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Aren't all GPS devices essentially the same? Why the price differences?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / November 30, 2007 1:13 AM PST

I went out shopping the day after Thanksgiving and saw that many stores had advertised portable GPS devices on sale for cheap (I really had no idea they were so inexpensive). Since they were so cheap, I thought about buying one for myself and my sister, who has no sense of direction. The couple that I saw advertised were by Magellan and TomTom (strange name if you ask me) and they cost a little over $100. Well, when I went to check them out they were all sold out, of course, so I looked at other models, and to my surprise most of the other models cost over $250 dollars and some up to $400. So what is the difference between the less expensive one and more expensive ones? Don't GPS essentially do the same? I would really like to buy a couple of these as a present to myself and my sister for Christmas, but I really want to get the whole picture before buying one. Would I be in a world of regret if I went with a cheaper model? Do name brands make a difference? I've heard of Magellan and Garmin, but TomTom sounds more like a toy. Some pointers would help me greatly! Happy holidays to you!

Submitted by: Mary Jane H.

Answer voted most helpful by the CNET Community newsletter readers

GPS device differences

Mary, here are the differences that I've found in GPS devices:

? Text-to-speech: the ability of the device to announce street names. Surprisingly, many GPS devices still only have the ability to announce turns, e.g.: ?turn right?, ?bear left?, but not to speak the street name on which you?ll be turning. Some people view all voice announcements as just a marketing gimmick, but I find it very useful, especially since my state doesn?t permit windshield mounts. CA & MN expressly forbid them, my state and many others have more generic laws, e.g.: my state only permits a rear-view mirror, EZ-Pass toll-collection device, and state inspection sticker to be placed on the windshield. Even those small oil-change stickers are technically illegal, and the much larger GPS suction cup mount is likely to get you a second ticket if you?re stopped for anything else. Some devices go one step further in text-to-speech and offer additional cost voices, sometimes including celebrities.

? 3D view: I thought this was a marketing gimmick until I bought a GPS that had it. Having that ?birds-eye? view really does make it easier to follow the route. Some devices go one step further and show rough models of actual buildings/landmarks in 3D mode.

? Upgradeable maps/POI lists from the manufacturer: many lower-cost devices have a built-in map that can?t be upgraded. If you live in an area where new sub-divisions are going in or where new ramps are being added to freeways, this could be a problem. And Points-of-Interest (POI) are always changing. This feature could also be important if you think you might like to take your GPS device on vacation to a foreign country. Does the manufacturer or mapping provider offer add-on maps for additional regions? If you can?t update the maps in your device, are you willing to buy a new device in a few years?

? Ability to modify maps and add POI on your own: Maybe you want to really organize your common travels (saving gas & cutting back on CO2 emissions) and so adding the schools your children go to, the supermarket, your dry cleaners, etc. to the POI would make mapping an optimized route a lot easier. Or maybe that street a few blocks away just changed to one-way and you don?t want the device to continue to try to route you through it the wrong way. Having the ability to update the map data on your own can be helpful & can put off the time when you need to purchase a new device or go back to the manufacturer to buy a map update.

? Headphone jack/FM output: the built-in speaker on most GPS devices is very small, and often leads to distortion of the voices. Does the device you?re considering have a headphone jack (that you could feed into your car radio) or direct output to the radio via FM output?

? Night mode: Does the device have a lower light output mode for evening driving? You don?t want your view of the road or dashboard to be impaired by a light bright enough to read a newspaper.

? Pedestrian mode: If you plan to use your GPS device outside of the car (e.g., walking on foot) does the device support that type of routing (e.g., people can walk either way on one-way streets and cut through parks, vehicles can?t).

? Scale: Paper maps always include a scale showing inches to miles (or cm to km), but many GPS devices only show a ?zoom level.? I?m shopping for a new home, so knowing how close the house I?m looking at is to major highways, the supermarket, etc. is important. So having a little bar on the screen showing a fixed distance is very helpful. Otherwise, you have to guess if the width of the map being displayed on screen is 300 feet, or 5 miles. Keep in mind that this feature is only available on the 2D visualization mode (for those devices that have it at all).

? Bluetooth integration: This feature allows the GPS device to be used as a speakerphone for your cell phone. I don?t see the point of a speakerphone in a noisy driving environment, but some might. Some devices also can use your cell phone to connect to various online services, e.g.: the ability to reroute when accidents have been reported on your route, gas prices for stations along your route, even automatically updating POI lists, etc.

? Ability to store destinations/routes: You don?t want to constantly re-enter your home or work address as the ?start? or ?end.? If you?re visiting Uncle John for a few days, you don?t want to enter his address every time you?ve driven somewhere and realize that you?re not sure what the quickest way back is.

? Voice recognition: Some devices will allow you to add a ?voice tag? for those custom destinations you?ve saved, e.g. ?go home.? Some go one step further and allow you to enter arbitrary destinations and routing changes with voice commands, e.g., ?avoid Route 95?, ?go to 12 Market Street, Reston, Virginia?, etc.

