Buying the Best GPS New Device For You 2011

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GPS Buyer's Guide - A Few Important Things to Know:

GPS devices are great for getting you where you need to go. They're more accurate and more real-time than most GPS-enabled cell phones. They can be used to find interesting places on a road-trip, find your ultimate destination, or, even use them to get lost on John Denver's "Country Roads". Of course, they can be invaluable for businesses all types of field personnel, hikers, hunters and a plethora of other applications.

How GPS Devices Work (In over-simplified terms):

GPS devices communicate with multiple NAVSTAR GPS satellites orbiting above the earth. By communicating with multiple satellites they can pinpoint your location, current speed, even your elevation. Using your longitude and latitude and map files stored on the GPS unit, the GPS device can show you where you've been, where you are and where you're going. And the device constantly updates this information and is always one step ahead of you. However, similar to cell phones, reception is always a factor and can slow the device's ability to pinpoint your location.

True GPS Devices vs. GPS-enable Smartphones:

Remember, GPS devices use satellites that are orbiting above the earth. GPS-enabled smartphones rely on fixed-location cell phone towers. Smartphones approximate your location based on the location of a cell phone tower. GPS devices pinpoint your location based on multiple orbiting satellites. The bottom line: In an increasing number of states, you can't use your smartphone as a GPS without risking getting a ticket. An although GPS-enabled technology of cell phones is getting better, it seems cell phone service is getting worse, so for serious users, I would stick with a GPS device.

It's the Law - Don't Put Yourself at Risk

States are now enacting new laws that make it illegal to use your cell phone as a Nav device while you're driving. The COST OF A TICKET would easily pay for a new GPS...and then there is the hassle and points on your license.

Don't put yourself at risk - Buy one of these good-performing, competitively priced systems. One thing is certain, with the array of products on the market today you can find one with the features you need at the price you want to pay.

Portable or In-Dash

One of the first decisions you have to make is whether to buy a portable or in-dash device. No doubt, the in-dash systems look better in your car because you don't have wires to tangle with, power adapters in your cigarette lighter and suction cups hanging from your windshield. But they don't have the portability aspect (but remember, they can still be stolen). One important note: If you go the in-dash route, definitely opt for professional installation unless you have done this type of work before. On the other hand, the portable devices can be moved from car to auto to boat to 4-wheeler. Yes, you have wires and suction cups and such, but the portability aspect is key for many buyers.

Increasingly, portable devices are similar in features and functionality to more expensive in-dash models, with the added benefit of being easily transportable. Many easy-to-use portable models now offer reliable service and excellent coverage using internally-stored maps and are ready to use right out of the box. Take a look at these two models: The Garmin Nuvi 205 and the Tom Tom XL 340. Both models have screens that are not just big, but beautiful, and both are touch-screens. Both models are easily transferrable to different vehicles and provide text-to-speech (voice-guided) directions and both are priced right around $100.

There are many other products in the "Under $100" category. Like cell phones and cameras, sometimes these low-end models deliver the functionality you need and are incredibly simple to use. In most cases, with a few touches to the screen you can find fuel, lodging, restaurants, parks or the Grand Canyon.

At the other end of the scale is the "connected" GPS. These are the end-all, be-all of the GPS world. These products are so packed with features it would take a page to list them, and 10 pages to describe them. Two examples of these top-end products are the Garmin Nuvi 1690 and the Tom Tom Go 740 Live.

One difference between this class of GPS and some of the mainstream products is the addition of integrated cellular data capability which gives them full-time access to the Internet. This allows the GPS device to report up-to-the-minute traffic data, fuel prices, local weather, etc. One thing to be aware of is that the access to this information typically isn't free - generally you have to subscribe. Some of the flagship in-dash models also feature voice-activation which can accept spoken street and destination inputs. This is a trend that is, and will continue showing up in portable units.

This will certainly cause some technologists to scream, but rarely can anyone justify the cost of the latest and greatest. Technology today, in most cases, so far exceeds our real needs that mid-range products do far more than most people need. This is also the case with GPS devices.

As with most, if not all technology products, the price-to-feature curve gets better every year, if not every day. Moore's Law, which applies to processors, certainly applies to GPS devices also. Simply put, Moore's Law predicts that processing power (more specifically, transistors) will double every two years. Just 7-8 years ago the price of GPS device was prohibitive for most. Today, you can get good quality, very functional models for under $100.

Here are a few differentiating features to consider before you buy:

Screen Size: Bigger is definitely better, unless of course, you want something to slip into your pocket. This is one of the most obvious differences and something you have to place a value on. Bigger screens are definitely worth a premium but most manufacturers are standardizing on a few different screens sizes. Generally, larger screens will cost more money so you have to decide if this particular feature is worth your money.

Text-to-Speech: Text-to-Speech is now common on all but the lowest end devices. It's a hugely convenient feature and makes for much safer driving. Most devices, except for the lowest end models, and for most driving applications it is worth any extra cost you may have to pay.

Auto Re-Routing: This is a great feature and not having it can be a pain in the neck. This feature will automatically re-route you if you take a detour, accidentally or on purpose. Generally, one or two touches of the screen and 5 seconds later you will have new directions to steer you back on course.

Bluetooth: With Bluetooth capability you can match your GPS to any Bluetooth-capable phone to make hands-free mobile phone calls. This may be a redundant feature for most people.

Maps...Maps...all-important MAPS!

Make sure the product you are considering includes street-level maps for the areas you will use it most. Most products in the U.S. feature built-in maps for the lower 48 states, but you may find that Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico are not included. For most, this is not a problem but if you're one of the few that needs these extra maps, factor that extra cost into your decision.

Keep in mind that roads (and just as important, interchanges and entrance and exit ramps) are always changing. It's a good idea to keep your maps updated. Another consideration is purchasing a product with "life-time maps". You will begin to see more promotions that include life-time maps and it's just a matter of doing the math to decide if it is worth the price. Life-time maps definitely add value and convenience.

Generally, the best-selling systems include name brand maps that can identify one-way streets, dead-ends and other "nuances" of the road. A couple of the top map providers are Navteq and TeleAtlas, and there are many others that provide up-to-date, quality maps. Make sure you are buying a product with one of the good quality, well-known mapping products. It doesn't matter how good your GPS technology is if your maps aren't updated and accurate.


Of course, the more features and functionality, the more you will likely pay for your GPS. But as technology goes, so goes GPS systems and each day more "premium" features are becoming standard at lower price points. Street-level maps are not available across all price points. Text-to-speech is work down to lower price points as well as point-of-interest databases for things like restaurants, gas stations, hospitals, etc.

Four GPS systems with consistently good reviews:

Garmin Nuvi 1690 - nice features, good performance and the Nulink service really sets it apart, giving users up to the minute data for safety, convenience and entertainment.

Tom Tom 340 XLS - few advanced features in a mid range product at a very appealing price. A trend you will see continue.

Magellan RoadMate 1470 - Large screen and low price combined with a very competitive feature set.

Garmin Nuvi 205W - Best price, yet this is still one of the best choices available - a good, solid, fast product for less than $100.

Follow the link below to see them all together along with the latest prices.

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