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Review: Four GPS Devices That Will Drive You Sane

It's official: The GPS floodgates are open. Not a week goes by without the announcement of at least one new navigation system, which is good news for drivers who need help getting from point A to point B (with a possible stopover at point C). If you're on a budget, you can now choose from many models priced under $500. If money is no object, you can enjoy advanced features like real-time traffic updates and a hands-free speakerphone. Whatever your navigation needs, there's a GPS system that's sure to fit the bill.


Four GPS Devices


•  Introduction

•  Averatec Voya 350


•  Garmin Nuvi 360

•  Mio C710

•  TomTom One

•  Conclusion


•  Image Gallery

The four models I reviewed -- the Averatec Voya 350, Garmin Nuvi 360, Mio C710, and TomTom One -- reflect the latest trends in navigation systems. They're all compact enough to fit in a pocket. They're all equipped with 3.5-inch touch screens, meaning you no longer have to fiddle with complex, button-driven interfaces; entering an address is as simple as tapping out letters and numbers on an onscreen keyboard. And they all employ the new SiRFstar III chipset, which enables faster satellite acquisition and better tracking when you're in sky-obscured areas (like under dense tree cover or surrounded by high-rise buildings). In my tests, most of the GPS units were able to establish a satellite fix within a minute of powering up (older models usually took 3-5 minutes), and all four maintained their lock even after I'd pulled the car into the garage.

So if the latest models all have similar designs and navigation capabilities, how do you choose one over another? There's price, of course; the products in this roundup range from $350 to $965. At the low end, don't expect much beyond basic navigation. By spending extra, you open the door to additional features. For instance, some of the pricier models provide text-to-speech capabilities, meaning the turn-by-turn voice prompts announce not only the distance to upcoming turns, but also the actual street names.

More Than GPS
An increasing number of GPS devices also double as media players, allowing you to listen to MP3s, view photo slideshows, and watch movies. The Garmin Nuvi even supports audio books downloaded (via your PC) from Audible.com. In most cases, you'll need a memory card to store music, photos, and the like (all four models in the roundup have SD slots), though it may be possible to access leftover RAM if the device uses internal storage. There remains the question of how best to listen to audio stored on a GPS; most models have headphone jacks, but it's illegal (and unsafe) to wear headphones while driving. And a tiny built-in speaker can't take the place of your car's sound system. If you're really keen on using your GPS for music, consider plugging in an FM transmitter -- the same kind iPod owners use to pipe music through their car stereos.

If you spend a lot of time on the road, consider a GPS that can download real-time traffic updates and suggest alternate routes to help you bypass congested areas. Usually this is accomplished via an FM antenna and a subscription to a traffic-reporting service. And if you spend a lot of time on the phone, look for models that offer a speakerphone option. These link to your cell phone via Bluetooth for hands-free conversations. Sure, it has nothing to do with navigation, but it sure is a handy feature.

Averatec Voya 350
With a direct price of $379.99 (not including a $30 mail-in rebate if you order before the end of the year), the Averatec Voya 350 undercuts all the other navigation systems in this roundup -- in some cases by a significant margin. While I fully expected that this bargain price would mean a boatload of compromises, the Voya provides all the essentials: a SiRFstarIII GPS receiver, a generous POI (points of interest) database, and a simple touch screen interface. You don't get bells and whistles like an MP3 player or photo viewer, but how many drivers really use those features, anyway?

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