Today's best GPS devices

GPS navigation devices can make trips easier, but shopping for one can be a headache.

If you're looking to buy a dedicated GPS navigation device, you'll quickly discover that every manufacturer offers an almost dizzying array of products — each with slightly different features. The challenge, then, is to determine which features are must-haves and which would just be nice to have.

Of course, you must compare not only models from the same vendor but also models from competitors. While GPS devices share many similarities, their variations, as we discuss here, can help you make the best choice for your budget.

Screen size: Over the past several years, larger screens have been the trend for dashboard GPS units. De­­vices with a 4.3-inch screen have almost completely re­­placed ones with 3.5-inch screens. Any devices with 3.5-inch screens that you can still find are typically entry-level models, often with a limited feature set. Now, 4.3-inch-screen units are being replaced by ones with even larger screens. TomTom's XXL 540, for example, features a 5-inch screen, as do Garmin's nuvi 1450T, the Navman MY75T and the Navigon 70 Plus. TomTom's high-end GO range of GPS units also includes the 5in GO 1050.

Live traffic alerts: Among Garmin devices, those with a T in the model name include traffic alerts. In TomTom's lineup, some older devices still support the SUNA Traffic Channel, but the new range does not. Generally, live traffic services in Australian GPS devices aren't as comprehensive or popular as they are in European and US markets.

Maps: Manufacturers have learned that consumers want to update their maps, and these days some models include lifetime map up­­dates, generally available quarterly. The included map set is a key consideration, as well. Maps can cover not only Australia but New Zealand. Some high-end models may have maps of Europe. Less-expensive units typically have less map coverage. If maps of New Zealand are important to you, check the included map set for the device you are considering.

Bluetooth: Many midrange and virtually all premium navigation devices include a Bluetooth speakerphone interface. Garmin's works well with most phones and does autoreconnecting as well as reading contacts from your phone. And the Bluetooth interface on TomTom's new GO series works well with the latest smartphones, including the iPhone 4, the HTC Desire and the Samsung Galaxy S.

Text-to-speech: Virtually all devices except for the least expensive entry-level models now include this feature. (Text-to-speech reads directions aloud to you.)

Unique features: All the manufacturers try to add something unique to set their devices apart. Navman, for example, offers HEMA 4WD Tracks and Lonely Planet Scenic Tour Routes built in on its premium MY75T device. TomTom's IQ Routes is a routing feature that uses historical traffic data plus community-based map updates. And Garmin's nuvi 3790T has an ultraslim case with a multitouch, high-resolution 800-by-480-pixel glass screen that provides 3D building and terrain views.

Check out our guide to the best budget GPS devices, and the best big screen GPS units. If you're after a specific brand of GPS, read our best reviews of TomTom, Garmin and Navman sat navs.

Additional reporting by Ross Catanzariti

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