Tips for Buying GPS & Navigation Systems
Navigation systems have become a fixture in America’s driving and automobile
culture in a very short period of time. Gone are the days of drivers consulting
a maps and atlases, or stopping at local gas stations to get directions.
Instead, Global Positioning System (GPS) devices are now the de facto choice for
helping people get around.
While many newer car models have GPS system built-in and most cell phone
carriers provide a GPS option as well, thousands of drivers choose to buy their
own stand-alone GPS units for their portability and convenience. If you’re
someone who drives a lot for a job, if you rent cars often for work or pleasure
or if you’re a family with multiple cars, a stand-alone GPS unit is your best
value. They’re easily transportable for use in different cars and they also tend
to offer more features than those devices that are pre-loaded into new cars.
However, the selection of GPS units available can be dizzying for any shopper.
Choosing the right model depends on what features you want and need, and it’s
very important to not overpay for things you don’t need or will never use.
Every GPS device comes standard with pre-loaded maps, spoken instructions and
re-routing software in case you ever miss a turn or a direction. For many
people, this is more than enough. If you don’t need a GPS with any other
additional features, you can probably stop here. There are plenty of base-line
models at an affordable price that will get you where you need to go safely and
The one major factor you’ll need to consider is the size of the screen you want.
GPS screens can range from 2 to 5 or 6 inches, measured diagonally. Smaller
screens take up less dashboard and windshield space, but with smaller buttons,
entering an address can be tricky. They’re also tougher to read overall. Those
devices with the largest screens are certainly better for those with eyesight
issues but they can obscure a driver’s view of the road as well. For the best
compromise, consider screens ranging from 3.5 inches to about 4.5 inches.
Once you start looking beyond basic GPS models, you’ll notice that the prices go
up as the number of additional features increases. Frankly, some of the extra
bells and whistles are gratuitous and not worth the money you’ll spend to get
them. But others have some real value. Here are a few of the most common extras
you’ll come across when shopping for a GPS.
Spoken Street Names: highly recommended, this feature directs you with
actual street names and highway routes/numbers rather than giving you general
directions such as “turn right ahead”, allowing you to keep your eyes on the
road. It’s especially helpful for busy interchanges and driving in unfamiliar
Predictive Data/Dynamic Search: this feature facilitates the process of
entering addresses and street information. As you type in data, the screen will
highlight letters that complete commonly known locations. Start typing in “San”,
for instance, and you’ll be given a list of choices like “San Diego” or “San
Antonio”. Pick the applicable location or keep typing until you’ve entered all
the information you need.
Traffic Monitor: for more money, you can have a device that includes
real-time traffic monitoring. This feature not only alerts you to possible
gridlock up ahead, but also offers you alternate routes and detours to avoid
Blue Tooth Compatibility: a good idea for people who use the phone quite
a bit while driving, this tool syncs up your cell so you can send and receive
calls through the internal speaker, screen and microphone on the GPS unit. When
you’re on the phone, driving directions are automatically quieted.
MP3 Player: if you don’t already have an MP3 player, certain GPS units
will store and play your audio files either through the device’s speakers or by
connecting to the car’s stereo system. Some models even allow you to take the
unit with you, making it a portable MP3 player as well. However, song file
capacity varies greatly depending on the manufacturer so don’t automatically
assume you’ll have unlimited space to add thousands of songs to your GPS.
Other features you’ll come across include mounting options, video and photo
components, multiple languages and various power supply choices.