Need direction about which on-the-road devices to buy? Check out these reviews. Read how the Good Housekeeping Research Institute tested and evaluated the products.
Insignia NS-CNV20 ($350)
This Insignia tied the Garmin nüvi 265T (see next slide) for the best overall device. It has text-to-speech prompts in which it pronounces the street names, and we thought its directions were very clear. During testing, we found it simple to enter addresses. It was also particularly easy to adjust the volume on this device (one of only two to receive a perfect score on this), which means you should be able to do it without taking your eyes off the road for long. It comes preloaded with 2 million points of interest, and with its wireless Internet capability (free for the first year, $99 per year after), you can also send an address wirelessly from Google Maps and search Google for local businesses, restaurants, or other points of interest. The Internet package also allows you to access real-time traffic reports, so you'll always know current road conditions ahead, as well as weather, news, and gas prices. Another fun feature: You can choose your car icon as you'd like it to appear on the map. The unit is also Bluetooth compatible, which means you can sync it to your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone to allow for hands-free calling. It has maps of all 50 states available in 2D and 3D views, and offers three route options based on time of travel.
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Garmin nüvi 265T ($250)
Our other first-placer, this Garmin also gives turn-by-turn directions with spoken street names. It received one of the few perfect scores for screen visibility, meaning that both the driver and passenger could see the screen clearly. One of only three devices to earn tops for portability, it's very compact and light for carrying in a bag or pocket if you don't want to leave it in a car. It can also be carried and used in pedestrian mode for walking around the sites. The directions it gave us were very easy to follow, both in terms of the voice commands and the maps (which offer 2D and 3D views). The device responded very quickly when we took a wrong turn, providing a new route in less than four seconds (one of only three devices to do so). And while none of the units provided perfect directions, it was also one of three to receive the highest score earned in terms of accuracy of the route provided. There are several route options available on this product, including fastest, shortest distance, off-road, and more fuel-efficient. Preloaded maps of the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico are included, as well as 6 million points of interest.
A unique feature called EcoRoutes lets you see your carbon footprint and track your fuel consumption, and allows you to partake in the Driving Challenge (a program that tracks your fuel economy) to help you develop good driving habits so you won't waste gas. Another cool feature lists the speed limit for most major roads. You can also choose your car's icon to better match your own vehicle (or one that you would like to have!). Included are real-time traffic updates, but you also have the option of enrolling in MSN Direct to receive news headlines, weather reports, current gas prices, local events and movie information, and more. (The first three months are free; $46 per year thereafter, or pay a lifetime-use fee of $130.) It also offers hands-free calling via Bluetooth and is compatible with the iPhone.
Nextar I4-BC ($300)
Performance-wise, this Nextar tied for the top spot. It mapped out the route quickly, was accurate, responded to rerouting promptly, and offered a direct route. It has turn-by-turn, voice-guided directions with pronounced street names. The device, which contains maps of both the U.S. and Canada, also features many route options: quickest, shortest, major roads, and local roads. Although entering an address was a snap, the unit was not rated particularly easy to use in general, mainly because it took many steps to get to the points-of-interest menu in order to search through the 1.6 million preloaded ones. A nice bonus: The unit comes packed with a backup camera for safety. The product displays speed-limit alerts, and can play MP3 songs and view pictures if you use an SD card.
Pharos Drive GPS 200 ($160)
During testing, we found that the spoken directions on this Pharos device were garbled-sounding and hard to understand. It took forever to get to the points-of-interest menu to search the 4 million preloaded ones. Once there, it was very time-consuming to select a restaurant that fit our criteria. It also has the fewest features of all the units testing. On the plus side, the unit promptly and efficiently redirected us when a wrong turn was taken. Additionally, it informs the user if the speed limit is exceeded, has turn-by-turn prompts with pronounced street names, and can be used in pedestrian mode. It has three map views, for the U.S.: 3D, heading up, and north up, and route options, including shortest, fastest, and avoid highway.
Pioneer AVIC-F500BT ($600)
While pricey, this Pioneer unit has the largest screen of all tested (5.8 inches) and a variety of cool features that might make it appealing to a gadget fiend. In addition to spoken street names, turn-by-turn directions, and 11 million preloaded points of interest, it offers multiple map layouts, such as one that shows 3D depictions of local landmarks. You can send addresses from a PC, and it also has voice recognition that allows you to "tell" it where you want to go, control your iPod, and make hands-free calls with a Bluetooth-enabled phones (including the iPhone). Because of the large screen size, addresses were easy to enter, and it is easy to adjust the volume because the control is readily identifiable and accessible on the body of the unit (rather than having to scroll through the screen to find it). It has a built-in MSN Direct tuner so you can easily call up gas prices, movie times, weather, and traffic conditions (free for the first three months, then $49 per year or $129 for the lifetime of the product). The device is designed so that you may also subscribe to Sirius XM satellite radio, which starts at $10 per month. It also has lane assist, maps of the U.S. and Canada, and route options, including shortest, fastest, easiest, and most economical. An added bonus: This was the only device whose manual received a perfect score for clarity and completeness.
