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Garmin and Tom Tom dominate Consumer Reports GPS ratings

Posted Thursday, July 23, 2009

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Raging price wars means more features for budget conscious GPS shoppers

Yonkers, NY — Garmin and TomTom GPS models continue to score high and provide the best overall packages in Consumer Reports recent tests of more than 90 GPS units.

The top-rated Garmin Nuvi 885T ($600), earned excellent marks for destination/POI entering, use of controls, mount design, display and portability. The unit is loaded with features such as Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone calls, a trip computer, an MP3 player, and voice control of many functions, including entering destinations.

Consumer Reports also Recommends the lower-priced Garmin Nuvi 765T ($480) and the TomTom Go 740 Live ($400). The Nuvi 765T performed almost as well as the Nuvi 885T and has most of the same features, except voice control. A connected device, the TomTom Go 740 lets you check traffic and weather and use Google search to find businesses and points of interest. That service is free for three months, then $10 a month after that.

For the latest ratings, complete test results, and buying advice on more than 90 GPS units, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.

It isn’t necessary to spend hundreds to get an easy-to-use navigator with the features that matter most. Consumer Reports tests found the Magellan RoadMate 1440 and 1220 models performed much better than previous Magellan units with notably crisp graphics and easy-to-use interfaces. CR Recommends the RoadMate 1220 ($125) to consumers who want basic guidance.

“Now is a good time to shop around and compare GPS units, hot new models now offer premium features on entry- and mid-level models and consumers will likely see prices drop on previous generation products. Many of the models we’ve tested this summer are the same ones that will be making holiday shopping lists this fall,” said Jeff Bartlett, deputy editor online at Consumer Reports.

A raging price war among GPS makers is giving even budget conscious buyers the chance to enjoy features that go beyond the usual navigation functions Designated a CR Best Buy, the low-priced TomTom One 140 ($140) can provide optional traffic information, guide you to the best lane at major intersections, and factor in historic traffic patterns for the time of day when it calculates routes.

Other Recommended CR Best Buy units include the Garmin Nuvi 760 ($250), Garmin Nuvi 265T ($200) with free traffic information, and the Garmin Nuvi 200 ($120).

For consumers who want more than driving help, the older Garmin Nuvi 1260T ($300) offers free traffic info and optional CityXplorer bus, subway, and walking routes for major cities ($10 to $15 per city).

In addition, real-time traffic info, usually a $60-a-year option, is free on several models from Garmin, Magellan, and Nextar—though consumers will have to put up with occasional ads on the screen and free traffic Magellans require consumers to purchase an additional receiver.

“Looking ahead we anticipate testing new Garmin, Mio, and Nextar units this summer, as well as evaluating downloadable navigation applications for the iPhone and other handheld devices, whose popularity will definitely factor into the changing marketplace,” Bartlett said.

How to choose

Before you buy a GPS navigator, think about your typical driving conditions, how often you’re in unfamiliar areas, and the features that are most important to you. Consumer Reports suggests you consider the following:

  • What type of driving do you do? If you spend most of your time commuting along the same route or running local errands on familiar roads, you might not benefit from route guidance, unless you face traffic congestion. Even in familiar areas, a GPS can help you get around it by showing surrounding roads and plotting an alternative route.
  • What about extra features? A full-featured aftermarket GPS can effectively upgrade an older car with features like a trip computer, Bluetooth hands-free telephone capability, an MP3 player, an iPod connection, and a FM transmitter. If available, live traffic information, weather, and local gas prices can offer an increased measure of safety and convenience. But you may have to take on a subscription fee, and GPS traffic reporting, like that of other sources, can be inaccurate and outdated.
  • Check the local laws Minnesota prohibits drivers from installing any device on a windshield, the most common location to mount portable GPS guide units. Check the laws in your area and the mount types available before you buy. Most manufacturers include a plastic disk that sticks to the dashboard to provide an alternative mounting location.
  • Built-in battery convenience Almost all new portables now come with a rechargeable battery. If you want to use it for walking or use the multimedia features outside of a car, look for one that will operate for at least three hours on a charge.
  • Size matters If you choose a portable unit, size is important—especially if you frequently pack it in a suitcase. Some models are no bigger than a wallet and weigh less than 7 ounces, while others are as large as a paperback book and can weigh two pounds or more. Also, look for a screen that’s large enough to read easily without blocking your view. We’ve found a 3.5-inch diagonal screen is a good compromise, but 4.3-inch wide screens allow more information to be displayed and are easier to enter addresses, due to larger touch-screen buttons.
Select GPS ratings will also appear in the September issue of Consumer Reports on newsstands August 4.

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

 
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Garmin and Tom Tom dominate Consumer Reports GPS ratings
Garmin and TomTom GPS models scored high and provided the best overall packages in Consumer Reports recent tests of more than 90 GPS units.
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