Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: Aren't all GPS devices essentially the same? Why the price differences?

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) November 30, 2007 9:13 AM PST

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Aren't all GPS devices essentially the same? Why the price differences?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 11/30/07 9:13 AM

Question:

I went out shopping the day after Thanksgiving and saw that many stores had advertised portable GPS devices on sale for cheap (I really had no idea they were so inexpensive). Since they were so cheap, I thought about buying one for myself and my sister, who has no sense of direction. The couple that I saw advertised were by Magellan and TomTom (strange name if you ask me) and they cost a little over $100. Well, when I went to check them out they were all sold out, of course, so I looked at other models, and to my surprise most of the other models cost over $250 dollars and some up to $400. So what is the difference between the less expensive one and more expensive ones? Don't GPS essentially do the same? I would really like to buy a couple of these as a present to myself and my sister for Christmas, but I really want to get the whole picture before buying one. Would I be in a world of regret if I went with a cheaper model? Do name brands make a difference? I've heard of Magellan and Garmin, but TomTom sounds more like a toy. Some pointers would help me greatly! Happy holidays to you!

Submitted by: Mary Jane H.

Answer voted most helpful by the CNET Community newsletter readers

GPS device differences


Mary, here are the differences that I've found in GPS devices:

Text-to-speech: the ability of the device to announce street names. Surprisingly, many GPS devices still only have the ability to announce turns, e.g.: turn right, bear left, but not to speak the street name on which youll be turning. Some people view all voice announcements as just a marketing gimmick, but I find it very useful, especially since my state doesnt permit windshield mounts. CA & MN expressly forbid them, my state and many others have more generic laws, e.g.: my state only permits a rear-view mirror, EZ-Pass toll-collection device, and state inspection sticker to be placed on the windshield. Even those small oil-change stickers are technically illegal, and the much larger GPS suction cup mount is likely to get you a second ticket if youre stopped for anything else. Some devices go one step further in text-to-speech and offer additional cost voices, sometimes including celebrities.

3D view: I thought this was a marketing gimmick until I bought a GPS that had it. Having that birds-eye view really does make it easier to follow the route. Some devices go one step further and show rough models of actual buildings/landmarks in 3D mode.

Upgradeable maps/POI lists from the manufacturer: many lower-cost devices have a built-in map that cant be upgraded. If you live in an area where new sub-divisions are going in or where new ramps are being added to freeways, this could be a problem. And Points-of-Interest (POI) are always changing. This feature could also be important if you think you might like to take your GPS device on vacation to a foreign country. Does the manufacturer or mapping provider offer add-on maps for additional regions? If you cant update the maps in your device, are you willing to buy a new device in a few years?

Ability to modify maps and add POI on your own: Maybe you want to really organize your common travels (saving gas & cutting back on CO2 emissions) and so adding the schools your children go to, the supermarket, your dry cleaners, etc. to the POI would make mapping an optimized route a lot easier. Or maybe that street a few blocks away just changed to one-way and you dont want the device to continue to try to route you through it the wrong way. Having the ability to update the map data on your own can be helpful & can put off the time when you need to purchase a new device or go back to the manufacturer to buy a map update.

Headphone jack/FM output: the built-in speaker on most GPS devices is very small, and often leads to distortion of the voices. Does the device youre considering have a headphone jack (that you could feed into your car radio) or direct output to the radio via FM output?

Night mode: Does the device have a lower light output mode for evening driving? You dont want your view of the road or dashboard to be impaired by a light bright enough to read a newspaper.

Pedestrian mode: If you plan to use your GPS device outside of the car (e.g., walking on foot) does the device support that type of routing (e.g., people can walk either way on one-way streets and cut through parks, vehicles cant).

Scale: Paper maps always include a scale showing inches to miles (or cm to km), but many GPS devices only show a zoom level. Im shopping for a new home, so knowing how close the house Im looking at is to major highways, the supermarket, etc. is important. So having a little bar on the screen showing a fixed distance is very helpful. Otherwise, you have to guess if the width of the map being displayed on screen is 300 feet, or 5 miles. Keep in mind that this feature is only available on the 2D visualization mode (for those devices that have it at all).

Bluetooth integration: This feature allows the GPS device to be used as a speakerphone for your cell phone. I dont see the point of a speakerphone in a noisy driving environment, but some might. Some devices also can use your cell phone to connect to various online services, e.g.: the ability to reroute when accidents have been reported on your route, gas prices for stations along your route, even automatically updating POI lists, etc.

Ability to store destinations/routes: You dont want to constantly re-enter your home or work address as the start or end. If youre visiting Uncle John for a few days, you dont want to enter his address every time youve driven somewhere and realize that youre not sure what the quickest way back is.

Voice recognition: Some devices will allow you to add a voice tag for those custom destinations youve saved, e.g. go home. Some go one step further and allow you to enter arbitrary destinations and routing changes with voice commands, e.g., avoid Route 95, go to 12 Market Street, Reston, Virginia, etc.

http://forums.cnet.com/5208-10149_102-0.html?forumID=7&threadID=273834&messageID=2644587#2644587

Submitted by CNET member Brad Hansen

If you have additional advice or recommendations for Mary, please click on the reply link and post away. Please be detail in your answers. Thank you!

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