Submitted by CNET member Brad Hansen

If you have additional advice or recommendations for Mary, please click on the reply link and post away. Please be detail in your answers. Thank you!
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Best GPS for the buck?
by scupper / November 30, 2007 10:57 AM PST

I recently purchased for my nagivationally challenged daughter a Magellan Maestro 3200. It has a slightly larger viewing screen than the Garmin models I've compared.
I honestly don't know why some models would be more expensive than others. Must be options. Some come with MP3 capacity. There are some other things to consider such as downloading maps, etc. The Magellan and some others (I spent about $250.) come with preloaded and it was very easy to setup.
As far as I'm concerned as long as it gets you from point A to point B that's all that matters. Compare the prices with the list of features. I would guess, bet on spending a minimum of $200 for a good quality GPS.

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Magellan DON'T BUY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
by mstover1 / December 8, 2007 1:04 AM PST
In reply to: Best GPS for the buck?

They have no support and no map updating along with no one who speaks English. Also forget Ubid they also do not stand behind what they auction !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I learned the hard way.

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by tjcher / December 14, 2007 10:52 PM PST

Kind of a coincidence but, I just experienced this exact thing yesterday. I purchased a 2200T and it stopped working in a very short time. The hassle of finding out where to send it for repair along with speaking to people that had such heavy accents that it was almost impossible for me to communicate, etc.,etc. After over one month any attempt to follow-up on the repair status was just another fiasco similar to the first contact. Finally, after spending a total time of at least one hour on the phone, with many options, sub-options and sub-sub options, I was told that they would send me an upgrade GPS (brand new) to replace the one I submitted for repair. I never really understood the reason for this or what happened to my 2200T that I sent in for repair? Though I did end up with a superior model GPS, it doesn't take away from the overall hassle and lousy service. I realize that it isn't the individual rep's fault but, when you can't communicate due to a language barrier (extreme accents,etc.) it makes the whole process much, much more frustrating!

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You get what you pay for, to an extent....
by twyrick / November 30, 2007 10:58 AM PST

I've owned several in-car portable GPS units over the years, and just purchased a new one over the Thanksgiving holiday myself. Right now, there are quite a few new "players" trying to enter the GPS market with lower prices than the name-brand units traditionally cost.

For example, the unit I just purchased is made by a company called Navigon. Apparently, they've been around for a while in Europe, but they're pretty new to the USA.

The most respected brands that have been out the longest also tend to have the highest price tags. That would include Magellan and Garmin.

TomTom really started pushing their navigation units in the USA about a year ago, and they've made several revisions to their "core" product offering since then. Of all the "newer" brands on the market, they're the ones who seem to be doing the most aggressive advertising right now.

There are currently so many different units out there, it would be impossible to review and compare them all unless I was doing it as a full-time job. I can, however, give you some general advice:

1. No matter who makes the GPS, the road map information itself tends to come from only one of a few sources. The one consistently rated as most accurate and reliable is the mapping data put out by Navteq. (This is one downside to the TomTom units. They don't use Navteq maps.)

2. As a rule, the more expensive GPS units have faster processors in them. Most of the $250 and under units I've used have noticeable "lag" between the time you press something on the touch-screen and its response to your selection. They're also likely to speak in a less clear or more robotic-sounding voice.

3. The latest trend in some units is offering real-time traffic and accident information. In theory, this sounds really useful - but beware. In my city, I've found it to be only marginally useful. It tends to alert you to "heavy traffic" on highways and harasses you to "plot a new route" or "ignore this message" when it's just the normal heavier traffic you always experience at that time of day. Sometimes an accident happens up ahead and the system isn't even aware of it until 10 minutes AFTER you're stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic from it. I know Navigon's higher-end model GPS's are including lifetime traffic warning functionality for free.... but I'd be cautious about paying much in monthly or yearly fees for this.

4. You'll usually pay more for a larger screen. This can be VERY worthwhile. The smaller screens usually look crisp and bright in the store, but once you affix the unit to your windshield or dash, it's probably sitting a lot further from you than it was in the store! Small screens also make it harder to enter letters and numbers on the virtual keyboards they draw.

5. Some GPS units offer MP3 music player capabilities. If you're thinking about making use of this feature, remember that you ALSO need to be sure the GPS has a way to tie directly in to your car's stereo speakers. Some units do this with an FM transmitter, but this will never sound that good. Others, like the Lowrance iWay 500c, include a 1/8" audio output jack so you can plug them straight into an AUX Input jack, if your car stereo has one. This will sound MUCH better.

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Great tips!
by KTate70 / November 30, 2007 11:25 AM PST

Thanks twyrick for the advice. I'm starting to like the idea of getting one of these things as well.

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by madsville / December 9, 2007 7:20 PM PST

For my job I needed one QUIK and after reading some reviews I got a Mio digiwalker. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. Have taken it with me on many trips. My reality........ aren't we all bouncing off the same satellite??? So...... are you paying for real estate rather than what the unit does????

