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Published Oct. 2, 2018

Car GPS devices are easily one of the most helpful technological innovations of the last few decades. Before GPS devices, drivers had to rely solely on paper maps, verbal directions from locals, or their own sense of direction and memory. But thanks to GPS navigation, it’s now possible to drive without getting lost with turn-by-turn directions to guide you every mile of the way. A car GPS ensures you always have up-to-date directions no matter where you’re driving. And because GPS technology has advanced so much, there are plenty of different GPS devices in many styles to choose from. If you’re looking to invest in a car GPS, check out the products we’ve chosen as our top selections below.

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.

Key Features
  • Free Lifetime Map Updates
  • Live Traffic Updates
  • Easy to Use Touch Screen Interface
  • Voice Activated
Specification
  • Brand Garmin
  • Model 010-01123-30
  • Weight 6.6 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. 

Key Features
  • Built in TomTom Traffic
  • 3D Maps
  • Lifetime Map Updates
  • 6-Inch Screen
Specification
  • Brand TomTom
  • Model 1FA6.019.01
  • Weight 10.6 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.

Key Features
  • Basic But Easy To Use
  • High Quality Screen
  • Free Lifetime Map Updates
Specification
  • Brand Garmin
  • Model 010-01198-01
  • Weight 6.4 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.

Key Features
  • 6-Inch Touch Screen
  • Bright & Easy to Read Display
  • Full North America Coverage
Specification
  • Brand TomTom
  • Model 1605TM
  • Weight 9.4 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).

Key Features
  • Voice Recognition
  • Bluetooth Hands Free Calling
  • Lifetime Map Updates
Specification
  • Brand TomTom
  • Model VIA 1535 TM
  • Weight 7.7 oz

Best Car GPS Buying Guide & FAQ

Wondering how to determine which car GPS devices are better than others? With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to figure out which offer the best value, the best features, and the best overall functionality. Fortunately, we’re here to help you understand what makes a quality car GPS and answer your questions about buying and using these devices.

Features to Look for When Buying a Car GPS

Every car GPS is different, but at first glance they might all seem pretty similar. While every GPS navigation system offers turn-by-turn directions to guide you to a destination, each device has different features and different benefits. Some of these features can be particularly beneficial for your unique needs. Here are the features you should look for as you compare different car GPS options.

gps in the car
Car GPS
  • Screen Size

The screen is the most important feature in any car GPS. You look at the screen for guidance, suggestions, and critical information. So, you need to make sure the GPS you choose has a screen that’s big enough to see clearly without stretching or straining your eyes. You want a car GPS that has a screen large enough to glance at while you’re driving without having to take your eyes off the road.

It’s a good idea to consider screens between five and six inches in size. This ensures the screen is big enough to see from behind the wheel, but it isn’t so big that it’ll block your windshield or view of the road. You can also look for screens that offer zoom options so you can see even more clearly as you drive.

  • Voice Control or Hands-Free Functionality

You want a car GPS that allows you to be safe while driving, and that’s where voice control comes in handy. This very helpful feature allows you to operate your GPS device without taking your hands off the wheel. Instead of making changes to your route or inputting an address with your hands, you can simply speak to the GPS for updates and changes. It’s a feature you’ll definitely want to have while driving solo. Look for a car GPS that provides a safe, easy way to manage the controls while you’re on the road.

  • Live Traffic Updates

In years past, GPS devices simply gave you the best route. They didn’t consider factors like traffic or the types of roads you’d be traveling on. However, now that car GPS devices are more advanced, many offer live traffic updates as a feature. This is particularly helpful if you want to avoid traffic or take the fastest route possible. With live traffic updates, your GPS will switch to a faster route if traffic is building up. The GPS can also provide real-time updates on how long your drive will take based on traffic along the way.

  • Lifetime Maps

Buying a car GPS is an investment. While many GPS devices are now cheaper than they were even just a few years ago, you want to make sure the product you pick is a solid investment. One feature that’ll help you get a long lifespan out of your car GPS is lifetime maps. A GPS device with lifetime maps ensures you’re always getting updates about changes to roads and maps throughout the country. The GPS can update either via an internet connection or via downloads, making changes to any routes or roads that may be different. This is an important feature that helps you prevent confusion, and it also prevents you from getting lost.

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Why You Should Buy a GPS System For Your Car

You might wonder whether a GPS device is an item you really need. After all, today’s smartphones come equipped with maps and navigation apps you can use at any time. But a car GPS can offer a number of unique benefits that you can’t get when you rely on your smartphone to guide you as you drive.

Here are just a few reasons to consider getting a GPS for your car.

