Once luxury items, Global Positioning System units are now viewed as a necessity by millions. With GPS devices, keeping your bearings no matter where the road leads is a breeze. Full-featured GPS units can approach $1,000. Fortunately, you'll find excellent units at a fraction of that price.
Here are my top picks for GPS units under $200. These are average prices on the Web.
Garmin nuvi 265T
The nuvi 265T ($180) features a 3.5-inch screen. It includes maps for all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. There are more than 6 million points of interest and Bluetooth functionality.
You'll get turn-by-turn, text-to-speech directions using street names.
The real draw is free, lifetime real-time traffic updates. You may see small, unobtrusive ads for businesses along your route. Routes are not altered to take you past advertisers.
You can send addresses to the unit from sites like Google Maps. And it also features a photo navigation feature. Upload a photo tagged with location coordinates. The unit plots a route to the location.
TomTom One 140 S
The TomTom One 140 S ($170) has a 3.5-inch screen. Maps cover all 50 states and Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico. There are more than 7 million POIs.
It features text-to-speech for turn-by-turn directions using street names. There's also multidestination routing. But the unit won't optimize multidestination routes for efficiency.
You'll need a separate receiver ($100) for real-time traffic updates. The first year of updates is free; it's $60 yearly thereafter. But, MapShare lets you modify and add information as well as download maps created by others.
Other nice features include lane guidance to help with multilane exits. Routes are calculated using your actual average speeds. And, the Help Me! feature locates local emergency providers.
Magellan Maestro 3250
The Magellan Maestro 3250 ($180) has a 3.5-inch screen. Maps cover all 50 states, in addition to Puerto Rico and Canada. The unit includes 6 million POIs.
The unit features text-to-speech for turn-by-turn directions using street names. It also features voice command, so that you can tell the device to direct you home, for example.
Bluetooth is included, as is a traffic receiver. Traffic service is free for three months. Thereafter, you pay $40 yearly.
The 3250 provides access to AAA's TourBooks, which include ratings on lodgings and restaurants. The 3250 also helps you with AAA roadside assistance.
One nice feature is the multidestination routing with route optimization. It automatically calculates the fastest route when multiple stops are involved.
Mio Moov 300
The Mio Moov ($140) boasts a 4.3-inch wide-screen, which makes it easier to see and operate. But, the unit skimps on other features.
It includes maps for all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico. The points of interest database only includes 3.5 million entries.
You'll get text-to-speech navigation. The turn-by-turn feature announces directions using actual street names.
The unit does provide multistop trip planning. However, there is no route optimization to find the most efficient route. This is typically reserved for Mio's pricier models.
You can add a traffic receiver for $100. The first year is free; it's $60 annually thereafter.
Garmin nuvi 205
Garmin's nuvi 205 ($120) features a 3.5-inch screen. The maps cover 49 states, in addition to Puerto Rico. Oddly, Alaska is omitted.
In all, there are 6.5 million POIs. But, you can add more POIs or buy add-on travel guides on SD card.
You'll get turn-by-turn directions, but not text-to-speech announcing street names.
As with the 265T, you get Photo Navigation. You also get the ability to upload maps from Google.
If you want traffic information, you'll need to buy an optional receiver ($120). With the receiver comes free lifetime traffic updates.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet. To get the podcast or find the station nearest you, visit: www.komando.com/listen. To subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters, sign up at: www.komando.com/newsletters. Contact her at email@example.com.