Getting ready for my first Car Navigation system. What features are important?

Never used a Navigation system before. We want to get a portable one that can be moved and used in our family’s cars. Looking at Tom Tom and Garmin. It’ll be kept at home except when we need it.

what features are the most important?

Screens come in 5" or 6" for Tom Tom. Garmin has a 7" and 5". Some have split screen capability. Is that very useful?

Tom Tom has three lines GO, VIA, and Start not sure what the differences are. Garmin has the Essential, Advanced, Prestige series. Neither seems to have a chart showing and comparing the features of their three lines.

Voice Activated? Useful?

Bluetooth? I’m not seeing a reason for that. Why would I use an ear piece?

photoReal and Bird’s Eye junction views maybe that helps with those nightmare interchanges around Dallas and other cities?

Weather updates

Free Lifetime map upgrades Need that for sure.

right now we’re leaning towards a Garmin. They seem a bit nicer. Bigger screen, they have the weather option, don’t use Cell Phone signals (no drop outs). Is there other brands I should look at first before deciding? Other features?

Can you use these portable units in the house or motel? Look at the roads the night before the trip and make plans? Or do the units only work in the car?

How about battery life? I see the 5" screens list 2 hours and the 7" screen 1 hour life. Would it be better getting the smaller screen and having the longer batter life between charges?

I see screen resolution is important too. this one is 800x480 with a 5" screen pinch and zoom feature, weather updates

this one is 10 bucks less but only has 480 x 272 with a 5" screen

sure seems like that first one is a better deal. the higher res should give more detail

I’ve ended up just using my smartphone. It has essentially all the same features and doesn’t require any updates.

Lifetime map updates is the most important thing to me if you want economical longevity out of it. I like Garmin Nuvi units but my old one required payment for map updates and they were very expensive, almost as much as some new units.

I just replaced it with a Garmin Nuvi 50LM for $99 from Best Buy. It has a 5 inch screen and split screen for complicated junctions. Junction view is useful for complicated highways that you aren’t familiar with but I got along fine without it for years. Any of them will get you where you need to go but I like my choice especially for the money. I didn’t need bluetooth or MP3 playback capability and I doubt many people do. Voice recognition would have been a nice to have but it doesn’t take long to type in an address by hand and it is more accurate anyway.

I disagree that smart phones are just as good as dedicated portable GPS units. The portable unit can be windshield mounted and gives a heads up display that is larger than almost any phone. You can always leave it on and you can use your phone for other things plus you don’t have to worry about being out of range of a signal.

I see you are looking at the more expensive units in the $300 plus range. They are certainly good but you don’t have to spend that much. Even the <$150 Garmin units are excellent and have all the necessary features.

We have the Tom Tom App for the Iphone. It’s not cheap, $100 when we got it, but we’ve installed it on both Iphones and both Ipads. Using it on the Ipad is nice - that’s a big screen. We’ve had the app for about four years and they’ve kept it updated.

The thing I like about it verses using Google Maps is that you don’t have to be be connected to the 'Net to use it. The map resides in memory. That’s useful when you’re outside of a cellular data coverage area. Also, you can browse or search the map without being connected.

To be able to use it on the Ipad, your Ipad has to have a GPS receiver, which means it has to be a model with wireless capability. We don’t use the wireless, only Wifi, but I wanted that model just to get the GPS receiver.

I’ve got three Garmins, all Nuvis with lifetime maps, in different vehicles. Much better than my smartphones ever were. They are plugged into the cars power port which keeps the internal battery charged. They all have traffic capability too. I was a passenger in a friends car a while back and used my Galaxy S3 to navigate. Darn near killed the battery in a 90 minute trip. Not good at all. Some of the higher end Garmins use what appears to be an iPhone display. It’s very sharp. My other two have bigger screens, but the displays not as sharp, it’s good but just not as sharp. The junction view and lane assist are good in big cities.

How do you enter addresses? I’ve known people that rattle off these long numerical digits for an address. What’s the deal with that? Where do they get those numbers from?

can you enter 223 Elm Street zip code? like on Google maps?

Sure you can. Some have voice recognition. Others have a simple typing interface that you enter on the touch screen. It asks you for the first few letters of the town or city first, then you enter the numerical portion of the street address followed by the first few letters of the street name. It gives you a list of choices once you enter enough letters to get a small number of possible matches for the town or street. It is very easy.

I think you are referring to latitude and longitude coordinates. You may be able to enter that as well if you know it and you really want too but that isn’t typical. They default to asking for the street address.

That sounds easy enough. I guess those people with the fancy numbers for addresses were just showing off.

I started using MapQuest 12 years ago for trip planning. Printed off just what I needed for the trip. That’s the main reason I never bought a Navigation unit. I guess it’s time to catch up with the new technology.

Same here.

I have a stand to hold the cellphone and a charger that plugs into the lighter socket. It’s cheaper and more useful; I’ve had in-car navigation systems before, and I prefer the phone–it just has so many benefits.

For example, Google Maps will update the route based on traffic conditions. Plus, if you use Chrome, if you search for an address on Google, then the address will show in the pull-down list on your phone. If your car has bluetooth then you can play the voice directions through your car speakers. Plus you take it with you so the liklihood of someone breaking into your car to steal your navigation system goes way down.

This is all with a recent Andriod phone (the Nexus 5).

