With the increasing popularity of navigation apps on smartphones, you might ask yourself what navigation GPS devices bring to the table. What keeps car GPS units relevant? First, an independent GPS unit is dedicated to your car, but can be transferred from vehicle-to-vehicle if need be. You can stash the GPS unit away in your glove compartment and not have to worry about taking it with you. Your smartphone is then free to be just that – a phone. You don't need to use your data plan or your battery power to navigate from work to home. A navigation GPS device can give you real-time traffic updates and suggest ways to adjust your route around accidents and construction. The best GPS units can accurately tell you what time you will reach your destination and can update instantaneously as your situation changes.
The best GPS devices we reviewed had a plethora of features, accuracy, lifetime map and traffic updates and a large enough screen to be helpful. The Garmin Nuvi 3597LMTHD, the Magellan SmartGPS and the Garmin Nuvi 2797LMT all carry more features than your everyday navigation smartphone app, and will help you quickly and safely reach your destination. For more information, check out our reviews and articles on navigation GPS devices.
There are several navigation GPS devices on the market, and many of them are older models just hanging around. You will want to find a GPS unit that not only meets your driving needs, but also has relevant and useful features to help you get from here to there. You will want to look for sleek, modern designs with bright and clean displays, and tools to help you arrive safe and on time. Below, you will find the criteria we used when we reviewed navigation GPS units.
First, look for a GPS device that has a screen size that is comfortable for you. Larger screens make it easier to control the device as well as see it, but could also take up valuable windshield real estate. Most GPS units have a screen resolution of 480 x 272 pixels, whereas the best GPS units use 800 x 480 pixel resolutions. The screen will be clean and crisp at a lower resolution, but the higher resolutions compete with most smartphones and give you near-HD quality for your maps. With more devices employing photo-realistic navigation and 3D rendering, a higher resolution should play a pivotal role in your decision.
Touchscreens are either resistive or capacitive, and the best GPS devices for cars use capacitive screens. Resistive screens are plastic and rely on physical pressure to read your movements. Capacitive screens use your body as a conductor, and use the electrical charge in your fingers to sense movement. Capacitive screens are much more responsive and allow you to swipe, scroll and pinch.
Look for the ability to control the orientation of your screen. Most GPS units only allow for a landscape display, which provides a widescreen view; however, the best GPS units will give you the choice of landscape or portrait. The advantage of portrait is you can more clearly see what is coming down the road. Some models will rotate the screen automatically and others will require that you change a setting.
You want to look for a GPS unit that accurately interprets your position via satellite. You want a device that not only knows where you are, but can give you directions using buildings, stoplights and other landmarks around you to help guide you to your destination. Furthermore, you should look for a GPS unit that offers map and traffic updates for the life of your device. This way you will always have the most current information available.
Being hands-free is also important, which makes speech access and Bluetooth critical features for GPS units. Voice commands allow you to change your destination without moving your hands or your eyes. Bluetooth allows you to make and answer phone calls without digging through your bag or pocket for your phone.
A point of interest (POI) is a preprogrammed, preloaded location that you can search for and pull up as a destination. POIs included restaurants, businesses, parks, man-made marvels and natural wonders. The best car GPS units have as many POIs as possible, giving you more possible destinations. Great units will include the ability to create custom POIs, or waypoints (which are similar to custom POIs), and the best units allow you to save multiple locations. Along with these custom locations, you will want a device that can save your favorite routes and provide easy access to these routes. If you need to create a route with multiple destinations, look for a device that will sort these destinations into the fastest, most direct route possible.
While driving, you want a device to give you helpful directions rather than create more distractions. Look for a GPS unit with lane assistance, which shows you what lane to be in for an exit or an important turn at a busy intersection. A speed limit indicator shows the posted speed limit, as well as your current speed, and informs you when you are driving too fast. Most devices allow you to choose a variety of different routes such as the fastest or most direct, as well as whether or not you want to avoid certain hazards or obstacles like toll roads and highways.
If you navigate away from the selected route, most navigation units will automatically create a new route. The best devices have traffic services that will provide a quicker, alternative route or let you know that your current path is still the best. After a while, the best units will save your most traveled routes for future reference.
Help & Support
The best car GPS units have great customer support available for when you run into trouble. Look for units with a warranty, and check on the ease of navigating the website so you can receive help and information on returning defective items. Look for an online manual you can use should the need arise, as well. The manufacturers of these navigational GPS units should have an email address, email forms or phone numbers available for contacting the company directly.
The best navigation GPS units have a great combination of all of these features that will make you forget all about the GPS capabilities of your smartphone. Use our reviews and articles to find a GPS system that will make the road ahead much smoother.
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