GPS car navigation review March 2009

GPS test results for both city and country driving.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
  • Updated:1 Mar 2009
 

01 .Introduction

GPS-lead-Garmin

Test results for 17 GPS systems, priced from $130 to $920

A car GPS is like an electronic street directory which not only shows you how to get from one point to another but also connects to a series of satellites to calculate your position. CHOICE took 17 of the latest car GPS units to the streets, including our first ever ALDI model, and found that while most performed well, following their directions unequivocally is still not recommended.

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


Our highly experienced tester spent hours driving in and around Sydney looking at how well each unit performed — in tunnels, tollways and the city. He also tested the units outside the major city areas, to see how well they performed off the beaten track.

He looked at how easy each unit was to use, including whether the verbal instructions were easy to understand, and most importantly – he assessed the accuracy of the map data and how well each unit calculated routes and times.

First ALDI model

CHOICE has received many requests to review ALDI car GPS devices. However, you can't be sure a product that shows up one week will be available the following week. Therefore, by the time we test the product and deliver the results, the product is no longer available.

The Tevion model on test was purchased late in 2008. In testing it was neither among the best nor worst, but if you want an inexpensive unit it might be an option.

See our latest article on GPS car navigation systems.

 
 

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What to buy

TomTom GO 930 - $849
TomTom XL - $399
Uniden Trax 436 - $400
Garmin 265WT- $549
Garmin nuvi 5000 - $799
Garmin nuvi 500 - $549
Navman S-Series S45 - $349

Results Table

PRODUCT PERFORMANCE FEATURES
Brand / model (in rank order) Overall score (%) City driving test score (%) Country driving test score (%) Ease of use score (%) Verbal instructions score (%) Screen quality score (%) Points of interest score (%) Widescreen Bluetooth MP3 player Photo / Video / e-book
TomTom GO 930
www.tomtom.com
86 78 75 96 90 100 100 • / - / •
TomTom XL
www.tomtom.com
85 78 75 93 88 100 100 - / - / -
Uniden TRAX 436
www.uniden.com.au
83 76 75 91 90 83 100 - / - / -
Garmin 265WT
www.garmin.com.au
82 80 67 96 88 100 72 •/ - / -
Garmin nuvi 5000
www.garmin.com.au
82 81 67 95 85 100 82 • / • / •
Garmin nuvi 500
www.garmin.com.au
81 81 67 90 83 100 82 - / - / -
Navman S-Series S45
www.navman.com
80 70 75 91 85 87 90 • / - / -
Mio Moov 300
www.mio-tech.com.au
74 79 42 91 88 80 90 • / - / -
Mio Moov 370
www.mio-tech.com.au
74 79 42 91 88 80 90 • / - / -
Magellan Maestro 5310
www.magellan.com.au
71 73 33 88 88 93 86 - / - / -
Magellan CrossoverGPS
www.magellan.com.au
70 72 33 87 83 93 86 • / - / -
Navigon 2150 max
www.navigonaus.com
70 80 33 89 80 77 87 •/ - / -
Tevion (ALDI) GPS Navigator 7342#
www.aldi.com.au
70 69 58 80 78 67 82 • / • / •
Navman S-Series Platinum S200
www.navman.com
65 75 33 63 83 77 86 • / • / -
Navman S-Series Platinum S300T
www.navman.com
65 75 33 63 83 77 86 • / • / -
Hema Navigator
www.hemanavigator.com.au
63 73 25 84 80 67 73 • / - / -
Navig8r M43
www.laserco.net
58 63 33 76 80 60 41 • / • / •
 

Table notes

# Discontinued, but may be available in some stores.

(A) Additional software required.

(B) SUNA optional extra with external antenna supplied.

(C) SUNA subscription included in overall price with antenna incorporated into unit.

(D) Dimension includes screen mount attached to unit.

Using the table

Scores 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%

Features For an explanation of features, see What to Look For.
Price Recommended retail, as of February 2009. 