I’ve got a Garmin nuvi unit, with lifetime maps. I also bought one when travelling in the US last year, the nuvi 45LM. The split display is good, but that’s the one which shows the map view alongside the details, like speed, time to arrival, current time (selectable in a menu). I think you might be thinking of the junction view. That’s quite worthwhile if you are not familiar with the road and need to check which exit to take for example. Like where is exit 21b in relation to 21a or 22a? If you are in a metro area, one with a traffic receiver might be good. It will show the traffic density like Google Maps, and some units will even work out detours if the traffic is too heavy or stopped.

They generally need to “see the sky” in order to communicate with the satellite(s). The signal might make it around/through a car roof but not through a building roof. They’ll often work in a building if held right next to a window.

That’s true, but some models can “simulate” your path without accessing the satellites. They just assume you are where they last saw the sky. That’s handy for planning purposes the night before while you are resting in your hotel room.

I have the Garmin Nuvi, cheap $150 model, and it’s fine. Only thing I don’t have, that I wish I did, was ability to speak the street names. “Turn left” is fine, but when the street system gets complicated, it would be nice to hear “Turn left on Elm Street.” That’s one feature you might want to look for.

I wouldn’t worry about battery life, unless you plan to use it for walking or bicycling. Just plug it into your cigarette lighter jack and you’re fine.

I wouldn’t worry about a huge screen or great resolution, either. You really don’t have time to scrutinize the display; you just want to know what the next turn is. Mine is pretty small and I’ve never felt the need for a larger one.

Street addresses are easy enough to enter. But sometimes, you’re going someplace without an address, like a campground or a beach. Then you can try to get someone to send you a latitude/longitude. Or you can check the lat/lon yourself while you are there (the GPS can sense it) and save it for later. I do that with airport rental car lots, since you never know the address there, and you have to be able to find your way back.

Traffic info would be nice to have, but that requires some sort of data plan. I don’t have it, so I just whip out my Android and check the red/yellow/green roads on my Google maps. If a particular street looks gnarly, I avoid it, and let the GPS replan a different route.

I agree that lifetime maps is a useful feature. I don’t think screen size is very important. In my experience, I’m mostly following the spoken instructions and not looking at the screen.

I think it comes down to the fact that Lifetime Maps are essential but Live Traffic is optional but potentially useful. Screen size isn’t that important. My former 4.3" screen was fine and my Garmin Nuvi 50LM screen seems large at 5". I can’t see myself ever desiring anything larger than that. I mount mine right below my rear-view mirror and it is a heads up display that is right there.

I debated about getting a much more expensive model with voice recognition and Live Traffic but I didn’t think it was worth the extra cost for me. Entering addresses on the touch screen is accurate and only takes a few seconds. I don’t drive very much in heavy traffic either. My rationale for not needing Live Traffic was that I am going where I need to go anyway so traffic information is informative but not all that useful. I still have the Detour feature if I hit an accident zone and have to reroute so that tends to work just fine.

One thing I have found surprisingly fascinating is the altimeter feature on my new model. It is prominent on the main display. I have to fly a lot to the Colorado Rockies for work and it is always interesting to know that you are at 7000’ feet versus 5000’ and that is why you feel like crap and your ears are popping. That doesn’t apply to that many people but I also appreciate knowing how high my house in New England is above sea level and why I won’t be wiped out by any potential tsunami.

I think many people underestimate just how useful dedicated and mounted vehicle GPS devices are. You can approximate the same thing with smart phones but it isn’t the same thing at all. That is pure high tech that used to be relegated to airliners and such just 10 years ago at much greater cost. Good portable units even beat in dash units especially on price but also on features. You can pry my Garmins out of my cold, dead hands. They come in at about number 5 on the list of most useful things that I own and that list is both carefully selected and exclusive.

USB connectivity seems important. I was watching this tutorial to take a Google Map route and make a Garmin file with a program called Tyre. Then copy it to Garmin with USB.

I’m looking at the Garmin 42LM on BestBuy. A basic unit for $110 that has the USB feature, junction view, lane assist and lifetime maps. No voice recognition or bluetooth. I can do without those features.

I haven’t found any significant features on the dedicated units that I don’t get on my phone. I’m sure there are some, but nothing that would add value to my usage that I’ve seen.

Smart phones can do a lot of fancy things but they can’t replicate the convenience of having an always-on heads-up display. There is value to just getting in your vehicle and just having the GPS device in the same place like you see with the windshield mounted units.

They all work in the end and it is a matter of personal preference but the cost for a dedicated unit is so low now that I don’t think it is worth it to force a smart-phone to do double-duty when you can get basically the same technology that cost 100x-1000x the price in an airliner ten years ago.

Use your smart phone play music or serve as a walk-around GPS unit. I have both and the dedicated GPS units are better for driving.

You never have to worry about battery power because it is plugged in and the device is always right where you expect it to be. It just becomes just another essential piece of driving equipment like a rear-view mirror. All of them will get you where you need to go in a pinch but the cost for standalone Garmin units with Lifetime Maps is so low that it is both more effective and cost efficient just to get the best device for the purpose.

Don’t do this. You will find yourself out and lost and wishing you had the GPS with you. Even if you know where you are going, you might need a traffic detour or you might want to suddenly find the nearest KMart.

A GPS at home does you no good.

either one is good. My first one was a Garmin. I just brought a Tom thumb. It’s got all the features that you mentioned above. I don’t see the need for an ear piece. Their audio is very clear. also in your travels if there is an accident or construction ahead it will let you know and offer you an alternative route. That’s something I didn’t have in my old GPS. I also like the idea of free updates. With the older GPS’s they charged you around $60 I’m told. Like you, I keep my GPS home in a safe place and only take it with me on trips or areas im not familiar with. Good Luck.