Yes, it’s true – you already have a GPS system. Every smartphone has access to GPS and comes with a free navigation app.
But your smartphone is already your music player, your camera, your messaging platform, your news checker, your alarm clock, your calculator, your flashlight, your everything and anything all-in-one device. It has but one screen and fairly limited battery life.
A standalone GPS navigation system relieves some of the burden from your phone while you’re driving. But it does much more than that. For starters, and most importantly, it provides you with reliable navigation regardless of cellular reception. It helps you avoid traffic jams and alerts you of speed cameras. It keeps detailed logs of your travels and helps you plan your route. All of that while helping you navigate difficult exits and intersections in a calm, friendly voice, using visible landmarks as reference.
You’d be surprised at how many options there are. The cheapest GPS is around $130, while high-end, specialized models run $400, $500, or even more.
Here’s a roundup of the best products on the market with precise specifications and feature descriptions to help you decide what your best GPS navigation system is.
You can’t talk about navigation devices without mentioning Garmin GPS systems. They’re everywhere, and for good reason.
The Garmin Drive 52 is the smallest budget GPS Garmin makes. You can get it with or without Traffic, Garmin’s road-congestion warning system, with a $20 difference in the price.
Both models implement a full complement of Garmin’s staple features to make travelling easier, safer, and more enjoyable. For starters, the Drive 52 comes with fully detailed maps of the US (mainland and offshore) and Canada. Maps are easily and quickly updated through Garmin Express, a free program for Macintosh and Windows PCs.
The software and menus on the device itself are intuitive and easy to use, which is one reason Garmin is widely considered the maker of the best GPS navigation system for car, bicycle, bus, and any other wheeled vehicle. The menus and search bars on the highly responsive five-inch touchscreen display are specially designed to be clear and unambiguous even for first-time users.
A voice assistant guides you through streets with ample time to prepare a turn and change lanes. It uses street names and obvious landmarks to help the driver keep oriented. It warns you about sharp turns and streetlights that are coming up.
The software includes a database of national parks and historical landmarks so you can take educational detours on family trips. It pulls data from FourSquare for the best pit-stop destinations in any part of the US and Canada.
If you need to use the car’s power port for anything else, you’re in luck: The Drive 52 comes with a rechargeable internal battery that can keep it running for up to an hour.
Garmin lists this basic car GPS navigator at $150 without the Traffic antenna.
This is a middle-priced product in the Garmin family. It has most of the same features as the Drive, but it has a smart element too: voice recognition.
The DriveSmart 55 can be controlled by voice. Simply say “OK Garmin” and ask for GPS directions to anywhere on the North American continent, including US islands and offshore territories. Since all of Garmin’s products are loaded up with data from FourSquare, you can ask for good restaurants or hotels in the area completely hands-free.
While hands-free operation greatly increases the safety of your trip, Garmin’s Traffic feature increases its efficiency. The Traffic hardware is an antenna embedded in the navigation system’s power cable. It picks up FM information about traffic conditions on the road ahead. It warns you which stretches of road are to be avoided because of backups, accidents, or roadwork.
Thanks to mobile integration and the Garmin Drive app, you can even go a step further – access available traffic cameras, checking on road congestion or even free scouting a parking space at your destination before you get there.
The “How to Update Garmin GPS” guide is short and sweet. Maps are updated via Wi-Fi – you can do it with your phone if you want.
Garmin DriveSmart 55 has a 1280 x 720 touchscreen display with a crystal-clear image and a one-hour lithium battery. It can serve as a display for your car’s back-up camera if you have one.
Garmin lists this product at $229.99.
Investigators say that one out of four traffic accidents occur because of texting and driving. With TomTom GO 620’s Bluetooth mobile integration, the pleasant voice of the navigation unit will read your text out loud so you can keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. You can then issue a call command with your voice, all while your phone is in your pocket, and the GPS device will oblige while keeping you straight on the road to your chosen destination.
The TomTom GO 620 gets acquainted with your driving habits. After a while, it can predict where you’re most likely to go at different points in the day and automatically set you on your course.
