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GPS Buyer's Guide

Updated on July 2009 - by Digital Versus GPS Buyer's Guide

With prices ranging from the tens to the hundreds of euros, a top end GPS can have a very impressive spec. Not all the features will be of much use to the occasional driver however and you’ll need to go through and sort out which are indispensable and which are optional gadgets. How to go about this? What’s the best way to find the right GPS for you? By looking through our guide of course!

1 - Making a choice

Budget models

Although not expensive, entry level GPS’ do the job fine. Budget doesn’t mean it’ll give you the wrong directions. The navigation software for these GPS’ is moreover often derived from more expensive models and is sometimes even identical. They won’t have all the optional features however (smaller screen, no multimedia files, no traffic info etc) and will just do the basics. They are ideal for those who are looking for a tool to help them from A to B from time to time without getting lost.

  1. TomTom One Classic
    £85 - £171 Compare Prices »
  2. Garmin Nuvi 660
    £60 - £490 Compare Prices »
  3. Binatone Caerrera X430
    £74 - £80 Compare Prices »
  4. More products »

Value for money

By going for something a little more expensive, you’ll get a model with a 4.3 inch display in 16/9 format. A larger screen has several advantages. First of all the extra width means routing and other information (next left, speed, arrival time etc) can be displayed on one side of the screen at the same time as keeping a large enough map on the other, allowing you to spot the next intersection more easily. Also, a wider screen is more legible and this is an undeniable advantage for those who don’t have perfect vision, or for those with large sloping windscreens for whom their GPS is necessarily further away.
TMC type traffic info (radio waves) is generally included on these GPS’. It will calculate the best route according to traffic density. Nevertheless, this system will only work on motorways and the main roads in large towns. It’ll help you to avoid one jam and direct you into another that isn’t referenced on the TMC traffic info.

  1. TomTom GO 940 Live
    £260 - £349 Compare Prices »
  2. Panasonic Strada CN-GP50N
    £196 - £196 Compare Prices »
  3. Pioneer AVIC-F500BT
    £250 - £592 Compare Prices »
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Having it all

If you don’t limit yourself in terms of price, you’ll get the best GPS technology can currently offer. Among the options we particularly like is the feature that allows you to calculate your journey according to the day and time of travel. It uses average actual traffic data on the road network and not the authorised speed limit. This average actual speed differs from one day and one hour to the next. This allows your GPS to calculate the ideal route at the time you get into the car. This feature is called Road IQ or Traffic Patterns depending on the map supplier (TeleAtlas/TomTom or Navteq respectively).
Another recent innovation, internet connectivity, allows you to get information from the internet on fuel prices, speed camera updates, addresses for restaurants, shops or other services. The telephone chip is sometimes even built into the GPS and can therefore function with a traffic info system based on mobile phones. Calculation of journeys then takes into account the traffic on all roads in the country, without exception.
You’ll also find a remote to be used with the most expensive GPS’ that you place on the steering wheel, a Text-to-Speech announcement of street names or even an FM transmitter that allows you to use the car’s speaker system for directions or mp3s.

  1. Garmin Nuvi Nuvi 865T
    £400 - £400 Compare Prices »
  2. Becker Traffic Assist Z 205
    £250 - £255 Compare Prices »
  3. Garmin GPSMAP 276C
    £425 - £425 Compare Prices »
  4. More products »

2 - The Science

The really important aspects of the spec

  • - Screen size :

    This is the aspect of the spec that will help you to tell most easily where a product is in a given manufacturer’s range. High end models always have the largest screens (4.3 inches and more) and displays will be in 16/9. Budget models on the other hand have almost square 3.5 inch screens.

  • - Type of GPS :

    When you talk GPS’ most people think about road usage. Although this is now the most common use of GPS’, sailors and walkers have been using them for much longer. Some models (marine for instance)are designed specially for these groups with specific options, while others try to be all things to all men, with both road maps and maps for walking. Watch out though, a multi-use GPS will never have the same options as a GPS designed for a specific domain.

  • - Traffic info :

    This feature will help the GPS to calculate your route according to the state of traffic. Don’t think you’ll be getting a miracle solution to all traffic jams however. Traffic info simply guarantees you’ll be directed onto the fastest route available.
    You also need to distinguish between types of traffic info:
    - Standard TMC traffic info: only takes into account the density of traffic on motorways.
    - Premium TMC traffic info: only takes into account motorways and a few major roads in large towns and cities.
    - GSM traffic info (such as HD-Traffic from TeleAtlas/TomTom) takes into account traffic on all roads.

What you’ll need to go a bit further

  • - Map extensions :

    This is for updating your GPS. Map extensions allow you to download new maps, speed camera locations and new versions of software onto a PC for them to be loaded onto the GPS. If you don’t have a map extension, you’ll have to link your GPS directly to the computer. On some models map extensions also allow you to listen to mp3s, view photos and even sometimes videos. If you can view videos however, very few formats will be supported making time-consuming recoding of your video library necessary.

  • - Waterproofing :

    Although not a feature that car drivers will think about, waterproofing is an important criteria of choice for bikers and walkers. Almost all GPS’ for boats are of course waterproof.

3 - Accessories

Battery chargers

Rarely sold with the GPS, optional battery chargers allow you to recharge your GPS from mains electricity. Otherwise you need to connect the GPS to the cigarette lighter socket in your car. The cable for this always comes in the bundle with the GPS at purchase.


You need to know the difference between two types of update: free updates and updates for which you are charged. Free updates only concern the direction finding software and correct bugs or sometimes add new features. Updates for which you are charged mean you can get new maps in the years after purchase or updates on speed camera locations. In fact, a GPS is always sold with a recent map but over time these get less accurate with the addition of new roads etc.

4 - Going further

Buyers Guide

Which GPS is right for you?

Which GPS is right for you?

Everything you need to know to find the perfect GPS for you.

View buyers guides »

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