We recommend the Garmin nüvi 58LMT as the best mid-range GPS that includes lifetime map and traffic updates as well as Foursquare integration.
Finding the best GPS for your car can be a daunting and confusing task. Like everything else these days, there are too many products to choose from and the features can be confusing. But here’s the good news — the prices for GPS devices have never been better. You only need to decide on what features you want.
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These days a smartphone with a data connection can provide you with fantastic GPS directions. There are multiple apps that can provide you with directions such as the immensely popular Google Maps, Apple Maps, or the Waze app. One major advantage of using Google Maps or Waze is their growing online community of approximately 50 million active users who openly share information like real-time traffic, live routing and crucial updates like police traps, accidents, closures and hazards. You can even link your Waze account with Facebook so event directions automatically appear. Utilizing your smartphone is an easy alternative when you’re in major cities and have a consistent data connection.
There are some drawbacks to using a smartphone as a GPS however. Smartphones will only work in areas with a cellular connection, and smartphones that don’t support 4g or LTE will suffer from poor performance and often lose their GPS connection. There is also a concern with the battery draining quickly. 4g and LTE are battery hogs so make sure you can plug it in and charge it or you’ll quickly find yourself out of battery and without directions! If you decide to use your smartphone as a car GPS, check out our picks for the best car mount so you’re not fiddling with your phone while you’re driving.
Dedicated GPS is not dead
While the use of GPS navigation is more popular than ever due to smartphones, the death of dedicated GPS devices has been greatly exaggerated. Smartphones have carved out a good chunk of the GPS market and this has steadily driven down the cost of dedicated GPS devices. For consumers this is good. GPS devices have become more affordable and have more features than ever. But there are also fewer major players. Although there is overlap, the dedicated GPS and the smartphone GPS have come to serve the same market by fulfilling different needs. Smartphone GPS is great for local errands, live traffic and getting quick directions, but the dedicated GPS is for those who simply need more. A standalone GPS will work worldwide (maps permitting) without requiring a data plan and will work in areas without cell reception. This is especially important for anyone serious about road trips or travelling long distances (particularly through mountains). They are also easier for those who aren’t great with smartphones as they provide a simpler and larger interface. For now at least, the reliability, battery life and accuracy of a standalone GPS unit beats out the physical limitations of smartphones.
GPS features to look for
Travelling can be a nightmare when its busy and having a good GPS can help limit your stress. When deciding on the best GPS, the first thing we looked at was the speed and accuracy of the navigation routing. A few seconds of delay can be the difference between missing a turn or a required lane change. Unfortunately GPS manufacturers don’t provide details on the processors or other internal components aside from the very basics, so we judged different GPS models based on their speed in acquiring satellite signals. This was the best indicator of the overall processor speed in terms of acquiring a signal and rerouting directions without lagging.
Another extremely important factor is the points of interest (POI) database built into the mapping software. Points of interest include gas stations, hotels, shopping malls and other locations that you can easily search directions and addresses for. Smartphones have a huge advantage here because they can connect to the internet and search an unlimited number of points of interests. Most GPS devices have about 10 million points of interest stored in their onboard memory, with some of the newer devices also coming preloaded with Foursquare POI. This is why its a good idea to purchase a GPS with lifetime map updates so you can keep your databases updated.
We found the perfect screen size to be 5 inches. A sizeable and responsive touchscreen with a great user interface is a must have. Even if you have big fingers you should have no problems seeing the display or pressing the buttons on a 5 inch screen. If you really do need a larger screen to avoid straining your eyes, most GPS devices also come in a 6 inch version at a bit higher price point. For the most part however, a 5 inch screen should be easily readable and not take away much too much room from your dashboard.
Many GPS devices come with bluetooth support these days, but for the most part they can be finicky at times and not worth the hassle. We preferred not to have our GPS setup with bluetooth because we usually listen to music in our car through a bluetooth device. This same reasoning also applies to built-in voice commands. The result is usually incorrect results and we preferred to simply set our directions before we started driving. Trying to use the voice commands mostly reminded us how much this area still needs improvement, and we suggest saving your money for a model without bluetooth or voice command support. Either way, we have a few different options for you to choose from with varying features depending on your preference.
