Best Navigation GPS Units of 2018

Suzanne Humphries ·
Electronics & Software Writer
Updated
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We spent over 45 hours testing 10 car GPS devices hands-on. We drove on rural streets as well as freeways laden with construction and traffic, in areas both familiar and unfamiliar to test the performance and functionality of each GPS. The best overall GPS we tested was the Rand McNally OverDryve. It gave clear directions, had an intuitive interface, handled multiple waypoints and accurately gave efficient, landmark-based directions. It has a premium feel, with a 7-inch high-definition capacitive touchscreen, 10 million included waypoints and even Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity for your smartphone. 

Best Overall
Rand McNally OverDryve
The Rand McNally OverDryve has the largest capacitive touch display. It easily connects with your smartphone and can interact with your phone’s assistant to play audio, navigate compatible apps, or send and receive calls or texts.
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Best Value
Garmin DriveLuxe 51 LMT-S
Garmin’s DriveLuxe 51 LMT-S has a 5-inch capacitive touchscreen, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, and free lifetime map updates. You can even pair your smartphone to take advantage of voice-activated navigation.
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Easiest to Use
Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S
Garmin’s DriveSmart 61LMT-S has a 6.95-inch capacitive touchscreen, is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capable, and includes free lifetime map updates. It supports multiple waypoints, landmark guidance, lane assistance and route avoidance.
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Product
Price
Overall Rating
Navigation
Destination
Design
Support & Warranty
Preloaded Maps
Lifetime Maps & Traffic Alerts
Route Avoidance
Speed Limit Indicator
Lane Assistance
Landmark Guidance
Built-In Points of Interest
Auto-Sort Multiple Destinations
Custom Points of Interest
Ease of Use Score
Smartphone Assistant Compatible
Screen Resolution (pixels)
Screen Size (inches)
Screen Type
Battery Life
Bluetooth & Wi-Fi
Direct Support
Warranty
Online Resources
$189.99 Amazon
10 10 10 10 10
All-GPS Receiver
10 Million
A
Google Now, Siri
1280 x 800
7
Capacitive
6 Hours
Both
Chat, Phone, Email
1 Year
$229.95 Amazon
9.3 9.5 8.8 9.8 8.8
North America
Not Specified
A+
Google Now, Siri
1024 x 600
6.95
Capacitive
1 Hour
Both
Phone, Email
1 Year
$206.52 Amazon
9.1 9.5 8.8 9 8.8
North America
Not Specified
A-
Google Now, Siri
800 x 480
6
Capacitive
1 Hour
Both
Phone, Email
1 Year
$259.95 Amazon
9.1 9.5 8.8 8.8 8.8
North America
Not Specified
A-
Google Now, Siri
800 x 480
5
Capacitive
1 Hour
Both
Phone, Email
1 Year
$125.00 Viglink
9 9.3 9.3 7.5 10
U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada
7 Million
B-
-
800 x 480
7
Capacitive
1 Hour
Both
Chat, Phone, Email
1 Year
$179.09 Amazon
8.9 9.5 8.8 8 8.8
North America
Not Specified
C+
Google Now, Siri
480 x 272
5
Capacitive
1 Hour
Both
Phone, Email
1 Year
$129.99 Amazon
8.6 8.8 10 6.3 8.8
North America
Maps
10 Million
B
-
480 x 272
5
Resistive
3 Hours
Bluetooth
Phone, Email
1 Year
$75.09 Amazon
8.6 9.3 9.3 5.5 10
U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada
7 Million
B
-
640 x 480
5
Resistive
30 Minutes
-
Chat, Phone, Email
1 Year
$149.99 Amazon
8.4 9.5 8.8 5.5 8.8
North America
Not Specified
B-
-
480 x 272
5
Resistive
1 Hour
-
Phone, Email
1 Year
Best Overall

