5 On Your Side

Easy-To-Use Portable GPS Devices Pointed In Right Direction

Posted September 26, 2006 6:43 a.m. EDT

— Many vehicles now come equipped with Global Positioning System navigation to help motorists find their destinations.

"Instead of having to write down directions -- reading while you're driving -- it tells you verbally which way to turn so you never get lost," said Shawn Gabor, who has a GPS in her sport utility vehicle.

To make GPS available to more drivers, some companies have started manufacturing portable systems that can work in any vehicle. The portable devices, which attach to the windshield with suction cups, range in price from $350 to $1,200.

Consumer Reports tested 15 portable systems to see which ones offer the best value. Testers found some systems difficult to program.

"You need to tap on tiny keys on the screen with a stylus. It's hard to do with the car parked, much less for a passenger to do it when the car is moving," tester Tom Mutchler said.

Consumer Reports recommended that buyers look for devices that include a U.S. map already loaded in the system so they don't have to download one from a computer. A system that has the ability to name streets is also preferable, testers said.

The system rated the best by Consumer Reports is the Garmin Nuvi 350. It has an easy-to-use touch screen and can name streets, but it's a bit pricey at $800.

For consumers on a budget, testers suggested the Garmin StreetPilot i5. It doesn't have a touch screen, but is easy to use and costs just $350.

Both of the Garmin GPS systems are compact enough to fit in luggage for traveling or into a glove compartment when not in use.