Please navigate me to a good car GPS for the USA!
June 20, 2014 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I am an inexperienced driver, and I am about to be taking a number of long road-trips alone across the US this year. To aid me, I am looking for the best GPS that is reasonably priced. Can you recommend one for me?

I've never had a GPS before (or a car before!), so I'm not really sure what I should be looking for in terms of qualities or features. What are the differences between the models for sale? What sort of price should I expect, and is there some sort of annual fee? I don't have a smartphone, but might be prepared to buy a cheap one solely for GPS if it turned out to be the best option. I think I'd probably prefer an actual car GPS though. I anticipate traveling solely in the US, so I'm looking for one that is really reliable within America (although if it were to work in Europe also, that would be a plus). I have seen this question, but I think my needs are a bit different, so I thought I'd ask the hive mind again! Recommendations about what *not* to buy are also welcome!
posted by ClaireBear to Travel & Transportation (48 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Get a smartphone

As long as it's either an iPhone (apple) or an Android phone (Samsung, LG, Motorola, etc.) you can use Google Maps, which is free and has pretty solid turn-by-turn directions
posted by Oktober at 1:39 PM on June 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

Do you have a smartphone ? CoPilot is a very good turn by turn GPS.

The thing I like most is that maps are pre-downloaded so a data connection is not needed after installation (Google maps requires data). It's also stupid inexpensive.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:41 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Moto G is regularly $80-100 off-contract, and it runs Google Maps just fine. You could pre-pay for service when you need it and let it sit in a drawer otherwise.
posted by Oktober at 1:41 PM on June 20, 2014

Oh, I forgot to add: ideally the GPS would be something that would sit somewhere in the car elevated and easy to see from the driver's seat, and - importantly - would speak the directions to me, so that I wouldn't have to look down at anything while I drive (e.g. "Turn left in 100 yards onto Smith Street"). I'm an inexperienced driver, so I'm really trying to focus all of my attention on the actual driving rather than navigating. Also, I'd prefer one of the ones that automatically reroutes you when you make a wrong turn (in other words, draws a new route that is the best route from your new position). Additionally, I'd like one that would allow me to choose the route that I want out of multiple routes to a given place (so I could avoid going on a highway, or whatever). I don't know how standard these features areā€¦

Also, even if I did purchase a smartphone for this task, I won't have an internet connection, because I won't be buying a monthly phone plan (I have a cheap pay-as-you-go tracfone for emergencies, and Skype for everything else). If I got a smartphone for this, is there a way to elevate it so I can see it while driving?
posted by ClaireBear at 1:43 PM on June 20, 2014

You can buy smartphone holders that will hold the smartphone to the dash so that you don't have to hold the thing/look down at it.
posted by dfriedman at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2014

Using a smartphone for your GPS is certainly the most practical answer, since it then becomes multipurpose and you don't leave it out in the open in your locked car (since you'll take it with you when you get out). You can get suction cup holders for just about any phone type that you can put wherever you want in your car. If you plan on getting an older model smartphone, make sure it has the ability to do turn-by-turn.

The only drawback to using a smartphone instead of a standalone GPS is if while you're taking your long road trips alone you plan on listening to podcasts or audiobooks, having your friendly turn-by-turn person cut in to your book or 'cast by dropping the volume and then giving you directions gets old fast. You end up having to rewind if you don't want to miss anything. I personally find it super annoying. If you only plan to listen to the radio or music, then it's ideal.
posted by clone boulevard at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2014

In North America right now, I think the best answer is a smartphone. The version I have most experience with, Google Maps, compensates for traffic and road construction and even does lane selection on highways now. It doesn't fall out of date the way Garmin or Tom-Tom units can.

Google is less useful away from major centres and off of major roads, particularly in rural areas. Off-road and in the back-country, it is useless. Google Maps needs a decent data plan and good connectivity to work properly. If some of those conditions don't apply for you, then do consider a Garmin Nuvi, which I'd recommend as a second-best choice.

On seeing your update: the best smartphone holder for the car I've used is the RAM X-grip. It's cheaper than many other options and works with most kinds of phones. The suction cup is rock solid. Mounting on the lower part of the windshield keeps it safely in your peripheral vision (in fact, some places---Quebec---require you to do this). Pair that with a charging cable and an adapter plug and you're good to go.
posted by bonehead at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, there are a variety of mounts available. My favorite - Ram Mounts, also available at Amazon. I use one for my phone, running co-pilot or PDFmaps and for my tablet which runs BackCountryNavigator Which I use for Topo maps.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:51 PM on June 20, 2014

Nearly any modern standalone GPS has voice navigation, along with automatic rerouting. Most GPS devices also have options available to avoid tolls, ferries, and highways, but as a system setting (not a choice you make for each trip) I've never heard of one that doesn't also come with a windshield mounting solution.

