The demise of the dedicated GPS device has been greatly exaggerated. Sure, today’s mobile devices integrate navigation apps, but not everyone wants to use a phone or a huge tablet for driving directions.
With a standalone GPS, you can just leave it in the car and forget about it, until, of course, you’re lost in an unfamiliar place. Or you’re on a road trip, it’s 1AM, and you’re desperately searching for the nearest restaurant.
Navigation GPS units are small, portable devices that can give you accurate, specific directions, even in areas without cell service. They are vastly superior to smartphone apps because they don’t use data or tax your smartphone’s battery.
You type in or, in some premium models, speak your destination and the device gives you turn-by-turn directions. It also displays information such as your current speed and the time and distance remaining until you reach your destination.
They attach via a suction cup to your windshield or dashboard and get power from a cigarette lighter adapter. Unlike with permanent navigation GPS units, you can simply unplug a portable GPS and move it from car to car.
In contrast to a smartphone navigation app, you don’t have to be in an area with cell service in order to get turn-by-turn directions from a navigation GPS. This is because these units have maps in their memories and get their location information directly from GPS satellites, which have better coverage than cell phone providers do.
It’s important that you look for a GPS with lifetime map updates. This means that every year or so, you can go on the manufacturer’s website and update your maps to reflect any changes. Automatic reroute is an essential feature found on every decent car GPS. If you take a wrong turn, the unit should recalculate your route based on your updated location.
Everyone uses maps, but some people use paper maps, some use dedicated GPS units, and some use their smartphones. Dedicated GPS units are easily the best choice, because they work almost anywhere and, unlike paper maps, they can be updated.
The Garmin Nuvi 2589LMT is the best car GPS on the market. It has every feature that you should look for in a GPS, and Garmin has the best customer service in the industry.
The TomTom GO 500 is a close runner-up, the lack of a built-in traffic receiver being its only real weakness, and it can still receive traffic updates through a dedicated smartphone app. It’s a bit cheaper than the Nuvi, too.
The Magellan SmartGPS 5390 is our third choice. Its feature list is virtually identical to the TomTom’s, and its screen has a higher resolution. However, Magellan’s customer service is not as good as TomTom’s or Garmin’s.