If the artificial intelligence guesses wrong and you want to set your destination manually, simply say “Hello TomTom.” This will activate the voice-control options, which allow you to operate the device completely hands-free. You can also connect Siri and Google Now personal assistants to the TomTom Go 620.
Voice control isn’t the only way to set destinations and access settings. The 6″ display has a very responsive touchscreen with clear and unambiguous instructions. The processing chips in TomTom’s navigation devices have recently been upgraded to have ample computational strength for a quick and seamless experience.
But say that you’re somewhere you’ve never been before in your life. Say, Vietnam or Croatia. Every purchase of TomTom GO 620 gets you free access to maps of almost the entire world. If you’re travelling across Europe, you’ll get the same free deal on speed cameras and info on traffic congestion. This information is all stored on a 16GB SD card.
TomTom GPS updates are accomplished via Wi-Fi – you don’t need to add a computer to the mix.
The TomTom GO 620 has a simple magnetic mount and is easy to set up. It powers through the car charger via a USB cable that comes in the box. The manufacturer lists this item at $279.99.
In the 16th century, Magellan was the first person to go west and reach the east. He was an explorer on a mission to find new routes and ways of circumnavigating the globe. The brand of navigation devices that carries his name will not send you halfway around the globe to reach your destination.
Even though a connection to three satellites is enough to properly pinpoint a device’s location, Magellan’s GPS system connects to six. This, combined with the most up-to-date maps and sophisticated route-calculation algorithms, means that you can depend on Magellan’s devices to help you consistently and reliably reach your destination in the quickest way possible.
Aside from being precise, the maps are also clear and easy to interpret. Magellan’s Junction View displays realistic 3D images of roads, intersections and highway exits unambiguously. You’ll never have doubts about when and where to turn with the best GPS navigation system.
The Magellan RoadMate 6630T-LM also saves you money – the PhantomALERT system gives you audio and visual notifications when approaching speed cameras. It also informs you of the speed limit of the stretch of road you are driving on.
The RoadMate 6630T-LM’s a twofer – a GPS navigation system and a dash camera in one small plastic case. A frontal camera captures the road in 1080p HD quality. The footage can serve as evidence in court in case of an accident or just a keepsake of a scenic journey. The GPS module stays in standby mode when the ignition is off and uses motion sensors to detect impacts and bumps. If your car is being tampered with, the camera starts recording and has a chance of capturing footage of the perpetrator.
This GPS navigation system comes loaded with maps of the USA, Canada and Puerto Rico. The map updates, as well as a subscription to the Traffic congestion service, are free.
Magellan recommends a retail price of $299.99 for this combo GPS navigation system/dash cam. That may just be the market’s best deal on a GPS navigation system.
Lewis and Clark are long gone, but lots of people still seek the thrill of the great outdoors and the unique, humbling experience of nature. The main difference between the age of the pioneers and modern times is that now, every inch of the Earth has been scanned and mapped by satellites. Even if human feet have never touched a patch of soil, a camera floating way up in orbit has already taken thousands of pictures of it.
Lewis and Clark had to go in blind when they embarked on their adventure. You could do that as well, but it’s wise to have a backup plan. The Magellan TRX7 comes with more than 160,000 off-highway trails in the US and Canada in its database. Many of the maps are community-contributed – another great benefit we have over the days of yore, before the internet.
That means that this device is more than a failsafe in case you get lost. With a simple button-push, you can begin tracing your own trails on the detailed 2D and 3D topo maps that come loaded in the device. The Magellan GPS update for these maps is free for as long as you own the system.
Create waypoints on the map with the simple push of a button. You can use these waypoints to mark significant locations such as scenic views or meetup points. If you ever feel lost and you want to go back the way you came, simply press the backtrack button and the navigation system will guide you back to your starting point.
You probably won’t get lost, however. This vehicle GPS warns you as soon as you stray off course. The device can connect to the internet if you set up a hotspot on your phone, and it has a Social Post button that automatically tweets your location so that rescuers can find you in case of an emergency.
