GPS car navigation review Nov 2009

Find the best GPS system for both city and country driving, whether in a car or on a motorcycle.
 
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01 .Introduction

Car GPS

Test results for 15 GPS systems, priced from $159 to $999

(See our GPS reviews for the most up-to-date models). Most car owners have a street directory, but it's hard to beat the convenience of a GPS. This pocket-sized device can direct you to virtually any address in your capital city, as well as most rural destinations.

CHOICE tested 12 car GPS devices and three devices designed for motorbikes, in both city and country locations. Unfortunately, our testing has found performance drops off once you leave the city.

Please note: this information was current as of November 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market. For more recent information, see our 2012 Car GPS review.


Brands and models tested

Car GPS

  • Garmin nüvi 1250
  • Garmin nüvi 1350
  • Garmin nüvi 1390
  • Kogan Ezinav
  • Mio A350
  • Mio A430
  • Navig8r G35
  • Navman MY30
  • Navman MY500XT
  • Navman MY55T
  • Tom Tom ONE 140
  • Tom Tom XL 340

Motorbike GPS

  • Garmin zūmo 550
  • Go Cruise S350 (ALDI)
  • Tom Tom Rider 2nd edition. 

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Video: How we test GPS units

CHOICE puts a collection of GPS navigation units through their paces.

 
 

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Car GPS devices are no longer a premium item reserved for those willing to spend several hundred dollars on the latest gizmo. With good units now available for less than $200, a car GPS device can be handy even if only used occasionally for the holiday trip or when driving to a destination in an unfamiliar area. Our top performers provide clear directions in both the town and the country and all except one model will cost you less than $400.

These models scored the best results in our test:

  • Tom Tom ONE 140 — $249
  • Tom Tom XL 340 — $299
  • Garmin nüvi 1350 — $399
  • Kogan Ezinav — $199
  • Garmin nüvi 1250 — $299
  • Garmin nüvi 1390 — $449

6 CHOICE buys

Tom Tom ONE 140

Scored 80/100 | $24980%

Good points:

• Very good value for money.
• Very clear indication of roads and route with good size text.
• Names the streets, and roundabout exits are numbered first, second, etc.
• Printed manual included.

Bad points:

• Mount is not as adjustable as the more common ball-jointed type.
• Can’t add live traffic (SUNA) as an option.

 

Tom Tom XL 340

Scored 79/100 | $29979%

Good points:

• Very clear indication of roads and route with good size text.
• Names the streets, and roundabout exits are numbered first, second, etc
• Widescreen.
• Printed manual included.

Bad points:

• Mount is not as adjustable as the more common ball-jointed type.

 

Garmin nüvi 1350

Scored 77/100 | $39977%

Good points:

• Very clear indication of roads and route with good size text.
• Excellent screen visibility in bright sunlight (but not quite as good as the zūmo).
• Excellent display of street names.

Bad points:

• Worst country performance of the recommended models.

 

Kogan Ezinav

Scored 76/100 | $19976%

Good points:

• Soft carry case provided.
• Names the streets, and roundabout exits are numbered first, second, etc.
• Printed manual included.
• 3.5mm audio out socket and FM transmitter inbuilt.

Bad points:

• Borderline sound quality. Voice sometimes has lengthy pauses mid-sentence.

 

Garmin nüvi 1250

Scored 74/100 | $29974%

Good points:

• Very clear indication of roads and route with good size text.
• Names the streets, and roundabout exits are numbered first, second, etc.
• Excellent display of street names.

Bad points:

• Equal-worst score for points of interest.

 

Garmin nüvi 1390

Scored 74/100 | $44974%

Good points:

• Very clear indication of roads and route with good size text.
• Names the streets, and roundabout exits are numbered first, second, etc.
• Excellent display of street names.

Bad points:

• Equal-worst score for points of interest.

 
 

Designing a GPS device to suit motorbikes is a very different challenge compared with a car; offering protection from the elements, as well as the ability to make selections with gloves, are just a couple of unique issues to address. The unit also has to be hardwired to the bike, as most do not have an auxiliary power source (such as a cigarette lighter socket).

