Buyer's Guide - How We Tested

5 Key Things To Look For in a GPS
I look at a lot of things when evaluating a new GPS, but here are 5 of the most critical things I look for in a GPS:

1. High Performance GPS Receiver: SiRF Star III

I'm always surprised how many people get lured into buying discontinued or outdated GPS units simply because they don't know better. If you're buying a new GPS, you want to get the absolute most/best for your money. That means making sure you buy a GPS that's using the most current technology.

Just one year ago if you bought a GPS device, you'd need unobstructed line-of-sight to get a good signal. All that changed when GPS makers began using SiRF's new high performance chipset, the SiRF Star III. SiRF's GPS signal performance is nothing short of amazing. The SiRF chipset ensured solid GPS reception even in dense urban environments, like New York City.

SiRF's chipset is the single most important development in GPS navigation in years, so make absolutely sure that the GPS you buy has a SiRF Star III chipset in it.

2. Accurate Maps: NAVTEQ

Retailers will tell you that both Tele Atlas and NAVTEQ are excellent mapping providers, and that

both have their unique drawbacks and strengths. Not so in my experience: NAVTEQ maps are superior in the US. When purchasing a GPS in North America, look for NAVTEQ.

3. Solid Windshield Mount

One of the most frequently overlooked aspects of in-car GPS is the mounting hardware. It turns out that there are more poor quality mounts than good ones. Not surprisingly, Garmin seems to do it best, producing mounts that are easy to use and hold the GPS solidly in place while driving without vibration. Magellan comes in second place, and TomTom third place. When looking at a new GPS, be sure to take a good look at the mounting hardware; nothing is more irritating than having your spanking-new GPS fall off the windshield and hit the dashboard.

4. Ease of Use

A GPS can have all the features in the world, but if it's too difficult to use, what good is it? One of the trickiest aspects of GPS is making complicated technology easy to use. When looking at a GPS, be sure to spend a few minutes checking out the interface. Will the unit be easy enough to use while driving? Is the menu system intuitive? Will I have to read the manual to figure out how to use it? Could I lend this GPS to my mother and have her be able to use it?

5. Good Routing Engine

When you enter a starting address and a destination address, the GPS unit will calculate the best route for you to take. This is complex math, and some units do a better job than others. This is due partly to the level of mapping detail installed on the unit, and also how good a job the programmers have done on the routing engine. This can make or break a GPS unit, so it's always something I look closely at: the fanciest GPS in the world is of little use if it keeps taking you out of your way.

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