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In-dash Navigation Shopping Guide

What to look for in an in-dash GPS navigation receiver

What should I look for in an in-dash navigation system?

Accuracy, speed, and ease of use: These are all elements which can't necessarily be quantified in a specifications chart, but are vitally important to your overall enjoyment, and to the system's utility. If you read reviews of various navigation systems, pay specific attention to the author's opinions of the navigation accuracy, the relative speed of route calculation and recalculation, and the ease of working with the screen's control interface.

Car Show Piranha  CS-TY1210-US navigation receiver

This Piranha CS-TY1210 navigation receiver from Car Show is built specifically to fit in the console of select 2003-up Toyota vehicles.

Screen size and resolution: Perhaps the most appealing aspect of an in-dash navigation system is the size of the screen that shows the maps you'll use to get where you need to go. Hardly surprising, the bigger the better. Screens can range from just over 6" measured diagonally to up to 8" in size, but most are either 6.5" or 7". No matter what size you choose, you should get excellent, at-a-glance visibility. You might also want to compare the resolutions of the screens you're considering; the higher the resolution, the sharper the picture, and the easier the map information is to see. Since most in-dash navigation receviers also can play video from DVDs or compatible portable sources like smartphones when you're parked, you may notice better picture quality with higher-resolution displays.

Points of interest: Points of interest (POI) are some of the most useful features in any navigation system. They help you find various locations in unfamiliar towns, including restaurants, hotels, gas stations, even ATMs. The more POI a navigation system has, the more options you'll have when you're on the road. Many systems let you program several stops along the way to your destination. Look for this feature when you're comparison shopping.

Real-time traffic data: Some systems are compatible with real-time traffic services. You can receive real-time traffic information, including traffic jams, construction, and even average speed of traffic along the programmed routes you're traveling. This doesn't just benefit cross-country travelers — it's especially handy for people with long commutes to and from work. Currently, traffic services are limited to major metropolitan areas. Depending on the navigation system, this service might require a monthly subscription fee.

Map updates: Most in-dash navigation systems enable you to update the maps and navigation data, usually by loading new data into the built-in memory. Map updates are released periodically and reflect the latest map information available. You shouldn't have to update your maps too often; once a year should be enough for most regions. Prices of map updates depend on the manufacturer of your system, and can range widely.

Smartphone integration: Because most in-dash navigation receivers offer touchscreen control, they can be used to emulate certain smartphone features, including access to helpful travel apps. Many receivers now feature some sort of "app mode" that allows some degree of control over select apps through the receiver's display. In some cases, there can be 2-way control between the smartphone and receiver for selecting music and perfroming other functions. App functionality differs from receiver to receiver, but smartphone audio control typically requires either a wired or Bluetooth® connection, and video playback through the receiver from the smartphone can usually only be done when the vehicle is in park with the emergency brake engaged.

Alpine  INE-S920HD navigation receiver

If your vehicle has a double-sized dash opening, there are systems, like the Alpine INE-S920HD, that will fit it perfectly.

Dash opening size: Most in-dash systems fit 4"  openings (also known as double-DIN), while some fit standard 2" dash openings (called single-DIN), just like standard stereos. The monitor of a single-DIN retracts into the chassis when you turn the power off, then motors out and flips up when you're ready to use it again. The screen of a double-DIN sits flush in the dash, as though it were a factory-integrated component.  For the most part, the one you'll need depends on the dash opening you have (if you prefer a retractable screen, you can use single-DIN systems in many double openings with the help of an adapter kit; double-DIN systems will only fit double-DIN openings).

Custom-fit options: A small number of in-dash navigation receivers are designed to replace factory double-DIN stereos while retaining a factory look. You'll be able to enjoy guidance without having to relearn the controls on your dash.

Besides handling navigation, these systems are also full-function car stereos. So you might want to check out our CD Receivers Shopping Guide for a heads-up on other features to look for in your new stereo, such as Bluetooth connectivity, HD Radio™ reception, and iPod® controls.

And when you're ready: Shop for in-dash navigation receivers.

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