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Best navigation system

Which navigation system is best?

Driving around unfamiliar cities can be stressful if you have no way to check where you should be going. Most smartphones have global positioning systems built-in for this purpose, but they aren't always accurate.

And if you don't have a data connection, mobile navigation apps might not work at all. So, in most scenarios, a proper navigation system is the smart choice. The Garmin DriveSmart 61 is one of the best, as it has a large display and detailed maps.

What to know before you buy a navigation system

There are different systems for various activities

It would be easy to assume that there is only one kind of navigation system, as it generally only serves one purpose. But there are several variations with different functions and capabilities. There are marine navigation systems for boat owners and fishers, and for sports lovers, you get golf navigation. Road users have the choice of truck navigation or general road systems.  

Consider the mounting options

While your choice of navigation system might be different, all devices must be affixed to the vehicle. These also come in different varieties. Consider which type will be best suited for your mode of transport, as some use suction cups to stick to the window or dash, while you can hold others in place with a vent-mounted carrier.

Controls and functions

Navigation systems have come a long since the days of bulky units with spotty tracking. Many modern navigation systems now have capacitive touchscreens, making it much easier to select the options. Older versions used resistive touchscreens that often caused missed presses or delayed responses. Another addition to modern navigation systems is Bluetooth technology, which allows you to make and receive calls through the device. 

What to look for in a quality navigation system

Wide range of points of interest 

Getting directions to your location is the primary purpose of a navigation system, but sometimes you also want to know what is along the way. A device with an extensive list of points of interest built-in can make it exciting to plan a trip. Depending on the gadget's maker and the maps used, these POI can range from national parks, monuments, or sightseeing attractions. Some allow you to download POI from other users.

Battery recharging options

If you rely on your navigation system to get around, you'll be in real trouble if it suddenly runs out of battery power. Most systems have relatively robust batteries, but some built-in functions can quickly sap more power than you realize. A good-quality navigation system can be charged through a USB cable plugged into a battery pack or directly from an adapter in the vehicle's cigarette lighter. 

Lifetime maps and updates

Nobody wants to drive down a road, only to find that it leads to nowhere, even though the navigation system insists that it carries on. To prevent this from happening, navigation devices must be constantly updated to the latest map versions. A good-quality navigation system will supply users with lifetime map updates, changes and additional POI.

How much you can expect to spend on a navigation system

The average price of a navigation system will depend on what it's made for, who the manufacturer is and its capabilities. An entry-level device with a small screen can retail for $150-$200. Larger units with more functions regularly retail for $200-$300. 

Navigation system FAQ

Can a navigation system make you a safer driver?

A. While the system can't change your driving habits, it can help you to be more aware of your surroundings. It will make you a safer driver by alerting you to speed limits, sharp bends, nearby schools or speed cameras.

Are there different map styles for systems?

A. Yes, and many navigation systems will give you a choice for your preferred visuals. Some systems will automatically change the map's colors after sunset for safety and easy viewing.

What's the best navigation system to buy?

Top navigation system

Garmin DriveSmart 61

What you need to know: With the large 6.9-inch touchscreen and easy-to-read visuals, this navigation system is perfect for a cross-country road trip.

What you'll love: The navigation system has a battery life of up to one hour but can easily be recharged through a USB cable. It includes lifetime map updates from Garmin, Wi-Fi connectivity for software updates and hands-free calling. To keep your eyes on the road, you can ask for directions by simply using your voice.

What you should consider: Some users have indicated that alerts can be too frequent, causing a distraction.   

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top navigation system for the money

TomTom Via 1525TM

What you need to know: Even though the screen is only 5 inches, the Via is more than capable of keeping you on the right track. It features live traffic updates and comes with free map updates of North America.

What you'll love: The best feature about this navigation system is that the screen splits when you approach a junction. This clearly indicates which direction you need to travel so that you don't drive in the wrong lane. It ships with a reversible integrated car mount, can give spoken directions in 30 languages and charges through USB.

What you should consider: The map updates are released four times a year, and you'll only receive speed camera updates for the first three months.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Garmin DriveSmart 55

What you need to know: When paired with your mobile phone, the DriveSmart 55 gives you real-time service updates, such as live parking, locations of traffic cameras and changes in the weather.

What you'll love: Featuring a 5.5-inch display, this navigation system will route you around traffic so that you can get to your destination faster. You can also use your voice to interact with the device and see TripAdvisor ratings with POI in the area. It is recharged through the included USB cable and can connect to Wi-Fi networks.

What you should consider: It has a resistive touchscreen, which isn't as accurate or sensitive as a capacitive screen.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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