How we test

  • City Besides his home address, our tester selects six destinations within Sydney – a railway station, airport, university, medical centre, golf course and sports complex – and starting from same point, drives the route with all GPS models to see which locates them 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 the GPS to 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 is possible to rely on verbal instructions alone, or look 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.
  • Durability He checks the systems after three hours in a temperature-controlled oven at 60ºC to simulate being in a car on a hot summer’s day.

Profiles - what to buy

Tomtom GO 930 (Whereis)

Price $849

City Good Country Good

Good points

  • Equal best range of POI.
  • Excellent route display.
  • Excellent screen visibility during daylight.
  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • Pre-loaded maps of New Zealand, North America and Western and Central Europe.
  • SUNA capable, but separate kit has to be purchased.

Bad points

  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.
  • Vibrates a little.

Tomtom XL (Whereis)

Price $399

City Good Country Good

Good points

  • Equal best range of POI.
  • Excellent route display.
  • Excellent screen visibility during daylight.
  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Excellent voice quality.
  • SUNA capable, but separate kit has to be purchased.

Bad points

  • No removable memory support.
  • Difficult to attach the mount to the windscreen.
  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.

Uniden Trax 436 (Whereis)

Price $400

City Good Country Good

Good points

  • Equal best range of POI.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Pre-loaded map of New Zealand.
  • SUNA capable, integrated in the unit but subscription needs to be purchased to enable the feature.
  • Quick to recalculate the trip after a missed turn.

Bad points

  • Spoken street names (TTS) only available when using American voices.
  • Difficult to attach the mount to the windscreen.

Garmin 265WT (Whereis)

Price $549

City Very good Country OK

Good points

  • Excellent route display.
  • Excellent screen visibility during daylight.
  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • Pre-loaded map of New Zealand.
  • SUNA capable, integrated in the unit.

 Bad points

  • Quick-start guide only, no printed user manual.

Garmin nuvi 5000 (Whereis)

Price $799

City Very good Country OK

Good points

  • Excellent route display.
  • Excellent screen visibility during daylight.
  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • Pre-loaded map of New Zealand.

Bad points

  • Quick-start guide only, no printed user manual.
  • No internal battery means it cannot be used away from 12V supply.

Garmin nuvi 500 (Whereis)

Price $549

City Very good Country OK

Good points

  • Excellent route display.
  • Excellent screen visibility during daylight.
  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Pre-loaded map of New Zealand.
  • SUNA capable, but separate kit has to be purchased.

Bad points

  • Quick-start guide only, no printed user manual.

Navman S-Series S45 (Whereis)

Price $349

City Good Country Good

Good points

  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • SUNA capable, but separate kit has to be purchased.

Bad points

  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.

 

Product profiles - the rest

Mio Moov 300 (Navteq)

Price $299

City Good Country Poor

Good points

  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • Very good voice quality.
  • SUNA capable, but separate kit has to be purchased.

Bad points

  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.

Mio Moov 370 (Navteq)

Price $499

City Good Country Poor

Good points

  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • Very good voice quality.
  • SUNA capable, integrated in the unit.

Bad points

  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.

Magellan Maestro 5310 (Navteq)

Price $699

City Good Country Poor

Good points

  • Excellent route display.
  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • Pre-loaded maps of US, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Bad points

  • No full-route display.
  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.
  • Very slow to recalculate the trip after a missed turn and coming out of a tunnel.

Magellan CrossoverGPS (Navteq)

Price $649

City Good Country Poor

Good points

  • Excellent route display.
  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Pre-loaded maps of US, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
  • Built-in marine and outdoor navigation applications.

Bad points

  • No full-route display.
  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.

Navigon 2150 Max (Navteq)

Price $399

City Very good Country Poor

Good points

  • Full-route display automatically before each trip.
  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Lane assistance display.
  • Quick to recalculate the trip after a missed turn.
  • SUNA capable, but separate kit has to be purchased.

Bad points

  • Quick-start guide only, no printed user manual.
  • Very slow to recalculate the trip after coming out of a tunnel.

Tevion (ALDI) 3.5" Touch Screen GPS Navigator 7342* (Whereis)

Price $130

City OK Country OK

Good points

  • Cheapest model in the test by a significant margin.

Bad points

  • No full-route display.
  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.
  • Vibrates a little.