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by drlair / November 30, 2007 11:04 AM PST

The primary differences in the lower cost units and the higher cost ones are, of course, date of manufacture and features. The low end units will work very well as a GPS. Be sure to get one that provides audible directions and that you can download routes to from your computer. Some units also provide for XM Radio which with Nav traffic will provide weather reports and maps of where the weather warnings are. Some also have a blue tooth interface for a cell phone. This works extremely well on the Zumo 550. It gives you a hands free phone for driving that boots up when the GPS is turned on and the cell phone is within 30 feet. Most of the newer and higher dollar units also have an MP3 player built in. Garmin is highly thought of as a brand name and has great customer service as well as good reliability. Tom Tom has been around a few years but hasn't really caught on. It does have some nice features and is a good unit for use in a car. The Tom Tom One is the older version. The new one is TomTom Three. Magellan puts out several models and is a well established company. Garmin is the leader but either of the other companies also make a good product. Lowrance probably has the best GPS system out there but is experiencing some major problems with reliability and customer service.

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GPS - It's Prime Time!

The bottom line is that there are a few key features, and most are related to the age of the technology.

All of them do the same, basic, core function... They listen to a set of satellites, and based on the pattern of "beeps" heard, will tell you where you are, and using maps in memory, will route you to where you want to go. It's not a new technology, and the basic hardware is not very expensive to make.

The earliest GPS units would only hold part of the country in memory at any time (you load what you need), and would display the routes and turns as they come up.

The next round had verbal commands, and were limited to "Turn right in 100 feet" and generic things like that. The sizes started to get more reasonable, and the displays better. I'm not sure, but you might be able to find a few of these units still on the market.

A few years ago, things started to get pretty good, in that the GPS units started to come with the entire country loaded into memory right out of the box. The sizes got really small, and the displays were larger and had touch screen capabilities (made entering addresses simple). I believe that here might be your "sweet spot" for a GPS unit... They're VERY functional, and because they don't have the latest and greatest features, they're pretty affordable.

The newest features (which add the bucks) are nice, but you have to decide if they're important:

-Upgradeability... For when newer versions of the sotware become available. Updated maps are usually availiable, but the core software might not be.

-TTS, or "Text-to-Speech"... The GPS will vocalize street names, so intead of "Turn right in 100 feet" it will say, "Turn right in 100 feet onto Maple Street" -- That makes it easier to keep an eye on the road. My old GPS unit would say the highway numbers only. My new one pronounces the street names, and I wouldn't want to go back!

-Large screen size... Some are getting pretty large. It makes reading the streets much easier, but really sends the price into orbit.

-Traffic awareness... It will connect to a traffic service, and give you warnings about where the jams are, and how to avoid them. This usually requires a subscription (more money to spend).

There are also systems that will work with your blackberry (as long as it has a built-in GPS), and PDA's with built-in - or external GPS antennas (I use a PDA with a built-in GPS unit). Those aren't as user friendly, so they probably won't be your best choice.

One thing about names... Many of the GPS companies are from Europe; Their names might not sound as "American" as others. Tom-Tom is a good example of a well-established European name more recently introduced to the US.

I wouldn't expect to easily find a unit priced at "Black Friday" lowr-than-cost pricing again, but if you start to carefully check prices and features, you will quickly get a sense of what's a good value and what's overpriced.

There are a lot of decent GPS web sites out there, but one in particular I've been following is They have comprehensive reviews and a very helpful forum section. Those folks know their GPS!

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Whats the differencences with Gps?

I actually work at Radio Shack and we carry all the brands you mentioned. And the only real differences Are in the cheaper devices you will find shorter battery life and less points of interest. Also with the cheaper brands you will not have the option to interface with blue-tooth devices. Also with the cheaper devices touch screen options are not included. Also more sophisticated options like specific street name announcement are not included. Please note I am not knocking the cheaper devices they are more than sufficient in helping you find directions. It is basically you will pay more for all the extra "bells and whistles." I hope this helps you and you understand what I have offered.

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There ARE some noticeable differences in GPS devices...

I have a Mio c310x. Not the best, but most of the time, it does get me to where I want to go. Can be picked up for $140 to $300. MSRP is $400 to $500, so I was surprised to see some places sell it for $150 over that.

The thing is, before I got my Mio c310x, the only GPS manufacturers I've heard of were TomTom, Magellon, and Garmin. It turns out Mio was relatively new to the GPS scene, but it's reported that they've established themselves. Note that while c310x is not the most low end model, it is kinda down there which may explain why it's not the best. The fact that it's considerably cheaper than the $400 to $1000 GPS devices says it as well.

If I were to get another GPS device, I would NOT get the c310x. I would look for a better feature set, but keeping 'em to a limit to keep the device from getting too expesnive. Here are some key features u should pay attn to (definately NOT limited to this list)
>>text to voice
says street names out loud (e.g. "in 50 yards, turn left at west Johnna st", instead of just "in 50 yards, turn left").... tho there are some negative reviews about certain cases of this feature where the voice doesn't pronunciate street names correctly that it was essentially worthless. You had to look at the device anyways to find out what streeet was being referred to

>>routing options
I know someone who's disguisted with his Garmin device and wants to switch to Mio b/c while the Garmin was acurate and worked, it offered no options like to find a different route instead of the originally proposed 5 mile stretch of road. Others are flexible enough to allow you to plot specific parameters like avoid highways, dirt roads, toll roads, etc.

