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Buying guide for best garmin navigation systems

The development of digital navigation systems is an essential lifehack that has quickly become the preferred form of navigation. Gone are the days of trying to fold your map and fit it back in the console of your vehicle. A GPS- or a cellular network-based navigation system has replaced the paper map for most people. And why not? These systems can give you step-by-step directions, point out areas of interest, and help you find restaurants and gas stations, all in real time.

Garmin makes a number of navigation system products that help you figure out the best way to reach your destination in the least amount of time. Some of the best navigation systems on the market are made by Garmin.

Use the information in our shopping guide to learn about the key features Garmin navigation systems offer.

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If you’re interested in reaching your destination via the most interesting path – and seeing some cool things along the way – a Garmin navigation system can help you do that.

Basic navigation system design

Garmin navigation systems use global positioning system (GPS) technology. This type of technology precisely determines your location anywhere on the planet.

The system hardware, similar in size to a large smartphone, connects with satellites orbiting the earth. By connecting with three or more satellites simultaneously, the software can determine your exact coordinates using trilateration. Satellite coverage is far more pervasive than cell coverage; your devices will receive satellite signals in very remote places where little or no cell phone signal is available.

Satellite positioning is also more precise. Cell-based navigation systems approximate your location based on infrequent pings between your phone and cell towers. In essence, a cell-based system says, “You are somewhere in this area,” while a satellite-based systems says, “You’re within a few feet of this spot.”

Garmin navigation systems can run from a battery, making them easily portable. Or they can run while being plugged into a power source. The versatility of the power source makes it possible to use it both in your vehicle and on foot.

Garmin navigation system features

When comparing different Garmin GPS devices, be sure to check for features that meet your needs. Here are some of the key features available in navigation systems.

3D graphics

With 3D graphics, the Garmin navigation system screen displays buildings in the area on the screen. The realistic look of the area helps you orient yourself to your surroundings. However, this feature is only available on higher-priced Garmin devices.


If you plan to connect a smartphone to your Garmin system, you will want the hardware to have Bluetooth connectivity capabilities. Bluetooth gives your navigation system the ability to connect to a smartphone and use some of its apps.


Without relevant maps, your navigation system isn’t likely able to navigate effectively. Make sure your system ships with maps for the locations in which you travel the most. Additionally, keep in mind that you may have to pay more to receive extra maps or updates to maps.

Map features

Some navigation systems include maps that highlight points of interest along your route. For example, some devices highlight historical landmarks, parks, or museums. Also, some provide the locations of restaurants, hotels, and gas stations that are along your route.

Traffic updates

Some units can connect with a smartphone app to give you real-time traffic updates. The device can then reroute you to avoid accidents or traffic snarls. Sometimes, a traffic update feature will cost you more.

Screen size

For most Garmin navigation systems, you’ll find display screens that measure between four and eight inches diagonally. Larger screens are desirable because you can see the data more clearly, but you’ll pay more for a bigger screen.

Lane guidance

Some newer navigation systems include a lane guidance feature. This alerts you as to whether you’re traveling in the correct lane to prepare for an upcoming turn. The feature works especially well when you’re traveling in an unfamiliar area where confusing intersections could lead you making a wrong turn.


A thin GPS device can slide easily into a pocket or hiking pack. Similar in size to a smartphone, its lighter weight and portability is essential for use when navigating hikes.

Voice control

The ability to control the Garmin system with your voice makes using it while driving much easier. After all, it’s difficult – and unsafe – to be trying to press the touch screen and make selections while driving.

Voice speaking

Most Garmin navigation GPS systems will alert you to upcoming turns via audio alerts. As with voice control, having auditory directions will be safer for you while driving than looking at the screen constantly.

Battery life concerns and tips

Relatively poor battery life is one of the biggest complaints among navigation system customers, including Garmin owners. The rechargeable battery in a Garmin navigation system may not carry enough power to ensure a full day of service.

Many people are accustomed to using a smartphone for more than a dozen hours per day without needing to recharge. To have a navigation system with a much shorter battery life is therefore quite frustrating. We’ve collected some ideas to help you maintain a better battery performance.

  • Reduce the brightness level of the display screen on your Garmin navigation system. Display screens are notorious battery hogs. You can gain quite a bit more battery power with the display brightness reduced.

  • Disable your connections. Even though Bluetooth is a low-power technology, disabling it when not in use will give you a bit more battery life. You shouldn’t need Bluetooth with your Garmin GPS system unless you’re connecting to a smartphone to use apps.

  • Program the system to enter sleep mode after a period of inactivity. The Garmin navigation system will continue to do its job in sleep mode, updating you on the driving directions as needed, but the screen won’t be actively visible.

  • When driving, leave the Garmin plugged into an electrical source in the car. Try to limit the amount of time you run the device on the battery. Any time you have the option of charging the device to “top off” the battery, take the time to do it.

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Did you know?
Many Garmin systems allow you to save commonly visited locations for easy access later. Most Garmin systems store the last 25 to 100 destinations you’ve visited.

Garmin navigation system prices

Garmin navigation system prices vary depending on the incorporated features. We’ve included some of the key features you’ll find in each price range.

Less than $150

For a low-priced navigation system, you can expect to have a smaller display screen and a limited number of maps. For example, you are likely limited to maps of the continental U.S. or Canada only.

Some of these lower-priced Garmin GPS navigation systems also contain slightly older GPS technology and likely fall short behind some of the newer models in determining your precise location for features like lane guidance.

More than $150

You’ll likely have a larger screen if you pick a more expensive Garmin navigation system. You’ll also have extra features such as Bluetooth compatibility, dual-orientation displays, and built-in dash cameras. An expensive Garmin GPS navigation device may offer a more precise location-finder than an inexpensive model, too.

Keep in mind that some Garmin systems have monthly subscription fees for certain features. Basic features are free to use, but extras will cost you a little bit more.

Additionally, you may have to pay for new maps or to download map updates at some point down the road. Some apps that are compatible with the Garmin system have their own fees. Sometimes you can pay a single upfront fee to receive all updates for the device. However, some pricier models offer free updates to maps and other features for the life of the unit.

As you plan your budget regarding these Garmin GPS systems, it’s wise to expect that you will have to pay some extra fees down the road.

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Some vehicles have navigation systems built into the entertainment system of the vehicle. These systems can be used while in the vehicle and cannot be taken on a hike or city walking adventure.


Q. What are some other options for in-vehicle navigation?

A. Some people choose to use a smartphone app to help them find directions. This works well, but if you need to take a call or you’re in an area where cellular signals are weak, you could lose your navigational ability. Because the Garmin navigation system uses a GPS signal to operate, you don’t have to worry about the strength of the cellular signal.

Q. What are some extra hardware features Garmin navigation systems contain?

A. Some Garmin navigation systems offer a few hardware options that set them apart from smartphone navigation apps. For example, the system may offer a built-in camera that records your driving. This can be helpful for monitoring teenage and valet drivers. Some systems even include input and output ports that allow you to attach other devices, such as a rear-view camera.

Q. Why do I need Bluetooth connectivity in a Garmin navigation system?

A. Bluetooth connectivity allows apps on your smartphone to communicate with your navigation system. Certain smartphone apps are compatible with the Garmin navigation system hardware and allow you to gain access to information about gas prices, weather forecasts, and updated travel information in real time.

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