Which GPS?

by Harry on May 10, 2010

My wife announced that she wants a GPS system for her birthday (its ok, she studiously avoids reading CT). Well, which GPS system should I get for her? Are there any differences? Looking around I am bewildered. (Ideally I’d like to avoid having one with a posh female English accent, both because it irritates me and because it induces my wife to mock mercilessly).



Doug T 05.10.10 at 1:20 pm

No specific system recommendations, but the one must have feature is text to voice–where it will actually read you the name of the street you have to turn on, rather than just telling you to turn in 50 feet. Most units except the very entry level ones have that, though.

The accents are selectable–you can pick what voice you want the system to use.


Bloix 05.10.10 at 1:32 pm

We call ours Philippa.


etbnc 05.10.10 at 1:47 pm

Consumer Reports did a GPS comparison a few months ago, which may be helpful if you have access to it.

I recently replaced a very old Garmin hand-held with a Garmin Nuvi 255W. I’m satisfied with it. It seems to offer a decent feature set for its price, including text-to-speech with selectable voices. It does NOT supply real-time traffic information, which wouldn’t be useful where I drive.

Real-time traffic might be a feature differentiator for your spouse’s needs.



Andrew 05.10.10 at 2:06 pm

Usually there are several choices of voice to choose from on the machine, so if you don’t like the posh English woman, you can go for an American voice.


scathew 05.10.10 at 2:22 pm

One thing I learned is you want one where you can pre-load the route. Most choose the route for you and you have little or no control of which roads etc. the GPS chooses to take. Thus it can send you on a road you know you don’t want to take.

At a minimum you want to be able to mark a road as being unusable – the Garmin I have (which wasn’t cheap originally)(albeit I bought it refurbished) does have the ability to say “detour here”, but if the detour is wrong you’re, for lack of a better term, screwed.

In any case, I want to replace mine because of the lack of ability to at least set “via” routes (ie: I want to go to X via road Y).

I have a Garmin, which otherwise is excellent and if you look at the Amazon reviews tend to rate higher than other brands. However they’re usually more expensive, though excellent refurbs with full warranties and map upgrades still available can be had from eBay (which is where I got mine).


Bill 05.10.10 at 2:35 pm

I have an awesome Garmin which has speech recognition…I can talk to it and tell it what address to go to without having to take my eyes off the road for more than a second… A wonderful feature which rarely misunderstands me (even though I have an “awful” American (i.e. New York) accent). Also, it has selective speaking voices including an Australian one if you don’t like the British or American voices. We use the male British voice (Brits are assumed to have, somehow, “superior” intelligence and culture when compared to Americans) and we call ours Daniel….


Chuckchuck 05.10.10 at 2:36 pm

Magellan has the best interface think Mac, Garmin is the industry standard think PC and Tom-Tom is junk. (I know this because of thefts, seems like every junkie in Chicago needs a GPS! Now I’m stuck with the Tom-Tom) I like them small so they can fit in the pocket for walking or biking and mount on the windshield for driving, even pulled one out on an airliner found out we were going 536mph. Used it on a boat once two and was able to see the coast better. Vastly improved my situational awareness in every strange place.
GPS is a life changer if you hate getting lost.



ajay 05.10.10 at 2:50 pm

The obvious answer is the Crooked Timber GPS. It has a selection of erudite-sounding voices from different parts of the world. One of them will tell you which way to go and then all the others will butt in disagreeing.


Peter 05.10.10 at 2:57 pm

You hear these stories about people turning as the GPS commands, and driving off a cliff. Guess it’s important to have an accurate one.


y81 05.10.10 at 3:05 pm

“The accents are selectable—you can pick what voice you want the system to use.”

If you know what you are doing. My sister parked her BMW once, and the parking attendant did something so that the GPS spoke German thereafter. (Actual German, not English with a German accent, which would have been funnier.) She had to take it to the dealer to get it switched back.


Bruce 05.10.10 at 3:06 pm

The Magellan interface is very nice – for example, it’s smart enough to grey-out letters that don’t lead to a valid city or road as you type. Magellan 1412 (not cutting edge any more, but perfectly functional if you don’t want realtime traffice) is massively cheap on amazon right now – we just bought one to replace an accidentally-destroyed predecessor. It seems to have an unnatural fascination for the Dumbarton Bridge but is otherwise pretty good at routing.


The Raven 05.10.10 at 3:09 pm

If she already has a iPhone or GPS-equipped gPhone, I believe there’s an app she can buy, which may be the best deal.


brazilianboy 05.10.10 at 3:14 pm

It would be fine to have a GPS with some “social” knowledge beyound geographical information. Here in Brazil sometimes GPS devices drive people right into “favelas”, where they are robbed, although it was the “right” path.


