How to Choose a Portable Navigation System

Posted on June 29, 2009 by Lisajoyce Vergara

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In the complicated world of driving and directions, help arrived with the advent of the global positioning satellite (GPS) navigation system. This device can assist drivers in navigating unfamiliar territory with confidence. Physical road maps are tools of the past.

A portable system has the advantage of easy transfer from vehicle to vehicle, enabling drivers to share a unit or lend it to others. Most units allow users to choose guidance options that include plotting the shortest and fastest routes. The database not only directs drivers to their destinations, turn-by-turn, it also can provide common points of interest such as gas stations and ATMs.

Nearly 14 million portable GPS navigation systems were sold in 2006, compared to about 4 million in-dash navigation units. Priced from $300 to $800, portable units are less expensive than the typical price tag of up to $2,000 for an integrated, in-dash, factory-installed navigation system.

According to, market leaders Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom brands now face competition from brands such as Alpine, Rand McNally, Delphi Audiovox, Cobra, etc.

Portable navigation units can be easily transferred between vehicles or drivers. Most units allow users to choose guidance options that include plotting the quickest and shortest routes, directing drivers turn-by-turn to their destinations.

The following considerations when choosing a portable device can help fleets best utilize the system.

  • Navigation Functionality. Focus on the device functionality and research how other users rate it based on features and map database coverage.
  • Built-in Battery Convenience. The battery should operate for at least four hours on one charge.
  • Text-to-Speech Capability. A system that speaks street names rather than announcing directions (for example, "turn left") helps drivers negotiate an unfamiliar area. This feature reduces the need for drivers to take their eyes off the road to look at an on-screen map.
  • Unit Size. The more portable the unit, the better. Units have decreased in size since the first portable GPS device entered the market. However, a too-small device may be hard to read or operate. A 3.5-inch screen is a good compromise of portability and usability.
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