November 23, 2009

Automotive GPS Buying Guide

As GPS units continue to drop in price, there are a lot of folks asking the basics of GPS navigation, what stand alone unit to buy and what not to buy. I thought I would put down a lot of the things that I typically run through when I recommend a GPS to anyone. It starts with a budget, and some minimum features as well as how much are you going to use it and rely on it.

Invest in these features:

  1. Start with a trusted brand for a stand alone GPS - I trust both Garmin and TomTom to deliver an easy interface, with high quality maps and feature sets. They are the two titans of the word, have good support and very regular updates. If you are lucky enough to be able to travel to another part of the world, they have a lot of it covered with regularly updated maps.
  2. Text to Speech (TTS) at a minimum - this has the GPS speaking the road names, so it will say "Turn Right on Maple Street in 400 yards" instead of just "Turn Right in 400 yards." It doesn't make much of a difference on the highway, but in suburban and urban areas, it makes a huge difference to be able to concentrate on where you are going and listening for the road name instead of looking at the GPS map to figure out when to turn.
  3. Widescreen if you can afford it - with prices dropping more and more, a widescreen is very affordable, often costing only about $25 more than the standard 3.5-inch screened units. It's not the extra map that you get to see that is so important, but instead it's the text on the map that tells you street names, and it's the ability to input data into the unit on the larger keyboard that makes the widescreen so valuable.

Recently there are some very nice features that add to the capability of a GPS making it much easier to use and more trustworthy. If you can afford these, I would add to the list:speedlimiticon.jpg

  1. Lane Assist/ Lane Guidance - This is a couple of years old and I like it on my GPS when I can get it. The GPS will show you images of which lane to be in when approaching an intersection on the highway. While a regular exit ramp is easy, try some of the urban multi-road splits that have you needing to be in the middle lane to veer off and then a left lane to exit... it gets tough and this feature can help. Very helpful when you have this on the widescreen.
  2. Speed Limit Indicators - A hated these a few years ago due to the inaccuracies but recently I have come to love them. The speed limits are fairly accurate and are within a few hundred yards of when a Speed Limit changes on a state highway. I find them helpful, especially the Garmin implementation where the icon looks like a US Speed Limit sign with black writing on a white background. The TomTom implementations are text based in with all of the other data displayed which is a bit tougher to get at and decipher when driving down the road. This feature helps keep you legal.

Hope this helps...

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Posted by Scott Martin at November 23, 2009 9:09 PM

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