*An update to the software has been released since our test and there is evidence of an improved performance. Call 1300 886 649 for information. 

Navman S-Series Platinum S200 (Navteq)

Price $699

City Good Country Poor

Good points

  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • 3D lane guidance and 3D landmarks.
  • Quick to recalculate the trip after coming out of a tunnel.
  • SUNA capable, but separate kit has to be purchased.

Bad points

  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.
  • Glide touch screen is difficult to use.

Navman S-Series Platinum S300T (Navteq)

Price $599

City Good Country Poor

Good points

  • Automatic change from day to night screen.
  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • SUNA capable – integrated into the unit.
  • 3D lane guidance and 3D landmarks.
  • Quick to recalculate the trip after coming out of a tunnel.

Bad points

  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual.
  • Glide touch screen is difficult to use. 

Hema Navigator (Navteq)

Price $920

City Good Country Poor

Good points

  • Pre-loaded topographic map of Australia.

Bad points

  • No full-route display.
  • Quick-start guide and instructional CD only, no printed user manual. 

Navig8r M43 (Navig8r)

Price $340

City OK Country Poor

Good points

  • Names the upcoming streets.
  • Very good instruction manual.
  • SUNA capable, but separate kit has to be purchased.

Bad points

  • Very limited range of POI.
  • Voice is too low in volume and it’s hard to understand, even though it sounds pleasant.
  • No full-route display.
  • Shakes and vibrates a lot even on good quality roads.

04.Features plus what's new

 

Features they (almost) all have

  • Colour LCD display in widescreen format and a touchscreen.
  • 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.
  • Most models project the full route display as a line on the map from your existing position to your destination.
  • A Walking mode option allows you to plot a route for pedestrians, except the Garmin 265WT, nuvi 5000, Mios, Magellans, Navigon, and Navman S-Series Platinum S200 and S45.
  • 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.
  • Trip planning allows you to run through your driing route in virtual mode before you even get into the car.
  • Trip recording 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.
  • The Tom Tom and Garmin units were the only models to support the Mac OSX computer platform and only the Navigon and Navig8r models among the rest.
  • SUNA support: for live traffic updates, may be available via an antenna attachment, or could be built into the latest models.
  • English spoken instructions plus at least another two languages to chose from except the Mios, Navmans, Navigon and Navig8r M43 which only had English.
  • Options to calculate fastest and shortest routes.
  • Option of two or three-dimensional display of the map except the three Garmins which could only display in 3D.
  • Exclude toll roads except for the two Magellans.
  • 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.
  • Points of interest: Schools, police stations, car parks, petrol stations, airports and railway stations. ATMs and hospitals.
  • SD or Micro SD memory card slot except the TomTom XL allow you to store images music and video files as well as the latest maps.
  • USB connections for uploading data to a PC

What to look for

  • Data entry: Keying in your favourite addresses and points of interest (POI) should be quick and easy. Also, check to see if it’s difficult to use your fingers to select points on the screen or whether you need to use a stylus.
  • Memory cards: Memory cards (either SD or microSD) may contain the latest maps or can also store images, music and video files.
  • Display: The screen should be large and glare-free, and show the information you want to see, such as distance to the next turn, current street name, time of arrival and distance to destination.
  • Some car GPS devices offer the ability to show rendered versions of popular landmarks as 3D objects. However, don’t expect your car GPS to suddenly render your trip in 3D just yet, with only major landmarks rendered so far.
  • Voice instructions: Make sure these are clear and loud enough to understand over car noise.
  • Installation and portability: Check how easy the system is to install and how easy it is to remove and carry — thieves are more likely to target cars where they can see a shiny GPS system through the window.
  • Check they allow you to store your home address and to select a location on the displayed map.

Traffic updates SUNA

Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane drivers can save time by learning about traffic incidents before it’s too late. Many of the models we tested support SUNA live traffic updates (see www.sunatraffic.com.au) through the use of an external antenna and one-off subscription.

If your car GPS supports SUNA, information such as what’s causing a delay, where the incident is, the length of the delay if you stay on the original route and detour options are readily available. Some units have this support built into the unit, while other models need an optional attachment to receive the information. However, don’t expect your GPS to highlight any delays that would be expected during periods of high activity, such as peak hour traffic.

