Brands are good, but features are more important
by it7276 - 12/1/07 10:00 PM
Hi Mary Jane,
I was actually working at a Staples location the day after Thanksgiving when we were selling 2 models of GPSes at severe discounts, and they really did fly...we had a total of around 50 of them, and they were all gone within 90 minutes.
Having owned one GPS and toyed with many others, I would say that while it would be nice to go with a name brand, since it implies reliability, it is really more important to get the best mix of features. That's not to say that a Garmin wouldn't be better than a generic Walgreen-brand GPS, but in general they all work the same, using a network of satellites to track exactly where the unit is.
The features are what really separate the units. All will come pre-loaded with maps, the ability to program routes, and pre-loaded Points of Interest, such as restaurants and gas stations. An optional feature which many consumers will enjoy is the Text to Speech feature. Having Text to Speech simply means that if you've programmed a route and you need to turn onto Baker Street, the computerized voice will alert you "Take next right onto Baker Street." Without Text to Speech, the voice will simply alert you "Take next right." The screen will still display the name of the street, but sometimes it's nice to hear it out loud.
Many GPS units will also include traffic alerts. Some units charge for this, though the Navigon brand units are currently featuring free traffic alerts for as long as you own the unit. Navigon units also feature a display that tries to mimic the real world, so instead of just lines on a map you'll see a graphical road and signs alerting you to highway exits.
Some units also have built-in MP3 players, and this can prove to be quite a valuable feature. I used my GPS (a Lowrance model) to drive from Ohio to California, and I never had to change a single CD since my GPS had a 10GB MP3 player built-in. It even came with a cable to connect directly into an auxiliary port on the back of my CD player, so it played quite clearly through my car's speakers, with the voice pausing the song when it needed to alert me to an upcoming turn.
Where buying a name brand unit may be more important is in finding the accessories. Most units come with a suction cup for mounting a GPS to the windshield, many of my customers have come in looking for dashboard mounts, saying that the suction cup can be unreliable. In-store, we only carry a Garmin dash mount, though we carry other accessories (such as carrying cases) for Tom Tom units. Any reliable brand will allow you to order the accessories through their website, but sometimes it is convenient knowing you can just pop into a store should you need anything.
Features, along with physical size of the screen, should be the main aspects you focus on when you buy a GPS. Although Garmin and Magellan may hold a good share of the market, there are plenty of smaller brands (Lowrance, Navigon) that provide quality products with excellent features at lower prices.