Since 2011, we've researched, reviewed and evaluated the best aftermarket in-dash navigation systems on the market. Every year, we look at high-end navigation systems, budget GPS navigators and multimedia systems overflowing with entertainment features. After over 120 hours of research and evaluation, we found all the best in-Dash navigation systems for your ride, with the Pioneer AVIC-5200NEX leading the pack.
The Pioneer AVIC-5200NEX is the most well-rounded aftermarket navigation system. It has a big display, 8 million points of interest and an internal amplifier capable of running your stereo.
At less than $200, the Kenwood DDX24BT packs in a lot of high-end features, like smartphone integration and a 200-watt amplifier, found in systems that cost twice as much.
The Joying in-dash navigation system has a 7-inch touchscreen display and plenty of built-in memory to save routes and download navigation apps.
The Pioneer AVIC-5200NEX is our pick for the best in-dash navigation system because it combines a great touchscreen display with excellent navigation features and an excellent AV receiver for music and entertainment. In other words, it's the most well-rounded aftermarket GPS navigator that we reviewed.
For the display, the Pioneer AVIC-5200NEX features a 6.2-inch touchscreen with an 800 x 480 resolution. While the display isn't spectacular, the interface is easy to navigate and the GPS maps are very easy to read. The touchscreen also makes navigation simple and quick while the large screen means it's easier to find the features you want quickly and safely.
This navigation system has over 8 million points of interest – preloaded locations like restaurants, museums, parks and more. While it's still four million POIs less than the Soundstream VRN-65HB, it's still significant, especially when you consider that many GPS navigators have no POIs. In addition, the comprehensive smartphone integration means that you can maintain hands-free driving while receiving directions from the best navigation system we reviewed. It even alerts you to red light and speed cameras, and provide information about the traffic and estimated time of arrival.
The multimedia features are nearly as impressive as the GPS navigation. It has a 200-watt, 4-channel amplifier, which is plenty of juice to power your car's stereo. And with a DVD player and outputs for external displays, you can easily entertain your kids in the back with a movie.
Best Budget Option
The Kenwood DDX24BT does nearly as much as $500 in-dash navigation systems, but at a much lower price. It has a good amplifier, a decent display and a DVD/CD player. If you're on a budget, this unit is the best way to improve the quality of your ride.
With a 6.2-inch display that features an 800 x 480 resolution, this Kenwood DDX24BT has an average touchscreen. That said, average means a lot more when you're paying a lot less for it.
Other common audio attributes are for the 200-watt, 4-channel amplifier. Most in-dash navigation systems feature similar specs, even the expensive high-end ones. With this much power, you can easily power your car audio system. And the addition of a DVD player with video outputs that you can connect to external displays means it can be the central hub of your in-car entertainment.
This navigation system 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.
This double-DIN in-dash navigation system from Joying has the largest screen of the models we reviewed and an eight-core CPU that runs Android 8.1.
The Android operating system and 64GB of onboard memory allow you to download apps such as Google Maps, Spotify and YouTube and play the audio through your car stereo using a Wi-Fi hotspot. You can also stream music and make phone calls via a Bluetooth connection to your phone.
Another unique feature of this in-dash system is the automotive diagnostic reporting. You connect it to your car’s CPU to get real-time data about trouble codes and tire pressure. It’s also compatible with dash cams and backup cameras, allowing you to connect those devices to the in-dash unit and record or play back events.
The Joying’s audio attributes aren’t on a par with those of the best products we tested, but it has a 16-band EQ and built-in DSP to make streaming music apps sound better. It has a built-in amplifier that sends 50 watts per channel to your car’s audio system with independent front and rear control, and a subwoofer output with level control. The Joying has a USB charging port and microphone input on a breakout cable, and the system is compatible with factory-installed steering-wheel volume and hands-free calling buttons.
Most Points of Interest
If you're visiting a new city, an in-dash navigation system helps you find restaurants, hotels, museums, parks and more. However, it can only find these points of interest if they are programmed into the navigation system. With the Soundstream VRN-65HB, there are over 12 million points of interest, covering United States, Canada and Mexico. This is most points of interest among the in-dash navigation systems we reviewed. You can also add your own points of interest. By comparison, most navigation systems have around 9 million and some have as few as 6 million.
The VRN-65HB has a few noteworthy features as well. It's one of the few navigation systems with built-in voice commands, to hear directions without taking your eyes off the road. In addition, the instructions include the lane you should be in and the speed limit. However, it doesn't allow you to customize the interface and it has limited streaming capabilities for media.
As an in-dash navigation system, the Alpine INE-W960 is average. It only has 7 million points of interest and a 6.1 inch touchscreen with a resolution of 800 x 480. The 3D map provides a unique visual experience when receiving instructions, especially in downtown areas, but it's otherwise no different from most in-dash navigation systems.
Where the Alpine INE-W960 excels is the audio performance. Every in-dash navigation system doubles as a stereo receiver, but the stereo in the INE-W960 is excellent. It uses a 24-bit DAC for reading every kind of digital audio format. It's compatible with satellite radio, iPods and iPhones, streaming apps like Pandora, and includes a DVD and CD player. In addition, the built-in amplifier has an output of 50 watts per channel for a total of 200 watts. In many ways, it's a stereo with GPS navigation, not the other way around.