The outdoor GPS alternative

The Magellan Crossover GPS and Garmin nuvi 500 not only operate in the car but also as a handheld device for hiking or adventuring. Their features include much longer claimed battery life (up to eight hours) and a rugged casing with an IPX7 waterproof rating for the Garmin model, which means it can be immersed in water at a depth of up to one metre. The Magellan is IPX4 rated, which means splash-proof only . Look out for our upcoming test of handheld GPS to see how well these models perform against other hiking models.

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).

  • A receiver uses a method called three-dimensional trilateration to then calculate its position on Earth:
  • It calculates the distances to four of the satellites.

The spheres around each satellite that have the calculated distance as their radius overlap in exactly one point — the receiver’s location. Theoretically, three satellite signals are enough for a pretty good guess: while three spheres overlap in two points, only one of them is likely to be on Earth.

How accurate are they?

  • 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. 

How do they work?

They consist of:

  • A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver that picks up satellite signals that allow it to determine your exact position.
  • A map database (all the tested models have maps for most of Australia on internal flash memory or an SD flash memory card). This includes a large number of ‘points of interest’, such as schools, police stations, car parks, petrol stations and hospitals.
  • A computer processor to calculate routes, distances and times.
  • A screen displaying maps and route instructions.
  • A loudspeaker for verbal instructions.
  • You enter where you want to go. Using the map data, it then plots a route, calculates the travel distance and estimated time of arrival, and displays the route on a map. You can usually choose between the fastest or the shortest (geographically) route, or specifically exclude toll roads or highways.
  • Using satellite signals, it keeps track of your position and guides you along the plotted route with travel instructions on the display and verbally via a pre-recorded or computer-generated voice.
  • The portable units in our test have a mount with a suction cap that can be attached to the windscreen. They plug into the cigarette lighter for power, but also have a battery that provides a few hours of operation. They’re installed within moments, and can therefore easily be moved from car to car.
  • The tested models cost between $280 and $799, which is much cheaper than the fully integrated systems that come as standard or optional equipment on some (usually more upmarket) cars. However, integrated systems are usually connected to the car’s electronics, and can overcome some of the limitations of portable units. For example, they can use speed information to keep calculating your position when there’s no satellite signal, such as in a tunnel.
  • All the tested models work with the same satellite signals and use Australian mapping data from one of two providers: Sensis or Navteq.
    However, the software each brand uses to let you turn all this into information that guides you from A to B can vary significantly.

More info:

Go to Wikipedia on GPS.
The Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment has produced the 20-page guide GPS — a guide for users.

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.

Welcome to Camden — California!

While the technology that enables users to successfully get from A to B based on a satellite that pinpoints a position on the globe is amazing, car GPS units are not infallible. One of our test models (a Garmin) announced correctly that the tester had arrived at the University of Sydney, Camden; however it also announced that our tester was in California.

Other models insisted that the tester make a sharp right turn on the M5 in Sydney, which was impossible as it meant going through a concrete dividing wall, then proceeded to set a new route of 38 km to get to a destination instead of merely turning left. 

Locked in to the map

The two main map choices available to car GPS users in Australia are Whereis and Navteq. The car GPS you choose determines which map you get, so you can’t use a Whereis map in a GPS that uses Navteq and vice versa.

You can purchase map upgrades to keep up to date on the inevitable changes in roads, traffic directions and speed limits. However, these upgrades cost anywhere from about $100 up to $180 (see table for upgrade pricing), so you might want to check with the company to clarify its map upgrade policy. Some companies offer to upgrade the car GPS to the latest maps if a new version is released within a month of purchase, other companies include one upgrade to the next map version when it arrives and some offer nothing.

The GPS units with Navteq maps performed marginally better than units that use Whereis maps in the city, however, the models that use Navteq map data scored significantly worse in our country driving test. However, the quality of the information provided to the user is not only dependent on the map provider but also the companies that make the car GPS units. This is why our CHOICE tester observed several differences in map accuracy on models using supposedly the same map data.