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December 3, 2006

GPS on the holiday gift list?

Matt Vella at Business Week points out the growing trend for affordable GPS systems and as a result, how they are showing up on gift lists this holiday season:

But consumers are no longer waiting for the devices to be offered by auto manufacturers. Indeed, the market for personal navigation devices has exploded over the last two years. Those systems, made by the likes of Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan, offer the same features as those available in cars, but they’re portable and cost anywhere from 50% to 80% less. The Consumer Electronics Assn. predicts that as many as 2.3 million such units will ship in the U.S. this year. Analysts say that would represent a growth of 100% from last year.

Another catalyst of growth is the falling price and improving performance of the computer chips that run the devices. “That chip that a few years ago cost $30 is now just $10,” says Rich Valera, an analyst with Needham & Co. in New Jersey. “It’s the economics of silicon—price comes down, performance goes up. The inexorable trend is, then, a proliferation of GPS devices.”

Prices for popular portable navigation devices have dropped at the retail level as well, fueling demand. According to NDP Group, the average price of GPS systems dropped to $616 during the third quarter of this year. That’s a drop of more than 30%, from an average of $863, since the same time last year.

Actually, as you’ll see below, you can do much better than that on price. Also as a clear indicator of a maturing market, the article describes how more manufacturers are jumping on board and all of them seem to be bundling in more functions like MP3 playing and real-time traffic reports as well as building specialized devices with GPS functionality like the HP iPAQ rx5900 ”travel companion” palmtop and the Mio DigiWalker H610 which offers GPS for walkers.

As useful as these specialized devices might be, I thought I’d check to see what was available in ordinary GPS units for the car. Frankly, there are so many of them that I used Amazon Electronics Top Seller list as a guide to pick two hot units and see what they had to offer. I’ll start with the Garmin StreetPilot c330 GPS Vehicle Navigator which is currently number 5 on the Top Seller list and is going for $300 (list price $964.99):

This unit was introduced in 2005  and does exactly what you need for auto navigation for what is now a bargain price. Features:

Reviews ([1], [2], [3]) are uniformly good except that all the reviewers complain that the screen washes out and is hard to read in bright sunlight. This doesn’t seem to be a huge problem for the purchasers who have reviewed it on Amazon, however.

If you are willing to take a step up in price there is the Garmin Nuvi 350 Pocket or Vehicle GPS Navigator with Integrated MP3 Player and Photo Viewer which as the name indicates adds other features to the GPS function, is #17 on the Amazon list, and is going for $484 (list $969):

The most obvious attraction of the Nuvi 350 is its compact size which allows you to easily carry it in a purse or pocket. That, of course, fits in with the ability to also use it as an MP3 player. More importantly for GPS use, it has all the expected features plus a new more sensitive GPS chipset (SiRFstar III) which gives better reception. Also, unlike the C330, the Nuvi 350 actually speaks the names of streets where you should turn. Reviews ([4], [5], [6]) are universally favorable including a PC Magazine Editor’s Choice, with the caveat that the list price was viewed as rather steep.  That doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore.

I don’t think you will go wrong with either of these units, but if you can afford the extra, the Nuvi 350 seems like the way to go.

Posted at 9:13 pm. Filed under Companies, Garmin, GPS

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