Here at Car Bibles, car GPS is one of our favorite modern accessories. With GPS navigation, there is no excuse for getting lost anymore. At the same time, you don’t have to carry huge folding maps (and how did people read them anyway?) and you don’t have to stop and ask for directions anymore.
These days, with the advent of smartphones with built-in maps, many people think a stand-alone GPS is no longer a good investment. We’re here to tell you that these people couldn’t find their own butts with… well, with a GPS. Modern car GPS systems are better than ever, packing in higher-end features for a lower overall cost.
Today is a great day to invest in this technology, and we are here to show you how.
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The Best Car GPS
We’ll kick off our list of the best GPS navigation systems with this model, the Garmin Nuvi. Garmin is, of course, one of the market leaders in this sector, and the Nuvi range of GPS devices has been at the vanguard of their offerings for a number of years.
This model is frankly packed with useful features that we love to see when making a GPS review. The screen is nice and bright and at 5 inches across large enough for a comfortable display without taking up too much windshield space. The device has reactive touch screen controls but can also be voice-controlled – that’s always a good feature to see.
The device will flash up photorealistic, birds-eye views of junctions to help you orientate yourself as well as alert you to upcoming services, restaurants, hospitals, and fuel stops. That can be very helpful for forward planning supply stops on longer road trips. That is al backed up with lifetime map updates and traffic reports, all for no additional cost.
Free Lifetime Map Updates
Live Traffic Updates
Easy to Use Touch Screen Interface
- Weight6.6 oz
If Garmin is one of the market leaders in this sector, then TomTom is without a doubt just as big. Their name is now almost shorthand for GPS navigation, and this TomTom GPS is the latest in a long line of outstanding products from the company.
One of the cool things about this model is the 3D map display. This can be extremely helpful when you are driving in an unfamiliar city or area, as landmarks are very easy to pick out in a 3D map. You also get great touchscreen controls, the ability to zoom in/out of the map, advanced lane guidance and spoken street names to aid navigation. Parking assist will highlight nearby parking, and if you drive in urban areas you’ll wonder how you got by without this feature.
TomTom Traffic provides real-time, and highly accurate, traffic updates. Whilst that is a great feature, it does require you to connect your Smartphone to the device and it will eat into your data plan a bit, so just bear that in mind.
Built in TomTom Traffic
Lifetime Map Updates
- Weight10.6 oz
To no surprise at all, Garmin is back on our list already for their second entry. This is another model from the Nuvi range, though this is very much more from the entry-level range.
So yes, on the one hand, you are looking at a lower price for this model than the one we looked at above. To achieve this, some bells and whistles have been stripped out and this is certainly a more basic all-around model. You have lost the voice-activated control, for example, along with real-time traffic updates.
You do still get fast and accurate satellite navigation, lifetime map updates and a very well designed, bright and easy to read the screen. If you only want navigation assistance without the thrills and extras of premium models, it’s hard to look past this offering. It does exactly what it sets out to do, does it all very well and won’t break the bank either.
Basic But Easy To Use
High Quality Screen
Free Lifetime Map Updates
- Weight6.4 oz
TomTom is back again – are you beginning to sense a pattern? Like the Garmin above, this is a slightly more basic model than some other premium GPS systems out there.
What it does bring is a huge 6-inch screen. If you’ve found yourself squinting to make out the details on a normal sized GPS then this could be the one for you. Not only is the screen that big bigger, but it is also extremely bright, making it one of the best screen displays around.
In addition to that great screen, you get the lifetime map upgrades that cover all of North America, including Mexico and Canada. That is a great feature to see if you happen to drive over the border in either country. You get live traffic updates, advanced lane guidance, and 24/7 TomTom roadside assist.
6-Inch Touch Screen
Bright & Easy to Read Display
Full North America Coverage
- Weight9.4 oz
We’ll finish up with this TomTom GPS model. This is the most premium level TomTom that we looked at today and as such it is packed to bursting with high-end features.
Chief amongst them is the fact the device has built-in voice recognition. That allows you to operate the GPS device without taking your hands off the wheel, very useful indeed. The device then takes the built-in microphone that runs the voice recognition and adds another layer of usability. You can hook up your cell phone via Bluetooth for hands-free calling.
You get lifetime map updates and real-time traffic, along with a bright and easy to see 5-inch screen. The windshield mount is integrated so you’ll never lose it and you also get the usual TomTom features like advanced lane guidance and points of interest (like hotels, gas stations, etc).
Bluetooth Hands Free Calling
Lifetime Map Updates
- ModelVIA 1535 TM
- Weight7.7 oz
Best Car GPS Buying Guide & FAQ
In our buying guide, we’ll take you through the features that you should keep an eye out for when picking out the best Car GPS for you. After that, we’ll take a look at how best to use your new gadget and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this extremely useful product.
Features to Look for When Buying a Car GPS
Whilst on the surface a car GPS system may seem like a quite simple device, it is actually more complicated than may at first appear. The best car GPS will be packing a range of useful features and design points, and even entry-level devices have a lot going on.
In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the big features to keep in mind whilst choosing the right GPS device to match your needs.
This is possibly the most important feature when selecting your GPS. Most of your interactions with the device will be made via the screen, so you really want to try to pick one you are going to get along with.
The models we have selected for our list have screens sized 5 or 6 inches. To us, that represents the sweet spot between being large enough to present information clearly without taking up too much of your forward field of vision.