I'd personally advise against a smartphone as a GPS solution; as much as I love my smartphone, the requirement for a data plan for service for most navigation apps for functionality is a monthly cost that you probably don't want to sign up for, considering you currently are happy with your non-smart phone. Garmin makes great standalone GPS devices, and I'd go with one of those for a dedicated car navigation solution. Don't underestimate a monthly cost, it'll add up!

In case you do go with a smartphone, mounting solutions for smartphones are definitely around. Here's the one I use: Aduro U-Grip on Amazon.

As you're a new driver, I'd also recommend that you mount your selected navigation solution as low as possible on the windshield (So it's far back away from you), because then it blocks less of your view. In fact, mounted low enough, it could potentially not block anything, and would still be very close to your field of vision near the speedometer.
posted by brocrastinator at 1:53 PM on June 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Please also take paper maps or a recent road atlas with you. I find them helpful for acclimating myself at the beginning of a long drive. If you are (or someone you know is) a AAA member, you can get them for free.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:57 PM on June 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Without a data plan, a smartphone doesn't make any sense at all. Get a 5" screen Garmin Nuvi (about $100 or so) and it will do everything you want. It's a clunky interface to enter addresses (stop before you do it) but they work very well.

I back to back tested GPS versus Apple Maps/Google Maps WITH a data plan (albeit a roaming one) this week and the data drop out was annoying enough for the cross country stuff I did that I still use the Garmin, although I'd love to lose the Garmin entirely if my phone was better. It's just not yet...

Also, a Garmin is MILES cheaper than a smartphone. It also comes with a perfectly good mounting method (stick it to the screen) and for states that don't allow that (California, for instance) you can buy one of those bean bag things which work well.
posted by Brockles at 2:02 PM on June 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I got a Garmin Nuvi GPS from Costco years ago that I've been happy with. There was a fee to update the map data at some point (like $59.95 or something? I forget how much, I just know it was one charge for tri-state area info vs. entire US mainland info) and I'm probably long overdue to go back and update again, but, I don't do much distance driving so the current info has been fine for my peace of mind.

I definitely prefer using the Garmin to using my iPhone's directions - the visuals of the Garmin map are much better suited to getting info at a glance than my smaller iPhone screen, and I don't have to worry about phone calls or texts interrupting my route guidance, or my route guidance interrupting whatever music or podcast I've got playing for the drive.
posted by oh yeah! at 2:05 PM on June 20, 2014

Got a smartphone?

How about free, then? You can download an app called Waze. It will route you around traffic in real time, and the maps are editable by anyone in a Wikipedia-like fashion. Much cheaper than a standalone GPS, and much more frequently updated than Google Maps.
posted by tckma at 2:06 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want a dedicated device, Garmin is pretty much the leader in the field.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:11 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who had never used a GPS, I found the Garmin Nuvi GPS to be fairly easy to set up and use. I think mine has a 5" screen - the bigger screen makes it easy to glance at it quickly to confirm a turn or something.

I found the suction cup that sticks on the windshield to be unreliable, and having the GPS fall off the windshield as you are driving is hair-raising. I am considering one of those mounts that sticks into the CD player (which I never use).
posted by BillMcMurdo at 2:20 PM on June 20, 2014

Ah, didn't read your earlier comment about not having a smartphone.

I recommend something out of the Garmin Nuvi line. I've had a few of these over the years, and they're pretty good. Make sure you buy one that has lifetime map updates included, because otherwise you'll pay through the nose for updates. Whether you get one with a built-in traffic receiver depends on your preference and budget, although to be honest, the Garmin I had with a built-in traffic receiver never had accurate information on traffic anyway.

Memail me if you decide to go this route. I've got two older ones I'm looking to sell, but I don't remember the model numbers off hand.
posted by tckma at 2:23 PM on June 20, 2014

I have a relatively recent Garmin bought from one of the discounted remainder services, and a four year or so old Tom Tom that I bought for about $80 then. And recent smart phones and mounts in both cars.

I prefer the stand-alone devices to any of the smart phone apps I've tried so far.

