SCREEN Readability Comparisons for
Popular GPS Car
Release 2, June 28, 2005
Readers frequently ask us to "compare" this or that GPS and pick out
the best one for them. This request is impossible in the
case for us to answer properly. What I like in a GPS, you may
Therefore, in general, we just try to give you the facts and
you decide what is best for you.
I got to thinking that there were a few other bits of information we
should pass on. One Question that should be on everyone's mind
they pick a GPS is "How readable is the screen under various light
conditions?". In this review, we will try to provide some
information for half a dozen of the better known GPS units.
placed all these instruments on our car dash at one time so they were
approximately in the position they would be in normal operation as far
as exterior light is concerned. We made tests in bright
on a cloudy day and at night. Below are the comparison
The units examined for this evaluation were, Left to Right:
Lowrance iWay 500, Garmin c320, TomTom Go, Magellan
Roadmate 300, Garmin StreetPilot 2610, and the Cobra NavOne
In the descriptions below, I give readability
1,2,3,4,etc. If two units have the same rank, that means there were
about equally easy to read in the given ambient light.
an overview of our arrangement with all of the units in view on
a cloudy day. In this light, I would say that the most
were in descending order: (1) iWay 500, (1) StreetPilot 2610,
Cobra NavOne, (2) Magellan RM300, (3) Garmin c320, (4) TomTom
getting on toward dusk and the iWay 500 is very readable and the
c320 is more difficult to see. ALL instruments are
more toward dusk and the c320 is "OK", TomTom Go almost
impossible to see and the Magellan a bit brighter than the other two.
This photo is in a glare situation that makes all three look
bit worse than your eyeball would see.
Here we see that the RoadMate 300,
StreetPilot 2610, and the Cobra
NavOne are all easy to read in the cloudy/overcast time.
photo shows the TomTom Go still difficult to read, Magellan
RM300 quite readable and the SP2610 with its usual good contrast.
picture of the c320, Go, RM300, and SP2610. There was a lot
of glare on the c320 in this photo. Notice the XM Radio is
but the screen is not readable at all. Makes the GPS gear
showing the iWay 500, c320, Go, and RM300
gets on toward dusk in cloudy weather, the Go, RM300, SP2610 and
Cobra NavOne are seen.
dusk, the iWay 500
has a bright crisp readable display. Same under all lighting
conditions. User must manually reduce brightness at night as the
intensity is not automatically adjusted for night vs day.
readability of the display on the Garmin c320 is a bit
is difficult to read, and the Magellan RM300 shows a quite
display. The GO kept zooming in on its own so it was impossible
to zoom out and take a picture before it automatically zoomed back in.
of the TomTom GO, Magellan RM300, and Garmin SP2610
StreetPilot 2610 and Cobra NavOne. Both have excellent
view in bright sunlight shows the GO, RM300 and StreetPilot 2610.
The GO is almost unreadable.
view of the GO, RM300, and StreetPilot 2610
and the c320
view of the iWay 500 and the Garmin c320. The iWay is
way too bright and the c320 way too dim. You must turn the
iWay brightness down manually at night.
"shaky" photo of the SP2610 and the Cobra NavOne. (Joe
accidently turned off the "anti-shake" gyro in the camera.. Sorry.)
You can tell that both units have good visibility in the
dark. In fact, the Cobra is overly bright but can be manually
adjusted to the right brightness at night.
shaky picture.. Showing the GO screen, the RM300 and the
SP2610. All have good brightness for night use.
image of the Cobra Nav One. This is at middle zoom and
the brightness is fine, even too bright, but it is adjustable.
Note that this is only TWO zoom steps from the maximum zoom
out level for the Cobra NavOne. This prevents ever seeing
"the big picture" on the GPS screen. This is a major missing
feature on the Cobra NavOne.
500 display gives a superior presentation night and day.
The only problem was the lack of an automatic brightness
control which means you must manually adjust the brightness for
brightest sunshine, the iWay, c320, GO, SP2610, RM300, and Cobra
NavOne show what they can do. The iWay, SP2610, and NavOne
had the best readability in the bright sun with the RM300 real close
behind then the c320 with the GO giving the poorest showing.
sun comparison of the iWay and the c320. Note that
only the major roads show through on the c320 but are clear on the
iWay. The c320 design purposefully reduces contrast
on roads other than the most major roads and your intended route.
We consider this a "bug" because it eliminates data that you
need when driving.
display is more readable than the GO in bright sunlight but
both have less readability in bright sunlight than we think you will
display in bright sun compared with the SP2610 on the right.
The 2610 had a consistently clear and easy to read display
under all lighting conditions.
SP2610 on left with the Magellan RoadMate 300 in bright sunlight.
Both have very readable displays.
closer view of the RM300 in bright sunlight.
NavOne was hard to beat for clarity of view in the brightest
sunlight. At night you MUST manually turn the display brightness
down as the day setting is much too bright for night time.This view is
on #3 of 5 (total) zoom steps.
sunlight comparison of RM300 and the Cobra NavOne screens.
sunlight view of the Garmin SP2610 and the Magellan RoadMate 300
sunlight view of the Lowrance iWay 500 , the Garmin c320, and the
TomTom GO in bright sunlight
TomTom GO and the Garmin StreetPilot 2610 in bright sunlight.
Garmin SP2610 and the Magellan RoadMate 300 in bright sunlight
Magellan RoadMate 300 and Cobra NavOne Bright sunlight a bit later
for our screen comparisons. The quality of the viewed display is
a very important consideration for selection of a GPS but it is not the
only one. Each of these GPS products has features and advantages
and disadvantages that the others do not have. Some of the things
you should consider when selecting a GPS are:
Quality, size and readability of the display in both daytime and at
Quality, time to process, directness of the route and any "quirkiness"
of the routing system. There is still a lot of variation here.
and weight of the unit and particularly if you plan to move it from car
Quality and readability of the map presentation both as just a map and
when the unit is performing guidance. Some units still perform
pretty poorly here.
of the map data, routing data and of the routes actually generated.
There is still a lot of performance variation here between brands
and even between different models of the same vendor.
easy is it to load maps into the unit? Do you have to manually
switch between maps as you move about the country or is this
automatically done? Does the unit already have all the maps you will
need already loaded? Does the unit offer the option of enough map
memory to store all the maps you want/need at a time?
was a concern at one time about the quality of the voice and voice
directions in GPS units. Now this seems to be OK in all the units
we have tested.
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Suggestions? Corrections? Email Joe or Email Jack