Why Trust Us
Top Ten Reviews has provided comparative reviews of the best in-dash navigation systems since 2011. In addition, we review over 16 auto tech categories each year, ranging from car alarms and car stereos to baby car seats and car battery chargers. We spend hundreds of hours each year researching, testing and evaluating the best in-car technology.
I've been reviewing car tech since 2013, covering audio, radar detectors, backup cameras, Bluetooth car kits and more. Throughout these years, I have logged thousands of miles on road trips. I have a deep understanding and interest in cultivating the best quality drive. For most people, like myself, this means you should upgrade components with aftermarket devices, like in-dash navigation systems, to get exactly what you want out of your ride.
With a category like in-dash navigation systems, I bring over two decades of experience using and evaluating audio equipment. These devices are car stereos as much as a they are GPS navigators, and it takes someone with experience to understand and evaluate the specifications that make or break the performance.
How Much Do In-Dash Navigation Systems Cost?
In-Dash navigation systems combine voice-guided directions and GPS maps with a full entertainment system for your vehicle. They have DVD players and video outputs for backseat monitors. They also act as the central stereo for music, radio and hands-free calling. As such, these in-dash navigation receivers typically cost between $200 and $550. Lower priced systems are often older models, and they tend to have lower quality displays and outdated maps. System with the most up-to-date maps are closer to $500.
What We Tested
Despite the narrow nomenclature, in-dash navigation systems don't just provide directions. They are entertainment systems, car stereos, hands-free calling devices and a display for rear-view camera. In other words, these devices are a centralized computer for your car. They even have CPUs and RAM. However, this means the installation process is complicated and time-consuming, which makes testing these products challenging.
Instead of comparative testing, we devoted our efforts to researching user reviews. We consulted with reviews on Amazon, Crutchfield, manufacturer websites and more. Admittedly, user reviews aren't the most reliable source, but by curating such reviews and looking for patterns in what people like and dislike, we can get a good picture of how most people feel about the product.
We also compiled and evaluated the available features and specifications. Most of these products have the same specifications and features, so we had to discover which minor differences were most significant to consumers. We placed significant weight on important features, like display, power output and the points of interests. It's not uncommon for a product to excel in one area while being average or poorer in another area. These variances helped determine our picks.
What to Consider When Choosing an In-Dash Navigation System
The GPS navigation that these systems use are a bit different from the GPS apps you have on your phone. Both will get you to your destination. They are maps that are programmed into the device with specific graphics and locations. Most of these systems only work in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Some come with points of interest to help you find parks, gas stations, restaurants, air ports and other important locations.
Some of the best in-dash navigation units come with a traffic receiver that can give you updates about the upcoming traffic on your route. Others, however, make you rely on your smartphone data to get that information.
Before smartphones, in-dash navigation was typically just a device with programmed GPS maps that gave you step-by-step directions. But with smartphones becoming ubiquitous devices featuring GPS apps, these devices have had to adapt and offer more. So, it makes sense for this technology to marry with AV receivers – a device that plays music and video. In fact, many of the products we reviewed are arguably more AV receiver than in-dash navigation system.
We considered the built-in amplifier's power output and audio specifications, the number of channels that the systems have and the video outputs. With the best in-dash navigation system, you should be able to entertain your kids with a movie in the back while getting directions to grandma's house in the front.
We also looked into the smartphone integration. We valued systems that make you a safer, more aware driver. As such, the smartphone integration features need to take the phone out of your hands and put the controls on the steering wheel so that you keep your eyes on the road. Integration with voice assistant apps like Siri are essential, as is Bluetooth for hands-free calling.
Many of these in-dash units are compatible with add-on peripherals like headrest monitors and backup cameras. This allows you to centralize all your electronic devices into a single interface, optimizing your ability to adjust various settings and get the information you need while paying attention to the road. You can also opt to connect the device to your steering wheel to keep audio volume buttons on the wheel functional.
Interface & Display
Regardless of price point or feature set, the best devices have an intuitive interface. Because navigation GPS devices are primarily used while you’re driving, it’s critical for the interface to be designed with a touchscreen and easy to read controls that allow you to make changes and access features without taking your attention away from the road for long. One way to gauge this is to compare it to using a car stereo – it should be as easy to use as a car stereo.
In-dash navigation systems can be single- or double-din, referring to the amount of dash space required. We reviewed only double-din systems because these offer a better display. 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. However, not all devices have clean-cut sizes and not all devices fit into any car. So, it's important to make sure it's compatible with your car before you purchase. Even if it is compatible with your car, you may need to purchase a harness or brackets to make it fit properly.
It's worth noting that these aren't easy devices to install, unless your car already has a double-din car stereo or an in-dash navigation system that you're replacing. Removing your dashboard is not for the faint hearted. It likely requires special tools and wedges and some force. We recommend a professional installation, but if you feel confident enough, the manuals do include installation instructions though they won't be specific to your vehicle.
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 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.
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.