Best Car Navigation Systems

It’s no secret that cars are a huge part of our lives. Whether we’re driving to work, the grocery store, or out on a sunny afternoon, we always have our eyes on the road ahead. Driving allows us to get away from the hustle and bustle of the world and connect with nature—something we need after those long hours at work.

In a time where technology is evolving at an incredible pace, it’s not surprising that cars are following suit. Newer cars are beginning to have all the usual amenities you’d find in your smartphone—wireless charging, smartphone integration, GPS navigation, and more—without sacrificing safety or reliability.

Let’s take a look at the top car navigation systems. We’ll analyze each one of these platforms based on design, ease of use, and whether or not they were worth buying.

The Thickers

This is one of the first car navigation systems you may encounter when you walk into a car shop. You take a look, and the rep says, “Just look at the screen! It’s so easy to use.” And you believe them, because it really does seem easy to use. You’ve never driven a car, but you’ve definitely sat in one and used a map app on your phone. So, you figure, why not? You pull up the map, touch the icon that looks like a piece of cardboard, and voila, you have directions to work or school. It’s that simple. It doesn’t get any easier than that. Right?

Well, not exactly. Thickers are among the worst when it comes to design. The piece of cardboard isn’t even flat, and it takes some doing to find out where you’re going even when the car comes with detailed maps. Also, the screen is very small, so if you’re heading out on a trip, it’s best to bring a portable map with you just in case. And lastly, if you do get lost, there’s no one to help you. You’ll have to figure out how to get back on your own. Simply put, Thickers are the worst. Do not buy one.

Garmin

While Thickers were ahead of their time back in the day, Garmin is one of the biggest names in automotive technology. And what’s arguably even more amazing is that they’ve been around since the ’70s, which means they’ve been through a lot in their time. Today, even older models of cars come with GPS, so it’s well-known that Garmin is compatible with a wide range of cars. And did we mention that they make car navigation systems? Well, they do. What’s more is that they also make cycling computers, jet skis, and boats. So, essentially, if you have a small boat, you have a Garmin.

While Garmin is an established brand with a lot of experience, their car navigation systems aren’t without their quirks. For starters, their maps are a little harder to use than those manufactured by companies like Navionics and TomTom. But perhaps the biggest downside is that if you do get lost, there’s no one to help you. Simply put, if you do get stuck somewhere and need help, the only person who can help you is another human being. Not exactly what you want to hear when you’re in a pinch.

TomTom

For those who want a simpler, less-cluttered interface when getting directions, TomTom is the answer. Their interface is simple, and it focuses on getting you where you need to go as quickly and easily as possible. While this may be a plus for some, it means that the mapping database is somewhat limited. In some areas, such as North America, most roads are mapped out, which means that you won’t exactly find the places where the mapping engine has fallen short.

TomTom is mainly known for making navigation apps for mobile phones, but they also make standalone GPS units that connect to your car’s OBD port (usually via a standard USB connection). This is actually one of the safest ways to get navigation since the device is constantly connected to your car and can monitor and record driving behavior, such as how fast you’re driving and if you’re following the rules of the road. In the event of an accident, the data can be used to identify the cause and help determine who’s at fault. And since it’s connected to the OBD port, it won’t affect the performance of your vehicle in any way.

Speaking of accidents, did we mention that TomTom makes safety cameras? Essentially, these cameras shoot video footage of what’s behind you, either to the side or in front of you. This could be really useful in case of an accident, as you could pull over and check on the status of your car or the other car involved. The nice thing about these cameras is that they automatically activate whenever there’s an accident and stop recording when the police arrive. This means you won’t have to worry about finding the right settings through a complicated menu or fiddling with the camera so that you don’t accidentally capture the wrong thing.

So far, we’ve covered Garmin and TomTom, but what about Navionics? Well, despite the similar name, they’re actually a lot more expensive than Garmin or TomTom, which may be why you haven’t heard of them as much. Navionics primarily produces marine GPS and chartplotters, which is fortunate for us since we happen to live on land. Navionics also makes car navigation systems and the like, but they’re more expensive than their counterparts, which is why we don’t see them as often. Another major difference between Navionics and their competitors is that Navionics produces marine GPS and chartplotters, so they have a much larger database of maps. This is why if you do get lost, you’re more likely to find your way out thanks to Navionics than your car’s built-in GPS or an app on your phone.

Although Navionics is more expensive than its competitors, it makes for a better overall purchase due to its database of maps and the fact that it is, in general, more reliable. This is largely thanks to the design of their products, which are built with more quality than their cheaper counterparts. If you’re in the market for a car navigation system, it’s best to buy one from Navionics. They’re more expensive but definitely worth it.

Which One Should You Buy?

There are a lot of considerations to make when choosing a car navigation system. For starters, you need to decide whether or not you want an app-based system—this is the most convenient and often the least expensive option—or a standalone GPS unit. If you have a specific model in mind, it’s best to look for those models manufactured by the big three (Naver, Garmin, and TomTom) since they’re established brands with a good reputation. Additionally, if you do get lost sometimes, it’s better to go for a system with an offline mapping database, since you’ll always have access to the maps when you need them. Finally, look for a system that’s been built with more quality than cheaper alternatives since they tend to break down more often. In the end, though, it’s all about what you want for your money’s worth. If you want an easy-to-use, reliable system, go for Navionics. If you want a sleek, attractive design, go for TomTom. If you want an app-based system that also includes a sat-phone, go for Garmin. So, which one will you buy? That is the question.

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