The Garmin's lane selection display is often unhelpful, and whatever algorithm it uses to simplify maps has caused me to make a wrong turn because I thought that the intersection I was in was where it was indicating a turn.

The Tom Tom wants a lot for map upgrades, like $40 a year or something. But I'd recommend a cheap one of those.

And always trust your own assessment of the situation around you. All the maps have hilariously egregious errors, especially in rural areas.
posted by straw at 2:29 PM on June 20, 2014

Oh, yes, the windshield mount that came with my Garmin was useless -- but I actually found it kind of distracting having it in my above-the-dashboard eye line at all. I keep it down by my front cup-holder instead, since I'm relying on the vocal instructions primarily, and the visual info is just for glancing at, I only give it a closer look if I'm stopped at a light or something.
posted by oh yeah! at 2:30 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

much more frequently updated than Google Maps.

The content of Google Maps is updated non-stop. New road changes are available immediately over the network rather than being rolled out as updates. (I submitted the reopening of a bridge that had been closed for four months and it showed up in less than 24 hours.) The app itself is updated throughout the year.

Also, Google bought Waze and now incorporates its reports and data into Google Maps.

I realize that the smartphone plan means a monthly bill -- although a pay-as-you-go and the cheapest-for-the-quality Android phone could beat a Garmin or TomTom's annual costs over a year or even two years if you do it right -- but Google Maps really is the best solution especially with the new lane advice ("In 400 feet, use the right lane to exit onto Washington Avenue") and a new voice that is very clear and very human-like. It's also gotten very good at routing around traffic. I've had several occasions recently where Google Navigation wanted me to go an unusual way -- and in the cases where I took that route, it turned out I avoided accidents, traffic, and long delays. In the cases where I did not take that route, I regretted it.

Also, entering addresses into Google Maps is a breeze compared to the torturous methods of many of the other devices. You can misspell, be approximate, and get a lot of stuff wrong and Google Maps almost always figures out what you mean. Some of the devices and other navigation apps only work if the address is exactly correct -- exactly like it would be if you were a post-office address-labeling machine. You can also just click on addresses in emails or texts or calendar entries and it loads right up lickety-split.

Additionally, don't forget about the speech commands. Things like "Okay, Google, navigate to Topeka, Kansas" or "Okay, Google, navigate to the Safeway supermarket" will work nearly 100% of the time on an Android phone without you having to touch the phone (assuming you activate voice commands).

If you do go with a non-Google-Maps solution, make sure you get a device that has voices that will announce street names. A GPS device that doesn't announce street names is an infuriating beast that will have you lost in no time.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:49 PM on June 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since everyone is piling on to windshield mount suction cups: I've had no problem with several different styles and brands if I wet the suction cup before I apply it.
posted by straw at 2:53 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

A couple points:
* Google Maps does not work without a data connection, which you won't have in many mountainous or rural areas. (Google caches your route, but if you leave the route for any reason, you're lost). If you have a smartphone, get a GPS that includes offline maps. Navigon, TomTom and CoPilot seem to be good choices.
* Everyone loves Waze, but I lived in two different areas of 1 million-plus people and Waze couldn't get me a few miles to work in either place without making map mistakes. I don't use it and wouldn't trust it.

As far as a car mount goes, I love this InfiniApps CD mount.
posted by cnc at 2:56 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

cnc has just covered this, but I want to re-stress that many of the smartphone solutions being proposed are intended to use data that is not cached on the phone, and thus rely on (a) having a data plan, and (b) having cellular reception. If you are in the middle of nowhere and need to reroute (which is one of the most important use cases for me, probably second only to finding a street address in an unfamiliar city) they may do you no good at all.

You can buy a low-end Garmin or TomTom for less than the cost of two tanks of gas (maybe less than the cost of one, depending on whether you score a deal and how big your tank is.) Go with a dedicated unit.

I have a cheap Garmin and it has been useful on road trips over a lot of the USA and Canada, including parts of Alaska and the Yukon where cellular data coverage is pretty much a fantasy.

Oh, and on edit: I meant to also indicate agreement with the poster who recommended you be sure to take paper maps as well. In addition to serving as a vital backup if you have technical issues, paper maps are useful to tell you about things that are close to your route but weren't on your itinerary. The GPS will tell you the most efficient route between points A and B. It won't tell you that if you turn off at the next exit you can take a parallel route that will take you through Mount Widget National Amazing Area, which you have always heard about but never been to..
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:19 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the Garmin Nuvi. We got our first one in 2007 and it was a great and reliable piece of equipment. We finally got a new one this year because it was only about $30 more than the map update for the old one. I think we paid about $100.
posted by victoriab at 3:20 PM on June 20, 2014

Without a data plan, a smartphone doesn't make any sense at all.

