Sunday, March 18, 2012

6 GPS features worth paying extra for

UPDATE: Since several years have passed, I decided it was high time for an updated version of this post!

Yesterday I looked at five GPS features you don't need. Today we'll check out the flip-side; what are the best and most useful upgrades when choosing a navigator? I'll start with ones available on relatively low end units and then move on to features found on more expensive models.

  • Text-to-speech – Abbreviated as TTS, this feature calls out street names for upcoming turns. Which means that you'll hear "drive one-half mile, then
    turn left on Oak Street." instead of just "drive
    one-half mile, then turn left."
  • Wide-screen – A 4.3" touch screen is just so much nicer than a 3.5" model. It's easier to tap menus and keypads without error, and the map display isn't as cluttered.
  • Points of interest – Abbreviated as POIs. Some cheap units have as few as 750,000 POIs; you may as well just give up on finding anything without keying in an address. I strongly recommend getting a unit with at least 4.5 million. This is one reason I like Garmin units — they don't short-change you on POIs on low-end models; you'll get nearly 6 million on any of their units. TomTom just says that they have "millions of POIs," but I've never really found their units lacking. Even with one of these two leading brands, you'll still have plenty of places that aren't in the POI database, but you'll experience it less often.

If you can swing it, I highly recommend the above upgrades. The next three may not be as critical, but are still worth paying extra for. You can get them on cheaper models, but it will sometimes mean getting a second-tier brand and/or one with weaker implementation of the feature.

  • Multi-destination routing – Allows you to pre-plan a trip with multiple stops. The better units do a good job of "optimizing" the order of the stops for efficiency; they also automatically advance you to the next point on the route.
  • Lane Assist – Gives you visual guidance as to what lane you should be in for turns. This can be very helpful on freeways or on urban streets with multiple turn lanes.
  • Speed limit display – Helpful if you have a lead foot; it will more than pay for itself if it keeps you from getting a single ticket. The ideal implementation will show your current speed on the map screen as well, or allow you to set an alarm if you go a certain amount over the speed limit.
  • UPDATE: Powered mount – I’m adding a seventh. With these, you don’t need to fumble with the mini-USB plug each time you get in your car. Current Garmin nuvis with this feature include the 169x, 23xx, 24xx, and 37xx series.
  • UPDATE: Lifetime maps – Many units now come bundled with lifetime map updates. Garmins with this feature wil have an LM or LMT appended to the model number, with the T models also featuring lifetime traffic. On TomToms, look for an M or TM.

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. Rich,

    Sorry on the NAME above…

    Thanks for the info. Good info to know. I will miss the powered mount feature for sure…350 has this. BUT I think that seems to be the norm these days. Not a deal breaker. AND traffic is not really a feature I look for as well.

    Do you know if the waypoints I have saved from my 350 can be loaded on 1 of these new 1xxx units? I backed this file up a few times; I think it’s the .gpx file. Any thoughts?

    What I’m more interested in is the reliability. Do you feel these new GARMIN’s are stable too? I don’t want to jump brands, again we really like the GARMIN units. Just makes me wonder why the units say re-calculating at times when there is NO choice to make a turn and the line is site has not changed. Tunnels and things like that sure. But open road?

    Thanks for your reply/time. YOU are a very good source my friend!


    • No problem.

      Your favorites are in the garmin/gpx/current.gpx file. You should just be able to copy it to the new unit.

      I haven’t seen a GPS receiver yet that won’t occasionally throw out weird directions. But I know of no common bugs associated with the 1xxx series.

      • Good to hear on all accounts.

        We will hit the stores today. Either the 1350 or 1450 will join our techie family. I do like the larger screen of the 1450. Course both of these units are larger than our 350. BUT the Junction View is another nice feature to have too.

        Thanks again for your incite and replies. You’ve made the research easier to do.

        We’ll let you know how it goes and what our first impressions are.


    • I just bought a Garmin nuvi 1300. Is it possible to upgrade it to lifetime maps?

  2. Dear Sir,

    A great website, kudos for that. I need your help in finding a good GPS for myself. I am living in China and often travel to various cities. I am looking for a GPS which can cover these following points —

    — The battery life should be good, as I will be on foot or bus rather than in my own car.

