GPS Buying Guide - Best Buy Canada

November 27, 2012

GPS Buying Guide

A GPS, or global positioning system based navigator, can help you figure out where you are, get from point A to point B, map out the quickest route and even avoid traffic. With turn-by-turn directions and points of interest at a glance, isn’t it time you invested in a GPS?

Garmin GPS Nuvi 40
Tomtom GPS 45TM
Rand McNally GPS width=

With a plethora of GPS systems on the market from Garmin, TomTom, Magellan and more, it’s important to narrow down the specs that you need before you start shopping. Whether you’re looking at GPS units designed for your car, the great outdoors, backcountry areas or international destinations, pinpointing your needs and how you plan on using your GPS will help you make a purchasing decision.

Types of GPS

Depending on your lifestyle and the type of support you’re looking for, the best GPS features will differ. Once you’ve narrowed down the type you’re looking for, check GPS reviews to see how your chosen model stacks up.

Drivers: look for a portable GPS with real-time traffic information to help you avoid congestion, accidents and road work

Outdoor Enthusiasts: if you do a lot of hiking or biking, a watch-style GPS is incredibly portable and allows for quick and easy location information

Backcountry Enthusiasts: GPS tracking units are safety devices that transmit your GPS location to friends, family or to an international rescue coordination centre if you’re beyond cellular coverage


Text to Speech

Text to speech is the latest and greatest in navigation technology. With this feature, your GPS will read out street names as it directs you, telling you to “Turn right on Main Street,” instead of the typical voice prompts which would instead direct you to “Turn right in 50 metres.”

Text to speech reduces the need for drivers to look at their GPS screens, and allows you to concentrate on the road instead of on the directions.

Screen Size

GPS screen sizes range depending on their use – outdoor GPS devices will typically have smaller screens, whereas those designed for use in a car will tend to have larger screens. While units with larger screens will offer a better viewing angle, it’s important to note that bigger isn’t always better. If you plan on using your GPS’s text to speech feature, chances are you’ll hear your driving instructions rather than needing to look at the screen to see them.

Bigger is better, however, for people who don’t have text to speech and need to rely on the GPS screen to see what their next move is. Similarly, those with a hard time focusing quickly on small screens or truck drivers will find that a larger screen offers a better user experience.


Most GPS units come with pre-loaded maps, which offer detailed and accurate representations of roads across North America. Some will offer you a choice regarding which maps you want to download, such as all of Canada and the US or Canada only. Many manufacturers offer free regular map updates as part of the purchase price, but even if they don't, it is worth buying an update once a year or so (or subscribing to a regular update service). Some companies offer the facility for users to send in their own updates on new roads, construction and even traffic jams, to offer a completely up-to-the-minute information service.

If you’re often travelling, check before you buy to make sure that the regions you frequent are covered by the mapping package included. You can usually buy additional maps, which will let you take your GPS with you on that European vacation.

Rand McNally GPS

Points of Interest (POI)

Automotive GPS units can usually locate points of interest like local gas stations, hospitals, police stations, coffee shops, restaurants and hotels, and automatically direct you to your selected location. Most current GPS systems will let you key in and store a number of your own points of interest, such as your home and other regular destinations.

Real-time traffic updates

Real-time local traffic updates offer up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions - some of it uploaded instantly from other cars on the same GPS network - and many units will also suggest alternative routes around the problem. One benefit of this is that your estimated time of arrival (ETA) is constantly updated depending on road conditions, so you will have a very good idea of when you'll arrive, and be able to inform those waiting for you if you're running late. The more advanced systems provide a range of other real-time advice, such as local weather conditions, fuel prices and other useful information. Real-time traffic update services generally require the user to pay a monthly subscription fee (check the manufacturer's website for details).

Tom Tom Navigator

Battery Life

All portable GPS units come with a built-in, rechargeable battery, however battery power varies. If you’re buying a GPS that you want to be able to use when walking or outside of your car, make sure you’re buying one with at least a 3-hour battery life, so that you won’t run out of battery when you need it most. Also, be aware that colour screens tend to use more battery power than monochrome screens.

Additional Features

Data Storage: many GPS units come with built-in storage, and offer users the option of adding additional memory with a removable memory card

Weatherproof: if you’re planning on using your GPS outdoors, look for one with a rugged design and weather-resistant features like those found in GPS tracking units

Lane Guidance: At complex junctions with multiple lanes, turn-offs and slip roads, a GPS system with this feature will let you know which lane you should be in to carry on in your chosen direction easily. It may also offer Junction View, which displays a detailed visual of the junction you are approaching, as you would see it from behind the wheel. These systems use information gleaned by actually driving the roads, so they tend to be very accurate.

ecoRoute: All GPS systems offer options to go from A to B via the shortest or fastest route, but systems such as ecoRoute or Eco Routes (depending on the manufacturer) also offer the option to plan a route that uses the least fuel. It works this out by referencing road speed data and vehicle acceleration data for any given route. A GPS equipped with the ecoRoute system will also maintain an ongoing report of how much fuel you use over multiple journeys.


Bluetooth: If you have a Bluetooth-enabled GPS you’ll be able to communicate wirelessly with your Bluetooth-enabled computer or smartphone. As provinces across Canada implement increasingly strict laws against distracted driving, having the ability to make and take calls hands-free, especially if you’re lost, can be a huge bonus.

Google Local Search: A GPS system equipped with Google Local Search enables you to type in keywords on the touch screen and search the Google Local database for nearby services including restaurants, hotels, garages, ATMs, shopping malls, entertainment venues, hospitals, and tourist attractions. Then, with one click, the device will plan a route to get you from where you are to where you want to be.

Media: some GPS devices offer additional functionality, like picture viewers or MP3 players to make them much more versatile


Certain add-ons and car accessories will help you make the most of your GPS.

GPS Software: download GPS software on your computer and connect your GPS unit frequently for updated maps, topographical data and points of interest

GPS Chargers and Cables: make sure you can charge your GPS and connect to your computer with the right cables

GPS Mounts: fix your GPS to your windshield or the dash for easy viewing when you’re on the road

Memory Cards: if you’re jetting off on a long trip and need a big selection of specialized maps on hand, expanding the memory of your GPS with an extra memory card is a good idea

The Competition

With new players entering the GPS game every day, it’s helpful to check out GPS reviews before you buy. Handheld GPS units are constantly being developed and refined, making it a very competitive market; this gives you tons of excellent choices.

Two companies that have made incredible strides in the GPS business are Garmin and TomTom. While both companies provide high-quality, well-recognized GPS units, Garmin has a wider product offering, covering aviation and marine navigation systems, as well as their FREE Lifetime Traffic and Maps update feature on select units. TomTom has long focused on providing drivers with superior mapping and real-time data.

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Take the Next Step

Whether you’re deciding which portable GPS navigator is right for your lifestyle or looking for car accessories, Best Buy has a wide range of units and all the trimmings available in-store and online. With the knowledge and experience to get you well equipped, we’ll make sure that your commute is smoother and your trips are easier with the best GPS for you.

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