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.

June 17, 2009

If you didn't opt for an expensive built-in navigation systemwhen you bought your car, it's time to consider a portable: theprices 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 AdamBaer

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-stylecontrol panel. Like all units tested, it automatically redirectsyou if you veer off-course and comes preloaded with U.S. maps.But you can also program it to avoid tolls, find the quickestroute, or keep to side roads. OUR GRIPES The smallish splitscreen isn't easy to track while driving. Nor does the RoadMate360 give alternate directions on the fly, though the RoadMate 800($1,000), one step up, does. BOTTOM LINE Straightforward andreliable, the 360 is a good choice for GPS beginners-but if youcan 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 directionsand rerouting suggestions (you can even program it to avoid leftturns) are spot-on. Bonus feature: thanks to a 20-gig hard drivethat connects directly to the car stereo, the iWay won't justkeep you from getting lost-it'll store your whole family's musiccollection. OUR GRIPES Big and bulky, it's the least portable ofthe systems we tested. Not a machine to stow in a dainty purse.BOTTOM LINE The easiest to read of the portable units-you can seeit from the backseat. And its MP3 player is a boon. Our favoritefor 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 enoughto carry on a boat or a hiking trail, and it attaches easily to awindshield. Plus, it's loaded with extras: it works as a photoviewer, MP3 player, currency converter, and five-languagetranslator with software from Oxford University Press. Like thebest navigators, the Nüvi 350 gives reliable directions; italso provides real-time traffic alerts and pronounces streetnames accurately. OUR GRIPES The modestly sized screen is hard toread on the go, and with only 700 MB of storage space, you'llwant to up the memory with a SecureDigital card (one-gig cardsstart at about $50). BOTTOM LINE Great portability and innovativeextras, but too many bells and whistles for thetechnology-shy.

GPS FOR LESS Bargain prices for nav systems can often be foundonline: Search comparison sites such as Shopping.com andDealtime.com.

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