The best GPS for your car is..
To make our selection we scrutinized hundreds of user and expert reviews, compared the top models and tested to see if new features were worth the extra money. From our research, a few things stood out — the ability to control the GPS device via voice commands was inconsistent, a 5-inch screen size was the best for effortless typing and using the interface, and the speed of the latest GPS devices has improved substantially.
Released January 2015, the Garmin nüvi 58LMT is our current favourite GPS that is part of Garmin’s 2015 Essential series, beating our previous choice the Garmin nüvi2597LMT. The Garmin interface and usability is still great as always, while navigation and rerouting directions is fast and responsive. Direct Access is still a great feature that provides you with specific directions within a larger location. For example, it can guide you through a parking lot and tell you where the nearest store is within a mall. Satellite connectivity is also quick usually taking about 2 seconds to connect, while the power button places the GPS in standby mode and allows you to quickly resume navigation.
Garmin has does an excellent job with its new 2015 Essential series. They come with Foursquare integration so you have access to millions of more points of interest. This in itself is worth spending a little more for compared to older GPS models. If you have a smartphone with a data plan however, this might be a moot point for you. The nüvi 58LMT also allows you to wirelessly pair it with a backup camera (although we did not have a backup camera to test this function). The ‘Up Ahead’ feature is useful and constantly displays nearby services such as ATMs, gas stations and places to park. You also get access to information like your speed, speed limits and school zone alerts. One noticeable improvement in the Essential series compared to older models is the quality of the speaker. Because they do not support bluetooth, it seems Garmin spent extra effort improving both the loudness and clarity of the GPS speaker.
When GPS shopping, an important distinction is the use of ‘LMT’ when manufacturers are naming their devices. The ‘T’ stands for ‘Live Traffic Updates’ while the ‘LM’ stands for ‘Lifetime Map Updates’. The first number of the model also usually indicates the size of the screen. We picked the Garmin nüvi 58LMT over other models in the Essential series because it includes lifetime map updates for both the US and Canada, live traffic updates and because it has a great 5 inch screen. If you like what the nüvi 58LMT has to offer but know you won’t be driving up to Canada, then you can save $10 by purchasing the slightly cheaper Garmin nüvi 57LMT that comes preloaded with only USA maps. Aside from the maps, there is no difference between these two models.
If you’re looking for a GPS with bluetooth, smartphone link and voice control, then we suggest the excellent Garmin nüvi2597LMT. It is still the best deal for a mid-range GPS with both bluetooth and voice control. Voice commands can be useful when driving solo. All you have to do is speak and the device will promptly respond with audible and onscreen prompts. Sound great? Unfortunately it sounds better in writing than in reality. It works well when it actually understands your words, but we generally avoided using the voice commands after a while. You can however, connect this GPS through its bluetooth Smartphone Link to search more points of interest and also to share information with your friends.
For those of you who like wearing polarized sunglasses, we had no issues with any of these models. Some older Garmin GPS models had visibility issues at certain angles when wearing polarized sunglasses, but it looks like Garmin has fixed their screens.
Garmin also has three traffic services ranging from the Garmin Traffic (included in models with the letter ‘T’ at the end), Garmin Live Traffic, and Garmin HD Digital Traffic. The data comes from millions of other Garmin devices, incident reports, and other sources. Our recommendation is to just stick with the included Garmin traffic. From their website:
Garmin Traffic delivers alerts about wrecks, slow downs and construction delays. Your navigator monitors traffic conditions automatically on your specific route and in your area.
Garmin Live Traffic is only available through the Smartphone Link app and requires you to use your existing data plan. It updates every 2 minutes. On the other hand, the Garmin HD Digital Traffic updates every 30 seconds over its ‘HD Radio’ system but it is only available in Garmin’s Prestige nüvi series.
