Getting lost while driving used to be a frustratingly common experience. Without access to directions, drivers were left fumbling with clunky paper maps unfolding and refolding as they tried to follow along the highlighted routes. How times have changed! Now getting lost seems like a thing of the past thanks to the wonders of GPS navigation systems.
GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation has become an invaluable tool for drivers. With just a few taps and voice commands, these smart systems can map out the most optimal route to your destination while providing step-by-step guidance along the way. Many models even incorporate real-time traffic data to redirect you around delays and provide accurate arrival times.
But with so many options on the market, how do you choose which GPS is right for your needs? We’ve tested and compiled this guide to the top five GPS navigation systems available based on features, reliability, safety and cost to help you make the right choice. Read on to find the perfect navigational companion for your drives!
Garmin DriveSmart – The Smart Driver’s Choice
Our top pick is the Garmin DriveSmart for its combination of high-tech features and ease of use. Garmin is a leader in GPS technology, and the DriveSmart packs their most advanced routing and driver alerts.
The DriveSmart stands out for its bright, responsive touchscreen that makes navigating menus and maps simple. The philosophy behind the DriveSmart is smart driving, with features like voice command capabilities, driver alerts about sharp curves, speed changes, and potential collision warnings. You can even ask the DriveSmart to find and route you to certain types of popular destinations like gas stations or restaurants.
The DriveSmart offers the accuracy and reliability people expect from Garmin. It comes preloaded with detailed maps of North America or Europe with free lifetime updates. The traffic avoidance feature helps reroute you around delays in real-time. We found the DriveSmart’s routing and ETA calculations to be consistently on target.
Some downsides are the DriveSmart sits at the higher end of the pricing range which could be prohibitive for some buyers. The screen is also smaller at 6” compared to larger options from other brands. However, for a smart, simple-to-use GPS with advanced safety features, the Garmin DriveSmart hits the mark for many drivers.
TomTom GO – Easy to Use and Budget-Friendly
The TomTom GO series is a great choice for an easy to use GPS at an affordable price point. TomTom has been making reliable navigational devices for years, and the GO models offer their signature simple interface and accurate turn-by-turn directions.
The TomTom GO’s straightforward menu options and buttons make it easy for all drivers to start navigating quickly. Inputting destinations is a breeze with the responsive touchscreen. During navigation, directions and upcoming turns are displayed clearly on the 4, 5 or 6 inch screens.
One advantage of the GO is offline maps – once downloaded to the device you can navigate even without a cell connection. For connectivity, the GO also offers hands-free calling and smartphone message reading through Bluetooth integration.
TomTom’s excellent traffic avoidance feature is another highlight. Using real-time data, it can automatically find faster routes around traffic when delays exceed a certain threshold. This helps provide impressively accurate ETAs.
On the downside, the GO lacks some newer features like driver alerts, and the interface while functional feels a bit outdated. But for an affordable GPS with great usability and routing, the TomTom GO line hits a sweet spot.
Garmin Nüvi – Reliable Direction Partner
The Garmin Nüvi line encompasses Garmin’s midrange navigational offerings. Spanning various screen sizes and feature sets, Garmin Nüvi units pack in trusted Garmin routing and new driver assist features at reasonable prices.
Garmin Nüvi systems come loaded with detailed maps of North America or Europe including lifetime map and traffic updates. The Nüvi line uses Garmin’s “Real Directions” for turn-by-turn guidance – instead of simply stating “turn left in 0.5 miles” the Nüvi says “turn left after the gas station”. This ensures you never miss a turn.
One exciting new feature is lane guidance which indicates the proper lane you should be in for the next maneuver. Other handy driver alerts include speed limit display and warnings for sharp curves, railroad crossings, and animal crossings. Advanced models even offer warnings when stopped at a light to prevent distracted driving.
While most Nuvi models forgo a touchscreen for simple button navigation, the interface is intuitive and easy to operate. More affordable units trade a larger display for cost savings, with some down to 5 inches. But overall the Nuvi line offers dependable navigation and new safety features at a reasonable price.
Waze and Google Maps – Free Apps With Real-Time Data
You may be surprised to learn your smartphone already offers free GPS navigation via apps like Google Maps and Waze. While they can’t replace standalone units, both provide turn-by-turn voice guidance, real-time traffic data, and customizable travel options.
Google Maps and Waze use your phone’s GPS capability to track your movement without cellular data. But connect to WiFi or mobile data and they provide live traffic conditions and route you around delays. Both also let you download maps in advance for offline use.
Some advantages of smartphone apps include lanes guidance, average speed data, options to avoid highways/tolls, and the ability to easily search destinations via voice. Constant map updates keep direction data fresh. But apps drain your phone battery quickly and require charging and mounts to use safely. The small screen also hinders visibility.
While Waze offers some more advanced features, Google Maps or Waze present a free alternative for drivers comfortable navigating from their smartphones. But be careful not to be distracted!
Rand McNally OverDryve – Budget-Friendly Traditional GPS
Rounding out our picks is the Rand McNally OverDryve line – an affordable option for drivers seeking a traditional GPS experience. Rand McNally has been making navigation products for over 40 years, and the OverDryve continues that tradition with an intuitive, straightforward interface.
The OverDryve line stands out for its extra-large 7 or 8 inch display – the biggest in our picks. The large touchscreens make maps easy to see and menus simple to operate. Voice guidance and turn-by-turn directions are clear and accurate.
OverDryves also incorporate useful safety alerts for curves, railroad crossings, school zones and more. The devices come loaded with North American maps including basic lifetime updates. For connectivity, the OverDryve utilizes your smartphone’s data and Bluetooth to enable calling and messaging.
On the downside, some users report the map database to be occasionally outdated compared to pricier brands. There’s also no real-time traffic avoidance in the basic model. But for drivers who want a traditional, easy to use GPS experience at a budget-friendly price, the Rand McNally OverDryve fits the bill.
Which GPS Navigation System is Right for You?
When choosing a GPS navigation system for your car, it’s important to consider what features would benefit you most. Here are some key factors to weigh:
- Cost – Prices range from free (smartphone apps) to $400+ standalone units. Determine how much you can spend.
- Safety features – Driver alerts provide useful warnings about speed, curves, lane guidance etc. Great for cautious drivers.
- Real-time traffic – Gets you around delays quickly. Consider a brand like Garmin or TomTom if this is important.
- Offline use – Downloading maps to use when offline is handy if you drive remote routes.
- Screen size – Larger displays are easier to see at a glance. MIN 4-inch is recommended.
- Smartphone connection – If you want integration with phone calling, messaging etc. make sure the device supports Bluetooth.
- Ease of use – Simple and intuitive menu options are ideal for first-time GPS users.
For most drivers, we recommend choosing a standalone GPS unit from a top brand like Garmin or TomTom for optimal safety, accuracy and ease of use. While smartphone apps work in a pinch, nothing beats having a large, dedicated screen providing turn-by-turn guidance at your fingertips. Investing in a quality GPS means you’ll never have to wonder if you’re lost again!
You Can’t Go Wrong with GPS Navigation
Thanks to modern GPS navigation systems, driving has never been easier. Whether you seek real-time traffic avoidance, voice control, driver safety alerts or just basic from point A to point B guidance, there are great options to suit your needs and budget.
We hope this guide to the top five GPS navigation systems helps you choose the right directional companion for your journeys on the open road. Never again will you have to pull over and fumble with maps. Your GPS has your back! So drive confidently – your route is mapped, traffic delays await you, and adventure lies ahead. GPS makes it possible.