Having an in-dash navigation system installed in your vehicle can improve your driving experience in two ways. Primarily, these navigation systems help guide you to millions of North American destinations, finding the most efficient route and helping you avoid traffic. They also double as your in-car entertainment hub, connecting with your smartphone or other media devices so you can listen to music while you drive or play a movie for your little ones to watch during a road trip. The best GPS navigation system for your needs and budget will have the right combination of accessories, ports and customizable features.
All of the in-dash navigation systems we’ve featured here can guide you to your destination efficiently and keep you and your passengers entertained during the journey. Many of them can even integrate with your smartphone for further hands-free functionality. Depending on your specific needs, you can easily spend multiple thousands of dollars on an in-dash system, but there are many units – like most of those we reviewed – that are under $500 and still include premium features.
It’s nice to have an included manufacturer warranty on any electronic device these days, but it’s especially beneficial to have one for a product that sits in your car during scorching summers and freezing winters, and that risks being stolen. The Joying JY-UL135N2 has the longest manufacturer warranty of any unit in our comparison, with two years. The other systems in this article are just for one year, if they even offer one at all. You can learn more about the specifics of the warranty on the manufacturer’s website, or you can call technical support representatives directly via email.
The Joying JY-UL135N2 is a basic in-dash navigation unit with built-in navigation and Bluetooth-enabled smartphone connectivity. It has a big 7-inch capacitive touchscreen. Unlike most of the in-dash GPS navigation units we reviewed, it cannot play DVDs and CDs. Though it offers the basic features found on most devices, the double-din unit costs more than the budget-friendly units that have similar functionality.
Best Budget Option
With the Kenwood DDX24BT, you can get the directional assistance you need, while listening to a song, podcast or video, without paying a fortune. It has a large, 6.2-inch LED-backlit resistive-touch LCD screen with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. It is compatible with Android and iOS devices, and has Bluetooth built in, making it easy to listen to streaming music, stored music files or even just the radio, if you’d prefer. The integrated graphic equalizer lets you customize sound to your liking. The DDX24BT evens supports a rear-view camera for backing into a parking space, allowing you to view the feed in real time on the display.
The Kenwood DDX24BT is an in-dash navigation system with Bluetooth connectivity and easy-to-view navigation. It offers great multimedia playback capacities and massive external device compatibility. With its large quantity of features for its budget-friendly price point, it’s a great value on the aftermarket GPS navigation market.
Most Built-In Points of Interest
Soundstream’s VRN-65HB is a GPS navigation unit with 12 million built-in points of interest, which include places like historical landmarks, gas stations, theatres, hotels and restaurants. Having this many points of interest ready for you to find, wherever you are in the United States, Canada or Mexico, makes it easy to find places to eat and things to do. You can look ahead on the way to your destination with the VRN-65HB and add any upcoming points of interest to your route, and the navigation system will automatically sort them in order of their proximity. This makes it easy to find businesses and services you need, as well landmarks and other destinations that are off the beaten path.
The Soundstream VRN-65HB is an aftermarket in-dash navigation system with Bluetooth connectivity and a capacitive touchscreen. It has a traffic receiver built into the device, navigation assistance functions, and a simple array of media playback features to keep you and your passengers entertained during your drive.
What to Look For
As you compare in-dash navigation systems, price is obviously an important factor. However, consider what you get for your money. Look for the following features as you make your buying decision.
Navigation device manufacturers partner with different map databases to provide accurate maps that are built into the in-dash GPS. All of these devices have maps ready for use in the contiguous United States, as well as some combination of other countries like Puerto Rico, Mexico and Canada, or even Hawaii and Alaska. Additionally, the best units have at least 8 million points of interest, which includes restaurants, hotels, gas stations, landmarks and other common public places. Many devices include as many as 12 million points of interest across multiple countries, ensuring that you’ll have plenty of options wherever you go.
From the navigation menus of these systems, you can type in the address of your destination and even program in custom locations, like your home or work. While you’re driving, these systems typically guide you through the most efficient route possible, though some show you multiple routes, leaving the decision up to you. Many will also display the speed limit of the road you’re driving on.
Some of the best in-dash navigation units come with a traffic receiver. These receivers can give you updates about the upcoming traffic on your route. Others, however, may require you to use your smartphone data to get that information.
