GPS

Buying Guide - GPS

Types

Many motorists, cyclists, boaters and hikers use sat-nav these days to help them plan and follow the best route.  Each type of GPS has its own benefits and if you spend some time researching you're sure to make a purchase that matches your needs and available budget.

Aftermarket Portable GPS

This is perhaps the type of navigation system most of us are familiar with.  Thanks to improving technology, these portable GPS products offer most of the features you'll find in an integrated car system.

Aftermarket Integrated GPS

If you love the look and performance of an in-dash navigation system but aren't in the market for a new vehicle, consider installing an aftermarket integrated GPS.  Like the built-in sat-nav systems that many carmakers offer, an aftermarket integrated GPS will have a large screen, real-time traffic updates along your chosen route, and spoken turn-by-turn directions.

Integrated Factory GPS

if you're shopping for a new car and require a sat-nav system opt for the manufacturer's integrated model.  You could save money as dealers offer bundled packages that include GPS to increase a new car's appeal.  With an easy to read screen mounted right into the dashboard, as well as user-friendly controls, there's little danger of being distracted as you drive.

Mobile GPS

GPS for your smartphone may include extras such as internal mapping software and a point of interest database.  If you're considering mobile GPS, check with your carrier first as some mobile providers charge an additional monthly fee for sat-nav service or impose extra charges every time you access the GPS.

Telematic GPS

This kind of integrated GPS is a combination of sat-nav and cellular technology, allowing you to access the emergency services and a variety of other features right from your vehicle.  Examples of telematic GPS include Ford Sync, OnStar by General Motors and Mercedes-Benz mBrace system.

Features

Obviously, the particular available features of any sat-nav system depend largely on the price that you pay.  The more advanced the technology the higher the cost.  However, there are basic features you should consider when comparing models.

Screen Size

Most portable systems have screens that range from as small as 2.5 inches to nearly 7 inches.  A smaller unit will have touch screen buttons that are tiny and close together.  A large screen means the device itself is larger and not quite as portable.  One of these larger units on your dashboard could create a blind spot.  Opt for a mid-sized screen to ensure portability and convenience, and most importantly, safety.

Voice Navigation

The more advanced navigation systems provide audible instructions, providing directions with street names or road numbers.  This can be useful when navigating unfamiliar places or when in heavy traffic.

Real-Time Traffic

You might come across a serious traffic accident or roadworks along your route.  This could add hours to your journey, so invest in a GPS with real-time traffic updates: your system will automatically detect delays and re-route at the touch of a button.

Bluetooth Compatibility

You can use this feature to sync your GPS with a Bluetooth mobile phone.  You'll be able to make and receive calls through your sat-nav system.  Most of your phone information - voicemail alerts and contacts - will be displayed on the GPS screen.

MP3 Player

A GPS with digital music playback capability will store and play your MP3 audio files through the device's speaker or your car's audio system.

Video Player and Photo Viewer

Some navigation systems are able to play DVDs or display your personal photos on the screen.  This is a great feature if you're on a long road trip with the family and don't need directions all the time.

Accessories

Most portable and aftermarket GPS will come with everything that you will need to get started, but you may eventually find that you need to upgrade or enhance your system with some accessories.

If it's not already bundled with your device, you'll want a car adaptor so that you can recharge the unit while driving.

Various mounting options can make your GPS even easier to use.  Attach the GPS to the windscreen with a suction cup mount, put it on the dash with an adhesive mount, or suspend it from the dash with a hanging mount.

For portable GPS, you may want to invest in a carrying case to help protect your device.  This is an especially useful accessory if you travel frequently or use your GPS for outdoor sports like fishing, boating or hiking.

Car-mounted GPS can really benefit from a supplemental remote aerial.  Mounted on the roof of your car, the aerial can dramatically improve satellite signal strength and GPS performance.

Route Planning

Most of today's GPS offer state of the art mapping software, so you never have to worry that your system is misreading routes or skipping over crucial directions.

One of the best ways to guarantee you always get where you need to go is to look for GPS that are WAAS-enabled.  WAAS, or Wide Area Augmentation System, lets the GPS use a combination of satellites and land stations to give more precision to the device's mapping features.  A WAAS-enabled GPS is usually accurate to within 3 to 7 metres.

Purchasing a unit with lots of hard drive memory can also significantly increase performance and accuracy.  Like a computer, the GPS uses memory to store information: the greater the memory, the more information the GPS can hold.

Some other helpful mapping and route planning features include waypoint storage and a saved address book.  This lets you store your favourite addresses and locations so you don't have to go through the hassle of inputting the information for places you visit frequently every time you make a journey.