Recommended Portable GPS Units

There are so many GPS units out there, it would be impossible to review or even mention them all. So here are some of the ones that stand out as models that would fit the needs of contractors.

Handheld:

Garmin Colorado Series ($533-$640 list/$500-$600 at Amazon.com)

Depending on the unit, Garmin Colorado series provides both on-road and off-road maps including topographic, inland lakes, and more, plus 15 hours from a pair of AA batteries. User-configurable profiles include automotive, marine, recreation, fitness, and geocache. It has turn-by-turn driving directions like other Garmin units, but no voice prompts. An advantage of better handheld GPS units is the ability to share routes and waypoints with other users.

In-Vehicle/Personal Navigation Devices:

Mio C230 ($250 list/$160 at Amazon.com)

The Mio C230 gives you more than you'd expect for $160. It has everything you need in a personal GPS, including text-to-speech navigation and a pedestrian mode if you want to hoof it around a strange city. There's no provision for real-time traffic, but other than that, you'll be surprised how capable this pocket-sized unit is for the money.

Lowrance XOG ($350 list/$243 at Amazon.com)

Lowrance is known for its sport marine and aviation gear, so its personal navigation device comes with strong on-road/off-road capability. In addition to Navteq mapping data, the XOG supports a wide variety of LEI and Lowrance add-in maps (on SD cards), including topographic maps. You get both turn-by-turn (driving) and point-to-point (walking) routing but no text-to-speech. The XOG is also water-resistant.

Magellan Maestro 4250 ($600 list/$430 at Amazon.com)

Magellan's top-of-the-line offering has a set of features similar to the Garmin units, and once we got our final destination entered, it held its own with them in back-to-back testing. Magellan uses the Navteq mapping engine and has a one-button "Optimize Route" feature that delivery people will appreciate.

Garmin StreetPilot c340: Work Truck Ready ($321 list/$223 at Amazon.com); Garmin StreetPilot c550: Full-Featured ($482 list/$304 at Amazon.com)

Avis puts Garmin StreetPilot 300 series in its rental fleet, and for good reason: it works the first time, every time. The egg-shaped StreetPilots are big and clunky compared to Garmin's slim and light Nuvi series and units from Magellan, TomTom, and others. But that's fine, because StreetPilot will stay mounted to your windshield, not tucked in your pocket. The unit's shape allows for a much louder speaker, which is perfect for a work truck. There are several models in the series, but the c340 is the least expensive with text-to-speech, a must-have feature. For under $250, you can afford one of these in each of your trucks. The c550 adds Bluetooth phone capability and a built-in traffic receiver.

Garmin Nuvi 760 ($750 list/$558 at Amazon.com); Garmin Nuvi 750 ($590 list/$421 at Amazon.com)

The 760 and 750 are pretty much Garmin's top-of-the-line units, with all of the bells and whistles of the StreetPilot c550, but in a thin, 6-ounce, "shirt-pocketable" package. Like the Garmin handheld units, these Nuvis let you create and share custom routes; and like the Magellan units, they feature a route-optimized routing engine and complete text-to-speech capability. The 760 has Bluetooth phone capability, the 750 doesn't.

Dash Express ($600. Pre-market orders online at www.dash.net)

Dash calls its technology the "world's first connected navigation platform," and it's the first attempt at a Web 2.0 collaborative environment for vehicles. In addition to being a typical in-car navigation system, the Dash unit connects to the Internet via both Wi-Fi and cellular wireless, and you can update it on the fly, continuously, from the Web. Live traffic conditions are gathered on the ground and broadcast to any other Dash units on the road.

Navigon 7100 ($649 list/$421 at Amazon.com); Navigon 5100 ($499 list/$339 at Amazon.com)

Navigon is a relative newcomer to consumer GPS products. It offers features much like those from the big three but with a couple interesting twists. "Reality View" puts a photo-realistic view of the upcoming turn onscreen, complete with traffic signs, and "Lane Assistance" lets you know what lane you should be migrating toward. But "Reality View," to me, is an unnecessary distraction and one more thing to become out of date. "Lane Assistance," if it works reliably, could be a big help in congested metro areas. Navigon also offers subscription-free traffic updates. Both units have roughly the same features, but the 5100 is more compact with a smaller screen.

Cell Phone GPS:

Verizon Voyager ($300-$350 with contract)

Every cell phone provider has phones that support its GPS service, but the Verizon Voyager is similar to a standalone device, mostly because of the flip-open screen. Verizon's service, VZ Navigator, has text-to-speech, local points of interest, traffic, and everything else you'd expect from a better GPS device.