Matt 05.10.10 at 3:17 pm

I have a few year old Garmin that I bought on ebay (I couldn’t afford it new) and it’s okay. It’s very useful in many ways and much easier than using a map. But, there are several things about it that annoy me greatly. If you can get one that avoids these things it would be a big plus. I mispronounces many street names. When it’s a name you hear a lot (because it’s close to home, so you hear it very time you use it while leaving) it can start to grate on your nerves. It often gives confusing directions. For example, in a direction I go a fair amount, two interstates cross. There are exits for North and South bound directions of the “cross” interstate a bit apart, one with a right exit and then one with a left exit. If you simple want to stay on the road you’re on already, the GPS, rather than saying something like, “Continue on I-76 for X miles”, will say “Go left on I-76, then go right”, where what that actually means is “Don’t take the exit on the right, and then don’t take the exit on the left. Just keep on this road.” It does this sort of stuff a lot, and if you’re in an area where you don’t know the roads and there are lots of possible interpretations, it can be pretty confusing.

A very useful feature that my GPS doesn’t have would be to show an over-view of the whole route before starting. Even better would be to have a feature like that now available on google maps, where several possible routes are shown and you can pick one. Maybe some new ones do that. If so, it’s great. As it is, with mine, if I know I want to take a route different from what it wants, at least in part, it will essentially keep telling me to turn around until I get a certain distance from its preferred route. There might be ways to deal with this, but it’s not straight-forward or obvious on the system I have. If you can find one that avoids this, it would be a huge plus.

Finally, get a suction-cup mount. Mine came with a dash “gravity” mount and it’s terrible- always sliding around and threatening to fall off. Still, despite my complaining, I’m glad to have mine and think they are great devices in general.


Alex 05.10.10 at 3:18 pm

even pulled one out on an airliner found out we were going 536mph

I did this with a Hewlett Packard HP6915w, a Windows smartphone that was one of the first to integrate GPS. I took a photo so I could use the Web lookup feature later on to check that we were indeed over Iran. That gadget was quite cool for a Windows device (the GPS was also good enough that the navigation application could fire alerts as you changed lanes on the A406). Interesting thought that it’s now 5 years in the past…


Earnest O'Nest 05.10.10 at 3:25 pm

I would definitely go for one of those that allow you to globally position yourself! Preferably, it will fail regularly, thus providing you with a fantastic excuse to miss a boring function.


Chris Bertram 05.10.10 at 3:44 pm

My Tom Tom (European version – Irish female voice) … tends to decide that we are in the middle of a field (or similar). I don’t know if this is a bug with all systems. It has, so far, only once tried to direct us into a river (claiming there was a ford at that point). Luckily, the driver (not me) ignored this instruction.


ajay 05.10.10 at 4:15 pm

14: your TomTom is an ethnic joke?

(“…sure, I wouldn’t start from here.”)


John-Paul Ferguson 05.10.10 at 4:29 pm

Clearly you need not Garmin or Tom-Tom but Ye Can’t Miss It (Look for it starting at 6:56).


DaveMB 05.10.10 at 4:45 pm

We have had good success with Navigon on an iPhone. It will sometimes get confused when its GPS fix is bad and decide that we have driven off a motorway — you would think that it would have a bias toward believing that we’ve stayed on the road until given convincing evidence…


alkali 05.10.10 at 5:34 pm

I’ve used Garmin and a couple competitors and to my mind Garmin wins on (a) accuracy of map data — you aren’t asked to make left turns where you can’t; (b) accuracy in urban environments — if you are driving over or under another street, Garmin is better at guessing which one you are actually on, and Garmin handles tunnels pretty well; (c) user interface/aesthetics; and (d) price.


Janice 05.10.10 at 6:04 pm

We have a Knight Rider GPS from Mio to fulfil my husband’s fanboy wishes. The functionality is adequate (though no text to voice; however, the display is quite clear and readable) and we have been able to change routes on the fly albeit with a bit more hands-on work (you need a passenger as navigator or a place to pull over).


Colin Danby 05.10.10 at 7:27 pm

my geeky android G1 has a good free app that does this, and its integration with other apps is nice — I can tap a contact, bring up the contact’s address, and then ask for voice directions there.

Do people find, though, that following voice directions induces a certain degradation of consciousness? That is, you wait passively to be told what to do, rather than scanning for clues and thinking about where you are?


Matt 05.10.10 at 7:34 pm

Do people find, though, that following voice directions induces a certain degradation of consciousness? That is, you wait passively to be told what to do, rather than scanning for clues and thinking about where you are?

I was complaining above that the voice directions on my Garmin GPS are often not that good (another thing- it often says “on” when it be much clearer to say “towards”- in situations where you want to go towards some street or the like, but will actually not go on it, as you’ll take another branch. No problem if you know where you’re going, but confusing if you don’t, and often leading to needless lane-changing, a prime place to get in a crash.) So, I find that I tend to look at the map and see where the high-lighted route is and then figure out where to go from that as much as listening to the directions. It works pretty well, but means keeping less of an eye on the road. Still better than looking at a printed map while driving, though.


Ano 05.10.10 at 7:49 pm

Are you willing to consider upgrading her phone? The phones with the Android OS from google have voice turn-by-turn directions built into google maps. The voice is “female American Robo.t” I have the Motorola Droid. It’s good.