>>mapping technology
There's TeleAtlas which is what Mio uses and there's NavTeq which is what some of the other manufacturers use. From what I read all around, TeleAtlas was trailing, but they seem to be caught up now that they finally released map updates. Map updates are optionally, one time fee thing whenever updates become available, depending on model and device it's for

>>number of POIs (Points Of Interest)
These include everything from where your local eateries are (Burger King, AppleBees), to hotels, to transportation hubs (airports, metros, bus stops), to landmarks (e.g. Lincoln Memorial, World's largest <blank> in some western/mountain state). The Mio c310x has 3.5 million of them. Some of the more high tech GPS devices have 6.5mil POIs or perhaps even 10 million POIs. Granted, all the POIs aren't worth **** if the thing can't get u from point A to point B in a reasonable manner (which IS the whole point of a GPS device), but I would start with about 6mil POIs just b/c it's nice to know they're there. Some ppl don't touch 'em, but they may come in handy for others. If you're the type of person who wonders what's in a given area, familiar or unknown, then make this a larger number for your search criteria.

>>Side note, most if not all GPS devices should let u add your own POIs, (e.g. John's friend's house, school parking lot space, etc.) which is nice. Take note if a GPS device does NOT have this feature

touch screen seems natural, but some ppl could make due with soft buttons, scroll wheels, and other buttons. Others

>>battery life
Battery life can vary noticeably from model to model, and that's without all the external factors. However, most GPS devices used for vehicles oughtta come with a car charger, so if something is on the lower side of battery life, you should be fine charging it on the road as needed. FYI, GPS devices for vehicles may NOT come with an AC (home) charger, just the car one.

>>screen size + resolution
larger screens = more clarity, but also make for bigger, bulkier GPS devices.
More resolution = more detail, but also eats batteires faster, but the stated batt life oughtta take these into account. With my 320x240 screen at IIRC 4.5" to 5".... it's sufficient. I need to really zoom in sometimes to see the more minor street names, but since directiosn are being dictated by audio, it's not that big a deal for me.
If the screen is too small with too much resolution, things will appear too small. Surely manufacturers would've gotten preliminary feedback if such was the case.

>>physical size
If it's too big, you won't be too convenient for pedestrian use (if it's even intended for that use as well)

>>voices available
my GPS only comes with a American (aka American English) in male gender. More American voices, especially female ones would've been nice. Not a deal breaker, but still on my features list

>>lattitude + longitude coordinate system
Dunno what's the deal with his. Perhaps those in the military, or doing "atypical" and/or outdoor activities like hiking in some secluded mountain range may find this feature helpful. For naval navigation, it's useful, but AFAIK, naval GPS devices are a whole different market segment

>>premium services
relevant to GPS and your travels.... For example, IIRC, the Mio 610 has a subscription for just this service. It charts your route based on real time, current events. E.g. it routes you around DC since there's a riot going on in the NW sector that's bogging down traffic, or that since it's getting info since it's a minor holiday, a major highway is smooth sailing since most of the commuters are taking off work and not congesting traffic.

Other GPS devices may offer premium services like AAA support.

>>miscellanoues stuff features Not related to GPS travel....
it just tells u the weather, sports, stock quotes, and news.... maybe email.... something u could also do with cellphone, PDA, laptop + some internet access

>>multimedia capabilities
My GPS doesn't do video or pics. Just music, and even then it's terrible at that. Doesn't matter as I ahve an ipod for music and the GPS still navigates me well enough. These features are nice to have, but by no means be your primary criteria, since seperate/standalone devices will do multimedia MUCH better

>>ease of use
this one takes hands on work, and even then, it's subjective. Ppl can get used to many tyupes of consumer electronics with time. Windows vs Linux vs Mac, Nokia vs Motorola vs Samsung, etc. Since most ppl can work with many types of interfaces, best bet is to see if retailers have demo models for you to try

>>time to get signal
Similar deal with cellphones. While some may be superior here, other times, too many factors makes this a skewed figure

>>other maps it comes with or are available
most US GPS devices come with US maps preinstalled. Others u gotta install 'em yourself. Others may also include other maps like of Canada or perhaps Mexico, to install yourself if needed or not to save space. If going to Europe, GPS manuf may have maps of thsoe regions for sale to get the most of your unit

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Well it depends what features come with it. some have built in voice, some give you Directions, others just tell you where you are going and they give you your current location. If you watch TV you may have seen ADs dor TomTom GPS System i am fairly new to the GPS Game

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GPS choices--from a layperson's point of view

Mary Jane,
My quick answer from a novice and lay person's view point, is that GPS choices are a lot like cell phone choices. For a basic model that tells you where you are and helps you get to your destination, you can get a very satisfactory inexpensive unit, probably sticking with one of the big companies. (Magellan, Garmin, TomTom. Tom Tom is a Dutch company, and very well regarded, so do not be concerned about the unusual name.) Once you get past the basic functions there is a lot of variety.

Do you need or want an MP3 player built-in?
Do you want to pay extra for live traffic monitoring? I don't mind listening to the radio for my traffic information, but others may differ.
Do you want integrated Bluetooth capacity so that you can make phone calls from the GPS?

