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GPS 101 - What You Should Know Before You Buy a GPS Navigation Device

Updated on July 15, 2013
TomTom GO 740TM LIVE 4.3-INCH GPS  Portable GPS Navigator | image credit: amazon
TomTom GO 740TM LIVE 4.3-INCH GPS Portable GPS Navigator | image credit: amazon

GPS 101 - What You Should Know Before You Buy a GPS Navigation Device

Are you looking to buy a GPS Personal Navigation Device (PND)? Perhaps you are considering upgrading a PND that you already own? What are your most important considerations? This hub gives you a brief overview of two top PND manufacturers -- Garmin and TomTom, featuring a couple of their top PNDs and where they get their maps. We'll also highlight the giant Google's entry into navigation. Finally, we'll give you some tips to consider in purchasing your GPS unit.

Garmin nüLink! 1695 5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator

This is a late-model Garmin featuring a 5-inch touchscreen that was first listed on Amazon in August 2010, It has Bluetooth wireless for touch-free calling with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones. It comes preloaded with City Navigator® NT North America maps, and lots of added features -- including nüRoute technology with historical traffic trends, predictive routing,lane-assist, fuel-saving ecoRoute, and more.

A one-year subscription to nüLink data services is included.

Garmin nüvi 265W/265WT 4.3-Inch Portable GPS Navigator

This lower-priced, tried and true Garmin was first listed on Amazon a number of years ago and periodically updated. It features a 4.3-inch touchscreen and supports Bluetooth wireless technology for hands-free calling when paired with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones.

It comes preloaded with detailed City Navigator® NT street maps with more than 6 million points of interest (POIs), 2-D or 3-D maps and smooth map redraw rates as you navigate. It accepts custom points of interest (POIs), such as school zones and safety cameras and lets you set proximity alerts to warn you of upcoming Points of Interest.

Garmin GPS

A 1989 start-up company founded by Gary Burrell and Min Kao, Garmin (combining the founders first names) has become the largest manufacturer of PND devices and applications, most of which are enabled by the Global Positioning System (GPS). Garmin's international office is located in Kansas, USA with Its main production facility in Taiwan. Other offices are located around the world. Garmin claims to be: --

"The worldwide leader in satellite navigation and the 20-year standard-bearer for ease of use with GPS technology."

Garmin designs, produces and markets their own products for numerous applications in four markets:--

  • automotive and mobile (wide range of PNDs in its family of nüvi devices, some with add-on subscription services for wireless access to Google Local Search, traffic, weather and fuel prices, and more.)
  • outdoor and fitness (handheld devices loaded with maps and other features for outdoor use, golf units preloaded with thousands of golf courses, fitness and running units)
  • marine (chartplotters and marine electronics)
  • aviation (avionics mapping, air traffic surveillance, terrain maps, airport diagrams and weather)

Garmin Maps -- are produced by NAVTEQ, a digital mapmaker headquartered in Chicago. Owned by Nokia, NAVTEQ also supplies maps to Magellan and other PND manufacturers, and to Yahoo Maps, Bing Maps, MapQuest and many other private and government clients. NAVTEQ claims to be: --

". . . the leading global provider of maps, traffic and location data (digital location content) enabling navigation, location-based services and mobile advertising around the world."

Garmin has an agreement with NAVTEQ to provide maps for Garmin PNDs. The current agreement ends in the year 2015 with an option to renew for another 4 years. Users of NAVTEQ maps who want to report errors can log on to Garmin's web site and fill out a form.

TomTom XXL 540TM World Traveler 5-Inch Portable GPS

A 5-inch touchscreen portable GPS preloaded with maps of the U.S., Canado, Mexico and Europe. It comes with Lifetime Maps that guarantees you receive four new editions of your TomTom map each year. And, Lifetime Traffic sends updates to your TomTom every three minutes, so you can steer clear of traffic delays and take the fastest route possible to your destination.

TomTom Go 740 TM LIVE 4.3-Inch Portable GPS Navigator

The TomTom GO 740·TM LIVE is the "ultimate connected car navigator," according to TomTom. It features a 4.3-inch touchscreen, blue-tooth enabled, pre-loaded maps of the U.S. and Canada with Lifetime Maps which guarantees 4 map updates per year.

This product also comes with 3 months of Lifetime Traffic (in the U.S. and Canada) including live traffic feeds, updated fuel prices, Local Search powered by Google, Weather, and more.

TomTom GPS

The second largest producer of PND devices is the Dutch company TomTom, Founded in 1991 by Peter-Frans Pauwels and Pieter Geelen, it produced its first PND product, PNC Navigator in 2002. In 2008 TomTom acquired TeleAtlas, a major digital map maker.

TomTom claims that: --

". . . as the only company in the world purely focused on location and navigation solutions we are convinced that our solutions will continue to outperform. We are vertically integrated, owning the key assets we need from software to hardware design and from digital mapping to dynamic content and services."

