Questions

    Points of Interest (POI) – Points of Interest are the places you will want to search for and navigate to. More is better. For the US, you need to have 2-3+ million to be effective. All of the above models meet requirement.

    Do I need a subscription? – The short answer is “no”. To use a GPS you don’t need a subscription. The only subscription you may need is a subscription to traffic alert services if that unit (like the Nuvi 660 above) has the capability.

    Text -to-Speech -(TTS) - See my post on Text to Speech for more info.

    Screen size – Almost all GPS units come with a standard 3.5-inch screen. Over the last year, widescreen models have really come into play and down in price so we can afford them. I think that widescreens are great.

    Maps – All of these GPS units above come with maps already loaded onto the device. Turn it on and you are ready to go. There are two primary map providers, NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas. TeleAtlas used to have problems with the map quality and them being out of date. This was solved in late 2006. The TomTom and Mio units above have the new TeleAtlas maps on them and for 99% of the buying public they won’t notice a difference. Going forward, all maps get out of date, and you may need to buy a new mapset from the GPS maker in a year or two. These usually cost around $100.

    SiRF star III chipsets – all of the above use a high sensitivity GPS chipset to grab satellite signals quickly and hold onto those signals when you get in tough situations (tree cover, or in urban canyons). Some use the SiRF star III chipset, which is well known as one of the best. I don’t mandate that you need SiRF star III chipsets, as long as you see “High Sensitivity” mentioned. All of these models I have used and all perform well in this area.

    Read More in: GPS Buying Guides

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    Posted by Scott Martin at June 10, 2007 10:49 AM
  • Recent Comments

    The difference between the Garmin 650/660 posted above is wrong. Both Nuvi 650 and 660 feature TMC traffic updates. The difference with the 660 is Bluetooth and an FM transmitter (for audio on your car stereo). Checkout the cross comparison on Garmin's site.

    Posted by: name at July 25, 2007 9:58 PM
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