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. I’d love for whatever device I use to be easily updated on-line. Maybe even a richer feature set (POI?) for selected destinations. The cheapy device I have works OK – warns you on speed warnings for example, but you can’t go on-line and update it and it’s out of date for some things. Plus business go out of business so I have destinations in my POI that no longer exist!

  2. I think a recorded track is also essential…

  3. Michael T says:

    One of the features I’d really like to be able to find in GPS units is the ability to drop a waypoint at some random places during a trip.

    I have an old Magellan SportTrak and during a long drive, I can press a button and drop a waypoint at where I am. I note the number assigned (WP123) and then why I wanted to note it. (Example, a large ray-dome up on a hill off the highway.)

    When I get home, load the track and look at the waypoints and I can use a map to find out what the item was (in this case, a weather radar).

    This also works for POIs that I’d like to add to my own cache of goodies to keep track of (business, photo-op, etc.)

    I’ve used the Garmin 320c and it seems to only allow one (1). This is useless.

    If anyone’s got any ideas of which units support this feature, it’d be helpful for some of us.

  4. Rich Owings says:

    You can do this with most nuvis by tapping the car icon and then “save”. The limit is 500 or 1000 waypoints, depending upon the model.

  5. Michael T says:

    That’s good to know! Thank you for the reply.

    I have scanned the manual and looked around but didn’t see that.


  6. I had narrowed my choices down to TT 930T and Garmin’s 775T, but with Garmin’s 775 pulled from store shelves (due to firmware issues?) any additional comments are appreciated.

    I will need the Maps for US and Europe. So, recommend away.


  7. Rich Owings says:

    I’d go with the nuvi. I think its a better unit. They’ve rolled out a firmware fix…

  8. mikep1947 says:


    I just returned from a trip in which I used a nuvi 76X (I can’t remember the exact model). It was pretty good on major directions, but was disappointed that it only allowed you to choose between “fastest” and “shortest” routes. It did not offer anything like “simplest” or “fewest turns.” Is there any model on the market that includes routing options other than fastest or shortest? Also I found some rather annoying errors in their maps. Does Garmin do any route validation? Does any one do that?

  9. Rich Owings says:

    Magellan offers most use of freeways and least use of freeways. Map errors are due to the map data provider, NAVTEQ. You can report errors at

  10. Can you recommend a GPS unit that I can buy here in the States but can get maps for Europe, in particular Germany and the Netherlands? To rent one over there would cast about as much as buying one here, I think. I have a Sanyo Easystreet but can’t find and Europe maps for it.

  11. Rich Owings says:

    Any Garmin nuvi will work. You can buy City Navigator Europe maps to add to it. Or, buy a nuvi x7x model, which comes with US and European maps pre-loaded. This may be the cheapest way to go. If you don’t need anything fancy, check out the prices on the nuvi 270 or nuvi 275. Be sure to register the unit right away, as you might be eligible for a free map update.

  12. I don’t know what Garmin pays you but it’s not enough. Would the 1490T work with a Mac for map updating, track downloading, etc.

  13. Rich Owings says:


    I wish they paid me. I do get some money from ads, etc., but nothing from them!

    I’m not a Macophile, but my understanding is that Garmin has the other GPS manufacturers beat when it comes to mac support. Maybe this will help:

    As far as track downloading, if you can mount it as a USB drive, you should be able to access the current.gpx file that has the track.

  14. David Anderson says:

    handheld garmin that I own works fine with my Mac’s. Have even done multi map loading on a micro SD card that does not show as supported on the manual I have.

  15. Does anybody know how to be able to enter the zip code rather that a city name. I live in an area the has many cities uner on zip . It would be much easier that searching a city name. Thanks A.

  16. Rich Owings says:

    What brand and model do you have? Some support this.

  17. How come you didn’t mention “IQ routing” as a must-have? Is it?

  18. regarding “speed limit display” is that generally just for metropolitan areas? or everywhere in the US no matter what? And how accurate is it, what if changing speed limits and all?
    Thanks for the great website

  19. Rich Owings says:

    IQ Routes was relatively new when I wrote this. I think it’s good, but not quite “must have.”

    In my experience, Garmin has the best speed limit coverage with many secondary roads, and not just in major metro areas. The last time I reviewed a TomTom, it was missing for many major highways. And no, it is not 100% accurate.

  20. Can you just look at the streets on the screen and pretty much judge what lane you will need to be in for an upcoming turn? Doesn’t this mean that “lane assist” is only useful in very rare situations?

  21. Rich Owings says:

    Well, you can watch for signs. If there are roads you aren’t familiar with, I think it’s very useful.

  22. for those people with GPS units with IQ routing technology, do you think using the AM radio traffic reports in your car that people without GPS units use is an adequate substitute?

  23. Here is my dream GPS:
    Garmin or TomTom or Magellan
    with IQ routing technology or equivalent
    with 4.3″ screen
    with text-to-speech
    roughly $120 or less
    Does such a unit exist?

  24. Rich Owings says:

    The TomTom XL 340S will do that. I’ve seen it as low as $110, but that was a rare deal. You can keep an eye on and see if one turns up. Nobody but TomTom uses historical speed database, or they don’t disclose it if they do.

