Top GPS Devices
Remember life before GPS on your smartphone? I do, because it’s when I first drove from New York to Philadelphia—and got lost. I wound up on a seemingly never-ending two-lane road, with no place to even turn around. Getting back on track took forever.
Getting lost, of course, can lead to exciting adventures. But this was not one of them—the experience left me feeling helpless.
This is why having a readily available GPS device is ideal for most travelers. Whether driving unfamiliar territory, hiking through the wilderness, or exploring a new city, a reliable GPS at your fingertips gives you options. It can guide you from the start, or you can get intentionally lost, knowing there’s a way out.
The best GPS devices not only deliver spot-on navigation but also come with an array of bonus features that keep the user super-informed (weather and traffic reports) and make the exploration experience more fun (with social media connectivity).
Some GPS devices do more than just play electronic tour guide: they can also serve as lifesaving devices in an emergency. The DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w, for example, has a SPOT Satellite Communicator feature that lets you send an SOS message, should you find yourself in danger while braving the elements. You can even use it to send messages to friends and family when your trek takes you outside cell phone range.
Other devices are multifunctional, like the Garminfone. It’s a great GPS device, plus it comes with many smartphone-like features as well as a dashboard mount, so it seamlessly transitions from a handheld to in-the-car navigation. And with a contract, the Garminfone is hundreds of dollars less (as low as $99 at press time) than most stand-alone GPS devices.
Whether you’re hiking in the woods, navigating the souks of Marrakesh, or just driving the Northeast Corridor, these great GPS devices can help you find your way.
Why We Love It: When there’s a weak signal, the SPOT Satellite Communicator allows users to send and receive email and social networking updates via satellite. Plus, the same feature can be used to send an SOS in the event of an emergency.
Downside: The screen is small and not very sharp.
Droid2 by Motorola
Why We Love It: The compass mode enhances the Google Street View feature. The image display matches what you’re seeing through the windshield. As your car turns, the image rotates, sort of like a live--action smart map.
Downside: To use this mode, the phone must be facing forward; this can be awkward when walking.
DroidIncredible by HTC
Why We Love It: The phone’s GPS and camera team up with Wikipedia to deliver content related to your surroundings (using the free Wikitude app, available via the Android store).
Downside: While impressive, the points-of-interest database isn’t all-encompassing...yet.
Why We Love It:The device comes with über-reliable GPS, and it’s backed by the spot-on Garmin network. Plus the car mount (included) means it moves easily from the palm of your hand to your car’s front window.
Downside: The phone’s built-in camera is only so-so.
Why We Love It: It’s as small as a smartphone. Once you arrive at your destination, just slip the super slim device into your back pocket or handbag in case you get lost wandering around an unfamiliar place.
Downside: The glossy screen is hard to see in direct sunlight.
Why We Love It: This handheld has a built-in 3.2-megapixel camera with geo-tagging capabilities, so you can photograph your surroundings and plot them on a map.
Downside: The device is on the bulky side.
Why We Love It: More than 11,000 travel apps—from driving directions via Google Maps to HopStop for navigating public transit—make the iPhone increasingly relevant for travelers.
Downside: Unlike the Droid 2, Droid Incredible, and Garminfone, the iPhone doesn’t have voice-activated GPS.
Why We Love It: The extra-wide 5.1-inch screen shows more of your surroundings. Plus the dashboard menu, which displays speed, direction, and altitude, can remain open without obstructing route instructions.
Downside: Acquiring a steady signal can be problematic in city settings.
myTouch 3G Slide
Why We Love It: Access to Google Buzz, an online messaging tool. When myTouch phone users update their Buzz status, posts are geo-tagged. Follow what people around you are doing—and see what they think of nearby restaurants and hotels.
Downside: The keyboard is slightly confusing at first.
Why We Love It: The “Share Location” feature, built into the phone’s Ovi Maps app, instantly publishes your location to Facebook, which means that friends and family can track you as you travel.
Downside: The phone’s GPS system is pretty run-of-the-mill.
Cost: $180, plus 2-year T-Mobile contract.
TomTomGo 740TM Live
Why We Love It: Real-time traffic reports and five-day weather forecasts make this in-auto GPS helpful for planning multiday itineraries and spontaneous detours.
Downside: Initial setup is a bit of a pain.