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GPS Navigators / Sat Nav

When setting out to buy a GPS you'll be faced with a large variety in prices from very high to st...
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When setting out to buy a GPS you'll be faced with a large variety in prices from very high to strangely low. When buying, how do you know what to look for to make sure you get a unit that will not only navigate well, but will also have features that are in-line with what you'll be using it for. It's easier than it looks, and once you know a few key things to look out for you'll have no trouble narrowing down the models to the one you need.

Vehicle Type
First off, you'll need to know that there are different GPS types for different vehicles. Cars are the most common and popular; these models come in a variety of screen sizes (usually touch screen) and power themselves through a lighter plug in your dash. Truck GPS’s are slightly different in the way that they have trucking routes in the maps and often have the ability to mount an external antenna outside the truck. If you look at many high end car models you'll see that they can easily be transferred into a truck as they have many of those features too. Although motorcycles have their own type of GPS, they do operate much the same as a car unit but they have specially designed mounts and power adapters to work on a bike. Boating and marine GPS’s are in a category much their own, so I won't be touching on those very much for that reason.

Screen Size
Common GPS screen sizes are 3.5" and the widescreen 4.3". Widescreen GPS’s will have a touch screen QWERTY keyboard where as 3.5" GPS’s typically use three letters per key like a cell phone. Other than those minor differences, the only thing you will notice is that larger screens give you a larger view of the map and more screen space when it comes to buttons and menus. The final decision is up to you; what screen size do you prefer more and which physical GPS size will mount nicely in your intended mounting spot?

Navigation Features
When you start comparing GPS prices, one thing you'll want to look closely at is the navigation features they provide. It's not uncommon to find a store selling one model of GPS for a certain price and another store selling the same model for significantly less. Make sure you ask what maps each unit comes preloaded with because one model may have several different versions with different map-sets. An example would be a unit preloaded with only one country's maps versus another that's preloaded with maps from a whole continent.
The biggest thing you'll see many manufacturers saying is how many millions of points of interest their maps have. All those points of interest are things like businesses, hospitals, gas stations, parking lots, etc. that are built into the map. You can choose whether or not to display these and which ones you want to display. For example, if I'm going on a long trip I may want my map to always show hotels and gas stations but not things like malls or ice cream stores that are irrelevant to my trip.
Next you'll want to look at how the directions are dictated to you. All new GPS’s will have a voice telling you when you turn (Ie. "turn left in 400 meters") but only more expensive models will have what's called TTS or, text to speech. Text to speech allows the GPS to read the actual street names from the map file (Ie. "Turn left in 400 meters on to Whales Street"). Having text to speech is another one of those features that allows you to almost entirely ignore the GPS’s physical existence during a trip and to rely on it simply to tell you street-for-street how to get to your destination. Why do I pay so much more for a text to speech GPS versus a regular one, you ask? Well, the software that runs the text to speech abilities is incredibly complex and has taken many years of ongoing development to make a "natural" sounding human voice that can read and speak without sounding robotic. Since the GPS manufacturers don't make this themselves, they must license it from one of the many companies that do - so you are paying a little extra to cover this licensing.
Lane assist is another feature found in more expensive GPS models which will not only keep you on the right path, but also in the correct lane. Having a GPS tell you the exact lane to be in when you're on a very busy freeway crossover will help take the stress away from those complex exits which may have several lanes exiting one after the other. It will also help you be ready for any upcoming turns you may need to make during city driving. This advanced warning will help in situations where traffic is heavy and lane changes are time consuming.
For those wanting the absolute easiest driving and navigation experience possible you can find many GPS’s with "premium" services that you can subscribe to and pay for on a monthly/yearly basis. These include things like live traffic reports that will allow your GPS to compensate it's route to avoid traffic jams or accidents. You can also find things like live weather reports available that will stream to your GPS as well.

If you plan on keeping your GPS for a long time then you will want to look into whether the software and maps that are included with it can be upgraded. Most brand-name GPS’s will have maps that are up-gradable - this means that each year you can buy a new map set from the manufacturer to load on to the device. These new maps will have new points of interest and updated road layouts for whatever country/continent they are purchased for. If you're buying a "cheap" GPS from a relatively unknown manufacturer then make sure to investigate if they ever plan on offering upgrades or not. I've seen many really cheap GPS’s that are preloaded with the current years maps but the manufacturer has not put any USB or SD card connections on the device to ever modify what it came with.

Extra Features
Just like any electronic device, if you look hard enough you can find all sorts of other (sometimes unrelated) features packed into GPS’s. Bluetooth is by far one of the most common as it allows you to pair your GPS up with your phone and use it as a hands-free calling device in your car. I'd pay a little extra for something that allows me to keep both hands on the wheel and more attention on the road! You can also expect to find things like photo viewers, MP3 players and video viewers on certain manufacturer's GPS devices as well.

If you're a regular driver or like to chart unconquered territory then a GPS is one of the best investments you will likely make. They take the hassle away from navigation and the stress away from driving in new places.


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