If you didn't opt for an expensive built-in navigation system when you bought your car, it's time to consider a portable: the prices have dropped, the technology's up to speed, and the new, smaller GPS units can be transferred from car to car with ease. Presenting three models that aced our road tests. By Adam Baer
GPS for Dummies
Magellan RoadMate 360
PRICE $700 WEIGHT 9 ounces SCREEN SIZE 3.5 inches SELLING POINTS Lucid driving instructions and an intuitive, iPod-style control panel. Like all units tested, it automatically redirects you if you veer off-course and comes preloaded with U.S. maps. But you can also program it to avoid tolls, find the quickest route, or keep to side roads. OUR GRIPES The smallish split screen isn't easy to track while driving. Nor does the RoadMate 360 give alternate directions on the fly, though the RoadMate 800 ($1,000), one step up, does. BOTTOM LINE Straightforward and reliable, the 360 is a good choice for GPS beginners-but if you can afford it, spring for the 800.
The Easy Reader
Lowrance iWay 500c
PRICE $800 WEIGHT 2 pounds SCREEN SIZE 5 inches SELLING POINTS This gizmo's screen is large and bright, with clear type, zoomable maps, and giant controls. Most important, its directions and rerouting suggestions (you can even program it to avoid left turns) are spot-on. Bonus feature: thanks to a 20-gig hard drive that connects directly to the car stereo, the iWay won't just keep you from getting lost-it'll store your whole family's music collection. OUR GRIPES Big and bulky, it's the least portable of the systems we tested. Not a machine to stow in a dainty purse. BOTTOM LINE The easiest to read of the portable units-you can see it from the backseat. And its MP3 player is a boon. Our favorite for long road trips.
The Tech Toy
Garmin Nüvi 350
PRICE $969 WEIGHT 5.1 ounces SCREEN SIZE 3.5 inches SELLING POINTS The size of a deck of cards, this handheld is small enough to carry on a boat or a hiking trail, and it attaches easily to a windshield. Plus, it's loaded with extras: it works as a photo viewer, MP3 player, currency converter, and five-language translator with software from Oxford University Press. Like the best navigators, the Nüvi 350 gives reliable directions; it also provides real-time traffic alerts and pronounces street names accurately. OUR GRIPES The modestly sized screen is hard to read on the go, and with only 700 MB of storage space, you'll want to up the memory with a SecureDigital card (one-gig cards start at about $50). BOTTOM LINE Great portability and innovative extras, but too many bells and whistles for the technology-shy.