GPS: Never get lost again

GPS units now feature traffic reports, restaurant reviews and MP3 players. Which one is right for you?

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From the Dec/Jan 2010 issue of the magazine.

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My wife is begging me to buy a GPS device this Christmas. We actually have one already, but after one too many wrong turns on family excursions, it’s time to retire the bargain-basement unit I picked up three years ago. With so many choices out there, we decided to narrow our search to three GPS units at different price points from some of the biggest names in navigation.

TomTom One 130 ($129)
At the low end of the price scale, the screens tend to be smaller, and so are the list of features, but the TomTom One 130 packs a lot of punch for its size. The touch screen may measure only 3.5 inches diagonally, but it contains all the information a casual navigator needs, such as your estimated time of arrival, remaining kilometers to your destination, the current time, and speed of your vehicle. It also features “text-to-speech” directions, which means the GPS can read aloud the names of all the roads you’ll travel on, a feature normally found only on the higher-end units.

The best feature of the TomTom One 130 is its ease of use. I also liked the twist-on suction cup that attaches the bracket to the window (but the snap-on clip that locks the GPS onto the bracket was awkward to connect). My only real beef was the default American voice that rhymes off the distances in miles and feet, even after switching to metric measurements. Only by switching to an English-accented guide could I get the voice directions to match the onscreen metric information.

Magellan 4350 Maestro ($229)
For another $100, the Magellan Maestro offers a larger 4.3-inch screen and a number of extra features, such as Bluetooth connectivity for your cellphone and built-in AAA Tourbook data. The latter searches out local points of interest for dining, culture and attractions, and provides mini-reviews, pricing information and hours of operation. The hands-free calling, though, wasn’t so handy. When I called my wife through the GPS device, I ended up shouting to be heard, and she sounded like she was speaking through an ancient drive-through-restaurant speaker box.

The Maestro offers live traffic reports through a receiver integrated with the 12V power adapter, but there’s a subscription fee. And despite the larger screen, less routing information can be simultaneously displayed on this GPS than on the cheaper TomTom.

Garmin 775T nüvi ($449.99)
The Garmin 775T Nüvi is almost twice the price of the Maestro, but I found it to be worth the extra cost. It also offers a 4.3-inch screen, along with other premium features for its premium price. This time around, the live traffic reporting is not only built in, but free. That could make the Garmin cheaper than the Maestro over the long run if you plan to use that feature. And it works very well: not only can it detect slowdowns along your programmed route, you can also take a glance at any traffic problems along the major routes in your area.

This Garmin Nüvi model features 3D building views in some urban centres to better orient travellers. There are also a host of other entertainment and travel tools, including a built-in MP3 player, audiobook player (subscription required), world travel clock, currency converter, unit converter, calculator and more.

THE VERDICT
If simple navigation for the occasional road trip is all you require, an entry-level GPS like the TomTom One 130 is more than enough technology for most users. But for folks who frequently drive into uncharted territory and conduct business on the go, it’s worth paying more for the Garmin 775T Nüvi.

Pic by Marcin Wichary.

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