Windows Phone supports downloadable maps. You don't get the real-time traffic but you do get turn-by-turn that's been pretty accurate for me. (T-Mobile offers data by the day.)

Having used both a Garmin nuvi and a smartphone, there are swings and roundabouts: text entry on the Garmin is often painful, map updates over USB are quaintly early-2000s, and I've had trouble with GPS accuracy where it's placed me on an adjacent service road instead of a freeway. However, it's stayed active in situations where the smartphone crapped out, whether in dense urban areas or the back of beyond.
posted by holgate at 3:22 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since everyone is piling on to windshield mount suction cups: I've had no problem with several different styles and brands if I wet the suction cup before I apply it.

Yep. Lick it and you will never have a problem on glass or smooth, flat plastic.
posted by Brockles at 3:23 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some states (California, I believe) don't allow windshield mounted suction cup things. I have a cheap smartphone cradle that attaches via hooks into the air vents; this works well and isn't obtrusive.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:25 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dang it jenkinsEar, nobody's hassled us about it in years of using 'em mounted under the mirror, but I had to go look it up and Calilfornia V C Section 26708 Material Obstructing or Reducing Driver x2019 s View says:
12) A portable Global Positioning System (GPS), which may be mounted in a seven-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield farthest removed from the driver or in a five-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield nearest to the driver and outside of an airbag deployment zone, if the system is used only for door-to-door navigation while the motor vehicle is being operated.
So you appear to be correct.
posted by straw at 3:31 PM on June 20, 2014

nthing Garmin Nuvi here. You can pick one up for under $100 with lifetime maps and traffic, and if you are looking for the next Starbucks on the trip, it can tell you. If you pair it with your smartphone, you can call ahead to place a pizza order too.
posted by lobstah at 4:02 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Garmin Nuvi.

A dedicated GPS device is more reliable and simpler than a smartphone+data plan. For most trips around town I trust my smartphone. For longer trips, it's my old old Nuvi.
posted by notyou at 4:10 PM on June 20, 2014

I was a very early adopter on GPS because I do a lot of business travel - a Garmin girl from way, way back to the monochrome Streetpilot. Love Garmin and have given people Garmins as gifts.

Even I'm no longer using a standalone GPS. I use my iPhone and it reads directions to me. Before I was forced to the iPhone I had TomTom on my Blackberry.
posted by 26.2 at 4:19 PM on June 20, 2014

After having an old Garmin break I tried my iPhone. I don't recommend it if you need something you can really rely on. Garmin works!
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:27 PM on June 20, 2014

If you are doing stand alone then the Garmin. I tried TomTom and prefer the Garmin. In town I use Google Maps but I live in a large Metro area with good mobile coverage.
posted by jadepearl at 5:36 PM on June 20, 2014

Hey all! Thanks for all the advice! It sounds like the Garmin Nuvi might be my best bet, aside from a smartphone option. Is there a particular edition or style of the Garmin Nuvi that I should look for, as I see various models for sale? The traffic one is more expensive - does it work well (with no internet), and is it worth it? I'd love specific recommendations!

My qualm about the smartphone option is that I'm a PhD student whose stipend is about to end (these trips are to try to finish my research so I can finish the degree!), so I'm hesitant with no income to take on a $50+/month payment. Does anyone have a smartphone option recommendation where the monthly payments are cheap?
posted by ClaireBear at 5:41 PM on June 20, 2014

For long trips, a smartphone will need to be plugged in. Half a day will kill your battery.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:01 PM on June 20, 2014

You may want to check out the Nuvi 2555LMT. It's an old mid-range model that has basically the same feature set as the newer 56LM but you get traffic as well. The traffic function utilizes the power cable as an antenna and does not require internet access to work.
posted by Max Camber at 6:21 PM on June 20, 2014

It's an old mid-range model that has basically the same feature set as the newer 56LM but you get traffic as well.