Driving conditions aren’t exactly ideal when you embark on off-road escapades. Stress can be put on a GPS even in a city, especially in undeveloped countries. The Magellan TRX7 has an IP67 rating for drop and shock, the highest available for water and dust resistance. It also comes with a suction cup mounting system that’s specially designed to withstand bumpy rides on rough terrain. This rugged device is listed at $549.99, which might seem like a lot. But it’s a small price to pay for safety in the wilderness.
Even when you’re on the road as much as a trucker, it’s impossible to know every stretch of road. A good satellite navigation system is an indispensable tool and the best copilot a trucker can have.
Thanks to its powerful processor, the Rand McNally IntelliRoute TND 730 LM calculates the most efficient routes to any destination in mere seconds. It calculates much more than that, however.
The TND 730 LM calculates toll costs. It suggests alternate routes that don’t have toll payments. It has advanced lane guidance for tricky interstate exits, helping you prepare ahead of time. A missed exit costs time and, more importantly, gas.
It’s the best GPS for fuel economy in two more ways. The TND 730 LM compares fuel prices in different regions, which can help plan the fuel purchases on your trip. It also keeps tabs on fuel economy and calculates how much gas will be spent on a particular stretch of road. This crucial information can save you time and money.
The GPS can keep separate logs of mileage and fuel consumption for tandem drivers, which also helps keep things fair and efficient. It serves as a virtual dashboard, with detailed information on progress and productivity. For instance, it shows sunrise and sundown timers so drivers can plan their shifts accordingly.
The Rand McNally IntelliRoute TND 730 LM GPS leaves a “bread-crumb trail” of the current trip, on and off road. Drivers who get lost can easily retrace their steps.
It can issue warnings of upcoming traffic, stormy weather, and even construction sites – all obstacles that can ruin the profitability of a trip.
It comes with maps of the USA and Canada which get updated for as long as you own the device. All information is clearly displayed on a 7-inch screen, and the two interface color themes – “Ice” and “Carbon” – complement the map layout perfectly. Additional information such as traffic reports is downloaded onto the device via Wi-Fi. This service carries no subscription fee.
Efficiency is the name of the game for transportation services, and the Rand McNally IntelliRoute TND 730 LM is a powerful GPS navigation tool for achieving the goal of a perfect trip. You can upgrade your fleet for as low as $259.99 apiece.
Life on the road is addictive. Recreational vehicle owners can’t sit in one place for too long. Even when you have no place to come back to, you still want to get where you’re going. A GPS navigation system helps you achieve that goal.
A route planned from the very start has a much higher chance of being successful, and the Garmin RV 760LMT ensures it’s smooth sailing from start to finish. Here’s how.
There are more than 20,000 RV campgrounds loaded into this Garmin GPS unit – campgrounds all over the U.S. and Canada. You can filter them by the features they include such as being pet friendly or having electrical hookups.
If and when the unexpected happens, the unit is also there as a safety net: More than 14,000 road-assistance services are loaded into the map system. The maps are also densely dotted with point-of-interest locations such as national parks, historical landmarks, and other scenic destinations. Points of lesser interest, such as traffic jams, are also marked for easy and timely evasive maneuvers.
If you enter your RV’s height, weight, length, and width, the Garmin RV 760LMT will automatically disqualify incompatible roads – those with bridges and overpasses that are too low for your vehicle, for example.
The device reads information and easy GPS instructions in a friendly, calm voice. The Garmin Real Directions and Real Voice software instructs you in a natural way, using clearly visible landmarks such as gas stations and restaurants as reference. The Up Ahead and Active Lane Guidance features make sure you navigate tricky interchanges and exits with ease – when approaching an exit, the display changes to a 3D viewing mode with clearly visible lane instructions.
The device contains a one-hour lithium-ion battery, useful for when you need the cigarette port for something else. The Garmin GPS update is done via Wi-Fi and it’s free for as long as the device is operational.
Garmin lists this product for just under $400.
Bikers know better than anyone that the journey is more important than the destination. Sure, you can just hop onto a freeway and get where you’re going fast and easy. But that’s not why we ride bikes.
