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Everyone can use a little direction in life. That's why GPS receivers make such excellent gifts. Whether as a Father's Day gift or a treat for a recent graduate all roaring to roam around, GPS receivers can eliminate much of the guesswork and uncertainty in driving around unfamiliar areas. Their pinpoint accuracy ensures smooth, comfortable travels, and their vast databases of important milestones, landmarks, and worthwhile attractions can truly enhance the driving experience. But one needs to be careful while shopping for GPS devices. Purchasing a GPS receiver with confidence requires two things: careful attention to detail and an understanding that much of what differentiates one model from another is just window dressing.
The core functionality of most GPS receivers is essentially the same, regardless of brand. They utilize the same global positioning satellites to ascertain a user's location. From there, each brand has its own set of maps and navigational software. It can be difficult to discern what differences, if any, exist between the various manufacturers. Because of this, most GPS receiver models are distinguished by cosmetic features or bonus functionality that doesn't always play a direct role in navigation. Simply put, a GPS receiver from a reputable brand like Garmin, Magellan or TomTom will get a driver where they're going. The question is whether it will get them there cheaply, or in style with a premium.
High-end GPS receivers are packed with a lot of features intended to appeal to drivers and require more than just simple navigation. Typically outfitted with larger LCD displays and deeper reservoirs of information to draw from, high-end receivers can cost anywhere from $400 to $500. The TomTom GO 740 LIVE ($499) has a widescreen, 4.3-inch LCD display and an array of advanced options intended to make interacting with the device easier. Voice-address entry lets drivers speak their intended destinations, so they may eschew the touchscreen keyboard, keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Bluetooth wireless capabilities, common on more expensive receivers, let the GPS act as a "hands-free" speakerphone with compatible cellphones. TomTom's LIVE subscription service ($9.95 a month) also gives access to real-time traffic and gas station fuel price updates, where available.
Garmin's nüvi 1490T ($499) features 5-inch LCD display. The "T" in the model name indicates that the receiver is equipped to handle real-time traffic updates, which are free for the lifetime of the device (instead of requiring a separate subscription service). It has also introduced a new navigational mode called "ecoRoutes," which calculates the most fuel-efficient route for saving gas, money and the environment.
The Garmin nüvi 1200 ($199) is an uncomplicated, affordable receiver with a 3.5-inch LCD display and "text-to-speech" functionality. This means that, instead of just announcing when to turn, the GPS can recite the specific names of streets from the map. Consumers probably consider such a feature to be standard on GPS receivers, but not all receivers are capable of reading street names aloud. If it's something you're interested in, be sure to check the fine print in the specifications. The TomTom ONE 140 ($175) does not utilize text-to-speech and costs about $25 less than the Garmin 1200. It also costs less than its companion model, the TomTom ONE 140-S ($199). The only difference between the two is that the "S" model has text-to-speech feature.
It's still possible to get some fancy features on the low end. The Magellan RoadMate 1340 ($179) is very affordable, thanks to its compact, 3.5-inch display. Nevertheless, it can do text-to-speech, and even includes information from AAA's TourBook, letting drivers check up on nearby restaurants and locate appealing attractions along their intended route.