All the units will show you Points of Interest, such as schools, hospitals, airports, coffee shops, ATMs, supermarkets, restaurants. Some units have a million POIs; some have many millions. Some models incorporate AAA guidebook information and will facilitate getting roadside service for AAA members. Some models include restaurants highly rated in the Zagat guides.

Basically, all the portable GPS units plug into the car's lighter outlet, then use the Global Positioning Satellite receiver to indicate your location and guide you to your destination. You can usually choose the "bird's-eye view" of the road or the "direct-overhead" view.

Prices have come down a lot lately. Even if the loss leader big specials are sold out, if you look around, you will still find really good models for (not much)less than $200. I suggest reading a bit on line about the different features and companies. You'll see that people have had good and bad customer service with all the brands and you will see lots of opinions about the different screens and sounds and voices.

I highly recommend buying this item in person rather than sight unseen. How you relate to the screen is very important. Evaluate the different features that might entice you to want to spend more or be satisfied with the basics. The basic screen is about 3" diagonal, which is surprisingly adequate, easy to read, (I am middle aged, in the reading glasses age group and it works for me!) and can hold a lot of information. However, there are also many models with the 4.3" screen, which holds even more info. and you may have seen the built-in models that are even bigger, but remember that your smaller model will be closer to you, hence easier to see despite the smaller size. Check to see how you can adjust the screen brightness, for a sunny or a foggy day.

Other features to look for include an internal battery--this means you could take the unit out for a walk--and how long the unit will hold a charge. Some units have USB connections so that you can connect the unit to your computer and upload your own address book or favorite points of interest, or update/upgrade, sometimes for a fee. Make sure your chosen unit uses the latest Satellite, which is called SIRFIII, or Sirf3. Some units use memory chips, like those in digital cameras, to add maps of other areas, which could be useful if you were going on a driving trip in a different country, for example. Some basic units rely on print only. I find the spoken directions VERY helpful--this feature is usually called TTS--text to speech. Some units respond to YOUR voice; others just talk to you.

Some units run only on the power cord attached to the car; some can be charged indoors at home at an AC outlet. Some units have external volume controls; some have only a power button and other adjustments are made on screen. Another difference is announcing turns. Some systems tell you to "turn left in 300 feet." Others tell you to "turn left at Oak Street in 300 feet." Some tell you when to switch lanes. Some ping or chime when you are supposed to be at the turn. I am guessing you want an English speaking unit, but you will see that some units "speak" many languages and even the basic on sale models have at least Spanish and French in addition to English, in case you are looking for language versions. I am very happy with my sub-$200 Magellan brand purchase.

Some final advice: I would get a pouch to protect the device if it does not come with one, as the screens are sensitive, and you will want to remove it from plain view to avoid theft and potential theft related vandalism to your car. A stylus such as one uses on a PDA (like a Palm Pilot) makes it easier to tap in your destination, but is not absolutely necessary. The main issues should be, can you understand the interface, both written and spoken? I greatly enjoy my GPS unit and find it almost magical that it can tell me where I am and how to get somewhere else with uncanny precision. Good luck in your quest.

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Mary Jane, my wife & I purchased a TomTom One early this year. We traveled form Chicago to Portland, OR and back, and later to Vermont & back through Canada. We find navigating with the GPS to be joyfully easier than by any folded map--especially trying to find those off-ramp exits in rush hour traffic in a strange land.
I expect that most GPS units will guide about the same, though there are differences in the way you set up routes, the way the screen displays the information, and the type and quantity of information displayed (local gas stations, compass, miles and time to next direction change or exit point).
I'll say that the TomTom One learning curve is somewhat steep, due mainly to a minimalist instruction sheet. The TomTom One has features we have not yet explored, so , though it was meant to be an entry model, there seems to be little reason for us to upgrade.
Points to consider: a model with a larger screen would be useful for more clearly displaying the data;
A model with outboard (off touch-screen) controls for adjusting screen brightness and sound loudness would be very much preferred. In our situation the passenger can do these adjustments, which can require attentive selecting of three or four choices on the touch screen, but a lone driver would have to divert attention for, maybe, five seconds for each touch selection--bad at any time, hair raising in city expressway traffic;
The dashboard mounting device for the TomTom will not stick to out textured dashboard;
Sunlight falling on the LCD screen makes it all but unreadable--not a problem if you have a sun-sheltered spot in which to place the unit;
Determine the details for updating the street map set before you buy to be certain updates are free and timely.
We don't use the GPS for music playback, so memory size is not a factor. I can't say authoratively, but the more expensive models appear to have mp3 players on board and larger memories to accomodate them. Also, there are extra-cost services that give weather and live traffic alerts--spoken alerts require higher grade options on the TomTom.