Warren Terra 05.10.10 at 7:55 pm

My 2-year-old cheap nearly-a-smartphone Samsung Instinct came with GPS, complete with turn-by-turn voice directions, at no extra fee or increased subscription. Smaller screen and a bit slower response than a dedicated GPS, and it needs a cell tower to look up addresses instead of actually knowing them all, but it’s worked for me, including moving across the country and getting settled in to a place I didn’t know. And it’s always in my pocket and is linked to my contacts list, and I can click on an address in my web browser and get directions to it.

So basically, I’d recommend that instead of getting a GPS for at least a hundred dollars, you upgrade her phone to any model with a decent-sized screen, GPS, and navigation software that gives turn-by-turn directions without a monthly fee (which I am given to understand some navigation Apps demand). In other words, what DaveMB and Colin Danby said, except that you don’t have to pay significant money for a fancy phone like theirs just to get usable GPS navigation (which is not to say there aren’t other features you might want to pay for).


David 05.11.10 at 3:36 am

re 13: GPS: A tool for determining your exact location without knowing where you actually are.


ejh 05.11.10 at 9:15 am

1. Why not buy her a set of maps instead?

2. If you must buy one of thse grotesque machines, try and get one with a “rude” setting. I had to sit in a car last summer in which the machine completed every request with a “por favor”, it presumably having been set to “polite”. Who in the name of God needs to have a machine say “please” to them? And surely there must be an option to have it do the opposite?


David 05.11.10 at 9:28 am

My wife loves the “lane assist” feature on ours (a Navigon), which tells you which lane to be in on the interstate.


michael e sullivan 05.11.10 at 12:54 pm

My wife used a tomtom app for her palm at first (5 years ago), and she hated it. Perhaps more accurately, she preferred it to not having a GPS at all, but was often seriously annoyed. In retrospect, after buying a Garmin, she hated it.

Now, I have her Garmin, and she uses the GPS app on her Android (same phone as the gPhone, I believe. She likes it slightly less than the Garmin, but close enough that it’s well worth not carrying a second device. As somebody else mentioned, these things get stolen all the time, so having it on your phone (which you presumably take out of your car as a mattter of course) is a big advantage.

If you have a droid/gPhone, this is definitely the way to go. I can’t speak to how good the software is on iPhone or Blackberry, but if it’s similar, that would be my choice also.


Smitty 05.11.10 at 1:12 pm


I had a Magellan and it turned out to know nothing about state/tribal roads in the SW of America. It was as if we were driving in an unfathomable desert, or at sea on Mars, once we left a federal highway. Otherwise, in town, it worked OK , so we gave it to a more urban friend who doesn’t navigate so well.

The GIS pros at the IT shop I last worked in thought that Garmin was the only substitute for a real GPS system. Real GPS was of course Trimble. I do like Garmin best, Trimble seems like you need a 2-week class to make sense of it. It isn’t aimed at casual users, but at engineers and surveyors.

Garmin can do either, I think, depending upon the instrument you actually pick to buy. Their tools seem to be upgradable via a USB port, or attached to a laptop or hand-held and used like that, if necessary.

So that’s my advice, Garmin. CR seems to agree, and recommends Garmin Nuvi 265T as the least expensive, Garmin Nuvi 765T as a medium priced, and Garmin Nuvi 765T at the top of the line.


DaveMB 05.11.10 at 3:53 pm

The Navigon has an interesting error in its road database — the standard shortcut to go from our western MA town toward Boston changes names at a town boundary, and the database thinks that the two roads do not connect. So it frantically attempts to direct us away from the “break in the road” and goes back to normal once I cross it.

On the other hand, it’s very clever about detouring around jams on the interstates using local roads — apparently it gets real-time traffic info by noting when its other customers are stuck.


Margaret Atherton 05.11.10 at 9:36 pm

We have a Tom-tom which I have never hated, indeed I feel my life has changed immeasurably for the better now we have that nice female voice to guide us in and out of strange towns. Sh does tend to panic for some reason on round-abouts and after giving perfectly accurate directions, starts imploring us to turn around as soon as possible. She has no name but we tend to refer to her, someone piosly, as “Our Lady”.


Seth Gordon 05.12.10 at 2:21 pm

As an employee of a cellphone manufacturer, I am honor-bound to tell you that our newer smartphones, too, come with GPS navigation.

However, I must admit that when my wife decided it was time to get a GPS, rather than upgrade her own phone, she bought a TomTom device on clearance, partly because it was cheap, and partly so we can get directions from Darth Vader.


Steven 05.12.10 at 4:28 pm

Buy the GPS that is built into your next car. It is like the difference between building a boockase into your home and pushing one up againsr your wall. One is much cheaper, the other much more elegant.


Steven 05.12.10 at 4:29 pm

Buy the GPS that is built into your next car. It is like the difference between building a bookase into your home and pushing one up against your wall. One is much cheaper, the other much more elegant.

Comments on this entry are closed.