    — Should have pedestrian mode.

    — Should have TTS

    — Should be able to give me POI and where am I info.

    — Lastly, should not be expensive. I am looking for one in the range of 150 USD max.

    — I have zeroed on Mio 308L, your comments about it are welcome. Also please suggest a better one if you have in mind.

    Prashant, Wuhan (PRC)

    • I’m afraid I’m not that knowledgeable about the options for the Chinese market. In general, auto PNDs have short battery life (2-5 hours, depending upon model), while handheld units are more expensive and don’t offer text-to-speech.

    • Ovi maps for Nokia has very comprehensive data for china. It has a car and pedestrian mode. It comes with most newer nokia smartphone and it doesn’t require transmitting data over the network. but if you want a standalone gps then it’s not for you unless your willing to buy a nokia phone just for that.

  3. Hi Rich,

    Well we picked up the 1450. And the Garmin “beanbag” type dash platform. Did the firmware upgrade and the free map. WOW this thing is nice. Finally used it last night to test it. Seems very responsive. Picks up miles per hour much faster than the 350 system we have. Nice HUGE screen! Very neat. All our waypoints transferred over fine too as you said. We are very impressed with it. Our local area on a highway did not feature the Junction View but we can see how the lane assist will already be a nice addition to navigation. And it was nice to have it find the satellites FAST once it found them the first time. The 350 always took up to 1min or longer each time we turned it on. I like this quick feature too on the 1450. Noticed also that only 56meg is left on the unit after the firmware and map upgrade. It showed 156 when I first connected it up. Guess I’ll be grabbing a MSD card. Do you know how large a card it will recognize? 8G or 16G or smaller?

    Only thing I’m working on now is trying to find out how to get the pics we have loaded for the boot up screen larger. On the 350 we could have what we chose view as full screen while it loaded. This one seems to make it smaller though I resized it for the wide screen on the 1450. Just need to play with it…likely the jpg file needs to be sized larger than how I have it still.

    ALSO did I read that you can position things on the screen where you want them? Or do I mis-understand this feature? I tried to move the arrival time to the right side of the screen over to where the speed limit shows. BUT it would not move. It only moved the map. Maybe I got that wrong?

    Less those few things we are very happy with purchase. Can’t wait till May for the trip now!

    Your input was very helpful and very much appreciated – thanks!


    • Congratulations! Glad you’re enjoying it.

      It should be able to handle up to a 16GB card. The data field content can be changed (hold them down to bring up this option). There are different options available when navigating and not. Also, you can shift all data fields to the right side, and pick up two additional data fields. This is in the setup menu somewhere. Sorry, but I don’t have one of those models here to tell you where (it’s probably under map setup), but I do remember it was on the second page of the settings so be sure to check the “scroll down” options.

  4. Rich,

    Yes we are enjoying it for sure! And I figured out how to get the boot up screen to show the pic/JPG full screen too. I e-mailed Garmin and they gave me the screen pixel settings to use. I had figured it out just before they replied. BTW, not sure why so many say they have received POOR customer service from Garmin. I’ve sent approx. 6 e-mails to them over the past owing the 350 and now the 1450. They are spot on with info. I found out my A/C power cord from my 350 will work with the 1450 as well as the batt cord too. Didn’t want to risk just trying it…but they replied within 12 hours with info. So again I feel we made a good purchase and we very much value the Garmin support level too.

    Now it’s off to get a MSD card. Thanks for that info too! I’ll have to try and move the screen around per your advise. Likely I did not hold the area long enough. I just tried to drag and drop. I’ll look for the menu settings too. Didn’t see it at first but maybe I just missed it.


  5. Hi Rich,

    I’ve been reading the website reviews and am thinking of buying the Nuvi 265WT. I really really hate driving the interstate (I70 and I25 where I live in Colorado). Am I correct that the 265WT can be:

    1. programmed to avoid interstates and take you on regular surface roads/highways, and

    2. can be used as a handheld pedestrian GPS in Europe and Asia if you buy the maps on SD cards?

    Thank you!


