GPS buying guide

About The Author

CNET Editor

Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.

The price of turn-by-turn navigation stretches from free to thousands of dollars. We take a look at how it works, why you should (or shouldn't) buy a navigation device, as well as key features to look out for.

1. Is GPS navigation right for me?
2. Types of GPS
3. Features to look for
4. How GPS mapping works

Is GPS navigation right for me?

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Over the last few years, we at CNET Australia have fielded a lot of questions from you, our readers, as well friends and family, about GPS navigators. Australia is now definitely riding the GPS tidal wave, which has already engulfed Europe and North America. But before you make the leap, let's have a look at the pros and cons of ditching the Melway because, let's be frank, satellite navigation isn't for everyone.

The GPS market has matured and evolved remarkably in the last couple of years, with features heading skywards and prices plummeting towards Earth.

At the pointy end of the stick, ticking the navigation option on a new car could increase the asking price by between AU$3000 for a basic system to AU$7000 for a bells-and-whistle iDrive system. The cheapest third-party car stereo with navigation clocks in with a RRP of just under AU$1000, but more featured units retail for up to AU$3000.

Brand name portable navigation units, like TomTom, Navman and Garmin, can be had for under AU$200 in stores, with high-spec, large screen models going for between AU$350 and AU$500.

The latest players on the market are navigation apps smartphones, like Apple's iPhone, Windows Mobile and phones running Google's Android OS. The apps themselves are seemingly a bargain, with prices ranging between AU$60 and AU$100.

Despite the drop in prices, these electronic options are still significantly undercut by a hard copy of a capital city road map from UBD, Gregory's or Melway/Sydway/Brisway, which will only set you back between AU$15 and AU$45.

What a GPS won't do
Some people purchase a GPS unit thinking that it will unlock the secrets of city navigation and come away profoundly disappointed. Pit a GPS navigator against an experienced city driver and 99 times out of a 100, the city driver will win.

That's because GPS devices will route via either the shortest path or through as many main roads as possible — or a combination thereof — without taking into account things like traffic lights, traffic restrictions, speed humps, difficult-to-perform turns and short turning bays. If a GPS shows you a hitherto unknown backstreet route, it's probably more by accident than by design.

With Suna's real-time traffic messaging system now available in all Australian capital cities and is standard on almost the entire Navman range, as well as many Garmins, the hope was that nav devices would now be able to avoid traffic jams and road works. While it works like this some of the time, we've often run into as-yet-unreported incidents and scheduled road works that had yet to start, as well as reported events that had already cleared up

Satellite navigators also struggle in the crowded concrete catacombs of the CBD, as well as in heavily wooded areas. That's because they rely on a strong satellite signal to pinpoint your position on the planet, so in these conditions GPS devices often get confused or lose track of your position completely. This is especially true of many mobile phones — we're looking at you iPhone — that moonlight as GPS units.

Plus points
Having said all that, sat nav is useful for a great many of us. For example, if you and your partner have no sense of direction, and the latest argument about directions has brought you to the brink of breaking up then a GPS may be your ticket to relationship bliss — at the very least you can both blame an inanimate object for your directional failings. And many a weekend escapee from the big smoke finds that shelling out for a GPS device is preferable to scabbing yet another tourist map from the NRMA or RAC.

Frequent interstate business travellers, for whom hiring a car is more cost efficient than catching a taxi everywhere, will also appreciate the ghost in the shell guiding them around. And those who drive for a living — like field service and delivery personnel, taxi drivers and travelling salesmen — have been early adopters of GPS technology.

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wallys12 posted a comment   

Does anyone know what the GPS units are like from China (where most of them come from now),
I was looking at the one from Brash Imports Model BIGPS50M 5.0" (800 x 480). $170


erodagps posted a comment   

Well~ You will find China GPS will be great now! Such as Eroda GPS, a first brand in China GPS Industry, contact us, you will get more information then...


TOM T posted a comment   



tom t posted a comment   

just bought navman my75t and my phone does not work MOTOROLA DEFI its a android phone and its not comparable with the Bluetooth contacted navman and they agreed and refuted my money good service


hawthorne posted a comment   

I also have the same model (for 18 mths) AND the same problems.


Racy posted a comment   

Forgot to mention, No sim card required for the NavNGo software, so no data calls. All free!


Racy posted a comment   

I use a Samsung Omnia, I purchased NavNGo software on Ebay for $40.
The software was easy to install, a little slow to pick up satellite when first turned on but very good once acquired.Spoken St. names,red light, fixed camera, & overspeed warnings. To date I have only used it around Adelaide. Very Happy & have ditched my in car unit.


Ted posted a comment   

What about Handhelds ? Not a single one included. I have used a MerCol for years and find its features far out do the "in car ones".


Michael posted a comment   

I've been considering picking up a new phone with a GPS receiver built in for quite some time now.

However, I've noticed that most, if not all mobile phones use aGPS, meaning they connect to your 3G phone provider as well as the satellites to get a faster lock-on. What I'm not entirely clear on and what I want to know though, is that does this cost you data use? Will your telco actually charge you or deduct from your data usage if you attempt to use the GPS, and if so, is there a way to turn off aGPS and use standard GPS? Yeah it'll be slower but at least you aren't paying for it.

Anyone know the answer to this?

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