The TomTom Rider seems to have this in mind when suggesting roads to take. It comes loaded with the world’s most thrilling and captivating riding routes: windy, hilly roads laced with hairpin turns and captivating sights, ocean-side tracks, and never-ending rural plains.
When you decide your route, sharing it with your fellow riders is instantaneous via Wi-Fi. That makes sure your entire gang is on the same page and all that’s left is to ride into the sunrise. All of the rides have an ETA and difficulty rating based on the terrain. This is handy for picking a route that everyone is comfortable with.
Unlike the car version, a motorcycle GPS doesn’t have a nice home in the warm and dry interior. Like the rider, it’s exposed to the rough elements that come with the open road. That’s why TomTom put extra effort into making this unit durable – it’s very rugged and has metallic edges, making it highly water- and drop-resistant. Of course, no piece of electronics is fully waterproof, so don’t expect you can recover it from a lake. But if the bike’s at the bottom of a lake, the GPS would be the least of your worries, right?
This TomTom GPS easily and securely attaches to the handlebar. It works in both landscape and portrait mode, so you can choose which orientation is suitable for specific rides and specific bikes.
The TomTom Rider 550 has a 4.3-inch smart screen. What’s smart about it is that it is not only glove-friendly, which is crucial for bike riders, but it also has different modes for summer and winter gloves.
The unit comes with regional maps of countries you may not even have heard of. Updates are free via Wi-Fi. It can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth for a completely hands-free experience.
This road buddy can be yours for just under $400.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a GPS navigation system that does not come with a detailed map of the United States. If you plan to use it only domestically, you’ll be all set with almost any product on the market, at least as far as maps go. Garmin products usually include a map of Canada, while TomTom devices come with a much richer library. Most manufacturers let you download extra maps later, but there is often a fee.
You’ll often find a “lifetime” guarantee of free map updates. What this actually means is that the company will update the maps four times a year for products that are still under service. Older models are often excluded. Map updates are usually made via Wi-Fi if the device is capable of connecting to the internet, or via specialized software that comes with the product.
The size of the display makes a big difference in the price of the unit. The screen is usually between five and seven inches measured diagonally. The touchscreen interface should be responsive and the buttons should be large to minimize the effort of setting your destination.
Nobody ever said, “Let’s spend two hours sitting in a metal box that moves 20 feet every 30 minutes.” Most GPS devices have a Traffic feature – it alerts you of congestion and jams in a timely manner and offers alternate routes to evade them. This saves time, money, and stress. It even helps solve congestion problems for other drivers as it directs customers to alternate routes. Some devices get the traffic information from an FM antenna embedded into the power cable, while others get it via Wi-Fi.
GPS navigation systems should alert you of speed limits, a useful feature especially when travelling in foreign countries. It should also issue timely warnings of approaching speed cameras.
A great way to ruin your trip is to miss a highway exit. A good auto GPS will provide detailed and timely information about lane changes and exits, as well as a 3D view of junctions.
A Wi-Fi connection allows for quick and easy map and software updates. Also, many of the advanced features of the market’s best GPS navigation systems require an internet connection.
Points of interest
The best part of traveling to places you’ve never been is checking out the sights and trying the local delicacies. Your GPS navigation system can serve as a surrogate tour guide, with points of interest such as restaurants and historical sights already marked on the map. According to this metric, Garmin makes the best GPS for cars. Garmin models have access to FourSquare databases with reviews of attractions.
Predictive route calculation
Every day at 7 a.m. you start your commute to work – your GPS should know that. There’s no need to map the route manually each morning. The best GPS navigation systems employ artificial intelligence to learn your driving habits and set destinations automatically.
All driving gear should be hands-free if possible. A voice-activated GPS lets you keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, greatly increasing overall safety. Some devices can connect to assistants like Alexa and Google, making your GPS navigation system even smarter.
GPS navigation systems usually have an internal battery with a life of an hour or so. This can be very helpful in situations when you get stranded or need to use the car’s electrical port for another device.
You can get a unit with all of the most important features, like free map updates and traffic prediction, for less than $200. GPS navigation specialized for a certain type of vehicle, such as an RV or a motorcycle, can cost up to $500.