These motorbike models scored best in our test:

  • TomTom Rider 2nd edition — $799
  • Garmin zumo 550 — $999

2 CHOICE buys

Tom Tom Rider 2nd edition

Scored 83/100 | $79983%

Good points:

• Very clear indication of roads and route with good size text.
• Soft carry case included.
• Bluetooth wireless helmet receiver kit included.
• Screen quality is very good, even from an angle.

Bad points:

• Let in much more water than either the Garmin zūmo or Go Cruise during our water resistance test.

 

Garmin zūmo 550

Scored 77/100 | $99977%

Good points:

• Very clear indication of roads and route with good size text.
• Soft carry case provided.
• External antenna socket.
• Excellent screen visibility in bright sunlight – best in this test.
• Excellent display of street names.

Bad points:

• Most expensive model on test.

 
 

Instructions

Comparison table list

  • By default ALL tested products are listed. You can select up to five items to view in a side by side comparison.
  • Additional columns can be viewed by using the Next/Previous buttons.

Using the filters 

  • Use the filters to show only products that meet your specific requirements or which have the specific features you're interested in. Selecting filters automatically updates the Comparison table list.
  • The number shown in brackets represents the number of products that will be shown if you select that filter.
  • You can view additional filters by selecting the Show more filters button.

Compare products

 
Table Allowing the user to select a number of products dependant on their filter options.
Items to compare

Select up to 5 items below.
Then click the compare button

Compare
 
typeOverall scoreCity driving test score (%)Country driving test score (%)Ease of use score (%)Verbal instructions score (%)Screen quality score (%)Points of interest score (%)Routing options: tolls / unsealed roads / highwaysAnnounces school zonesFull-route displayLane guidanceWalking modeText to speech (TTS)More than one TTSRemote trip planningWidescreenScreen dimensions (mm, W x H)BluetoothMP3 playerPhoto / video / ebookTrip logSUNA includedSUNA as an optional extraMac support OSXMap providerMap update cost ($)Memory card typeDimensions (mm, H x W x D)Weight (g)ContactPrice ($)Brand
                                  
ONE 140Car80815888908796249Tom Tom
XL 340Car79765891908796299Tom Tom
nüvi 1350Car77755095909778399Garmin
EzinavCar76726781838091199Kogan
nüvi 1250Car74795893909037299Garmin
nüvi 1390Car74765896909037449Garmin
A350Car66881786837072199Mio
A430Car66841789887072299Mio
MY500XTCar66742574907786599Navman
MY30Car64782571857773299Navman
MY55TCar63732572858073499Navman
G35Car52701757805045159Navig8r
Rider 2nd editionMotobike83777587909396799Tom Tom
zūmo 550Motobike777158928810073999Garmin
S350 (ALDI)Motobike59704244808337199Go Cruise
Compare

 

Table notes

The overall score is made up of:
 In-car performance: 50% (city 25% / country 25%); Ease of use: 15%; Verbal instructions: 15%; Screen quality: 10%; Points of interest: 10%.
Price Recommended retail, as of October 2009.

TABLE NOTES
ns Not stated.
(A) Can announce when near to schools.
(B) Speed sign alerts.
(C) Speed alerts available via paid subscription.

How we test

City Besides a home address, our tester Scott O'Keefe selects six destinations within Sydney - a railway station, airport, university, medical centre, golf course and sports complex - and starting from the same point, drives the route with all GPS models to see which locates the destinations correctly. He also compares actual travelling times and distances with those predicted by the GPS.
Country He selects a combination of wineries and hotels from the most recent Hunter Valley Tourist Guide to find out if the GPS provides accurate directions. Only locations with a proper street address shown in the guide are selected - that is, house/lot number, street name and town name.
Ease of use Our tester assesses how useful the instructions are, how easy it is to attach and remove the GPS from the windscreen and whether it vibrates during driving. He looks at how easy it is to use the menu structure on the touch screen and, where supplied, if it is necessary to use a stylus to make entries.
Verbal instructions are assessed by listening to the quality of the voice, timing of turn and other instructions, specificity of the instructions, and whether it's possible to rely on verbal instructions alone without looking at the screen.
Screen quality Our tester compares how easy it is to read the map and how clear the picture is in daylight and at night.
Points of interest He selects 20 points of interests, including a hospital, medical centre, airport, police, shopping centre, tourist attraction and so on, and rates the models based on how many POIs are found all over Australia.
Durability He checks the systems after three hours in a temperature-controlled oven at 60§C, to simulate being in a car on a hot summer's day.
Bike testers: Two CHOICE staff motorcyclists assessed ease of aspects of the bike GPS units that were applicable to use on a motorbike.

