How to Decide On Which GPS Unit to Buy

As we navigate our roads, and go to new places, we're more dependent than ever on map sources for information. Purchasing a GPS unit (also known as satnav) -- like TomTom or Magellan -- can be a great idea if you plan on taking a road trip, or want to navigate in an unfamiliar location. Choosing a unit, however, can be daunting. Try these steps to help you choose.


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    Determine what your budget is and what features are important to you. If you don't know anything about navigation units, determine how much you are willing to spend, and move on to step 2.
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    Go online or find a store that sells a wide variety of units. Look in "GPS" or "GPS/Navigation" departments. You may also want to search for "Satellite Navigation" or "sat nav". You can also find online GPS comparison sites which provide a list of ratings and features for many models.
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    Decide what type you need. Choose between one for your car (Garmin Nuvi, Magellan Maestro, Magellan Roadmate, TomTom one, TomTom go), one for your motorcycle (Garmin zumo, tomtom rider) or a top of the range mobile phone (TomTom mobile, iPhone)/PDA (TomTom navigator) which will often include GPS.
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    Look over the description, price, and features of each model. A particular brand may have 3 or 4 different models with a variety of prices and features going from low-end to high-end.
    • Some have maps for more than one country or the capability of adding them (though this will cost extra). To add maps you will need a GPS unit with sufficient memory space and sometimes an SD memory card slot.
    • Some maps are considered better or weaker in some areas than others. Find out if the unit uses OpenStreetMap, Tele Atlas or Navtech.
    • Whether a unit supports speed camera warnings and live traffic information might be of interest to you.
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    Consider going second-hand. If you buy a second hand unit, the maps may be neither updated nor able to update. Old units may have buttons rather than a touchscreen. Cheaper ones often have smaller screens too.
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    Talk to a customer service representative about the different models. Most large stores, like BestBuy and Circuit City, don't give their employees commission to push a particular model, so you can usually depend on their suggestions and information.
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    Narrow down the field. Try eliminating brands you don't like, models that are too expensive, and units with features you don't want or need.


  • If you're waiting for the current 'top of the line' gadgets to get cheaper (they will), consider buying just what will get you by with a mind towards selling it off when the price for what you really want gets better. The $900 ones will all be $300 next year, when all the new ones pop up. A $300 one you buy now will still be worth $100 or $200 to somebody who doesn't have one.
  • If you are very undecided, don't buy anything right away, but write down the model number of the units you want to know more about. Then go online and read customer reviews and tech reviews (found in magazines or eZines).
  • Bring along a friend or family member that you get along with and understands what you need. They might be a big help if you're trying to decide between different units.
  • While you're online, try some price searches. You may find the 'better' one a salesman was pushing at the same price as the 'lesser' one you were considering at the local store. Caveat emptor: If it sounds too good to be true, do some extra research. Buy from reputable on-line dealers.


  • Customer reviews are notoriously one-sided. Read as many as you can to get a more balanced view.
  • Be wary of the salesperson you talk to. They may not push a particular brand, but they will likely push you to buy the most expensive by turning you on to features that you may not need.
  • While it seems natural to use a notebook computer with a USB or Bluetooth GPS device, keep in mind that GPS mapping software adheres to the same rigorous standards that the Windows operating system does: cumbersome to use, unreliable and full of bugs and errors. A dedicated GPS device will be far more robust than a notebook or tablet PC, and built to consumer standards that expect a device to work right out of the box when you switch it on.
  • If you don't mind being led off the freeway and sent zig-zagging block-by-block through downtown streets, or sent to roads that dead-end at dirt paths over mountain tops, finally to locked, gated fire trails and private driveways, go ahead and pick up some PC software, but try to make sure it works with your particular GPS device, or comes bundled with one that definitely works.

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Categories: GPS