Rand McNally OverDryve

The Rand McNally OverDryve is the largest GPS device on the market, and it’s packed with the most features aimed at smoothing out your drive and enhancing your entertainment and connectivity while you drive. And whether you’re a professional truck driver or simply driving to work, the OverDryve can streamline your travel time and keep you entertained and connected while you drive.
With the OverDryve, you’ll get free traffic alerts and map updates for the life of the device, which means you’ll always be driving with the most up-to-date information for avoiding construction delays or even a car accident. The device also tells you the speed limit along with the speed at which you’re currently driving. And if there’s an upcoming lane change to be made or sharp curve ahead, the car GPS will also notify you well ahead of time. The navigation GPS is preloaded with maps across North America, along with 10 million points of interest such as hotels, landmarks, gas stations, stores and restaurants. You can set your destination as one of those points of interest, or you can plug in a custom address. If you add in multiple waypoints, the device will automatically present you with the most efficient route through all of them.
Pros
  • Has 10 million points of interest preloaded
  • Mount doubles as a GPS antenna
  • Doubles as a regular tablet when detached from mount
Cons
  • Large size consumes field of vision and makes storage difficult
  • Mount is large and bulky
  • Needs a mobile hotspot to use internet-related functions
$195.36Amazon
Best Value

Garmin DriveLuxe 51 LMT-S

Garmin’s DriveLuxe 51 LMT-S has a premium feel to it and is chock-full of features, functionality and free lifetime updates for maps and software. It ships with millions of points-of-interest, along with preloaded maps of North America, and has a microSD slot in case you want to download additional maps for other regions.
Maps and other navigation features are easy to see on the 5-inch color capacitive touchscreen, which has a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. The straightforward interface is colorful and easy to navigate, or you can interact with it using simple voice commands. As you drive, you can glance at the DriveLuxe 51 to see navigation information such as nearby landmarks, upcoming turns or lane changes as well as the current speed limit. If you pair your smartphone to the device via Bluetooth, you can view incoming traffic alerts – such as those for construction, accidents or traffic cameras – through the companion mobile app. It can even help you find parking or allow you to share your location with friends. Pairing your smartphone to the DriveLuxe 51 also means you can read a text message, see incoming calls or view calendar notifications at a glance while keeping your hands on the wheel.
Pros
  • Has voice-activated navigation features
  • Has real-time traffic, parking and map information
  • Fast processor keeps up with you
Cons
  • Standalone battery life only lasts up to one hour
  • Screen isn’t full high definition
  • Notifications stay on-screen for too long
$259.95Amazon
Easiest to Use

Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S

The Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S is not only extremely easy to use; it also proved plenty powerful and capable during our tests. Inside of its sleek, modern exterior lies an arsenal of both essential and premium features, and an interface with a clean design.
This GPS unit comes preloaded with maps of the United States, Canada and Mexico, and if you need to download more, there’s a slot for a microSD card you can use. The 61 LMT-S also comes with free map updates for the life of the device. This navigation GPS has a giant 6.95-inch capacitive touchscreen, with a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels and an edge-to-edge display. Built-in Wi-Fi allows you to pair your smartphone to the DriveSmart 61, so you can make hands-free calls as well as receive traffic, map and software updates. It has a battery life of one hour and is compatible with a backup camera. The GPS devices comes preloaded with maps of North America along with millions of built-in points of interest, like hotels, gas stations and restaurants. There’s also the option to input custom waypoints, like your house or workplace. You can enter one or many waypoints and it automatically gives you the most efficient route. While driving, the DriveSmart 61 alerts you of upcoming turns, toll roads and changes in speed limits, and it even tells you when it’s time to take a break if you’ve been going for a while.
Pros
  • Has a large 6.95-inch capacitive touchscreen display
  • Extremely easy-to-use interface
  • Provides real-time traffic, map and parking updates
Cons
  • Mount is snap-in, not magnetic
  • Powers off/on with vehicle
  • Alerts stay on-screen for too long
$249.90Amazon
Best for Points of Interest
TomTom is a brand synonymous with GPS navigation units, and the VIA 1515M is no exception. With 10 million built-in points of interest, you have a better chance of finding new restaurants, museums, malls, parks, historic areas and other areas worth exploring. This is 3 million more points of interest than most car GPS devices. In addition to covering the U.S., the GPS map covers Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico and Canada. You can explore North America without getting lost. The 1515M has a 5-inch resistive touchscreen with a resolution of 480 x 272. It's not a bad display for the price. The size is average while the resolution is a little below average. The split-screen function is excellent, but touchscreen performance is not as responsive as most GPS units we tested. However, the relatively simple display isn't as much of a drain on the battery as it can last up to three hours.
Pros
  • 10 million points of interest
Cons
  • Display lacks responsiveness
US$139.99Amazon
Read the full review
Best for Map Updates
The world's maps change frequently, but with the Magellan RoadMate 5630T, you get lifetime map updates. While Magellan’s update frequency is uncertain, use this GPS unit with the confidence you always receive its updates. This not a feature offered by every GPS manufacturer or GPS device. It also comes with a lifetime of traffic alerts. The alerts warn you of red-light cameras, speed cameras and crowd-sourced traffic data. With a 5-inch touchscreen display, you can clearly see the maps as you drive, and the 640 x 480 resolution is good for the price. The portrait mode is a nice feature, as it rotates the display when you tilt it vertically, allowing you to see more of the road. However, the touchscreen isn't as responsive as the best car GPS devices. In addition, with a lower-quality display, you might expect a longer battery life, but you don't get it. This battery lasts just 30 minutes.
Pros
  • Lifetime updates
Cons
  • Short battery life
US$116Amazon
Read the full review

