A GPS for Every Budget
Corrected on 8/17/07: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the maps included with the Mio DigiWalker C220. It includes maps for the United States.
Portable GPS units are poised to become universal, with the once pricey technology now available in a variety of flavors that suit just about any budget. Virtually all mainstream models come car-ready, with kits for affixing them to the windshield or dashboard and chargers for plugging them in to the power outlet. Most also have decent batteries in case you want to carry them on the few final blocks of a walk or stick them in your backpack for a daylong hike. These models demonstrate what you can get in five price ranges:
Mio DigiWalker C220 ($150). This is about as basic as a car-based GPS device gets, yet it's anything but stripped. Pre-loaded databases include more than 3.5 million points of interest that help you find a nearby restaurant, gas station, or Greyhound bus terminal, if that's what you need. The DigiWalker has all the standard GPS features, such as a gentle, if robotic, voice that talks you through upcoming turns and helps reroute you if you miss an exit, and it includes maps of the United States. The 3.5-inch screen is bright enough when used in the car, although it might get washed out in direct sunlight.
Garmin Nuvi 250 ($275). Besides the GPS basics, such as full U.S. and Canada maps, it holds 6 million points of interest that you can customize yourself—by adding neighborhood school zones and stoplight cams, for instance. Or you can add lists of those and other features that you download from Garmin and its partners, some free and some for a fee. The Nuvi 250 also has a few non-GPS features, such as software for viewing digital photos, as well as a calculator, world clock, and converters for currency and metric units.
Magellan RoadMate 2200T ($350). At this price, models like the RoadMate not only tell you where to go—"In 100 yards, turn left"; they also add the street name, making it "In 100 yards, turn left onto Park Avenue." The 2200T is also great for outdoor activities, since its eight-hour battery can handle an all-day hike. For an extra $50, you can upgrade to include topographic maps. It's also possible to get live traffic reports, but that requires $100 more for an external antenna, plus $60 a year for the reports.
TomTom Go 720 ($500). Models in this price range typically come with bigger screens, like the 4.3-inch screen on the 720. And there are usually a number of features besides GPS. The 720 can act as a Bluetooth hands-free kit for your cellphone, for instance. It can also store and play digital music and record voice memos, handy for supplemental driving directions. In addition, it taps a new TomTom network for sharing changes to maps, such as roads closed for construction.
Garmin Nuvi 680 ($700). This wide-screen model can do much more than find gas stations—it can also tell you what you'll pay there. The Nuvi connects to a data service from Microsoft called MSN Direct, which transmits traffic info, weather reports, and gas-price updates based on your location. You can even get local movie times and locations. The Nuvi 680 comes with a free year of MSN service, which then costs $50 a year. Or pay a one-time fee of $130 for the lifetime of the device.