  • Routing options You can program the GPS to exclude toll roads, unsealed roads or highways from the calculated route.
  • Announces school zone Provide warnings when approaching a school zone where speed limits are reduced. Some models announce when you are approaching a school, while others simply show up as a speed alert.
  • Most car GPS devices project the full-route display as a line on the map from your existing position through to your destination.
  • Lane guidance informs you when to move to the exit lane and displays complex multi-lane manoeuvres clearly.
  • Walking mode allows you to plot a route for pedestrians, such as walking the wrong way down one-way streets or taking a short-cut through a park.
  • Text to Speech (TTS) allows you to get information on when to turn without having to glance at the screen with the unit saying the street name all have this feature now except the Mio A350 and Tom Tom Rider 2nd edition motorbike model.
  • Remote trip planning allows you to run through your driving route in virtual mode before you even get into the car (also known as A-B routing). allows you to run through your driving route in virtual mode before you even get into the car (also known as A-B routing).
  • Some units can communicate with Bluetooth-enabled phones, allowing you to make phone calls by selecting certain Points of Interest or POIs.
  • Some units can show photo images, play certain video formats and even display text documents as an e-book.
  • SUNA This allows you to collect live traffic information out of the box with a SUNA subscription integrated into the car GPS unit or as an optional extra.
  • Mac compatibility If you want to use your car GPS on a computer, all models on test provide some functionality on a Windows (XP or Vista) machine. However, the Navman, Mio and ALDI models do not offer support for Apple Mac OSX.
  • SD or Micro SD memory card slot except the Mio A350, A450 and the TomTom One 140 and TomTom XL 340 allow you to store images music and video files as well as the latest maps.  
  • Trip recording or Trip log takes note of your travels and saves the information as a set of positional points to post online into an application such as Google Earth.
  • Display of car speed, distance to destination, estimated time of arrival, street names and distance to the next turn.
  • Day and night mode; in the latter, the screen changes colour and turns down the brightness so it won’t blind the driver when looking at it in the dark.
  • USB connections for uploading data to a PC.  

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It was developed by the US military, but is available free of charge to the general public. It has many commercial uses, from land, sea and air navigation to land surveying and map-making.
GPS consists of 24 satellites that orbit Earth exactly twice a day at an altitude of about 20,200 km. The orbits are aligned so that at least four satellites are ‘visible’ at any time from most places on Earth.
The satellites carry highly accurate atomic clocks and constantly send coded time signals to Earth. A GPS receiver can read these signals and use the time delay between the send and receive times to calculate its distance from the satellite (assuming the signal travels at the speed of light).

How accurate are GPS?  

  • Normal GPS can be up to about 20 m out: the satellites’ signal may be slowed down by the atmosphere, the signals may bounce off high-rise buildings or other structures, or the receiver itself may have its limitations (quality of the antenna, etc).
  • More expensive GPS receivers can correct at least for atmospheric inaccuracies by picking up Differential GPS (DGPS) — a network of stationary GPS receivers with known locations that constantly compare their position with the position calculated from satellite signals. They can then calculate a correction factor, which is sent to DGPS-capable receivers in the area. DGPS increases accuracy to a few metres.

GPS limitations 

  • No satellite signal, no guidance. Car navigation doesn’t work when you’re in an underground car park or tunnel. And even high-rise buildings in a city centre can block the view of the sky to an extent that leaves navigation systems lost or at least handicapped.
  • The systems can only be as good as the mapping data allows. When we let the units search for destinations or plot routes in other states, our randomly selected addresses and points of interest showed weaknesses in the mapping data and points of interest, especially in rural areas.
  • Don’t blindly trust your navigation system. There were a few occasions during our test when the voice instructions were wrong but the displayed information correct. And there may be traffic situations that are simply too tricky to handle for a navigation system — for example, if some quick lane-change manoeuvres are required.
  • Some models have a ‘walking’ option that lets you plot a pedestrian route ignoring one-way streets and using, for example, walkways through parks. However, none of them is suitable for guiding you on bushwalks.

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