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Only buy the features that you need

After a lot of research, I finally took the plunge and bought the Garmin Nuvi 200. First, I decided that I wanted my GPS device to be multi-functional; I needed to be able to take it on bike rides and walks, not just use it in my car. This particular model is small and light, but the screen is not too small to be seen easily while driving. I didn't care whether I could change the voice from male to female, which is an option on some devices. I needed the display to be appealing and easy to read. The unit fits in my pocket and can be removed easily from my car. If your GPS device is visible, you are inviting thieves to break into your car. So...decide which features are important to you. Are you only going to use the device in your car, or do you do a lot of traveling to locations where you will want to remove the device and use it for biking or walking? Which maps will you need - will you be traveling out of the country and taking the device with you? If so, check out the cost of adding information to your device. Do you want the voice prompt to use street names in its directions? Some models (like mine) don't use street names; rather they say "in 500 feet, turn left". That feature is found on more expensive devices. Do you want an MP3 player? Photo viewer? Bluetooth? Traffic updates? Read review on sites like, then go to a store and take a look at the devices that have the features you require. Check out prices on the internet, and find the best deal. Believe it or not, I found the best deal on my unit at Circuit City onine. Good luck.

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TomTom Toy

It may sound like a toy but it dose a great job right out of the box! Any thing you need to know to find your way around it has it.
Very user freindly and clear screen.
Saw it at a big name store chain for $439 and bought it at another chain ( one off about 4 chains ) that where selling it on sale at $149, and most where selling out of stock in 1 to 2 days. And just as good as the factory built in's that sell for about $2,000 and they will not fit in your pocket to walk around with or move to a second car or a new car?

John in Grimsby Ont. Canada

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Tom Tom as a Sat Nav System.

Hi, Mary Jane.
I am from the UK and can only advise on my experience of driving 200,000+ miles within the UK & the main 25 Western European Countries using various Sat-Nav systems including 'Garmin, Magellan & Tom Tom' products over the past 4 years. Plus one 2000+ mile trip in the USA riding a motor bike from Niagara Falls to Key West via a few forays into & along the Eastern Seaboard.
To date the most user friendly complete navigation Sat-Nav system for me has been the 'Tom Tom' system. I don't just have it on Tom Tom OEM In-Car display units but I also use the GR8 value $66.00 '5.2 Tom Tom' Bluetooth GPS OS System on compatible Nokia & Sony Ericsson Smart phones using Symbian OS such as the SE P800/P900/P910/P990 Or Nokias 6600/6630/6680/70/95 etc (Forget Route-66 as it is problematic)
So give 'Tom Tom' a try its not at all 'Toy Like' just a brill system that can use US Zip or Post Codes to their maximum effectiveness..

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No! All GPS's are not created equal.

Each and every GPS device is different in some way or another. I test and evaluate them for the government and I have seen hand held portables, units for boating, units for flying small aircraft, and full blown military receivers. They all have one weakness in common and that is software. Even the most powerful military receivers can be near useless when the software is poorly written. I have friends that bought in Dash Radios with GPS and they found that the Memory was too small to store all the maps so the CD had to stay in the CD slot to make the GPS functional. Some systems are not very user friendly, for instance if want to put your mother's house into the data base so it plot the way for you. The first thing I want to put in is my mother's name. Well after about ten minutes I gave up on that idea got out the book. I discovered it wanted her phone number first. Then when the phone number didn't match their data base it allowed the address, and then it allowed me to attach her name to the address. Things like business's and Hospitals easy just put in the phone number and your done, but everything else was pain. My favorite map software is Microsoft

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Dear Mary Jane,

I am quite suprised about the fact you've never heard of TomTom. In the UK the TomTom GPS system is well marketed and is the main GPS system, especially as you can also get TomTom Mobile so you can even use your mobile as a GPS. Maybe it's different in the US? Garmin were probably one of the first GPS manufacturers though, they started out making hand-held GPS systems and then moved into the in-car type.

As TomTom have got quite a bit of technology in them and are really easy to use and their price has come down quite a bit I'd probably go for a TomTom.

I don't have a SatNav but have lent my friends on two occassions to drive into London. What I found the best thing to do with SatNav is to have it on at a low volume in the background to give you general hints as your going along, and then to make your own decision from there on, as even if you take the wrong direction it will automatically re-direct you anyway. I found this out in London as SatNav took me straight through the center of London to get to the O2 arena which is on the east side (it took me 3 hours to get from the M4 to the arena, and wasted nearly half a tank of petrol stuck in traffic, coming out I checked a map, ignored SatNav and drove through Battersea up to Kew Gardens and out that way, it took me about 30 minutes to reach the M4 and the petrol needle barely moved). So sometimes you have to use general knowledge of the area instead of going with SatNavs directions.

Now lets go onto costs. There are a lot of different SatNavs out there, all with different functions on and this is where the prices change. For a basic one your probably looking at about

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One other very important thing...
by darrenforster99 / November 30, 2007 3:40 PM PST
In reply to: TomTom

One final important thing to remember

If you do get a SatNav - DON'T leave it on display in the car, or the charger, or the cradle, and make sure you wipe any tell tale signs off the windscreen (like sucker marks where the cradles been). Even if you've removed the SatNav people will still break into the car if they see the tell tale signs just in the hope you've left it in the glove box or under the seat. Also be careful if buying it from eBay as if its been stolen you wont be able to register for updates from TomTom.

