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GPS....
April 26, 2011 6:08 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand GPS devices for cars.

So, I don't own a car but I occasionally rent cars. I want to buy a portable GPS device so that I don't have to pay Hertz an extra fee to rent one of theirs. I can't figure out though, whether these devices charge monthly service fees or not? Ideally, I would just like to buy a device, turn it on, and have it give me directions whenever I need them.

If it matters, the device would be used in the US.

Thanks.
posted by dfriedman to Computers & Internet (26 answers total)
 
No, they don't charge monthly fees. You just buy them and turn them on.
posted by Dasein at 6:11 AM on April 26, 2011


Not sure if it's a possibility at all, but I've got a Motorola Droid, and the free google navigation on there is awesome. So if a smartphone is in your future, maybe just go for that instead.
posted by Grither at 6:12 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I realize this is sort of roundabout to your question, but if you have a smart phone, Google Maps provide directions as well as voice navigation now.

i use it all the time. most recently, from PA to Boston and back, as well as getting around Boston. nary a problem.

people i know with a gps have to download maps to them. with a smartphone, no map downloading.
posted by sio42 at 6:12 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah I have an iPhone. But I'd rather not use the battery on that for long drives. Sorry, should have mentioned that in my question.
posted by dfriedman at 6:15 AM on April 26, 2011


It is true that maps change and that therefore, depending on your requirements, you may need to download an update for your maps from time to time. However, this would really only be relevant if you tend to drive in areas where there is a lot of road development going on. If you just want to go longer distances in stable road networks chances are you can drive for years without "old" maps being an issue.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:16 AM on April 26, 2011


Get a car charger and that problem will go away.
posted by Ferrari328 at 6:16 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or you could go crazy and get a charger/mount! $25 vs $100+ for a separate GPS unit. And you could even skip the mount and get just a car charger for even cheaper, I'm sure.
posted by Grither at 6:18 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


When the wife and I drove to Florida from NYC it turned out that the iPhone Google Maps GPS was more accurate and faster than the Tom Tom on the dashboard. I would also suggest using that with a plug in charger.
posted by Splunge at 6:21 AM on April 26, 2011


Yeah I have an iPhone. But I'd rather not use the battery on that for long drives.

A car charger will be under ten bucks. You do not need another GPS device.
posted by pompomtom at 6:28 AM on April 26, 2011


I also 2nd or 3rd the iphone route. Spend the money on a car charger and mount vs a separate device. One less thing to maintain and much less expensive.
posted by firetruckred at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2011


For occasional use - definitely go for the car charger and dash mount for the iPhone.

The iPhone (or any smartphone) has the disadvantage of needing a data signal to download maps (though there are some pay for nav applications that pre-load map data), so if you're driving through the middle of nowhere you might end up losing map data (google maps will pre-load data along the route so that SHOULD be minimized). It also has the advantage of downloading maps dynamically, and will have more up to date maps.

Back to the original question of cost - the basic gps functionality has no ongoing cost, but traffic and map updates may be extra. Some car GPS devices charge a monthly fee for traffic (received through a FM antenna that's embedded in the charging cable), some have it bundled into the base cost of the unit. Most will have some sort of fee (either annual, or one time "lifetime") for map data updates.

I've used google maps on my android phone a few times. I also have a Garmin car unit. Between the two, the garmin has a better interface and never EVER misbehaves. For comparison, the android gets a bit glitchy from time to time - it interrupts navigation if a phone call comes in, and sometimes has gotten hung up and needed to be restarted. For a long drive, I'll use the garmin every time. For directions to a restaurant in the next town over, I'll use the smart phone every time.
posted by devbrain at 6:43 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aren't the iPhone turn-by-turn map apps fairly pricey? We have two Tom Tom units that we paid under a hundred bucks each for. We have paid for map upgrades after a few years, but roads don't change that often.

If you feel a need to pay a subscription fee, you can buy navigation units that get over the air traffic updates, but I rarely go t o places where there are good alternate routes, so I don't.

Go to your local auto parts store and see what Tom Tom or Garmin unit they have on sale right now. It'll cost you $80 or so, you'll plug it in, stick it to your windshield and be off and running.
posted by straw at 6:49 AM on April 26, 2011


I'm going to be the voice of dissent here: I keep a Garmin Nuvi in my purse. I love love love it and it has been a complete lifesaver more times than I can count. My husband I both also have Motorola Droid 2 phones with the built in navigation. In comparison to the real GPS, the phone's navigation SUCKS. It's laggy, slow, not as well detailed; and let me tell you when you're coming up on a corner 100 yards ahead and don't know whether to turn left or right, the phone navigator won't tell you in time but the GPS will. We found that it's WAY more stressful driving with the phone than it is with the GPS. Even my spouse... who is a bit of elitist and always biased against whatever tech I prefer if he didn't think of it first (long story) admits the GPS is far superior.

Also, no you don't need to pay a fee to keep a GPS' service "on". Some models even come with free lifetime map updates. You can charge it with a car charger or USB to your computer (the Garmins should come with both) and the car suction-cup mount is usually included. Amazon always has pretty good deals; highly recommend looking there. I also tried a Tom Tom brand and it had a nicer screen & slicker interface but the software crashed all the time and the car mount was a nightmare so I returned that one in favor of keeping my trust little Garmin friend.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 6:58 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've used google maps on my android phone a few times. I also have a Garmin car unit. Between the two, the garmin has a better interface and never EVER misbehaves. For comparison, the android gets a bit glitchy from time to time - it interrupts navigation if a phone call comes in, and sometimes has gotten hung up and needed to be restarted. For a long drive, I'll use the garmin every time. For directions to a restaurant in the next town over, I'll use the smart phone every time.

