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Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

Lewes, United...
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Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

Despite being regular road trippers or perhaps because we are indeed regular road trippers (!) we are used to using paper maps and researching routes in advance so know little to nothing about hand held GPS/sat nav devices. Actually my current car has one built in. I've used in precisely twice in well over a year and once was just out of sheer curiosity. I hate it!

However, we've been asked to buy one for friends when we visit the US next week, so please may I have some help. They only want a cheap one for their own upcoming road trip, mostly because if you rent one with a rental car, the daily free is ridiculously expensive, buying one and chucking it would work out cheaper. They know no more than we do about such devices.

So, please can somebody provide a pocket primer on what we should look out for in a basic device? Any key features that add more value than others?

Then comes the question of where to buy one. We arrive in Washington, DC and will spend the first few days sightseeing. However, if possible we'd like to buy it in the DC area. Our reason for doing that is, we'd test the device out on our own loop road trip for basic faults and ease of use, so if there are any issues with the device, we could return it for a refund or exchange on our last day of the trip.

I am assuming that it arrives ready to plug and play with the latest US road maps pre-loaded? Is this correct? How, in future, do you update these devices or buy map sets for other geographic regions? Would this be the same for all popular brands?

Separately, are there other questions I should ask of the person I'm shopping for? They've merely said, get one for under US$100 if possible, and make sure it's simple to use!

Any other info you feel I should know about or other tips to ensure we get a decent brand/model/etc. All thoughts much appreciated.

Penticton, Canada
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1. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

Hi SWT

I have a Tomtom which I purchased in Belgium (long story) . When I got back to Canada I downloaded the North American map for 39 pounds since it was a European model with UK English which such things as "take the motorway" etc... it comes with USB cable for using with a PC. tomtom.com/en_gb/…index.jsp

my Tomtom has a really user friendly interface and has options for the point of interest POI that you want to show up along the way instead of every POI. it has a voice volume control and choice of voices unlike my built in one. and live updates of traffic conditions.

there are 3D images of motorway signs with flashing arrows for which lane to take for congested freeways. It was a great feature last time we drove through Seattle.

I use it instead of the not so friendly built in gps in the Merc. whose upgrade for maps cost more that my TomTom

So my recommendation is to buy one in England and download the North American maps so you can get familiar with it and pre-program routes and addresses before you leave.

then when you get back you can reload the UK maps and use locally.

I bought mine in 2010 and use it on all our trips since it gives a lot of driving info including beeping when I exceed the speed by 10k.

cheers

cbaarch

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2. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

Here's the scoop on GPS...if you want it for one country, it is a better deal to buy it in that country.

However if you would like to use a GPS on both sides of the pond (as I have done) you have to buy it on line--that's the only way that the maps will come pre-loaded, and it will be the best deal.

I got a Garmin Nuvi with North American and European maps from Amazon. It wasn't difficult to use. My husband, when we first moved to the UK had a rental car with built in GPS and it was lousy. The garmin was a different story.

Any GPS should come with a plug for the outlet in the car. They will also come with a charger for the country they are purchased in. There are updates available on-line the first year, and then you have to purchase them.

We had great luck using ours first in the United States, then in England, and in France. We even took it to Corsica. (Still France, I know)

If you want a Sat-Nav for both sides of the Atlantic, I would wander into your local store--something like Halfords--and play around with a Tom-Tom or Garmin Nuvi. Then I would buy one on-line from Amazon in the U.S. and have it posted to your friend's house in D.C.

Lewes, United...
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3. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

Thanks, cba and Laura for your helpful responses.

GPS devices are seemingly much more expensive in the UK, certainly at current exchange rates - but the thought to pop into a Halfords or similar to ask a few questions is a good one.

Ah, so hand helds are likely to be easier to use than built in ones that come with cars, hadn't thought of that, either! DH touched the POI feature on the screen on the built in one on his car, and now we can't get rid of the blasted icons crowding out anything else on the screen. I leave mine firmly off!

I'm learning lots!

As the area of primary use seems to be USA - but I will double check with the friend - then buying in the USA or ordering from Amazon.com rather than .co.uk makes sense. Yes, I can use the friend's address we will stay with for mailing.

So a store bought one won't come with pre loaded maps, or is it just difficult to subsequently buy maps for a different region?

Do they all charge from those cigarette lighter type outlets? What about using them in European model cars that don't have them? I know my car (German) has no lighter, but it has USB ports and a cable that connects to my iPod.

SWT

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4. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

Whatever GPS unit you buy will come preloaded with maps--it is just if you want it preloaded with maps for more than one continent, you won't see those in a brick and mortar store.

You should be able to charge with a USB cable, as this is how it updates (via the computer) but I am surprised your car doesn't have a "lighter" outlet, as more and more people have electronics in the car.

I would also strongly encourage you to buy a sandbag to mount the GPS on to, so it can sit on the dash, and you will have a minimum of eye movement when on the road.

Here's an example...

http://www.amazon.com/Garmin-Portable-Friction-Mount-Frustration/dp/B002OL2MU4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395156670&sr=8-1&keywords=Gps+Sandbag+Holder+Car

Also, don't bother using POIs. In the UK and the U.S. I had much better luck with actual addresses. Keep in mind too, that a postal code in the UK covers a very small and specific area--sometimes just one store. In the U.S. a zip code (it's rough equivalent) can cover many square miles.

Last note--I *still* like to have a paper map as a back-up.

Lewes, United...
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5. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

Laura, you won't catch me going anywhere on this planet without a paper map, ever. It's one of my broken record lines on 'my' forum.

We will be taking our trusty, dog-eared and dirty USA maps and old whole country atlas. We are buying this device for a friend who will be doing his first ever US road trip (with my help) later in the year and 'test driving' the device for the sake of it as he doesn't know his way around Targets or Best Buys for example, and it just might come in useful for us to get round Baltimore, the one place where reading from a map may be less useful than 'get in left lane and take the first off ramp in 50 yards'!!!

Thanks for the comment about the sandbag, would never have occurred to me!

SWT

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6. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

It may be worth getting a new map if yours is truly dog eared. I bought my GPS unit in 2008, and there were roads that hadn't been added in yet when it was new.

Penticton, Canada
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7. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

hi

my experience is with TomTom only.

It will charge using a USB cable or the cigarette lighter style connection. Downloading and updating maps is real easy. Tomtom has an application for the PC or Mac that allows you to operate the unit from the keyboard/mouse. I get email notices when updates are available.

Another option is that you can purchase an app for your phone instead of buying a separate device. https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=TomTom+International+BV

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8. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

Yes, the smart phones have come a long way--my phone will even tell me what turns to take, but I still prefer my Garmin. There are some wrinkles they haven't yet smoothed out with the smartphone, and it is trickier to keep them in view.

Last "wrinkle"--I wanted to go to a store that was within a pedestrian mall. The smartphone wanted to have me drive through the pedestrian center. The garmin, which I had on at the same time, directed me to the parking nearby.

Albuquerque, New...
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9. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

GPS is fine, but works best when you also have paper maps. In the US, you can get highway maps free in every state by stopping at a visitor information center. I have used Garmin units for several years. My current Garmin Nuvi came with both North America and Europe maps. I used it in Iceland last fall and it did quite well.

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10. Re: Buying a cheap GPS device in USA

That's what I have--a Garmin Nuvi. I like it a lot.

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