Telenav Shotgun ($300)
The Internet-connected Telenav Shotgun provides real-time traffic and fuel prices, a Web search for finding local businesses, business reviews, weather info, and more, plus the ability to preplan your trip by sending itineraries and addresses to the device (first three months are free; then $12 per month, $129 per year, or $239 per two years). We found it very easy to locate a point of interest (of which there are over 11 million) - this device required the fewest steps of all tested. Although it's easy to type in locations, we thought the sound quality of the voice-guided directions wasn't very good. The unit also features pedestrian mode with a spot marker (so you can tell the device to "remember" where you parked the car) and a compass for easier navigation on foot. It has pronounced street names and turn-by-turn prompts, and offers many route options, including fastest, shortest, traffic-optimized, prefer highways, and prefer local streets. The device comes with preloaded maps of the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Addresses can be sent by PC. The company also received the highest score for its customer service options.
TomTom ONE 130S ($200)
This relatively inexpensive TomTom offers turn-by-turn spoken instructions with pronounced street names and 2D and 3D map views. However, its small 3.5-inch screen affected how easy it was to see it clearly (which may not be a problem for you, if you prefer auditory directions). In other tests, it performed about average, neither standing out nor suffering. It comes with 3 million preloaded points of interest and maps of the U.S. and Canada. Standard on most TomToms, the TomTom Home feature allows your device to stay up-to-date on new features and software. TomTom Map Share lets you modify and correct street names, direction, speeds, and other restrictions, and points of interest on your own device (and upload others' verified corrections). Real-time traffic information is available via RDS TMC antenna for $60 per year. The device is also compatible with Fuel Prices for $20 per year via TomTom Home. The device also has speed-limit alerts.
Magellan Maestro 4350 ($400)
The Magellan Maestro 4350 had excellent screen visibility and easy access for finding points of interest like a local pharmacy. With pronounced street names and turn-by-turn prompts, it also provided some of the most accurate directions. The large keypad, clear graphics, and real-time traffic updates boosted its score. A pedestrian mode lets you take the unit out of the car for navigation on foot. A nice extra: The OneTouch interface allows you to customize your home screen with frequently accessed addresses or points of interest (of which there are more than 6 million preloaded). It also provides lane guidance for a better picture of the traffic situation and speed-limit alerts, and is Bluetooth and iPhone compatible for hands-free calling. The product has maps of the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, and can also store and play MP3s.
Budget Buy: Magellan RoadMate 1200 ($120)
At $120, the Magellan RoadMate 1200 is a good value. It performed particularly well in our ease-of-use tests, with one of the easiest processes for finding points of interest from the 1.3 million preloaded options. The unit's overall score was brought down because of its smaller screen size (3.5 inches), but it compensates for this by being ultra-portable. A variety of map layouts can be selected, including a cool 3D split-screen view that shows a close-up of an upcoming turn on one side and the general route on the other. It features pronounced street names and the OneTouch interface, which allows you to customize your home screen. You can just touch an icon on the map and it will bring up the name, address, number, and route to get there. It also has quick spell, which predicts the word you're starting to enter and corrects spelling errors. A feature we liked: The device was one of the few that instructs the driver to make a legal U-turn when needed. The product comes with maps of 49 U.S. states (no Alaska) and Puerto Rico. It did okay in the performance tests, mainly brought down because it isn't as feature-rich as its pricier cousins and because it offered no phone number that we could find to contact customer service.
TomTom XL330S ($130)
This unit fared pretty well in ease of use, particularly because its screen was highly visible and the voice directions were very easy to follow, with turn-by-turn prompts and pronounced street names. Unfortunately, it received the lowest score for accuracy and did average at best for the rest of the performance criteria, tying for the lowest in directness of the route given. If you want real-time traffic and weather, you can purchase the traffic receiver accessory for $20 per year. As with most TomToms, the TomTom Home provides automatic updates and the TomTom Map Share, which lets you modify attributes on your map and submit them so other users may see them. Although the unit took a while to boot up, it was one of the few devices able to acquire a GPS signal while still in the driveway. It also has about 3 million preloaded points of interest, maps of the U.S. and Canada, and speed-limit alerts. Real-time traffic information is available via RDS TMC antenna for $60 per year. The device is also compatible with Fuel Prices for $20 per year via TomTom Home.
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