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We give the pros and cons of portable units, as well as built-ins and apps.
You can choose from many GPS systems—those that harness the power of your smartphone, versions that are built-in to the car, and portable units, the last of which we have actually tested.
How they work: Hop in the car with your smartphone and choose a pre-loaded app such as Google Maps or Apple Maps (or download the likes of Here, Waze, or Mapquest) and your phone service gives you multiple options for a smoother trip, complete with traffic views, alternate-route suggestions, and warnings if you’re going too fast.
Like PNDs, built-in GPS systems work via satellite, so you won’t end up lost if you lose cell phone service.
Consider this: In our tests, we find that the quality of the carmakers’ branded infotainment systems varies widely and high-rated systems don’t necessarily align with high-rated cars.
A modified version of your smartphone screen (with larger icons and an edited-down menu) appears on the in-dash screen, allowing you to use the phone and apps in a less distracting way.
Since you’re already addicted to…er, familiar with your smartphone’s ways, this saves the bother of learning the ins and outs of an automaker’s (possibly clunky) proprietary system.
If you don't like the infotainment system that came with your car, you can opt for phone-based apps such as Google's Android Auto and Apple Car Play, which plug your smartphone into a car that supports either app.
See our reviews of infotainment systems proprietary to brands as well as the favorites from our survey covering more than 58,000 cars.How they work: It used to be that integrated factory systems were often the most expensive type of navigation aid.However, more and more cars are rolling off the assembly line complete with multifaceted infotainment systems that combine hardware and software to do things like regulate climate controls, provide updates on the engine and other systems, offer Bluetooth connectivity, in-car internet, wifi, and, typically, offer a navigation option.Newer cars have the infotainment system screen built into the dashboard, and you adjust it using the touchscreen, steering wheel controls, or voice commands.With older cars that aren’t infotainment system-capable, you could install a GPS unit but would still need a professionally installed aftermarket head unit to run a full infotainment system.Check our full GPS Ratings for more (available to subscribers).