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The best GPS navigators for Father's Day 2013

Consumer Reports News: June 07, 2013 10:08 AM

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Dad has always been there to provide guidance in life, so Father's Day might be as good a time as any to repay him with a GPS navigator. Choosing the best GPS can seem daunting, as there are many choices available, often with only slight advertised variations. Our experiences and test results can help steer you in the right direction.

As with selecting any gift, the key to success is establishing a budget and identifying the needs and expectations. For instance, if Dad needs a digital travel companion on road trips, the best choice for him could be a unit with exit guides and reality view. If the old man wrestles with traffic congestion around a major metro area, free lifetime traffic data and an easy-to-use detour function will be important.

This week, we posted results from our latest tests, adding about a dozen models from Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom to our GPS Ratings.

The results from this batch were favorable, with most scoring high in our rankings. However, many older devices still compare favorably and can be better values. It is clear that the "best" GPS is the one that excels in the areas that matter most to you.

Visit our GPS buying guide for advice and Ratings, and find the best gift ideas for Father's Day.

What to look for
In choosing a dedicated device, consider the features that will be used routinely (e.g, text to speech, lane guidance, reality view) and skip those that are just added-cost bells and whistles (e.g, MP3 player, Zagat and Yelp reviews, safety camera alerts).

For most drivers, we recommend a widescreen unit with a display that measures at least 4.3 inches. This will make it easy to read the screen and likewise simple to enter addresses. Devices that measure over 5 inches are best used for large trucks, SUVs, and minivans; they are too big for a conventional car. If Dad has a big commercial truck or RV, be sure to choose a specialty model programmed with the necessary road and bridge restrictions. Such units tend to be pricey, but the right information is worth the cost.

If Dad is a commuter, consider a device with free traffic information. Many devices are now available with and without traffic; "lifetime traffic" typically adds just $10 to $20 to the purchase price. Being a gift, it is nice to give a device that is good to go without subscription fees, and the reality is, this is by far the better deal. Any device requiring subscription fees can get quite expensive over time.

Lifetime maps can be tempting if Dad is likely to travel in areas where roads change. Updates will also freshen the points of interest (POI) database. These days, the POIs may change more frequently than roads, as businesses come and go. Again, a modest up-front fee for map updates will be far cheaper than performing an update or two down the road.

When traveling, the added assistance of speed limit warnings, lane assist, and reality view can be much appreciated. These features direct Dad to the proper lane for upcoming turns or exits on major roadways, and the graphics represent the real signs, making it easier to interpret the directions while driving. Even if traffic data isn't needed, historic traffic information can be a real help. This factors past traffic patterns into route guidance and estimated arrival times. When traveling through an unfamiliar area, this supplies a bit of local intelligence. For long-distance road trips, an exit guide can be welcomed, as is found on some current Garmin and Magellan units.

Our Father's Day 2013 picks...
Best on a budget

Garmin Nuvi 1350LT
Garmin 44LM
Magellan RoadMate 2255T-LMB

For the gadget lover
Garmin 3590LMT
TomTom GO 2535 M Live
Magellan Smart GPS

Big, macho screen
TomTom Via 1605TM
Garmin 2597LMT
Magellan Roadmate 9250T-LMB

If you need a more targeted suggestion, check out our GPS ratings. There are good navigators at all price points in our Ratings. You can sort and filter the Ratings based on the factors that matter most to you, quickly enabling you to find the best device for your father. The model pages for all GPS devices provide detailed ratings, specs, test findings, and user reviews.

If you do buy a unit for Father's Day, take the time to set it up with Dad's home address, favorite points of interest, and family photos—if capable.

Discuss GPS navigation in our forums.

Jeff Bartlett

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