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And an other proposal...
by balouke / December 8, 2007 3:13 AM PST

I do not know if in your country Mio SatNav's are available but I use for almost three years now a Mio A 701 with satisfaction: a cellphone, PDA, GPS, MP3/video player.. all-in-one. So since it is also my phone I will never forget it in my car and (important to me) I have to carry but one device with me...
I think that there are now similar devices from other firms.
I use the Mio GPS software (Mio Map, my prefence) but it can also be loaded with, for example,the Tom Tom soft if needed (OS is Windows Mobile).
You can also load GPS Dash or the Ozi-Explorer software to walk/navigate in open country, woods or mountains...

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GPS - Mary Jane H.

My experience of GPSs, based on my own Garmin n

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Buying A GPS

Mary Jane:

you have to make a decision:

1. If you want a hand-held GPS, look at the Garmins - they have a new "high sensitivity " model (Vista HCx)that is state of the art and only about $250. This will serve you well for years and be a real treat. Why hand-held? Do you travel? Locate shops, train stations, hotels, etc. on the move in distant cities and countries. If exploring some exotic country or the mountains near your home, how do you get to where you are going and then get home?

2. A vehicle mounted GPS does similar but is primarily restricted to highways and byways. That is, how do you get to where you are going and then get home? Great if your touring is done city to city and around town, and not straying far from the car.

My suggestion? Having used both, I recommend both. The vehicle-mounted GPS is as near a necessity now was headlights and windshield wipers. But if you are off-road or of foot, definitely get a hand-held. NOTE: Some units can do both, but I don't recommend that - dedicated units work best at their own functions.

FYI - I have a hand-held that I've used on trips to several foreign countries (and US tourist sites). I know where the trains stations are, the best stores (seen as t my taxi whizzes by), and I know when the taxi is taking me for the "scenic" ride. I feel FAR safer knowing where I am, and how to get to my hotel, with a device not much larger than a cell phone.

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GPS experance

OK I expect you are in the US from you question. Tom-Tom is a Europian made device that is very popular over here. There is little to choose between the different makes as they all work the same way.

So why did I choose Tom-Tom? First it was on offer, second they regularly outdate the software by internet connection so new roads speeding cammeras changes etc are almost in real time, you can get maps for most counties on plug in cards the same size as phone sim cards, and finally its user friendly. Nobody sensible person wants to have to start pressing buttons etc when driving and it has 'touch' screen. Also the screen is a good size, you can adjust brightness and sound level.

You have a choice of voices (male & female, not synthesized) even John Cleese's voice. It comes with all the attachments you may need including a soft case so as not to damage the screen.

I give it 10 out of 10.


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Ask someone who owns one!

Having bought a GPS attachments for my PDA/cell phone, I can tell you from bitter experience not to depend on the info and specs that the manufacturer provides. In my case, I bought a Pharos GPS receiver and adapter for a Samsung I700. On paper, it looked good. In practice, it was a major disappointment. Things to look at are: How good, how fast, and how reliable is the GPS signal reception? How accurate is it? How easy is it to download maps into the device, or does it come pre-loaded with maps that can't be changed (BAD!)? Can you add in info about points of interest? Can you link to address info on your computer/PDA/cell phone? How good and how reliable is the software? (For mine, the software crashed far too often.) Are the directions it provides understandable, given in a timely way (i.e., not five seconds after you should have turned) and do they make sense? Will it accept voice commands? How bright and easily viewed is the screen? Will you need to view the screen if you're using it while driving, or will the voice directions suffice? How fast will it adapt to a missed turn? Ideally, you'd want to get answers to these questions for each of the devices you're thinking of buying, and for the area you're planning to use it in.
IMHO, it would make sense to give a GPS receiver a "test drive" just as you would a car you were thinking of buying. Unfortunately, this is rarely a possibility.

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GPS UNITS Price and difference

Dear Mary,
You can purchase some cheaper units, the two most competative are Garmin & Tom Tom.
Garmin have been around for along time but their main buyers are from the aircraft industry and it took them quite some time to come into the road maps and did have difficulty with (ease of use) for the transport industry.

Tom Tom However have a large easy to use touch screen with very much more easy to use features.

The main differce is with all brands are BLUETOOTH this lets you talk hans free with your unit without the fuss of head phones or cords.
Also be sure the unit is compatible with most mobile phones as with TOM TOM the sound comes from the unit is cyrstal clear and the unit has a large capacity for phone numbers and addreses that you have been to.You can also change always the voice of who is directing you to your destination, the female on TOM TOM is easy on the ears and using the large arrows on the touch screen has my vote. Garmin do have these features but costs more for the same features. Also dont forget you can easily download updates for TOM TOM including new red light & Fixed spees Cameras. I shopped around for quite some time and my father has a Garmin for his small fixed wing ultra light plane.

Paying a bit more will save you cost such as hans free for mobiles.
I would think the price to be between $550-850 or lower if you buy second hand.

Best wishes and I hope this helped you.

