Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ranking Auto GPS Brands

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. (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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. Purchased and used a NUVI 275T while in Spain. Overall impression-HIGHLY UNIMPRESSED (I returned it!)
    Hardware Design-FANTASTIC
    Routing-ACCEPTABLE (some mistakes)
    Battery-VERYGOOD (3+ hours).
    Speaker-POOR (The unit can’t handle setting volume to 100% or you’ll get heavy distortion)
    Bluetooth-GOOD (But could not download my contacts as instructed on Garmin Website)
    Speech capability-POOR with Spanish street names. I would have rather heard “In 300 meters turn right than hear garbage”
    Map screen updates when manually scrolling across map-POOR(the unit could not keep up as with me as I moved around the map..sometimes 2+seconds to update).
    User Interface-LOUSY!!! People really think this is good.
    REASONS FOR POOR REVIEW. Too cumbersome to quickly change map views from 2D to 3D. Unit automatically changes view when you are trying to look at something or select a new destination on the map. Can’t get Lat/Long information for a Favorite or POI. Can’t set multi-point routes (Come on it’s 2009! My $150 2007 model MIO C310 is MUCH MORE POWERFUL and capable). If this is the typical Garmin interface, it is not well suited for pedistrian use to circumnavigate a city. While my MIO, with IGO software, does have interface problems its capabilities far surpass this software crippled NUVI. All I wanted was a USA/Europe capable unit small enough to put in my pocket. It fit in that pocket but failed otherwise.

  2. Recently purchased and I am returning it.Garmin1250.Maps and Poi’s are over two years old.Did not recognize street in magor development that is at least 5 years old.Took me in the wrong direction on another.Have to type in same town every time,Downloaded one time free updated map,same thing I had.i have some short coming with my old Magellan roadmate 2000(not supported anymore)But it is alot better then the Garmin and a whole lot easier to use.Would not purchase another Garmin no matter what model.

    • Ive used all these brands (especially garmin)and almost all of these problems are user problems and can be fixed. I travel a lot and go in many rural areas, garmin is number 2 behind tom toms new models. this is because tom tom owns there own mapping company now (tele-atlas). Do some research people.

  3. Rich Owings says:

    I can’t help with the other things, but as far as entering the same town over and over, there is a folder icon in the top left corner of that screen showing recent entries.

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