Introduction to GPS navigation systems
Gone are the days when car navigation systems were expensive bulky plastic boxes with a complex installation process. Plus, buying the hardware wasn't enough because the maps needed to be downloaded from CDs. Now navigation systems have pre-loaded maps and a host of other features on offer. Depending on your intended usage and budget there is a GPS navigation system available in the market.
Do you want the navigation system to fit into your car's built-in setup, or are you looking for a portable system that can be easily installed and simple to use, or do you prefer a handheld GPS that you can carry outside the car as well? This introduction will familiarize you with all the different options you can choose from and help you make an informed decision.
Types of car navigation systems
In-dash navigation system
The factory look of the car's dashboard can be retained with an in-dash navigation system. It usually comprises of the car stereo and the touchscreen monitor – typically between 6.1” and 7” in size but some touchscreens can measure up to 9”. Along with this there is the external GPS antenna and in certain models a hideaway A/V input and output connection box is also provided. The stock dashboard already has a slot for the stereo, while the connection box is fitted either under one of the front seats or behind the dashboard. Most stereo systems offer DVD playback, AM/FM reception, and USB slots to connect flash drives. Currently, stereo systems also have AUX outlets which allow you to connect your phone to the system.
Note that the installation process in case of in-dash navigation systems is quite complicated. So, ideally you should get professional help. Also remember that the car’s SRS system might get deactivated when the seat is removed to fit the connection box mentioned above.
Remote-mount navigation system
This type of navigation systems comprise of a self-contained GPS receiver which needs to be connected to an in-dash stereo system that is compatible. Remote-mount navigation systems are ideal for those who already have a touchscreen stereo system in their car and only want to add the navigation feature.
Portable navigation system
Portable car navigators are compact, simple to use and perfect for those who want navigation capability in their car, but don’t want a permanent installation. These have integrated GPS antenna and can be simply attached to the windshield or even the dashboard, and connected to power through the cigarette lighter adapter or phone charger. So, these can be used in multiple cars. If you have a personal car and a company provided one for work, you can use the portable navigator in both.
Most portable units have touchscreens between 3.5” and 7”, with built-in speakers and support voice commands. Most portable navigators offer almost similar set of functionality and features as regular navigation systems, including Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free conversations over compatible mobile phones and in-built camera input to display footage captured by the rear-view camera (if available). While it is always advisable that you go through the user manual, the user interface of most portable navigators are simple and straightforward, and you can start using them right out of the box.
In-dash navigators versus portable navigators for day-to-day usage
Before we get down to the pros and cons of both navigation systems, it is important that you take a moment and contemplate what you’re looking for from your car navigation system. Is it ease of use and simple directions or do you want the best sound quality, wider range of features, the option to interact with smartphone apps on the navigation system, etc? Keep in mind that the best portable navigators with a host of features cost almost the same as an entry-level in-dash navigator. Once you have a clear understanding of what exactly you’re looking for, it will help you narrow down the choices.
In-dash navigation systems provide big positive impact on the overall driving experience. The large screen size – ranging from 6” to 9”, as mentioned above – make it easy to view without compromising on the concentration required while driving. Even entry-level units offer features such as interaction with smartphone app, hands-free calling with Bluetooth, audio streaming, and some of the higher-end models offer video playback while the car is stationary.
In case of portable navigators the comparatively lower price, the convenience of not going through a complex installation process, and the flexibility of being able to use the same navigator in multiple vehicles makes it a great option. However, it needs to be charged at regular intervals unlike the in-dash navigators which are directly connected to the car’s power source. Another advantage of portable units is that they are faster and updates can be installed by simply plugging it into a laptop.
Why do I need a navigation system when I can check directions on a smartphone?
There is no doubt that Google Maps or Apple Maps are both brilliant and accurate, but using them on your smartphone while driving is not only a major distraction but also a safety threat. Either you would have to pull over at regular intervals to check you’re headed in the right direction or risk an accident by not focusing on the road at all times. A navigation system with a large screen provides audio directions as well as much better visibility of the map. You can have a quick look at the screen without your eyes straying for too long off the road. Then there is the possibility of weak cellular network connectivity in certain parts of the city or highway, as maybe the case, which will interrupt the internet connection and thereby the mapping on the phone. You might also receive a call or text while driving, which will again cause an interruption.
Truck and motorcycle navigation
The movement of certain types of vehicles are restricted on certain roads, or it could also be that certain roads aren’t suitable for the vehicle in question. For example, heavy vehicles like trucks aren’t allowed on certain roads inside a city, or say a particular stretch has a tunnel or overpass that isn’t high enough for a RV to pass. In such cases, custom GPS navigators can come to your rescue. These allow you to create vehicle profiles that help you avoid potential blockades and restrictions. Note that here the goal isn’t always to identify the shortest route to the destination, but the safest and legal route.
Specialized navigators are also available for motorcycles, which can be attached to the handlebars and are robustly built to last in rugged weather. These navigators are equipped with Bluetooth connectivity that provides audio directions directly to a compatible headphone. This is very useful for bike riders because the noise can be deafening at times, which would make the directions from a regular speaker inaudible. Some of the motorcycle navigators also offer touchscreens that can be operated with gloves on.