I'm in exactly the same situation, and I'll agree with every word devbrain wrote. I will, however, add one other caveat: I've found the traffic information from Google maps to be far superior in terms of both timeliness and coverage than the FM traffic on my Garmin. I still use the Garmin for long trips, but I sometimes also check the traffic on Google maps on my Droid if I'm concerned about it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:58 AM on April 26, 2011


Oh I just remembered: My Garmin also has settings for navigating by foot or bicycle (in "settings" > "usage mode") so it can be used as a handheld device. Handy for walking around unfamiliar cities & whatnot so definitely useful for more than just in rental cars.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 7:11 AM on April 26, 2011


Aren't the iPhone turn-by-turn map apps fairly pricey?>

Apps with Maps: 11 iPhone GPS apps compared, from Macworld.com, January 2011. About half of the reviewed apps cost $50; several are free (including one of their top-rated apps) and only one costs more than $50.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:15 AM on April 26, 2011


Another option for occasional use: Buy a separate GPS unit at a pawn shop. I bought one of these at PawnAmerica a couple-three years ago for $50 and it's worked fine. Maps are upgradeable through third-party websites. My closest PawnAmerica normally has three dozen GPS nav units in the store at any given time.

I personally prefer the separate unit just to avoid the hassle of phone calls while navigating and such. Admittedly I don't use the thing that much, so that's sort of an academic issue.

On the other hand, my cheap little Aviton worked great in Europe without having to worry about switching SIMs or getting international data service or whatever. Installed maps, flew to Munich, turned on GPS, got directions.
posted by chazlarson at 7:46 AM on April 26, 2011


I've been using Tom Tom for my iPhone 4, and I'm honestly impressed. We've placed it side by side with a commercial Magellan and found that the iPhone was doing a much better job at turn by turn descriptions as well as giving a heads up to changes on the road. Google lookups on locations is also a nice plus you don't get on most stand-alone GPS solutions. (Youtube reviews: 1,2)
posted by samsara at 7:49 AM on April 26, 2011


I've been using Tom Tom for my iPhone 4, and I'm honestly impressed. We've placed it side by side with a commercial Magellan and found that the iPhone was doing a much better job at turn by turn descriptions as well as giving a heads up to changes on the road. Google lookups on locations is also a nice plus you don't get on most stand-alone GPS solutions. (Youtube reviews: 1 ,2 )

I'm going to agree with this over the people who said they prefer their standalone units. I use Google Nav on my Android, not Tom Tom, but I've found it more reliable and more feature packed than any standalone GPS I've used. One of the best differences has been the time to re-route - I've used both a Garmin and a now-defunct GPS brand (Dash) in cities and it was absolutely awful if you missed a turn. By the time it had re-calculated your route, I would have already gone past the new place it wanted me to turn and we'd be back to square one! Google's Nav tends to be much, much faster at re-routing so I don't have that problem.
posted by alaijmw at 8:05 AM on April 26, 2011


Don't forget that if you ever need to do a road trip in Canada or Mexico, a phone based solution will cost you a fortune in data roaming. And the apps that come with preloaded apps are only marginally cheaper than standalone devices these days. I think many posters here who have had bad experiences with standalone units being slow have probably not tried the more recent units, which are significantly faster at locking on to signals and calculating routes. Conversely, if you don't have the latest phone (eg iPhone 3G vs iPhone 4), you may very well get much better response times with a standalone unit.
posted by reformedjerk at 8:31 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


No there's no monthly fee. Just buy a good GPS unit.
Those days they used to charge for map updates and monthly subscription for live traffic updates. But now a days you can find GPS units that come with free life time map and traffic updates
posted by WizKid at 9:30 AM on April 26, 2011


For the phone based ones keep in mind that you need a constant data stream for maps. As soon as you loose the connection it will just be gps coordinates without the map.
posted by WizKid at 9:31 AM on April 26, 2011


For the phone based ones keep in mind that you need a constant data stream for maps.

That's not true. Most of the phone based ones involve a sizable download so the maps are stored locally. Google Maps GPS is probably what you're thinking of.
posted by samsara at 10:58 AM on April 26, 2011


My husband I both also have Motorola Droid 2 phones with the built in navigation. In comparison to the real GPS, the phone's navigation SUCKS. It's laggy, slow, not as well detailed.

This sounds like a problem with your phone, frankly, not the software. My T-Mobile G1 Android phone, the first Android phone with ridiculously underpowered specs, had this problem. My latest Android phone, a T-Moble 3G Slide, does not have this problem. Making broad generalizations about the performance of Google Navigate on a variety of flavors of Android operating systems on hundreds of phones is a mistake.

Regarding stand-alone GPS: if you go that route, make sure you get one that announces
street names! So many don't. Google Navigate on Android does and it's sweet (despite the occasional mispronunciation.)
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:46 PM on April 26, 2011


My vote's for a stand-alone GPS unit and not a smartphone. My Garmin Nuvi (there's a silly umlaut in there somewhere) came with street maps for all USA and Canada, and a traffic alert thing with a lifetime subscription, and free map updates for life. (I haven't yet updated the maps, I'll do it when I run into any map errors.) It has a rechargeable battery that automatically charges up when you connect it to the cigarette lighter. I can even plug in an SD flash card with my mp3s on it, and it will play them, muting/pausing the music when it speaks directions.

The traffic alerts alone have, in my mind, recouped the purchase price, and I will never have to spend another cent on it. Smartphones are more like pay through the nose until you die.
posted by phliar at 5:54 PM on April 27, 2011


Well, if you do go for a standalone, there's a Knight Rider themed one by Mio using the original voice actor for KITT...I guess I'm saying, if I didn't have a smartphone...I'd be all over this...
posted by samsara at 7:16 PM on April 27, 2011


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