TomTom's business is aimed at four markets: --

  • consumer (PNDs and navigation apps for mobile phones in more that 30 countries)
  • automotive (navigation systems, services and content for car manufacturers and their suppliers, worldwide)
  • licensing (locations and navigation content to leading PND manufacturers, handset supplers, mobile app developers, mobile operators, governments and enterprises.)
  • work (professional location and navigation solutions to commercial fleets such as trucking companies)

TomTom Maps -- TeleAtlas, the digital mapping company owned by TomTom, provides maps and map products for over two hundred countries. Maps are derived from numerous sources, including TeleAtlas own sophisticated mapping techniques. Map users who spot errors can report them directly to TeleAtlas.

TeleAtlas maps are used in many applications by companies -- internet mapping and direction services, PNDs and mobile devices.

Google Maps Navigation

Google is the 800-pound gorilla in web applications including a wide variety of map products for web use. As the number and variety of web-enabled devices are growning at an explosive rate, so too are web-map applications. Smartphones and pads now can be used like PNDs, especially those that have embedded GPS locators.

Google Maps Navigation (now in Beta testing) is an internet-connected GPS navigation system with voice guidance. When Google Maps Navigation (Beta) for Android 2.0 was released in 2009 Google, claimed that: --

"This new feature comes with everything you'd expect to find in a GPS navigation system, like 3D views, turn-by-turn voice guidance and automatic rerouting. But unlike most navigation systems, Google Maps Navigation was built from the ground up to take advantage of your phone's Internet connection."

Google Maps -- When you use Google Maps Navigation, your phone automatically gets the most up-to-date maps and business listings from Google Maps. According to Google: --

". . . you never need to buy map upgrades or update your device. And this data is continuously improving, thanks to users who report maps issues and businesses who activate their listings with Google Local Business Center."

Since Google owns both Google Maps and the Android operating system for smart devices you can bet that the use and versatility of Google's map apps will continue to improve and become a major challenge to the single-purpose PNDs of Garmin and TomTom. Best of all, Google Map products are free on your smartphone or pad.

Google Maps for the United States compiles information from many sources -- web search results, data submitted directly by local business owners, and third-party sources such as publicly available Yellow Pages directories. You can check the source of the base map data for any location in the lower right-hand corner of a Google map.

Navigation apps for Android Phones

Here are some Android navigation apps:--

  • Aura GPS Navigation -- by Sygic
  • Wisepilot - GPs Navigator -- by Appello
  • Google Maps Navigation -- by Google
  • AT&T Navigator -- by AT&T Services
  • CoPilot Live - UK + Ireland -- by ALK Technologies
  • TeleNav GPS Navigator -- by Telenav
  • CoPilot Live USA -- by ALK Technologies

Some apps are free; others are by subscription. Be sure the app you select is compatible with your phone, and that you get the maps you need.

Navigation apps for iPhones

By downloading a navigator app for your smartphone you can have a navigator with you wherever you go. Here are a few of them:--

  • Mapquest 4 Moble -- by Mapquest.
  • GPS Navigator -- by Gokivo.
  • AT&T Navigator -- by AT&T.
  • CoPilot Live USA -- by ALK Technologies
  • MobileNavigator North America -- by Navigon
  • TomTom U.S. & Canada -- by TomTom
  • RoadMate North America -- by Magellan
  • Mobile Maps North America -- by Sygic
  • iGo My Way -- by NNG Global Services
  • Google Maps Navigation -- by Google

Buying a GPS Navigator -- Final Thoughts

It was just two decades ago that personal GPS navigation began. The technology has come a long way. What started out as a single-purpose GPS device with a built-in map has evolved in several directions: --

  • a multi-purpose navigation devicer for personal transportation that integrates GPS positioning, maps, traffic, points of interest, white pages and much more
  • a niche navigation device for golf, hiking, biking, running and fitness, and more
  • integration of navigation applications into smart phones and other web-enabled devices

Here are some suggestions as you consider your GPS options: --

  1. How will you use your GPS? If your needs are mainly for road directions, location, and emergencies, consider a lower-end Garmin or TomTom. If your work involves frequent daily driving to clients and businesses, you may want to add traffic, directories and other services. If you have a tough driving commute, the added traffic info could be helpful.
  2. Do you have an IPhone or an Android phone? Check the navigator apps that are available. You may find that meets your needs.
  3. Do you want an inexpensive personal navigator? Price competition has gotten fierce with new low-end models costing less than $100. You can get an older model Garmin or TomTom for even less.
  4. Whose maps are more accurate? Garmin depends on NavTeq maps. TomTom and Google depend on their own in-house digital map data units. They are highly competitive. All are working toward ease of error reporting by users. Right now I think TomTom has the edge on error reporting.
  5. Do you want timely maps? New roads, errors and new data are constantly rendering maps out-of-date. TomTom's Lifetime Maps come with four free updates a year. (Lifetime means for the expected lifetime of the TomTom product.) TomTom's Google's maps are constantly updated and are free.
  6. Will you be traveling in both North America and Europe? Consider the TomTom World Traveler from Amazon featured earlier. It comes pre-loaded with maps for both North America and Europe.

Once you've tried a good GPS Navigator, you'll wonder how you ever did without it. Enjoy!

What factors are most important to you for GPS navigation?

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