#best auto gps
Best Car GPS
At the time of publishing, the price was $200.
At the time of publishing, the price was $180.
At the time of publishing, the price was $354.
If you’re looking to spend a little more, our upgrade pick is Garmin’s
$355 nüvi 2798LMT. a seven-inch navigation system that offers gobs more visual real estate, most of the features of the 2539LMT (minus Foursquare), and an added bonus of voice controls, Bluetooth speakerphone connectivity, and a wireless backup camera that you can install in the rear of your car. This happens to be a feature I’m bullish on, given the the safety enhancement and the convenience factor, but the vast majority of respondents in our reader poll said this wasn’t a must-have feature.
Our survey showed that most of you want a GPS specifically so you can avoid relying on your phone for navigation, so that’s a dealbreaker. Garmins are complete devices in and of themselves and accommodate a wider range of users. That’s a good thing. They’re basically idiot-proof—and if you spend any time at all on the road, you know there are plenty of idiots out there.
Table of contents
Why you should trust us
For more than a decade, I’ve been an automotive critic for Popular Science, Men’s Health, and other outlets, as well as a consumer-technology generalist. I’ve spent countless hours tinkering with portable electronics, including GPS devices and smartphones. In fact, I’ve been using navigation technology since the first automotive devices came out in the early 2000’s via in-dash variants, stand-alone devices, and, now, smartphone-based apps. I use them constantly, and have been led astray by faulty directions as often as I’ve had my bacon saved while running late to some destination or another. If I have any natural gift at all, it’s a sixth sense about navigating, so I can quickly tell when something a GPS device suggests doesn’t quite sync up with reality. (This, by the way, also makes me great fun as a backseat driver.)
For this guide, I spoke with engineers at GPS navigation product manufacturers, consulted with readers via our in-depth survey, and then read reviews of the products in key publications. Then, of course, I spent hours experimenting with the GPSs both in my office—to understand all the functions and settings without the “distraction” of actually trying to drive somewhere—and on the road.
Isn’t my smartphone enough?
If you think your smartphone is enough, it is. If you already have a car charger and car mount. your favorite GPS app will get you where you need to go. In addition to working perfectly fine, your phone carries all your contacts, settings, search history, etc. with you whether you’re on foot, on your bike, in a new city, or whatever. Also, the ease with which you can search for something on your device (restaurant, park, etc.) and then make it your destination with a simple tap—or a copy/paste—makes phones hugely convenient.
But we still think that stand-alone GPS units plug a few important gaps in smartphone functionality, and so did you.
When we polled our readers about car GPS devices, a majority (58%) wanted something that could still guide them through cell service dead spots and wouldn’t drain your smartphone’s battery (54%). Concern about data usage was a distant third (24%). In other words, your smartphone is not always enough. Another concern worth noting is that while you can download maps for offline navigation, these take up significant amounts of storage on your phone.
Garmin GPS devices can direct you to locations within locations, like terminals or parking lots within a larger airport.
There are no pop-up notifications, calls, or texts to distract you from driving and no music controls to futz with. It’s dedicated to navigation.
A GPS checks all those boxes and will help you navigate more safely, letting you concentrate exclusively on driving directions. There are no pop-up notifications, calls, or texts to distract you from driving and no music controls to futz with. It’s dedicated to navigation. With the latest features like traffic data (and avoidance), Direct Access to get you to a specific location within a larger address (like a store in a mall), Foursquare integration, and more refined voice directions based on natural language (turn right at the movie theater), Garmin’s standalone GPS devices can beat any free navigation app blow for blow and match any paid app. That’s not to say that Google, Waze, Here, and Apple Maps won’t get you where you need to go just as quickly 99% of the time, but for now, a GPS still has a few advantages when it comes to plain old navigation.
It’s important to realize that this isn’t an either/or scenario—a smartphone and dedicated GPS benefit each other. For example, I could go to Google Maps on my phone to look around for places to take photos in a park, or use Google to search for my destination, then input that into the Garmin. It would be great if the devices that pair with smartphones worked in this manner—that is, you could just “shoot” a destination from your phone to your GPS—but that functionality is only now starting to appear and is still half-baked at best 1 . TomTom just announced its MyDrive service, which lets you search destinations and plan routes on your desktop or smartphone and send them directly to your GPS. When this functionality is implemented on smartphones, it could be a gamechanger for people who like the idea of using their GPS with their phone as opposed to instead of it. We can report that the web app works as advertised, but we’ll evaluate the devices that incorporate MyDrive when they do come out.
In short, while I’m absolutely dedicated to my iPhone, driving is a different kettle of fish. Having a dedicated device on your dash still makes a ton of sense.
How we picked
I started by reviewing our research from last year, following up with updated reviews and roundups from sites that include CNET. PC Magazine. Consumer Reports. and GPS Tracklog. Then I surveyed user reviews on Amazon.com and BestBuy.com to see what the consensus was on specific models and manufacturers.
Combined with our own survey of several hundred Wirecutter readers—which included opportunities for respondents to write in open-ended complaints or praise for specific products or the tech in general—this information pointed us toward newer offerings that we thought might displace last year’s selection. I also considered our survey results because I wanted to make sure our readers’ needs were being met.
Features like backup cameras, premium traffic data, and Bluetooth weren’t a hit (only 13% said the first two were worth paying extra for and only 30% would pay for Bluetooth), but we also learned that people were mostly willing to pay for unlimited map updates (72%). We also learned that 63% of you wanted something that cost less than $200 if possible and that 84% of you wanted something with either a five- or six-inch screen, with most of those votes going for a five-inch device.
With this knowledge in hand, we quickly gravitated toward the Garmin 2539 and the TomTom GO 500. but we also considered Garmin’s 2689 and the Magellan 6230 unit (discussed in the Competition section), multiple other Garmins, the Magellan SmartGPS 5390. and the six-inch TomTom Go 600 along with its less full-featured GO 50 and GO 60 siblings. We considered some devices that, while outside some of our criteria, we wanted to give a fair shake, in case their specific feature sets were particularly compelling.
We ultimately decided that we wanted our device to operate independently of smartphones, since purchasers may not want some functions (such as traffic or POI search) to be tied to their smartphones. (Or purchasers might not have a smartphone to begin with.) This thinking, by the way, was a key part of our eventual decision to knock the TomTom GO 500 out of the running, as it’s dependent on a smartphone for traffic updates.
From left to right: Garmin’s 58LMT, 2798LMT, the Magellan SmartGPS 5390, TomTom’s GO 500, Garmin’s 2539LMT, and the TomTom GO 600.
How we tested
Then, of course, I hit the road. Over a course of a month, I used them in environments ranging from deeply rural Pennsylvania—far from any cell signals—to the urban jungle of New York City. I drove through rush-hour traffic, had the devices reroute us around trouble-spots, and entered distant destinations to gauge variances in routing strategies.