  • GPS Devices Are Safer Than Phones – Distracted driving is a serious problem. Approximately 1,000 people are injured daily in the U.S. due to distracted driving. When you look at your smartphone, you’re taking your eyes off the road and you’re putting yourself and other drivers in serious danger. Even if you turn on your phone navigation and use the voice instructions alone, it can still leave you struggling. A car GPS, however, allows you to both keep your eyes on the road and clearly and easily understand its directions. You can mount your GPS on your windshield where it’s easy to see, so you can keep your eyes on the road. You won’t have to reach down or use your hands to change the navigation as you would on your smartphone, especially if you choose a GPS with voice recognition. This helps limit your distractions to keep you on top of what’s happening on your drive.
  • You Won’t Have to Rely on Data or Cell Service – One of the more frustrating issues that come with relying on your smartphone for navigation is your cell service. If you aren’t connected to WiFi, you’ll have to use data that can be very expensive if you don’t have an unlimited data plan and need to use your maps app regularly. You also have to trust that you’ll have cell service wherever you’re driving. And that can be a big problem if you’re heading somewhere where service will be limited, like mountain ranges or areas far from towns and cities. A car GPS, however, doesn’t have any of these issues. Your GPS will work regardless of whether you’re within a cell service range. Sure, you might not get live traffic updates if you’re a bit off the grid, but your GPS device will be able to continue navigating without difficulty. This helps ensure you don’t get lost or stranded.
  • GPS Devices Have Bigger Screens – A car GPS will have a bigger screen and better visibility than your smartphone. Sure, smartphones have certainly gotten bigger in recent years. But a GPS offers an even bigger screen that you can see with ease while you’re driving. That allows you to more easily see your turns and your GPS instructions. A car GPS is also better for navigating in low light and direct sunlight as these matte-like screens typically don’t offer much shine or reflection.
  • You’ll Get Better Visibility With a Car GPS – Lastly, a car GPS is a device that’s designed to be used while you’re behind the wheel. As a result, GPS navigation systems are made to be easily installed within your line of sight. They can be attached via a suction cup or permanently installed inside your vehicle. You can mount them on the windshield or the dashboard. No matter where you place your car GPS, you’ll have better visibility thanks to the larger screen size and the GPS’s ability to leave most of your windshield free of obstacles.

Dedicated GPS vs Smartphone Navigation

Like we mentioned earlier, it’s easy to prefer your smartphone’s navigation app to a standalone car GPS device. After all, your smartphone is already in the car with you, and it’s much more expensive than a GPS.

However, a car GPS system is specifically designed for navigation. Your smartphone is designed for making calls, texting, and accessing apps. And there are plenty of disadvantages to relying on a smartphone instead of a GPS app. They include:

  • Power – Smartphones can do a lot, but they also require recharging frequently. If you’ve ever used your maps app on a long drive, you’ve likely discovered that even just an hour or two of navigation can completely drain your smartphone’s battery. If you don’t have your charger handy, you could be without directions altogether.
  • Cost – Relying on your smartphone’s data to get you where you need to go can be expensive. If you go over your monthly data allowance, you could pay a hefty fee. It’s more cost-effective (and cheaper) to rely on a car GPS.
  • Smaller Screen – GPS devices have bigger screens than your average smartphone. This means navigating with your phone is more challenging as you can’t see items like turns, highway interchanges, and more complex directions easily. You’ll have a more narrow and limited view of your route when you rely on your phone alone.
  • Purpose and Design – Your phone might be designed for all kinds of different uses, but its main purpose is for calls and text messages. It can handle navigation, but that isn’t what it’s specifically designed to do. A car GPS, on the other hand, is actually designed for the sole purpose of navigating. That means a GPS is the better tool to have when you’re on the road.

While using your smartphone is a good idea for driving around town and can be handy in a pinch, a car GPS is a better choice for your navigation needs. GPS devices have more navigation features, allow you to more easily and clearly see what lies ahead, and can get you to and from just about any destination. A car GPS is now an advanced and affordable tool to keep in your vehicle, so why choose something that’s less qualified and less capable?

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man using his gps

Best Car GPS FAQ:

Q:  What is a car GPS?

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?

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?

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, while 7 inches can block a little too much of the road.

Q:  Do I need a traffic feature?

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 Garmin Nuvi is our best overall pick for a car GPS. This handy little device is packed with features, and it can make every drive — long or short, far or near — a whole lot easier thanks to its many benefits. Made by one of the best-known names in car GPS systems, the Garmin Nuvi is both useful and easy to use. You can choose between voice control or touchscreen controls so both drivers and passengers can use the device with ease. This car GPS is also bright and very visible as you drive, but its five-inch screen is small enough to prevent blocking your field of view. You can even plan your trips with helpful perks like upcoming services and fuel stops, traffic reports, and lifetime maps updates. This car GPS is filled with value and highly helpful on any road.

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Sources:

  1. How Does GPS Work?, Physics
  2. Traffic Safety Facts, Nhtsa

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