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Get the Right GPS

So you’re finally tired of getting lost and ready to upgrade to a GPS, but you’re confused because there are a lot to choose from out there –  I mean a LOT, and each one seems to tout different features. Well, let’s see if I can detangle this for you.


Let’s start with what I call “non-features”. These are the things that ALL GPS’s offer, but some of the companies have enough integrity not to try to pass them off as “features”.  It’s like years ago when I saw a car ad on TV, and just for giggles, paused on the screen that listed the “included options”. One of these was a “circular directional control device”. That’s a steering wheel. They also had the four tires listed, but I forget what they called them.

Turn-by-turn directions – A GPS that didn’t offer turn-by-turn directions would be pretty useless, don’t you agree? That’s kind of the point of having a GPS.

No GPS subscription fee – There is no such thing as a “GPS subscription fee”. If you ever come across one that does try to charge you a GPS subscription fee, run. All that a GPS does is read satellite signals. Some GPS companies used to charge a discounted annual fee for map updates, but many of them have map updates included these days.


Maps – Might as well start with the basics. All GPS’s include a map pack to start. All US GPS’s include the US, most include Canada and Mexico, some even include Puerto Rico.  Maps for European countries, South America, etc., can typically be purchased from the GPS company. One thing to look for, though, if you’re a truck driver or driving a big U-Haul or something would be a map that includes truck routes. These will route you around roads where trucks aren’t allowed, or that have obstacles such as low overpasses.

Traffic – If you live in an area where traffic is a problem (Seattle, Los Angeles, New York) or are visiting one of these places, look for a GPS that includes live traffic updates. This will tell you of any upcoming traffic snarls and road closures and direct you around them.

Voice-controlled navigation – Personally, having done my time trying to get voice-controlled phone menus understand me. I don’t get the appeal of this, but if you want to try to talk to your GPS instead of programming it manually, then this is a good feature for you. In theory, you can just tell your GPS where you want to go and it will program itself.

Bluetooth – But then again, what doesn’t have Bluetooth these days? I’ve even seen Bluetooth-enabled digital watches that give you your caller ID on their faces. I will say this, though… Years ago I had a Garmin GPS with an MP3 player, so I had it rigged to my car’s speakers, and it was Bluetooth-enabled.  So it was GREAT to be able to hear the person that I was talking to on the phone that clearly.

Views – All GPS’s have your standard overhead or over the shoulder view.

Garmin also offers a “Photoreal Junction View”, which looks a little like playing a racing video game.

Some companies also offer what they call “Real View” (no pun intended, I’m sure) which is a rear-view mirror and GPS combined.

There are also GPS’s that will play your music, play your movies, play your DVD’s or give you directions in celebrity voices (two of the worst that I can imagine… both of which have been available from Tom Tom are Paris Hilton and Gilbert Gottfried) or do pretty much anything else that you can imagine aside from make you breakfast. There are the basics, so print this out, take it to the store and buy a GPS!

~Randal Schaffer