Size matters - standard vs wide-screen GPS navigation

Consumer Reports News: December 06, 2007 11:15 AM

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Portable GPS navigation devices are becoming increasingly available in wide-screen models, providing compelling alternatives to traditional, standard aspect-ratio units. Just a few weeks ago, the prices on the devices were such that upgrading to a wide-screen model would seem a true indulgence, but Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the sales that followed have put some good choices in the reach of many shoppers.

Scanning sales flyers and electronics sites, we see the price difference between a standard aspect ratio and a comparable wide-screen model is typically $50. While in some cases that can mean a more than 30-percent price jump, the cost can be a worthwhile concession for a moderate to heavy user.

In our ratings, we place emphasis on display performance and the control interface. Generally, the wider-screen models excel in both regards, using the greater display real estate to enable larger font for information displayed while driving; such as distance to next turn and estimated time of arrival.  The wide screen also allows bigger touch-screen buttons, which makes navigating through menus and entering addresses easier.  Plus, wider screens give a broader map view and are better suited to selecting display modes that use a side of the screen to indicate the next turn, often with a large arrow and a distance countdown. Easy-to-read map details, such as street names on approaching roads, can help when navigating in busy, unfamiliar areas.

Of course, units with a larger screen can obscure more view of the road. (With the Garmin nuvi 200 shown here, the 200W adds 1 inch in overall width, though height remains the same.) We favor designs whose screens are nearly the size of the case, maximizing the packaging efficiency and limiting visibility compromises, in general. For driving safety, extra care needs to be taken in where to mount bigger units, whether wide screen or otherwise.

Ultimately, size does matter. When the difference in cost is as little as $50, then it may be wise to invest in the larger screen.

Jeff Bartlett

For more information on portable GPS navigation systems, see our Ratings and buying advice.
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