Yeah there's very little point in getting the latest and greatest. I've had a few Nuvis and like them (except, yeah, entering addresses is a pain) but lifetime maps is a winner though you will usually need to upgrade memory in order to get the full set. If you are going to be driving in Canada, make sure you get North American maps and not just US maps. I didn't check on my newest one and sure enough, it couldn't find the Montreal airport even though I was an hour away from it. Even if you have a smart phone, having dedicated GPS is useful because you can leave it in the car and GPS devices have much better battery life than most smart phones that are doing navigation. I do suggest having a reality check backup road atlas just in case, but these are pretty inexpensive.
posted by jessamyn at 7:21 PM on June 20, 2014

Also, sorry, one more question. I notice that various of the models have Bluetooth. Clearly I have not yet joined the modern era, but I am not entirely sure what Bluetooth is, or whether it would help me. If I don't have a smartphone, would the Bluetooth feature help me (in other words, would it be worth paying extra for)? Googling doesn't seem to clarify this for me.
posted by ClaireBear at 7:38 PM on June 20, 2014

T-mobile has a $30 /month plan that is unlimited data, text, and 100 minutes of voice.

I have a Nuvi and a smartphone in my car, and I never use the Nuvi unless something strange happens to the mobile data (which occurs maybe once a year). The Nuvi maps just get out of date too quickly, and it takes much longer to lock onto my location. I got a in-car smartphone charger in for $1, and a iOttie mount for $12.
posted by lpctstr; at 7:39 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

T-mobile has a $30 /month plan that is unlimited data, text, and 100 minutes of voice.

Or prepaid/PAYG for voice with no recurring monthly cost, plus $3/day for data when you're travelling. Combine that with a cheap Lumia (the 521 is as cheap as $69 these days; the 635 is due out soon) that offers downloadable maps.

All that said, if you're going to be heading to Europe, a standalone GPS with lifetime maps will be far easier to sell on before you leave than a phone that's tied to a provider.
posted by holgate at 8:08 PM on June 20, 2014

You can count me as another fan of the Garmin line. I don't have any specific model recommendation because mine is probably 3-4 years old (although it's still chugging along), and I do use my smartphone for local navigation. Still, I think for road trips in particular a stand alone GPS is a better bet.

There are a couple of things to consider. Features may have changed since I last shopped around, but the lower-end models had spoken directions that told you where to turn but didn't say the street name out loud. As a new driver, it will probably be handy to have the street names included. There are also some models which specify not just where to turn but which lanes (like, it will tell you to stay in the center lane or whatever), which is useful.

Maybe this is all standard now, but when I was last looking it wasn't. You might also want to check out Consumer Reports or other online reviews to get some sense of how different models compare.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:28 PM on June 20, 2014

Bluetooth allows you to connect devices wirelessly. Newer car stereos have this feature. This allows the GPS to, for example, mute the radio when giving turn directions and turn it back on again when done. It's not a hugely important feature, and if you buy a car more than four or five years old, is not likely to be available anyway.

If you do buy a used GPS (not a bad option), I strongly recommend you do buy a map update. When buying, make sure you get a mount (either a suction cup or a bean bag) and in car charger. Exact model doesn't matter that much, but for driving, a big screen is very useful. The 5" screen is great if you can swing it.
posted by bonehead at 9:49 PM on June 20, 2014

Additionally, don't forget about the speech commands. Things like "Okay, Google, navigate to Topeka, Kansas" or "Okay, Google, navigate to the Safeway supermarket" will work nearly 100% of the time on an Android phone without you having to touch the phone (assuming you activate voice commands).

This has not been my experience at all. And I have the Moto X, which was designed for this use case. I'd say that the commands work on the first try maybe 50% of the time. Partly this depends on how low/deep your voice is. I've noticed that my boyfriend has a much higher success rate than me, for example. But yea, don't count on this.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 11:02 PM on June 20, 2014

Folks who are recommending a smartphone truly have no idea how much of the US has spotty to non-existent cell coverage. Standalone GPS, all the way.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:48 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you were to go with the Garmin Nuvi (which I personally use and like a lot), then there would be no need to get rid of it before you more to Europe. It's a great tool to use over here, as well.

Sorry, I can't recommend a specific model.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:23 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have long come to hate standalone GPSes because the maps fall out of date very rapidly and you either have to pay a fair whack up front for one of Garmin's "LT" models that get you free updates or you have to pay out the nose every year or two or three when you finally get frustrated that everything is out of date. There are a plethora of offline mapping apps for Android, Windows, and iOS devices. Garmin and TomTom both have them, but suffer from the same slow update cycles and expensive map updates that the standalone units foist upon you. Nokia-branded Windows Phones and Nokia's Asha feature phones are bundled with Nokia Maps, which also works offline. Point being, data coverage is irrelevant to the choice between a standalone unit and a cell phone.

