Who should understand this
For day-to-day, around-town navigation, a smartphone works great, particularly if you have a phone mount that holds it in a location that’s simple to see. But in the event that you have a tendency to drive in rural areas or off the beaten path, where data coverage is sketchy, you might have discovered that you were not able to get directions through your phone, perhaps forcing you to resort to a paper map or, gasp, even stop and have for directions. Similarly, on long road trips, you might have discovered that navigating together with your phone depleted its battery-or your computer data plan-too quickly. And it’s frustrating-not to say potentially dangerous-when your phone’s screen switches from the nav display to an incoming call just as you’re reaching a tricky interchange (and, yes, we missed our turn).

A GPS device gets around a phone’s connectivity limitations (or avoids the trouble of downloading maps to your phone) by storing all of the navigation and points-of-interest data onboard. The very best kinds also make navigating easier than with a smartphone software because of more-natural, landmark-specific voice directions (such as for example “turn right at the traffic light” rather than “turn directly on Main Street”) and displays that evidently show highway signs and what lane to maintain at interchanges. In addition they typically show the speed limit for the street you’re on, and the very best models include a selection of locally based driver and safety alerts that you don’t get with a phone.

The better GPS devices show you through interchanges with 3D views that demonstrate what lane to maintain and which highway sign to check out. Photo: Nathan Paul
Having said that, it’s not strictly an either/or choice. The very best GPS devices can pair with a phone via Bluetooth to get up-to-date traffic and weather info, display texts and calendar reminders, and let you conduct hands-free calls. Also you can send destinations and routes from your own phone or computer to your GPS device, that can be far more convenient than inputting them while sitting in your vehicle.

Thinking of investing in a new car? You can save lots of money by forgoing an integral navigation system and obtaining a lightweight device instead-in-dash systems tend to be available only on higher-priced trim levels, or within option packages that may add $1,000 to $5,000 to a vehicle’s price. A lightweight GPS unit also provides free lifetime map updates, that may cost around $200 for an integral system and require likely to a dealership.

How we picked
All car GPS devices have a common suite of features. You utilize the device’s touchscreen to enter an address or visit a point of interest (gas station, ATM, parking lot, or market, for instance); these devices draws from its built-in database to plot a path to that destination and present you turn-by-turn directions, both by voice and on the screen. If you miss a turn, it automatically recalculates the route. Most models include digital mapping of the united states and Canada, and nearly every one of them provide free lifetime map updates, that you download either via Wi-Fi or by plugging these devices into a computer, according to the model. Most have a 5-inch display (measured diagonally), although larger 5.5-, 6-, and 7-inch versions are also available. All plug into your car’s 12-volt accessory outlet (aka cigarette lighter) for power but likewise have an interior lithium-ion battery that typically enables you to use the device for an hour you should definitely plugged in.

Furthermore, while scouring the specs and top features of all current models, we looked for the next options, which will make a device much easier to use or even more useful:

Voice control: An excellent voice-control system makes it quicker and better to input a destination, control volume and screen illumination, get traffic and weather updates, and cancel a route by speaking a command. The systems of GPS devices, however, rely upon saying specific commands, so they aren’t as conversational as Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa.
Traffic alerts: When navigating along the major highways of metro areas, most GPS devices can provide you alerts about traffic delays along your route and have if you wish to reroute. But do not require match the breadth of the traffic facts in the Google Maps, Waze, or Apple Maps phone apps.
Wi-Fi updating: This helpful feature enables you to download and install map and software updates to your device over a Wi-Fi network, without removing it from the automobile, rather than needing to plug the device right into a computer and manually download the info.
Multi-touch display: Much like smartphones, the better GPS navigators have a convenient capacitive display, which enables you to use multi-touch inputs. That is particularly ideal for quickly zooming in or out of a map. Many GPS devices use a resistive display, which recognizes only 1 touch point at the same time. We’ve found those fine for some uses, such as for example tapping on-screen buttons, but zooming requires that you utilize the plus and minus buttons on the screen, that is a little clunkier.
Bluetooth connectivity: Many models can hook up together with your smartphone via Bluetooth in order to utilize the company’s application to obtain additional timely traffic alerts and weather updates also to receive destinations and routes from your own phone. Some also enable you to utilize the GPS device’s speaker to conduct hands-free calls, and they’ll display texts on-screen and read them for you, if desired.
How we tested
Each one of the devices we’ve tested are certain to get you to your destination by giving accurate turn-by-turn directions, and almost all of the better units include each of the options in the above list. The variations often drop to how you interact with these devices: The very best models make it better to navigate by offering more precise visual and verbal directions, clearer lane guidance through tricky intersections, a far more driver-friendly screen layout, and easier options for inputting destinations. So for every single update to the guide, we searched for the most recent models from the major brands, setup each in an automobile, and put them through their paces in environments which range from rural countrysides to the urban depths of NEW YORK.

We surveyed each unit’s features and assessed its overall simplicity. We evaluated the driver-friendliness of the screen layout, the accessibility of the menus, and how quickly we’re able to input a destination and get yourself a route-both by entering it on the screen and, when possible, through the use of voice commands. We tinkered with the settings, evaluated the routing, assessed how easy it really is to update the map and POI data, and judged the sturdiness of the included mount and simplicity of installation and removal of these devices. We also paired each unit to a smartphone, when possible, to see what advantages that provided.