  6. 1. You can set it to avoid “highways” and / or “toll roads.”
    2. Yes, but if you plan to travel to these areas and use it as a pedestrian, you may want to consider a nuvi 1xxx series unit which can make full use of Garmin’s CityXplorer maps…

    • Thanks for alerting me to the 1xxx series. The 1490 looks good except for the battery life of fewer than three hours when you’re on foot. Maybe it’s not possible to buy one GPS for optimal driving and city walking.


      P.S. Sorry about posting in the wrong thread.

      • Not a problem.

        I think you’re right about there not being a great dual-use unit. This usually comes out more when folks want a trail and road unit, but yes, battery life is an issue. It looks like the 4.3″ screen models get an extra hour (and I think that’s a plenty big screen BTW, especially if you want to walk with it). The 1370T could serve you well, since it has pre-loaded European maps (though you’d still have to pay extra for CityXplorer maps to get mass transit info).

  7. Okay, which one is good the 765T or 1390T?
    Help, the more you look the more confused you get. the 1390 doesn’t have the auto sort mult destination feature would that be good to have? first time buyer

  8. which one 765t or 1390t? Does the 765t have the Msn traffic or does it use the FM receiver?

  9. Why can’t you purchase the 765T in stores, and if you can which ones.

  10. They both have NAVTEQ lifetime FM traffic (ad supported). MSN Direct is ceasing operations on 1/1/2012 BTW. Each Garmin product page has a “where to buy” button, where you can enter your zip code. I suggest doing that, then calling the listed merchants.

  11. Hi,
    I have an older garmin 255w which has worked great.
    I would like to get another gps for the other car.
    Which one is the best value/practical improvements of newer garmins?
    Are there in really important/good improvements coming down the pipe to wait for a couple of months?

  12. I don’t think there are any killer features in recent releases. Some good ones are:
    CityXplorer map compatibility for mass transit/pedestrian routing
    Menus that can be customized
    Lifetime traffic

    Here are the two upcoming releases:

    The historical traffic data in the former could prove to be very beneficial over time, but I’m unsure how good it will be at first. The question is, how much data is available initially vs. how much will be added by users over time (as the 3700 series and subsequent series with this feature are adopted).

  13. Richard says:

    I have a Nuvi 350, yes the original. I’m thinking about an upgrade to a newer model, with some, not all, bells and whistles. I was thinking 1390T, since I don’t want the huge screen. Or maybe the 1350, on deal from a big store. Comments?

  14. Both are good units. You should update the firmware right away, as they recently fixed a lock up issue.

  15. Hi Rich,

    Been a while! Hey while on vacation in FL our 1450 locked up and shut off. Was a panic for about 1 min. It would not come back on. Then all of a sudden it did and it picked up right where it left off. I chalked it up to me doing things on the screen while it was calculating the route we picked. That was the only thing it did in over 3K miles! Not bad! It worked flawlessly less that. Luckly I had the older 350 with me incase we had an issue.

    SO you think this new firware, is it for the 1450 too, will help fix that?

    Thanks for keeping the site going! Great info!


  16. Tomtom is offering free lifetime map updates on some of their auto units, is Garmin going to be doing that also?

  17. Richard says:

    Sorry to be redundant, but what is the difference between the 765T and the 1390T? Which is a “newer” model? Which is better IYHO? Thanks much, hopelessly confused.

  18. Hi Rich,

    I updated my 1450, went well. I also upgraded my older 350. So both have the latest firmware. No new maps for the 1450, least it didn’t show any.

    BUT my 350 shows 1. Is the map the same for these units? I have the new map on my laptop for the 1450. Can it be used on the 350 unit? I know GPX files can be swapped between units…so wondering about the maps.


    • I think it will only show a notice if your maps are a year or more out of date. The latest version should be 2011.10. On my 765T its under Tools > Settings > Map > Map Info. You cannot use a map update on more than one unit. Maps are locked to a single unit.

  19. John Montauk says:


    I am looking for a GPS that will give me the ability to choose the route based on a map view. My brother has this built in to the GMC Acadia. You enter an address and a map comes up with threee different routes in three different colors. The you choose the color you want. I have the Magellan 300 series now and it only lets you choose from shortest time, most use of freeways, etc. but you can’t tell what it’s thinking and it’s usually not the way i want to go.