  25. Thanks, great website. Any insights into question #22?

  26. I should add I’m not too familiar with traffic reports on the radio(i.e. regular radio, not a GPS unit). Are they available for most places? How do people in a place like LA with tons of traffic jams plan their route without a GPS?

  27. Rich Owings says:

    I’m not in a major metro area myself. I understand that a lot of stations are cutting back on traffic helicopters, but I assume they are still reporting traffic, often from the same data sources that the GPS are using.

  28. can freezing temperatures ruin a GPS, for example by freezing the liquid inside a display?

  29. the tomtom xl340s looks good but I read some things about map updates screwing up the device. Has TomTom fully resolved this issue?

  30. Rich Owings says:

    The suggested low end operating range for an auto GPS is 32F+. Maybe this will help…

    I don’t know if TomTom has solved that problem or not. There are some workarounds though…

  31. what do you think, will we see some killer Xmas and after-Xmas deals or will nothing top the Black Friday deals?

  32. Rich Owings says:

    There will be a few that are better, but for the most part, no.

  33. has anyone had experience returning a GPS to Amazon? Can GPS be opened? Is it a hassle because they have no store locations? What about shipping costs?

  34. what other cell phones besides Google Android offer GPS?
    Thanks again Rich for the awesome website

  35. Rich Owings says:

    Lots. The latest iPhone has it, but you have to pay for nav apps.

  36. I haven’t seen any prepaid phones that offer GPS, have you?

  37. Rich Owings says:

    Sorry, you’re asking questions outside of my expertise now!

  38. Rich

    Do you know if the Garmin Streetpilot c580 allows you to:
    1) upload the garmin topo maps?
    2) upload the National Geographic topo maps?
    3) make and save a breadcrumb trail
    4) backtrack to that breadcrumb
    5) add waypoints and name them?

    Thanks so much!

  39. Rich Owings says:

    Yes, no, I don’t think so, no, and yes!

  40. Anybody have any insights into question #33 regarding returning GPS to Amazon? Thanks

  41. Rich Owings says:

    If you go to the help pages on Amazon, they have general return policies, and specifics for electronics, though I see no special provisions for GPS receivers.

  42. Brian Layton says:

    Hi I got a new Garmin nuvi 260W.I drive all over Canada and some USA driving but the gps is out to lunch in Calgary Alberta.Most times it will not send you to the right place.

  43. Hi there,
    Bought my hubby his first GPS…Garmin 265wt. We haven’t open it yet as I am not sure it is the best choice. We want all the important GPS features and North America and European maps for life. We don’t live in a populated area so the advanced features would be used more during roadtrips and vacations. I don’t care about the silly features like photo and bluetooth and such. Any suggestions on the best models under $500.

  44. Rich Owings says:

    The nuvi 275T (3.5″) and 775T (4.3″) have preloaded maps of North America and Europe. On the 265WT, you’d have to add the latter. Sometimes it’s cheaper to do that though. If you do, go with the DVD version which can be updated, unlike the SD card version.

  45. Rich – A GPS ahead of its’ time but now gone from North America….Navigon. Can I buy the newer Navigon 7310 (I was waiting for the 7300 in the US but they closed before shipping them) from a European dealer with US and Canada maps ? I really wanted that unit.
    Thanks for a great forum (and reviews) on all GPS units !!

  46. Rich Owings says:

    Well, they have this map on their website…

    But it doesn’t list the 7310 as compatible. I would think it would be though. If you do this, I have to wonder what kind of support you’d get. You might want to ask some questions at this forum…

    One other thing. Navigon will be at the US Consumer Electronics Show next week, and it will be interesting to see what announcements they make.

  47. I’m thinking of buying the garmin nuvi 1350 or 1350t. Does anyone have any suggestions on either?

  48. Rich Owings says:

    Both good units!

  49. HI Rick,
    Currently I have a Nuvi 350. It works very well still. Only a few freez’s and re-boots in the years I’ve had it…3 now. I’ve really got no complaint. A few times in route on a major highway it did “re-calculate” a few times…for no reason as there was NO turns available. But past that, I’ve been very happy with the unit.

    That said we are looking to take our annual road trip to FLA fro PA and were thinking of picking up a new GPS. We see the 1300 and 1400 series. Tell the truth I don’t care for Bluetooth really or will need the MP3 player so that’s not a deal breaker. The new features, that is when compared to my older 350, are what we would like to have. Lane assist, the speed limit thingy as well as a faster and maybe more reliable system. Course the eco thing is nice too.

    So if you get a 1350 or 1390 or 1450 or 1490 – T’s or not – is the processor the same and receiver’s the same? Meaning do you get a better processor and stronger receiver if you get the more expensive GPS? Are there reboot issues with any of these units? I realize NONE are very new, seeing as you review was posted a while back. BUT the GARMIN bashers on-line have nothing good to say. I’d like your opinion to help US decide.

    Thanks, and great charts and articles!

  50. I believe all the 1xxx series units have the same processor (the 1690 could be an exception). They all have the same receiver/chipset. The worst feature you’ll lose with the 12xx/13xx/14xx is the powered mount; you’ll need to connect the mini-USB plug each time.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!


four × = 24