Why Trust Us

We have conducted rigorous GPS testing for more than four years. Our most recent in-house navigation GPS evaluations took over 40 hours in Purch Labs and out on the roads. We considered each device’s overall design, navigational features, interface options and ease of use, all while examining how effective each would be for users of unique experience levels. We also investigated each company’s technical support departments and various informational resources made available from the manufacture, along with the accompanying warranty.

We found that, when it comes to car GPS units, price is not always an indicator of quality. Be sure to select a device with the features you want. The most useful features a navigation GPS device can have are preloaded maps, route and lane assistance, lifetime map updates, a large capacitive touchscreen, custom points of interest and voice-activated navigation. Although some of these are premium features, together they all make for the most powerful and useful car GPS.

How Much Do GPS Navigation Systems Cost?  

It's possible to find car GPS devices under $80, but these are cheaply made and lack many features, such as touchscreens. We reviewed GPS navigation systems that range between $90 and $350. Conversely, you can buy an in-dash navigation system, which doubles as an entertainment system, for between $150 and over $500, depending on the specifications.

Of course, it's also worth noting GPS navigation apps, like Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze and others, are often free and can be just as effective at providing step-by-step navigation instructions. All you need is a $5 phone holder to put on your dash.   

How We Tested

The two most important things we evaluated throughout our testing were accuracy and overall ease of use. For the applied portion of our testing, we drove around on a variety of roads – from small rural roads to busy city streets to the highway during rush hour with construction. We drove in familiar locales as well as areas we hadn’t been to, noting whether the routes provided by the devices were accurate and efficient. We also verified if 2D and 3D landmarks – for the applicable devices – were accurately represented on the screen.

We looked for devices that gave clear directions with plenty of notice before a turn. We also looked for clear on-screen visuals, updated traffic alerts and a variety of points of interest such as gas stations, hotels, restaurants and stores. We also noted how easy it was to navigate the device interface along with how easy it was to input an address and start navigating. Overall, the best devices were easy to set up and use, provided helpful instructions, and allowed for extensive smartphone compatibility for enhanced one-touch navigation and entertainment.

Key Features to Look for When Buying a Navigation GPS Unit

Essential Features
Every GPS system in our comparison has preloaded maps of the United States, ready for you to start using when you first use the device. Additionally, most have built-in microSD card slots that let you insert compatible cards containing other maps, or they’ll give you the option to download other maps for regions like Mexico, Puerto Rico or Canada. Having preloaded maps ready to go means you have reliable navigation even when you’re in an area with little or no signal.