    Any thoughts on what I should get would be great.

  20. Most new Magellan units offer this, although I’m not a big fan of their implementation.

  21. Can you tell me which one you can get voice command and power mount for the best price?

    power mount is just something I would LIKE to have but not a deal breaker. (And does Wal mart carry any of the ones with Voice Command? I get a discount there.. 🙂 )

    I just moved to Houston so I need all the help I can get and still be able to afford it. Can really go over say 225.00

    And advice would be great.

    • I’d look into the Garmin nuvi 855. I’ve been seeing some great prices on it recently.

      • Thanks so much. Any idea if this would be able to be bought Locally? or would I have to buy it online since it is on your discontinued List?

        And does it have the powered Mount?
        THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME and Knowledge. Much appreciated..

  22. rhonda keeley says:

    I am looking for a great GPS system with a bigger screen–at least 5 inches but even bigger would be better. Price doesn’t matter. Suggestions?

  23. I am looking for a gps for my husband for christmas. We have never had one before so Im trying to figure out what features we would like. I would like something that is user friendly and fast. The features Im looking for is multiple routes, ways to avoid highways or tolls, and something for around $100. There are just so many options out there. I have no idea what to look for (except that Garmin is the best brand). Thanks!

  24. I am looking for a gps for my husband for christmas. We have never had one before so Im trying to figure out what features we would like. I would like something that is user friendly and fast. The features Im looking for is multiple routes, ways to avoid highways or tolls, doesnt need a lot of updates, and something for around $100. We live in a big city and don’t travel out of the country or to any small towns. There are just so many options out there. I have no idea what to look for (except that Garmin is the best brand). Thanks!

    • Multi-destination routing will be out of your price range, but I don’t think it’s really necessary. All Garmin nuvis can create a route that includes a destination and one via point. If you have more stops, its pretty easy to manage using either Favorites or Recent Destinations. I’d suggest looking at the nuvi 255W or 1300. Hope that helps!

  25. I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful site. I’m a GPS newbie who needs directions because I have a tendency to get lost, and I find I can’t remember directions even though I study them in Google Maps and print them out. Reading paper directions is extremely dangerous when driving, and because of your site and your reviews, I’ve decided to find the best budget/mid-range I can with lane assist and spoken directions. Thank you again for such a wonderful site!

  26. I have a Nuvi 260w. I use it for business and travel all over the city. Is it possible at the end of the day to down load the trips / millage reports for the days activities?

  27. Doug Scheer says:

    Your site is great, a friend told me to go here before I bough a hendheld GPS and he was correct. My question is, you recommend the Garmin Oregon 450 over the 450T for reasons I understand. At the moment Cabelas has the 450T on sale cheaper than the 450. If i buy the 450T can i remove the 1:100,000 scale topo map and then install the 1:24,000 map without an issue? Thanks in advance.

    • Yes, but there’s no need to remove the 100K maps. You’ll have plenty of room, plus you can always add a micro-SD card. I’d keep them just in case you find yourself in an area you haven’t loaded 24K maps for. Plus, sometimes the 100K maps may have trails that aren’t on the 24K maps you’re using.

  28. Hi!
    Just came across this site, and i am quite impressed! i have wanted a GPS for some time, but my budget wouldn’t budge– and i just got one as a gift!! its a Garmin nuvi 1300LM. The reviews don’t seem to imply that its the best for its price, and the one who gave me the gift told me she didn’t do any research and i should look into it and have her exchange it for the one i want. So can you recommend a GPS in the nuvi 1300 price range- that gets the most for the money? One that will be long lasting and reliable.

    Thank you so much in advance!

  29. Billy Lee says:

    Thx for the great info.

    What do you think about the Display’s Resolution, Screen Size, & features such as AV-in (what is it’s purpose actually? I am not sure about this…)

    Can TOPO maps be uploaded into all models of GPS? Say, by inserting a MicroSD.

    • AV-in is typically used for a backup camera. In general I think screen size matters more than resolution.

      Topo maps can be loaded to many models, but they aren’t available for some brands. If you want topo maps, I’d go with a Garmin. There are lots of free topos available for them at

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