Once you’ve plugged in the coordinates of your destination to your navigation GPS system, the next most important thing is to crank up the tunes. You can keep it simple and listen to the radio or CDS, or you can stream music or podcasts directly from the internet or from your phone via Bluetooth. These systems can also play DVDs if your passengers want visual entertainment.
Though a much rarer feature, certain units are compatible with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which let you navigate your phone on the dash and easily access video and audio files.
Regardless of price point or feature set, the best devices have an intuitive interface that is easy to use. Because navigation GPS devices are primarily used while you’re driving, it’s imperative that you can change settings and access features quickly so you can keep your eyes on the road.
In-dash navigation systems can be single- or double-din, which to their size. A single-din unit is typically the size of your vehicle’s CD player or radio interface, and double-din takes up twice the space. All of the devices in this review are double-din. However, not all devices have clean-cut sizes, and you may need to purchase a harness or brackets in addition to the device in order to fit it in your dash correctly. Professional installation is recommended, though most manufacturers also provide a step-by-step installation manual for DIYers.
Large display screens make it easy to see navigation and menu options, especially if you’re looking at a glance while driving. Most screens are roughly 6.2 inches, measured diagonally, though some are as large as 7 inches. Larger screens can also make it easier for your kids to watch a movie on the screen from the middle or rear row of the vehicle. Likewise, the screen resolution is an important factor to consider. Higher resolutions mean a crisper picture.
For data storage, such as music or map files, a few devices come with integrated memory, though many require you to provide your own SD card or USB drive for storage. Neither an SD card nor a USB drive are costly on their own, but they can be a hassle to set up, especially since many ports are located on the rear of the system.
Most navigation units are compatible with Android and iOS smartphones, as well as Bluetooth technology, so you can easily pair the devices. This makes playing media, or even taking a call or sending a text message through the GPS interface an easy, hands-free experience.
For long road trips, especially those where you’ll be driving through the night, consider a GPS unit that allows you to adjust the brightness of the display, or one that specifically offers a Night Mode function. This feature adjusts the brightness of the screen in comparison to that of the time of day, so your eyes aren’t constantly straining and adjusting as you look between the road and the screen.
Many of these in-dash units are compatible with add-on peripherals like headrest monitors and backup cameras. This allows you to centralize all of your electronic devices into a single interface, optimizing your ability to adjust various settings and get the information you need while keeping your eyes on the road. You can also opt to connect the device to your steering wheel to keep audio volume buttons on the wheel functional.
Help & Support
Most devices are set up to work right out of the box, having intuitive setup processes and interfaces. However, if you have a question about or problem with the device, the company should provide you with multiple options for either troubleshooting the issue by yourself or contacting their technical support team directly.
All of the manufacturers featured in this article offer support either by email or telephone, and several provide both methods. You can also opt to contact companies via social media, if that’s more your style, or you can peruse online user manuals, tutorials, user forums and FAQs for a more self-help approach.
Most systems ship with at least a one-year manufacturer warranty. Before making a purchase, check what limitations, if any, apply to the included warranty, as some warranties only cover certain parts. Some third-party sellers provide additional extended warranties, so consider your needs before purchase.
General Safety Concerns
These GPS devices are meant to assist you while you drive, giving you audible directions so that you can keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. These units are designed to be easy to use, with large buttons, customizable interfaces and other features that minimize the time you spend directly using the device. We recommend adjusting any settings you need before driving, whether it’s increasing the brightness of the display or inputting your destination coordinates. Certain units allow for voice commands so you can tell the GPS device to perform tasks hands-free.
Some units won’t let certain functions, like watching a movie, run unless the car is in park. While this can be frustrating for parents hoping to entertain their little ones while on a road trip, it does help reduce distractions for you, the driver. Systems that come with remote controls let passengers in middle and rear seat rows navigate entertainment options without bothering you, and smartphone integration – especially certain Apple features like Siri Eyes Free, CarPlay and AppRadio Mode – help keep your eyes on the road.
By considering what kinds of navigation and entertainment features you’re looking for, you can narrow your picks down to one or two good in-dash navigation options that fit your budget. In-dash systems make it easy for you to get driving directions and entertain the kids while you travel.