|If you're the type who travels to new and unfamiliar lands for work or play, adding a GPS-based navigation system to your car makes sense. Many of today's nav systems give you both audio and visual turn-by-turn directions to almost any address, as well as find points of interest, including gas stations, restaurants, and ATMs. |
There are three types of nav systems: built-in, portable, and handheld. Built-in systems usually have the largest screens and can often be combined with other systems to play DVD movies or video games when the nav system is not in use. These systems are permanent and usually require a professional to cut or enlarge an opening in your dashboard for installation. Portable and handheld systems can be moved from vehicle to vehicle, but both generally have smaller screens than built-in systems, which can make programming destinations a challenge. Most new GPS designs offer turn-by-turn audible driving directions.
People into outdoors activities will appreciate handheld units, such as the Garmin iQue 3600
, because they go right from the dashboard and into a pocket, offering guidance for hikers, bikers, and boaters. However, driving with a handheld is difficult because the unit will either slide all over the dashboard or get propped up in a cup holder. And it's best to have a passenger along to operate it because the small interface is difficult to use while driving. A 12-volt adapter is useful for keeping the batteries from draining during long drives.
Portable units, such as our Editors' Choice TomTom GO
, attach to the dashboard via Velcro or other means. They have good form factors for driving, including easily viewable displays and accessible interfaces. For power, portables include plugs for 12-volt outlets or cigarette lighters. Although portables are convenient in that you can move them from one car to another, they don't exactly blend with the car's interior. A portable GPS unit will make an unsightly bump in the clean lines of a well-designed dashboard.
When installing a portable, choose a place that is roughly level with your instrument panel or slightly higher for the easiest viewing. Angle the screen toward the driver so that it doesn't catch the sun's glare. Make sure it is out of the way of the air bag, should it deploy.
Most built-in systems need to be professionally installed. They usually fit in the same slot as a car stereo, and they include radio tuners and CD players, so you won't have to do without music. The navigation screens on built-in units typically pop up or slide out, which makes for an interesting conversation piece when friends get in the car, but such units can cover other dashboard controls or air vents.