Time to Buy a Portable GPS System

By now, you have probably driven with someone who owns a portable GPS unit and odds are they own a model from Garmin (GRMN), Magellan, or Tom Tom (TOM2.AS). The prices of these GPS units have gotten so affordable that average families can now purchase one without breaking the bank. I even broke down recently and bought a Garmin Nuvi 200. While you can get a brand new one for $203 on Amazon, I opted with a refurbished version for $155 on Ebay. These units have gotten so affordable that it doesn’t make sense to not have one. You can get a basic system without all the bells and whistles for less than $225. Forget the bluetooth options, mp3 playing capability, and maps of Mexico/Canada/other parts of the world. GPS functionality should be your primary concern when shopping around for a GPS system.

What Should You Be Looking For In a GPS System?

On top of basic GPS functionality, the only two options I considered were a widescreen 4.3″ GPS unit and text-to-speech functionality.

  1. Widescreen GPS Units
    You can see a good comparison of the Garmin Nuvi systems on the GPSTracklog site. The Nuvi 200W is the most budget affordable 4.3″ widescreen GPS system by Garmin. The next most affordable 4.3″ model is the 250W which is the same as the 200W but includes maps of Canada (which most of us will never utilize). While driving, you don’t want things to be cluttered in a smaller screen. Giving a little more room to navigate will be worthwhile so you don’t focus all your attention on pushing different options on your Nuvi instead of watching the road.
  2. Text-to-Speech Capability
    This function enables the GPS system to pronounce the names of the streets as you’re driving. It will say “right on Cassanova St.” or “left on 44th St.” whereas the non text-to-speech systems will just say “left in .5 miles” or “right in .3 miles.” While the text-to-speech functionality is the next most important function in a GPS system after the widescreen option, it should not be a requirement when buying a unit. It would come in handy as you can concentrate more on driving, but you have to discern whether the price difference is worth adding this function. The Nuvi 260 and Nuvi 260W are both the next Nuvi systems that offer text-to-speech capabilities while the latter being the one that also has a 4.3″ screen. Based on the Amazon price, you’re paying an extra $70 for the additional feature of text-to-speech.

What Are the Primary Benefits of a portable GPS System?

  1. Save Gas!!!
    Okay so what it really does is give you accurate directions so that you don’t spend time backtracking and getting lost which requires more miles to drive. Extra miles being driven equates to more gas used, and more gas used equates to wasting your money.
  2. Convenience
    Sure you can just type in the address through Google Maps beforehand and print out the directions before departing on your journey. Although if you don’t take the exact route you printed out, you may not be able to easily navigate to your destination. With a portable GPS unit, it will recalculate your route based on your final destination and give updated step by step directions.
  3. Can’t Be Truly Substituted With Cell Phone GPS
    Everyday, GPS on cell phones are becoming more common but at least for now, they don’t suffice as a substitute for these portable GPS systems due to the size of the cell phone screen. It is much too difficult to navigate on your cell phone screen while attempting to drive.

Even though I have yet to try out my Garmin Nuvi 200W, my friends have said very positive things about their Magellan or Garmin units. In general, it’s hard to go wrong with either one of the big three GPS companies. I don’t see them getting a whole lot cheaper (the Garmin Nuvi 350 has dropped from a retail price of $970 in February of 2006 to a current price of $235), and people will get many benefits of owning one.

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