Also, look for a car GPS with free lifetime map updates. While any device is up to date and useful when you’re first using it, roads and landscapes can change, and outdated maps can potentially lead you down the wrong road. Depending on the manufacturer, map updates can either be an automatic background process or one that requires you to manually download updated maps so that you’re always using the most current data available.

A speed limit indicator is another critical feature. This means that the GPS can tell you the speed you’re currently travelling at, along with the speed limit of the road you’re driving on. Some devices can also notify you if you’re speeding. Altogether, these features help you avoid getting a speeding ticket, even on an unfamiliar road.

Depending on your car, you may also want to consider a GPS with a hefty battery capacity, which keeps it working even when it’s unplugged. This is great if you need to use your car’s DC outlet to charge your phone, or if your car doesn’t have such an outlet. Most units in our comparison can run unplugged for up to two hours, though some can run for up to six hours.

Premium Features
Along with all the essential features, the best navigational GPS units have a myriad of features that, while not necessary to guide you from point A to point B, make your journey smoother and more enjoyable. One of the most key features is voice-activated navigation. It’s one of the largest advantages smartphones have had over dedicated GPS devices historically, as it’s a faster method than typing in a destination manually. You can dictate while already driving, instead of having to type everything in before you leave. Several models we reviewed have this feature.

In addition, if you frequently drive in large cities or traveling in unfamiliar areas, 3D maps are incredibly helpful. This feature recreates landmark objects, like bridges and buildings, and models them three-dimensionally, making them easier to recognize than on traditional two-dimensional maps. Most models already have this option.

Also consider devices that have traffic receivers built into them. This feature can automatically check surrounding traffic conditions without using your smartphone (or its battery or data).

Navigation
From the must-haves to the fancy add-ons, ease of use is by far the most important feature any navigation GPS can have. If it isn’t intuitive, doesn’t provide thorough step-by-step directions or makes it difficult to input an address, it isn’t worth the cost. The best car GPS devices use crystal-clear icons and labels that make it easy to choose an action or input an address.

The next most important feature is voice dictation. Poking around on a GPS device is no less dangerous than texting while driving, so a unit with voice-activated navigation is a wise choice.

A good GPS should also audibly announce which lane you’ll need to be in when making a turn or exiting the freeway, as well as showing a lane assist image on the screen at all times so you have plenty of time to get into the appropriate lane. Some units also track and display the speed limit of the road you’re driving on, which is extra useful when you’re driving in an unfamiliar area.

Destination
The average screen size for GPS devices is between 3 and 7 inches, which is measured diagonally across the screen just like a TV. While smaller devices can be easily stored in your glovebox or a bag, devices with larger screens make it easier to see navigation and other on-screen options at a glance, especially while you’re driving. Additionally, while driving on the freeway, as soon as the appropriate exit nears, a visual alert appears on the screen. Because this takes up roughly one-third of the screen on these devices, a larger screen lets you easily view such alerts and still be able to view other information.

The best GPS screens have a resolution of at least 480 x 272 pixels, although GPS devices with higher resolutions – such as those above 800 x 480 pixels – give you a crisper picture that is easier to view at a glance.

If possible, you should opt for a capacitive touchscreen over a resistive one. Capacitive screens are great because they are highly accurate and sensitive, and they enable you to make pinch-to-zoom gestures, just as you can on a smartphone – an ability you simply don’t get with resistive touchscreens. Because capacitive displays respond to the electrical conductivity of your skin rather than blunt pressure, you won’t have to press the screen hard to get a response. However, resistive screens allow you to use any object to touch the screen, such as a stylus or a gloved finger. These screens typically also have slower reaction times, along with considerably lower resolutions and a smaller capacity for brightness.

Consider your car and personal needs and weigh them against the expected battery life of each GPS device. While all of the units we tested come with DC adapters, which let you power them by plugging them into your car, not all cars are compatible with this feature. Additionally, not all GPS units come with a USB cable that allows you to charge them. So, consider what you have to work with and whether a device is compatible before purchasing. If your car won’t work with a DC adapter, you may want to consider a device with a lengthy battery life.