- Voice Control
Voice control can be a really useful safety feature to look for in your GPS device. It allows you to operate the GPS system hands-free, allowing you to keep your hands on the wheel, or allow you to hold a coke in one hand and a hot dog in the other.
Wait. Don’t do that. Keep your hand on the wheel.
It can also be a very useful feature for people who use their GPS daily and to multiple locations – taxi drivers, delivery drivers even police officers for example. Instead of having to tap in the new address on the touchscreen (which, frankly, can become very tedious after the 20th time) you can simply tell the new address to your GPS and it will set up the navigation.
- Live Traffic
Back in the day, you usually had to subscribe to some service with a monthly fee to get live traffic updates with your GPS. These days, if you get a TomTom GPS or a Garmin model, they will almost always come bundled with traffic updates for free.
There is one small detail to bear in mind though. Most models of TomTom and all models of Garmin use the GPS system itself to update traffic. This is relatively accurate but completely free.
Some models of TomTom navigation systems use TomTom traffic instead. This is far more accurate but does rely on hooking up your Smartphone to the GPS for real-time updates. That can cut into the data allowance on your monthly plan.
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Why You Should Buy a GPS System For Your Car
Why should you invest in a GPS system for your car? Well, here are just a few reasons:
- Safety Factor – There are around a 1,000 injuries every day in the US caused by distracted driving. A GPS device is designed to assist your driving without distracting you. It can provide audible prompts to upcoming hazards or navigation points and can be mounted to the screen to display information with a minimal level of distraction. Pick up a model with voice recognition too and you won’t even have to physically interact with your GPS device at any point.
- Protect Cell Phone Battery Life – Many people use their Smartphone to navigate when driving. We’ll discuss why this is a bad idea a little more in depth below, but one of the being advantages to buying and using a standalone GPS system for your car is that it protects your Smartphone battery. It also protects your data plan…
- Bigger Screens – A standalone GPS device is also extremely useful due to that lovely big screen it is packing. If you haven’t used a GPS for a while, we’re happy to report that screen technology has come a long way over the past few years. Today’s screens are bright and easy to read, with excellent definition. They also usually work well in both low light and direct sunlight situations.
- Easy Installation – A standalone GPS is very easy to install. It is in fact pretty much the definition of a plug and play device, with many GPS units ready to be used almost straight out of the box. They also come with everything you need too, including the good old installation suction cup.
Dedicated GPS vs Smartphone Navigation
As we mentioned right up top, some people these days don’t see the point in investing in a stand-alone car GPS system, mainly because they will use their Smartphone for navigation instead.
That’s all fine and well, but here are a few disadvantages to using your phone, such as:
- Power – Yes, it’s easier than ever to charge your cell phone, but using it to navigate is still a huge battery drain. If you forget the charger, you’re in trouble!
- Money – Most Smartphones can’t actually hook up to the GPS system. That means that they get their information via your mobile data. Frequent use or long trips can therefore really decimate your data plan.
- Small Screens – Most Smartphones have much smaller screens than a GPS unit. That can make it harder to follow the navigation prompts that the device is trying to tell you.
- Not Fit For Purpose – Finally the last big disadvantage is simply the fact that a Smartphone is not designed to be a GPS. It doesn’t have the battery life, it doesn’t have the connectivity, the screen is small and the map programs it uses may not be ideal for navigation.
Back in the day when GPS navigation devices were expensive and required subscriptions to be updated, it made sense to switch to using your Smartphone. Manufacturers like Garmin and TomTom recognized this, however, and began making products as we see on the list – bundled with a range of useful features, with a low initial outlay and no subscription service.
Given that then, why would you want to keep using your Smartphone when GPS devices are so much better these days, not to mention much cheaper, faster and easier to use than they used to be?
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Best Car GPS FAQ:
Q: What is a car GPS?
A: Considering that is actually pretty complex technology, a car GPS unit itself is actually a very unassuming little device. At its most basic, it is happily attached to the dash or the windshield where it sits and displays your current location as well as helping you navigate to a new one.
That is pretty much it, right? It can have other features like voice recognition, Bluetooth connectivity and the maps it displays can be 3D and interactive. But broadly speaking, at its heart, a car GPS is simply a display based navigation device.
Q: How does a car GPS work?
A: Ah, now we’re into more interesting territory! Whilst the car GPS may be a pretty simple device – little more than a display screen really – the technology that powers it is very impressive.
GPS stands for Global Positioning System and is actually a network of satellites that orbit’ the Earth. Because of this system of 30 or so satellites, your GPS is always within range of at least 4 satellites at any one time.
Each satellite transmits information about its current location. Your GPS device uses this information to figure out where on Earth it is in relation to the 4 (or more) satellites it is receiving information from.
How cool is that, huh?
Q: What size do I need?
A: Most GPS navigation systems will have a screen of between 4.75 to 7 inches in diameter. For our list, we picked items measuring 5 or 6 inches. To us, 4.75 is simply too small to see properly, whilst 7 inches can block a little too much of the road.
Q: Do I need a traffic feature?
A: It really depends on where you do most of your driving. If you are doing a lot of commuting, or live in an urban area with high traffic density then a traffic feature could be very helpful in allowing you to avoid traffic jams.
Our Top Pick
The best car GPS on this list just has to be the Garmin Nuvi. More than any other model we looked at it, this GPS device really does highlight just why today is a great time to invest in a standalone car GPS.
It is packed with premium level features that only a few years ago would have come with a premium level price tag to match. Today not only is it a bargain low price, but it also comes with subscription free map updates and real-time traffic reports. Add all those things together and you have a top quality GPS device here.