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The best GPS for your car

Smartphone applications, like Google Maps, have made stand-alone GPS devices look obsolete. Why would you spend money on something your phone can provide for free? Although this argument is valid, there are still conditions in which a GPS gets the job done better than an app. Most don’t need data to get you from point a to point b, so you’ll find your way to your destination without burning through a month’s worth of data in an afternoon.

The best in-car GPS is the Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S. It provides basic turn-by-turn directions, and it leverages TripAdvisor ratings to provide restaurant recommendations. It also keeps its eyes peeled for railroad crossings, animals, speed cameras, and other common hazards.

Further reading

Garmin stands above its rivals, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good alternatives to the Drive 51 LMT-S. We’ve picked the best budget GPS, the best GPS for globe-trotters, and the best voice-enabled GPS, among other selections.

At a glance

Product Category Rating
Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S Best GPS overall Not yet rated
Garmin Speak Best voice-enabled GPS 3.5 out of 5
TomTom Go 520  Best GPS for globe-trotters Not yet rated
TomTom 1525M Best budget GPS Not yet rated

The best: Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S

Garmin Drive 51

Why should you buy this: Garmin’s Drive can guide you to your destination safely, every time.

Who’s it for: Those who want to seriously upgrade their ride without breaking the bank.

How much will it cost: $110

Why we picked the Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S:

Garmin’s Drive 51 LMT is packed with features to navigate the road ahead, and it can even help you find the best food in town. An intuitive user interface and clear turn-by-turn directions take the guesswork out of getting to your destination, even if you’re traveling in a city you’ve never been to before.

The bright, 5.0-inch TFT navigation screen shows free lifetime traffic information, points of interest (such as gas stations and restaurants), and the names of each exit on your route via an “Up Ahead” feature. It also displays TripAdvisor ratings for restaurants, hotels, and other attractions. Finally, it helps keep you and yours safe by warning the driver of upcoming railroad crossings, animal crossings, dangerous curves, and even speed cameras.

Even as smartphones continue to invade GPS device turf, Garmin knows the right features to add to make its product worth the price tag. If you are looking for a great all-in-one device to help navigate, keep you alert on the road, and help you feel at home in a new city, the Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S is an easy choice.

The best voice-enabled GPS: Garmin Speak

Why should you buy this: You’d rather talk to your GPS than poke a screen.

The Garmin Speak gives directions while supporting many Alexa features.

Who’s it for: Those who want to get rid of the bulky screen.

How much will it cost: $160

Why we picked the Garmin Speak:

The Garmin Speak combines GPS navigation with Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, resulting in a compact unit with an OLED screen and plenty of voice-enabled features. It gives turn-by-turn directions like a standard GPS, while providing access to music streams, audiobooks, news, weather information, and a host of compatible smart home devices. It even has a built-in dashcam. It’s a clever all-in-one device that takes up far less space on your windshield than a conventional, screen-based GPS, though, you’ll need to tuck the power cables out of the way.

The Speak connects to your car and smartphone via Bluetooth, and responds to requests using your car’s speaker system. Garmin notes that older cars without integrated Bluetooth can connect to Speak using an auxiliary connection, though, that’s one more wire to tuck out of the way. We tested the Garmin Speak and concluded that the built-in microphone does a decent job at picking up commands, even on a noisy road, but the lack of a dedicated display can make navigating more difficult.

Read our full Garmin Speak review

The best GPS for globe-trotters: TomTom Go 520

TomTom Go 520

Why should you buy this: The TomTom Go 520 is a superb navigator at an affordable price.

Who’s it for: Those who want intuitive navigation from a simple, easy-to-use device.

How much will it cost: $160

Why we picked the TomTom Go 520:

It’s easy to get caught up in robust feature sets, but sometimes the essentials are all you need — especially when on the road. For that, we recommend TomTom’s Go 520. It doesn’t feature the dash cams and driver-assistance tech, but with its smart mapping technology and reasonable price tag, it’s difficult to ignore.

Among the TomTom’s highlights are an available 6.0-inch touchscreen, 16 GB of internal storage, and free lifetime map updates regardless of where your next adventure takes you. The device can guide you through the entire world — not just North America — and despite its competitive price point, it displays landmarks as 3D renderings that are easy to recognize. It will also run for about an hour on battery power before it needs to be plugged in.

There is one catch, however. Unlike the higher-priced competition, the TomTom Go 520 doesn’t include an integrated traffic receiver, meaning it leverages your smartphone to update traffic conditions. TomTom says the data drain is moderate, but if you live on the edge of your data plan and are concerned about overcharging, you may want to consider another product.

The best budget GPS: TomTom Via 1525M

Why should you buy this: The TomTom Via 1525M offers simple, straightforward navigation at a wallet-friendly price.

Who’s it for: Those who want the basics and nothing more.

How much will it cost: $100

Why we picked the TomTom Via 1525M:

In-car GPS units get more expensive as they gain features and become more advanced. TomTom’s Via 1525M bucks that trend by offering the basic functions motorists expect from a GPS in a wallet-friendly package. It displays directions on a 5.0-inch touchscreen that splits in two when it needs to show a junction, ensuring you never miss a turn. It also provides lane guidance, so you’ll know ahead of time whether you need to be in the right or middle lane.

Users can enter a destination with the search bar, or by simply tapping a point on the map. The 1525M will guide you anywhere in the United States, even Hawaii. It also includes maps of Canada and Mexico.

Though it’s a relatively basic device, the TomTom Via 1525M comes with 8GB of internal memory and boasts an hour of battery life when it’s not plugged in. You’ll also receive free map updates for as long as TomTom supports the product.

How we test

The Digital Trends automotive team evaluates GPS systems in real-world conditions, such as in-town driving, freeway cruising, backroad excursions, trips to unfamiliar areas, and more. The units are scored based on ease of installation, interface usability, available additional features, demonstrable accuracy, and compatibility with smartphones, but appearance, durability, and pricing are all considerable factors as well.

Would you like a dashcam with that?

A dashboard camera can be a welcome addition to your in-car electronics, and it makes sense to consider one in addition to a GPS. Some of the GPS units include built-in dashcams. While they’re a nice feature, they won’t do the job of a dedicated recording unit.

A dedicated dashcam has higher-quality video playback than most of the built-in GPS dashcams. Accidents happen, and having a high-quality video can save you an enormous amount of stress, money, and time if you need to argue a traffic citation, get insurance coverage, or even combat insurance fraud.

The unexpected bonus of a dashcam is the entertainment. YouTube and other social media sites have thousands of dashcam videos of on-the-road shenanigans. You may even capture something that goes viral or turns into your side hustle.

Like with GPS models, there are tons of dashcam options on the market, so you’ll want to do some homework before you buy. If you’re unsure where to start, we’ve listed the best dash cams you can buy, comparing features, price, and overall value.

Editors' Recommendations

Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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