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Differences between portable GPS devices

I've been using a hardwired GPS for years (it came with my car) and on many occasions it has been a lifesaver. The portable ones are a good alternative if your sister doesn't want to have a larger one installed in her car and have the advantage of being movable to a new car if and when she changes vehicles.
Some of the points to consider between units are:
1) The size of the screen and the display options (some will only show a map layout, others offer split screen views including turn by turn directions).
2) The audio quality and options for sending the sound through the car's speaker system. This may sound strange but these devices are most useful, IMHO, for the turn by turn directions they give by voice. I spend less time looking at the screen then listening to the directions.
3) Mounting options, i.e., attach to the visor, windshield, airconditioner vent, etc. and where the antenna (if any) needs to be placed. (don't worry too much about this most external antennas are about the size of a quarter and mount with magnets so they are very, very easy to install)
4) How you enter the location you want to go to (by touch screen, remote, voice controlled etc.)
5) The option for traffic updates, several units have this option but they are normally a subscription item with a monthly charge. I've never seen a unit though where you HAD to activate that option if you chose not to.
6) And, again IMHO, the options to update the map software. Few units have this option (the Alpine Blackbird comes to mind but that is a very expensive model) but when available this will help keep the unit from becoming dated as the maps become obsolete (This may sound strange but highway changes occur more often that you'd think and a yearly to every other year update can be useful).

Go to a reputable dealer with a wide varity of working models (not the ones with a static demo screen and try them all out listening carefully to the voice prompts and seeing how easy the screen is to see from a distance of about 2.5 feet (about how far you'll be from the unit when installed. Try entering directions to see how well the different systems work for you.

Good luck with your search.


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Which GPS?

Hi Mary Jane, firstly TomTom is definitely not a toy, infact it has the largest market share, at least in Europe, and is definitely the most comprehensive in terms of additional services such as weather, roadworks and traffic updates. I know they are putting a lot of resources into expanding their North American market. As well as route directions TomTom provides current speed and advises you when you excede the speed limit where known which I find useful. Total journey time and remaining joourney time are continually updated and if you take a wrong turn it will update the directions to bring you back on track

As with most things, you get what you pay for. A regional map of your local area on a memory stick will be cheapest. You can buy additional maps and at least with TomTom the higher end products have a hard disc and you can buy and download maps directly from their web page.

The TomTom GO series have bluetooth so you can hook into your telephone as a hands free and it also is the medium for downloading instant message updates relative to your journey such as detours. The latest editions also have built in MP3 player capability and one can make map updates and share them with other users and download music from your PC.

As you can imagine I am a committed user of TomTom, If you haven't done so already check their web page on

One last point is that TomTom have recently aquired one of the companies who make the mapping software so they are also now fully integrated. Any info device is only as good as the database it uses. With the latest TomTom you can modify maps where you know there has been a change and also share this with the mapshare community

I usually keep my eye on the competition as well in bcase I decide to switch to another provider when I upgrade my hardware but so far I see no-one else who is as active in the level of support and development as TomTom.

I hope this helps and good luck

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Gps all the same ?

No, not all gps systems are the same. I owned a couple of different gps systems. My first was a Magellan, with an Mps3 player and picture viewer. The equipment would constantly lock up. By the way I believe Magellan uses teleatlas for their mapping system. I currently own a Garmin 2720 for my gps. I could not be happier with this system. Not a lot of bells and whistles, It does the job well that it was design for, which is navigating. I believe they use Navteq for their mapping system. Each company updates their maps every 1 to two years. Which you can purchase their cdroms for the updates. Each company will update your software.

John S.

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GPS Systems

Hello everyone,
We bought a Garmin unit for the car at what we thought was a high price.
We set it up and it told us where we lived. OK.
As a trial we used it on a trip from Devon to Kent, about 250 miles. The fist part was OK, then we turned onto the coast road which is more direct and got nothing but complaints for the next hundred miles, trying to turn us left up every farm track to get back onto the motorway which was running at dead slow , Eventually it gave up and switched off.
This was just the start of a series of failures so if you are determined to buy these units, I suggest you try one out first on a cross country run.
We have thrown ours in the bin. A decent map is better as far as I am concerned.

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Mapping Software
by Donaldsc / December 8, 2007 12:41 PM PST
In reply to: GPS Systems

You have to understand how mapping software in GPS units work and why different GPS units may give different directions to the same location. You also have to understand why a GPS can never have local knowledge. Until you understand this, you will suffer from the same frustration that Devondave suffered from.

All GPS units use one of 2 available map sets. What the vendors do it decide how they are going to use the mapset data to generate s route. I live in the US. Here, a GPS would normally assume that an interstate highway would be the best route, followed by federal highways, state highways, etc. You can not expect the GPS to know that an interstate or a motorway is jammed. That is local knowledge.

I had a Streetpilot GPS before I bought my NUVI 660. With my Streetpilot (which was a wonderful unit), it sometimes took the system miles to realize that I did not want to follow the recommended unit. My wife would go bonkers with the "Off route - recalculating" message. My new NUVI (which is also a wonderful unit) does it in a much faster time but if I insist on using a city street instead of a parallel Interstate, it persists in trying to get me to the Interstate.

That said, at least in the states, several units can connect your GPS via your car radio to traffic tracking systems so that they can tell you of traffic jams ahead and offer to detour you.

Maps and GPS units both have their functions and you should not throw away your maps just because you have a GPS. If the GPS gives you an "incorrect" route based on your local knowledge, go the way you want to.

Hope this helps.


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