I decided to purchase a portable GPS unit for my son to use in his car. I’ve had experience with both Garmin and TomTom portables and I quickly narrowed it down to those two manufacturers.

My four-year-old Mercury Mariner has a built-in GPS navigation system. It works well, and I’m generally quite satisfied with its features and operation. I use it all the time — it’s my baseline experience.

In researching both Garmin and TomTom, I quickly discovered that their model names do not tell you much about the unit — unless you can decode their confusing product nomenclature. I did learn that a larger model number is not always better!

Here were my GPS selection considerations:

  • I’ve used several Garmin units in rental cars and I was already comfortable with their user interface, so I started by narrowing my focus to only Garmin models.
  • Although the 5-inch (diagonal) display size is nice, I thought they were a little too large for my son’s compact car. I decided the 4.3-inch was the right size.
  • Internal maps in my Mariner’s GPS unit are starting to get out-of-date, and NAVTEC — the company that makes the maps —  has offered a map upgrade for $199! At that price, not a chance! Therefore, lifetime map updates on a new unit seemed like a good idea.
  • Nearly all current GPS units have spoken street names: “In two-tenths of a mile, turn right on Elm Street,” not merely “In two-tenths of a mile, turn right.” Spoken street names is a must-have.
  • I drive to Washington several times a year and the D.C. traffic is horrendous. Automatic rerouting for traffic backups made sense. But I did not want to be stuck with a monthly fee. Yes on lifetime traffic updates.
  • Since I live 20 minutes from the border and travel across the bridge into Canada occasionally, the unit would definitely have to have Canadian maps included.

    Garmin's Junction View

  • Bluetooth for hands-free phone use would be a nice feature, though not mandatory.
  • I really liked Garmin’s Junction View feature where it displays realistic highway entry/exit signage.
  • Price was definitely important. I expected to pay between $100-$175 – the lower the better.  I was willing to purchase a refurbished unit.
Summary of Musts and Wants
Musts Wants
  • Garmin unit
  • 4.3-inch screen
  • Canadian maps
  • Lifetime traffic with no monthly fees
  • Less than $175
  • Lifetime map updates
  • Junction View feature
  • Price is important!


After reviewing the Garmin alternatives that met my musts and matched up best against my wants, I decided to purchase a new Garmin nüvi 1390LMT 4.3-Inch Portable GPS Navigator with Lifetime Map & Traffic Updates. The price was about $170 — a little more than I wanted to spend, but in the end, I thought it was a very good value for the set of features.

GPS Research