Dedicated GPS Device
Best for: People who regularly need navigation help and want a large screen and an intuitive interface.
Hardware tested: Garmin Nuvi 265WT
Price: $170 (street)
You can save money by using a smartphone instead of a dedicated GPS device for navigation, but you may not save much. For less than $200, you can purchase a dedicated device with a 4.3-inch screen--the most common size for such devices, and significantly larger than the screen on any smartphone--treated with an antiglare coating that makes reading text on it easier than reading the material on a phone screen. Even better, you can make a phone call and obtain directions simultaneously. And you may not have to pay for an ongoing subscription (though real-time traffic data may involve a recurring fee).
A dedicated GPS device mounts on your vehicle's dashboard or windshield. All of the maps and points-of-interest data reside on the device--either on an SD Card or in memory that the manufacturer builds in to the device-so you do not have to maintain a data connection. Most GPS devices support text-to-speech for delivering turn-by-turn directions.
Dedicated devices do have a few drawbacks, though. A GPS app on your cell phone may download updates over your data connection; but with a dedicated GPS unit, you must download updates on your PC and then load the data onto your device. Also, whereas updates for phone apps are usually free, manufacturers of dedicated devices often charge for updates.
High-end dedicated GPS devices include premium features such as a Bluetooth speakerphone interface, real-time traffic information, 3D buildings and landmarks, and speech recognition. But the speech recognition on these devices is less accurate than the technology on either the Nexus One platform or the BlackBerry Bold's AT&T Navigator service. The Bluetooth phone interface on a dedicated GPS device may not be able to read contacts from your cell phones, either, in which case you'll have to enter your contacts manually. In contrast, smartphone apps take advantage of the handset's phone book, so you never have to reenter phone numbers.
The $170 Garmin Nuvi 265WT that I tested came equipped with a 4.3-inch, 480-by-272-pixel-resolution touchscreen that I found easy to read, even in direct sunlight. Some entry-level models come with 3.5-inch screens; more-expensive models may have 4.7-inch, 5-inch, or 7-inch screens.
The Nuvi 265WT offers access to a database of 6 million points of interest, searchable by name or category. Many categories have subcategories to help you refine your search. You can search for points of interest in your current location, in a different city, or along your route.
Garmin ships the Nuvi 265WT with complete Navteq maps for the United States and Canada, and as part of the deal you also get free lifetime traffic updates.
The Nuvi 265WT's Bluetooth phone interface--a premium feature--won't read the contacts stored in your cell phone, but it will dial points of interest directly. In my informal tests, both incoming and outgoing calls sounded good on it.
Check These, Too
Magellan's RoadMate 1445T ($160) offers free lifetime traffic information and directs you to the proper lane for the next turn. TomTom's XL 340S (about $150) features IQ Routes, which uses historical traffic and speed data to calculate an optimal route. To receive live traffic on the XL 340S, however, you must purchase an optional traffic receiver.
Each of those products carries a 4.3-inch screen. Similar products with 3.5-inch screens cost less. Garmin's Nuvi 265T ($160) is identical to the 265WT except for a smaller screen; likewise, the TomTom One 140S ($130) is essentially a 3.5-inch version of the XL 340S. Magellan's RoadMate 1340 ($150) closely resembles the 1445T--and also has a 3.5-inch screen-but lacks a traffic feature.