That hatred of Google Maps and being too cheap to pay for yearly updates has pushed me to primarily rely on Google Maps. Yes, data coverage is spotty in a lot of places. That's why I also have OsmAnd on my phone. OsmAnd uses data from OpenStreetMap and can be used offline once the data is downloaded to your device (it has navigation, but it isn't great for long distances). I also strategically pre-download areas I know will have bad coverage in Google Maps. Doesn't help for navigation, but you'll at least have a map and a marker on it with your current location, which is all you really need. The difficulty in reading a map and figuring out how to get somewhere if you get turned around isn't so much a problem of actually reading the map, but of knowing where you are.

Garmin has a new Android app that costs $0.99, which has offline maps as an in app purchase for $9.99, which you could use with a Moto G, which at $179 is cheaper than a lot of standalone GPS units. Sadly, they charge another $9.99 for text-to-speech, which lets it speak street names. And another $9.99 if you want traffic (that requires data, though, so maybe you wouldn't want that anyway). The Garmin pricing is 50% off for the next few days, after that the in app purchases will be $19.99 each.

Point being, smartphone does not have to mean "more expensive," "data plan required," or even "cell service required". Speaking of which, you might consider a tablet like the Nexus 7 and the Android offline navigation app of your choice. A 7" screen is nice for navigation, but finding a mounting location can be a pain in a lot of cars.

All that said, if choosing your own routing is important to you, the only really good option is Nokia/HERE at the moment. You can create routes on the website, save them and then pull them up on your phone with all the customizations/waypoints/etc intact. Can't do that with Google, can't do that with Bing, can't do that with Garmin, can't do that with TomTom.

By the way, more important than any satnav is making sure you always have a reasonable reserve of fuel, a blanket, a few bottles of water, and a couple of power bars or similar to eat in an emergency. I would also strongly recommend a AAA membership unless you're renting the car and the car rental company is one that will come get you and the car if it breaks down. A "Plus" membership gets you towed several times a year up to 100 miles a tow, far better than the typical cellphone or credit card roadside assistance. Even with a satnav (and even an excellent sense of direction), you will at some point make a wrong turn and drive 60 or 80 or 100 miles out of your way. That is just a thing that happens on long road trips. Signage sometimes sucks, maps are sometimes outdated (Garmin's latest map doesn't even have all the Interstates numbered as currently signed; unlike Google and Nokia, they don't do rolling updates), there are detours, traffic jams, sometimes a truck catches fire a few miles ahead of you and the road gets closed for three or four hours and it's the middle of the desert so your options are to die of heat stroke or waste gas idling much of the time, sometimes the GPS tries to route you down a cow path and you have to backtrack. The list of things that can happen is pretty much endless, but if you have sufficient fuel, those kinds of problems can be easily corrected or waited out or whatever. And if you have emergency food and water, even running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere becomes more of an inconvenience than anything else.
posted by wierdo at 1:43 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised that the Moto E hasn't been mentioned here. It's an excellent phone, nicer in many ways than the flagships were just a few years ago. From Motorola so you know it has excellent build quality. And it's $129. It will also work in Europe, though the GSM bands are slightly different so you should buy the U.S. version if you think that's mainly where you'll be using it.

Echoing weirdo's suggestion, I recommend OsmAnd+, which is an $8 app that will let you download maps of the whole world, with free updates, for completely offline, turn-by-turn voice navigation. That's right, just download everything before you leave. We used it in car and on foot in Europe, and while the search and routing isn't quite as good as Google Maps, it's way better than my standalone Garmin. It also has high-end GPS features like lane guidance and pop-ups for speed limits.
posted by wnissen at 10:19 AM on June 21, 2014

Hatred of paying for map updates drove me to Google Maps and OsmAnd. Hatred of Google Maps did not drive me to Google Maps. (Google Now creeps me out, Google Maps does not) Serves me right for posting tired. ;)
posted by wierdo at 10:57 AM on June 21, 2014

I just want to come back to two things mentioned upthread.

First: You're an inexperienced driver, as you've said. I would therefore applaud your plan very to concentrate on a unit that has good audio, and think about ways to incorporate the unit into your driving that does not draw the eye away from the road (so keep it out of your line of sight). I'm also a longtime fan of Garmin, but I have only a handheld GPS rather than a satnav (I am a geodork and so distinguish between the two). That said (this is my second thing), I cannot recommend paper maps enough.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 2:33 AM on June 22, 2014

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