At the risk of upsetting the nice PR folks who provide me with review units, I've decided to share my thoughts on what brand of GPS is best. Clearly this is subjective — its my opinion and mine alone. And things do change. However, based on models I've tested over the past year, this is how I see things shaking out.
- Garmin – Garmin receivers are intuitive, easy to use units with an uncluttered interface. If you want a simple out of the box solution that just flat out works, this brand’s for you. They are easy enough that your parents or even grandparents can use them. While Garmin isn’t always the first to introduce new features, they generally nail them when they do. Finally, all their nuvi units have around six million POIs, whereas most other brands will drop the numbers on lower level models.
- TomTom – The one place TomTom out paces Garmin is on customization. If you want to tinker with your device, get under the hood and play with settings, a TomTom may be your best choice. That flexibility can cost you though – there are more menus to navigate and a more cluttered screen. Having said that, TomTom does the best job of balancing lots of options with an intuitive interface. TomTom often leads the way in innovation too, though first to implement doesn't necessarily make for the best implementation. One other note — TomTom uses Tele Atlas maps while Garmin uses NAVTEQ. Both do well in urban areas, but in my experience, Tele Atlas maps underperform NAVTEQ in rural America.
- (TIE) Magellan and Navigon – These brands will perform basic navigation and get you from point A to point B, usually as well as a Garmin or TomTom. But along the way you may experience frustrating things like confusing interfaces, excess steps, lockups, etc.
- Mio – Before switching to the Navman interface, I would have ranked Mio higher. They dropped some advanced features in the changeover though, and I found routing problems in recent review units. Perhaps next year’s switch to Windows Embedded NavReady will improve their rankings.
- All the rest – Don’t go there. Stick with one of the companies above that have been doing this for years. Check the GPS rankings on Amazon and after scrolling way down to find the off-brands, read their reviews and you’ll see that the problems just get worse.