Personal GPS Buying Guide

The purpose of a personal GPS is to orientate the user in an area with which they may not be familiar, in order to keep them from getting lost. There are many different types, as well as applications for these units. The purpose of this article is to give the reader a quick glimpse of just what these different types are and how each one can be useful to them in a given situation.

Types of Personal GPS units

There are a wide and varied number of personal GPS units currently available on the market place. Most of these will fall under the following categories:

Portable Navigation Systems

These are the most easily obtainable and most portable personal GPS units that can be purchased by the average consumer. Portable navigation systems are units that are not built into the dashboard of your vehicle, but are instead plugged in and out as the user sees fit. These units offer the ultimate advantage: Portability. They can be moved from vehicle to vehicle, and can be packed with your luggage when traveling to a new location. They are also easy to afford, as most portable navigation units are priced between $100 and $400.

In-Dashboard Personal Navigation Systems

Most new cars will feature GPS systems built into the dashboard as an optional feature. You will thus have a built-in GPS unit that will enable you to easily find a specific location by simply plotting in the details. Some units are set up to respond to voice commands, thus offering a whole new level of convenience and comfort to the user. These units can be quite pricey, often adding $1,000 or more to the total price of the vehicle.

Aftermarket In-Dashboard Systems

These are systems that can be installed into the dashboard of your vehicle. They normally come packaged as part of a new high end stereo system, and are designed to mimic the basic features of an in-dash GPS system. These features will include the ability to plot the most optimal route and show you real time traffic conditions as you ride toward it. Many of these systems feature a "stealth" design that will allow the screen to stay offline and hidden within the dashboard until such time as you desire to use it.

Telematics Systems

Telematics systems, such as the OnStar navigation system, combine GPS with cell phone technology, with the purpose of enabling drivers to quickly access emergency or convenience services directly from their vehicle. Telematics systems will include a wide menu of services including roadside vehicle and medical assistance in the event of a crash, and stolen vehicle location assistance. It can give directions to locations, such as restaurants, filling stations, and roadside motels.

Telematics units will usually include a basic GPS system that can provide verbal turn by turn directions that will enable the driver to get to any location they choose. Other systems employ a basic graphic display to highlight each necessary change of direction.

Pay Attention to

When purchasing a personal GPS system, there are a number of important points that you should pay special attention to. These points include, but are not limited to, the following:

How often do you drive, and how often do you drive along unfamiliar roads? Are you engaged in a career that will often require the use of a GPS system?

Will you be buying a new car soon? If so, it might be important to decide whether you wish to purchase a built-in or aftermarket GPS unit. Built-in units are more convenient to purchase, but will normally cost you a great deal more than an aftermarket device.

What other features would you like to include in your personal GPS unit? For example, you may wish your unit to be compatible with your BlueTooth, Smartphone, laptop, and trip computer. This may make all the difference as to whether you will ultimately prefer a portable or dashboard GPS unit.

Local laws may limit the amount of, as well as the nature of, devices that are permitted to be mounted on your dashboard. Check the laws in your area to make sure that your GPS unit is mounted correctly in accordance with legal requirements.

Battery size and storage is important in a handheld GPS device. You will want to choose a unit that will give you at least three hours' worth of service without having to be connected to the charger. And you will want a unit that can be charged through multiple means, such as a cell phone charger or the battery in your vehicle.

Top Brands and Product Lines

Some of the top brands that are currently offering well rated personal GPS systems include:

Tom Tom

Tom Tom is mostly known for its GO series of portable navigation devices, and offers three basic types of personal GPS, including:

Personal, hand held navigation devices

Dashboard-mounted personal navigation and auto control devices

Navigation software for after-market installation on mobile devices


Magellan is currently best known for its Road Mate and Smart GPS devices, both of which are tailored for use in vehicles. However, the company offers a range of GPS devices for varied applications, such as the following:

Vehicle navigation

Crossover GPS

Handheld GPS devices for outdoor use


The Garmin brand was originally applied to developments within the fields of aviation and marine technology. However, the company has since become famous for its ever expanding range of portable GPS devices. Garmin includes different types of GPS units under its Nuvi brand, including the following:




These product lines denote the level of experience for which each unit is designed for. These are fully portable hand held GPS devices that can be used in all manner of applications.