If you can spend a few extra dollars, then consider purchasing a better mount for your GPS than what is supplied by the manufacturer. In some states such as Minnesota and California you are not allowed to mount a GPS on your windshield because it obstructs your vision. As such, we spent a few hours researching GPS mounts and ended up loving the Garmin Friction Mount. Its less bulky and has a smaller footprint compared to having your GPS on your windshield. The silicone base is roughly the diameter of a CD and conforms to the shape of the dashboard. It secures itself very nicely and hasn’t moved an inch after using it for a couple months. Some people have reported the mount leaving a slight residue on your dashboard after dismounting it, but its easily wiped clean. We’d suggest purchasing this mount instead of the well known Garmin Beanbag Portable Friction Mount. Both mounts secure to the dashboard the same, but the beanbag mount is not as portable or compact and has multiple pieces that can be frustrating if you’re moving it from vehicle to vehicle often. The Garmin Friction Mount has a simple and more stylish design, and its also a big improvement over the standard windshield suction cup mounts they come with.
No smartphone and don’t want to spend much? The best budget GPS is last year’s 2014 Garmin nüvi 55LM 5 inch GPS that comes with lifetime map updates for the US and Canada. Price is king as its currently the top selling GPS on Amazon. Nothing fancy — no Bluetooth, Foursquare or traffic updates, just a solid and reliable GPS with Garmin’s great navigation system and interface. If you want live traffic updates for about 10 dollars more you can get the Garmin nüvi 55LMT. Older best selling models such as the Garmin nüvi 52LM from 2013 and the nüvi 50LM from 2011 are either discontinued or have actually increased in price due to third-party sellers. The previous year’s model is always going to provide the best value.
Still want Bluetooth? The best budget Bluetooth GPS is the 2013, 5 inch Garmin nüvi2597LMT and the 4.3 inch nüvi 2497LMT. These include Bluetooth, voice control, Real Directions, Active Lane Guidance and Up Ahead — features that our previous budget picks did not have. Our previous budget Bluetooth picks were the 2011, 5 inch Garmin nüvi 2595LMT or the slightly cheaper 4 inch Garmin nüvi 2495LMT. They are older models so they lacked a number of Garmin’s newer features such as Up Ahead and Active Lane Guidance, although they do include voice control, lane assist, Bluetooth and lifetime map updates. Our issue is that the lifetime map updates only last as long as the GPS model is still on Garmin’s website and it’s worth it to get the updated 2013 GPS devices. Garmin did not release any advanced Bluetooth GPS devices in 2014, so the 2013 advanced models are essentially last year’s models, which is great for us because the price has dropped and they are still really great GPS units.
Magellan and TomTom
It is evident that Garmin dominates the standalone GPS industry. Struggling but still contending for a the slice of the cake is Magellan and TomTom. The best value is the fairly priced 5-inch TomTom Start 55TM which is a reliable device with some great features like lifetime map updates, traffic data and gas prices even in the absence of a live data connection. However, some users have reported the GPS lagging when connecting to satellite and the traffic data is unreliable sometimes. This device closely resembles the Magellan RoadMate 5045-LM that has a 5-inch screen, lifetime map updates and voice prompts. However, for the price of these models we would rather stick with the newer Garmin models with better and more reliable features. We hope that both of these companies keep pushing out great products and improvements to keep the market competitive. Due to continuous market pressure from smartphones, GPS manufacturers have to continue to innovate and improve on what already makes them so good and specialized.
You might be finding your smartphone’s GPS app sufficient, but there are a lot of features that a dedicated GPS has that you might be missing out on. Aside from the basic reasons for a GPS such as coverage where smartphones dont have any, GPS are designed specifically for navigation while driving and have optimized features and functionality to do so. If we were to purchase a GPS, we would buy the Garmin nüvi 58LMT due to its enhanced Foursquare POI, lifetime map updates, and traffic alerts. If we wanted Bluetooth and voice control, we suggest the Garmin nüvi2597LMT.