During the holiday gift exchange and paper shredding frenzy, you may have received an electronic traveling companion. Before tossing the packaging, consider if that portable GPS navigator the best one for your needs. Or should you trade it in on a better model?
This depends, of course, on what you received. Unless you performed deep research and provided a detailed holiday wish list, it is possible the gift was bought based on brand, availability, and price--not necessarily the ideal criteria.
As we chronicled for Black Friday, there were several units widely offered this holiday season at a deep discount. These tended to be the most basic navigators with a limited feature set and that are often a generation, or two, behind the latest products. Sure, these may suffice, but it is worth a closer look.
In years past, there were numerous brands competing in the portable navigator space. Now there are essentially three main players: Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom. All others are truly fringe players and their products should probably be the first to be brought to the return counter. They may well be outdated and future map support may not be convenient.
Among the door-buster deals this season, the Garmin Nuvi 40 and Nuvi 50 were quite popular. These basic navigators can provide traditional guidance, but they are short on handy features, such as multi-destination routing, traffic capability, and a pedestrian mode. They are commonly offered with lifetime maps (listed as "LM"), ensuring that they can be kept up to date with computer synching.
The TomTom Start 50 and Start 55 were also common in big-box store flyers. While these basic navigators have some appealing features, they rank at the bottom of our current GPS ratings. They will get you from Point A to Point B, but they lack multi-destination routing and have a frustrating ring-style mount. That mount alone is cause for an upgrade.
No matter the brand, check to see if it includes lifetime traffic service. This can be a welcomed convenience in bustling areas, and the service is much cheaper when bought with the device, rather than added later. If your device lacks this, and you want it, it is time to trade in.
Another consideration is whether a navigation app for your smart phone would suffice. The free apps included with the latest Android and iOS phones can suffice for casual use. (See "Apple iOS 6 vs. Google Android: Smart-phone navigation showdown.") For more frequent use, iPhone owners can turn to a paid app from the leading navigation brands, including Garmin, Navigon, and TomTom. These apps faithfully mimic dashtop devices and integrate well into the phone's functions. Due to the energy draw of navigation, a car charger is essential and a windshield mount is recommended. The apps are commonly marked down around the holidays. In fact, Garmin and Navigon have iTunes sales through January 7th, adding to their appeal.
And finally, look up the device in our ratings to see how it performed in our array of tests. The experience test results and notes from our experts may further clarify if the GPS navigator is indeed a keeper.