GPS Auto Purchasing Assistance
May 13, 2006 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I would like to purchase a GPS receiver for my car. I primarily need it for work covering Chicago and suburbs. I would like one that can speak and talk me to my destination. There are just too many models to choose from! I do not want to purchase the cheapest model and regret the decision later. Neither do I need one to cover all of North America and Canada. I am just seeking a good reliable system that has a good reputation for always picking up the signal. Any assistance would be appreciated.
posted by Mckoan1 to Technology (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A couple of things to think about:

1. You might want to wait a month or more before buying a new unit. Garmin is coming out with the 860T, which provides real-time traffic updates via a satellite radio channel (I think). Basically, it will read the traffic information, and will help route you around the problems. Kinda spiffy.

I know that Garmin and Tom Tom both offer this service as well, but Tom Tom requires that you have your own EDGE/GSM device to receive the signal, and some of Garmin's units require professional installation of the traffic receiver.

Another reason to wait is that some of the older model units might drop in price after this is released.

2. Decide if you want an in-dash unit or a portable unit. The wife and I were looking at getting an in-dash unit in her new car, specifically the Eclipse 5435, but it's $1699, plus $220 installation. I like the idea of having an integrated system, but not one that is 2-3 times what I could get a portable unit for. Plus, the problem with relying on a DVD-based system is that if the disc is damaged, you have to pay for a new one. And the DVD-based systems would probably update their maps less frequently than one that has a hard drive to download new maps.

The other thing about a portable unit is that it's not locked into one car. If we decide to take a road trip in my car, since it has more room, then we can just plug the GPS system in and go. Or if we rent a car while on vacation, we can use the portal GPS system and not have to get one from the car rental agency. Particularly handy in a new city.

Unfortunately, I don't have advice on a specific model, as I haven't yet started the research myself. I was planning to start reading reviews through C-Net and a couple of other sites for overall reliability, then to go a local retailer and playing with the unit to check the user interface. The UI is going to be really important to my wife, so her requirements may be really different from yours.
posted by Jim T at 12:14 PM on May 13, 2006

Crap. That should be "Magellan is coming out with the 860T...."
posted by Jim T at 12:15 PM on May 13, 2006

We've bought Garmin twice now. We bought the Street Pilot three like 4 years ago, and it went kaput, due to it being left in the trunk of the car in the hot sun one too many times. It gets up to 110 here, so, it was dumb on our part. We made the mistake of thinking it was like, a radio. But it's a computer. you don't leave a computer in the trunk of your car in the sun all day, nor in the freezing cold. We learned our lesson and went with another Garmin: The 2730. The main reason being, we wanted traffic info. In LA, the freeways are often not navigable, and you have no way of knowing until you're in the thick of it. Knowing where there are accidents or slowdowns helps you get places faster and smarter. But, if you don;t want that you can get everything in the 2730 in the 2720.

We bought ours on Amazon, they had the best price. Here is the 2720 and the 2730 . They are both almost half off of retail.

These are easy to use, have voice navigation and are portable - you can move it from car to car. The screen is a nice size and very clear and readable. They sit on your dash.
posted by generic230 at 12:21 PM on May 13, 2006

In 2 years I went through—a Garmin Streetpilot(GS), a Magellan 500, 700, and currently a Garmin Nuvi. All came with voicing function and all except the GS came pre-loaded N American/Canada map.

I love the Nuvi. Reception is very much improved and better than all others I've tried (still will lose reception in densely tall structured areas), hasn't yet seen it malfunction during the 6 months, and is extremely light and small. Portability is useful in keeping it safe from thieves (thefts are common on these units now), I just stow it in my pocket.

Has many other features too, plays MP3 (speaker not practical), 4-6 hour of battery power to navigate with while on foot, much improved keyword search function for point of interests, etc.

Costco just sold out of it ($800 with $150 cash bonus=$650+tax+ship), perhaps will restock again. They have the best warranty on items they carry. When my Magellan 700 malfunctioned after few months, instead of exchanging for remanufactured one from Magellan under Magellan warranty, I was able to return it to Costco and receive a new one.
posted by MD06 at 12:27 PM on May 13, 2006

General advice on handheld GPS: WAAS support & differential error correction, particularly if you're navving on foot and want highest precision. WAAS is damn near universal these days, and unless it's cost prohibitive, go w/ differential correction.

Really excellent intro to how GPS really works here, for the geekily inclined.*

* Note that the bit on selective availability (here) is outdated. SA was turned off back in 2000. More good stuff on GPS here.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 1:37 PM on May 13, 2006

While I've owned and been happy with a Garmin GPS III+ and V, I must disrecommend the Nuvi.

1) When there are several roads close together, it will frequently decide I'm on the wrong one.
2) Verbal directions are often not given until the absolute last moment, making them somewhat useless--you need to keep an eye on the map to prepare for tricky maneuvers.
3) It occasionally freezes.
4) POI Search is sometimes very slow, especially to bring up a second page of results.
5) The built-in speaker is extremely poor, not being able to come up to a good volume without being overdriven. I understand that this is a necessary compromise for the Nuvi's size, but it still yields a stunningly poor internal speaker.
6) The map zooms to where it wants to, not necessarily where you want it to.g
7) Garmin has decided to take an aggressive price-fixing stance. There are sometimes ways around it (e.g. Costco), but I do not approve of Garmin's approach.

I have a 2003 BMW with the factory nav system, and while it is braindead in its own special ways, it is functionally far superior to the Nuvi for navigation. I was honestly shocked by this. The much larger screen also helps more than you expect. If you have the budget for it, I think you should give large-screen built-in systems a serious look.
posted by trevyn at 7:10 PM on May 13, 2006

Realtime traffic information, wether XM or Sirius, all comes from the same source. Namely, NAVTEQ. The quality of this info varies greatly from city to city. The traffic info in Detroit is practically useless, but I've heard that LA and Houston are covered pretty well. Don't know about Chicago. However, even in the best cases, I've never heard anyone rave about how usefull the traffic feature is. I wouldn't factor it into my decision.
I've used a TomTom unit recently, and was very impressed by the user interface.
posted by kc8nod at 7:19 PM on May 13, 2006

I just bought the Garmin Nuvi. It's AMAZING. Seriously, I couldn't be happier with it.

More great reviews/comments at 37signals.
posted by aberrant at 8:08 AM on May 14, 2006

I've been using a TomTom unit, and it's fantastic. I recently had to travel interstate, and I carried it in my bag. It navigated me around an unfamiliar city without a problem.

It also has a good set of features, the user interface is very easy to come to grips with (my father, not always known for his technological prowess came worked it out straight awa).

Once it gets a signal it holds onto it pretty well. I've only ever lost signal inside buildings / tunnels. All in all a solid unit.
posted by tomble at 5:13 PM on May 14, 2006

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