The GPS market has been exploding for the past six months, and with more competition comes better models at lower prices. Navman's entry-level F20 lists for $349 (although you can find it for $50 less) and delivers a satisfyingly simple way to navigate. It doesn't have advanced features like Bluetooth or music playback, but price-conscious buyers will be happy with its value and streamlined interface.
The F20 is a slim unit measuring 4.6 x 3.1 x 1 inches and weighing 7.1 ounces, with a 3.5-inch color touchscreen. It doesn't have a fold-out antenna but manages excellent GPS reception without one. It ships with a suction-cup mount and a cigarette-lighter power cord.
Maps of the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, come preloaded on a removable SD Card. Many GPS units, even lower-priced ones, also include Canadian maps, so look elsewhere if you'll be driving across the border.The F20's controls are simple enough for people who have never used a GPS system. When you first power on the device, it locks onto available GPS satellites using second-generation SiRFstarIII chips, a process that takes a few minutes the first time but is fairly speedy (less than a minute) after that. To access the menu, press the middle button on the right side of the F20. From there you can set your home address, enter favorite addresses, set preferences, or call up the five million points-of-interest database.
Navman thoughtfully included quick-access buttons for finding nearby gas stations and parking areas, as the company has done with previous models. It's a handy feature, since those are the two areas you're most likely to need directions to when in unfamiliar locations. You'll also find onscreen shortcuts for home and recent destinations.
Using the F20 is a mostly pleasant experience, as the controls are simple. But the onscreen menus move a little too slowly for our taste. You can search by address or intersection as well as by places of interest and recent trips. Our only quibble is that after you've entered an address, you're presented with a list of possible destinations and are asked to select the correct one. You have to go through this step even if there's only one address on the list. Also, you can't plan a route with multiple destinations, so you're limited to a single stop.
The F20 speaks directions clearly as you drive, signaling turns far in advance and then telling you again when it's time to turn. On our tests, the F20 quickly rerouted us when we took a wrong turn. The device can be a little too chatty; for example, we wish it didn't tell us to continue going in the same direction quite so often. The F20 doesn't speak street names, as higher-priced models do, so you'll occasionally need to glance at the map to make sure you're turning on the right street.
Pressing the bottom-right button lets you toggle between 2D, 3D, and text views of your directions. Once, during a detour in densely populated Secaucus, N.J., the F20 didn't have data for the streets we were on and acted as though we were driving through a field (it urged us to turn around and find the nearest road). It was funny, but it shows that the maps aren't as thorough as they should be.
The F20 powers up while connected to your cigarette lighter and will work for 3.5 hours on a charge, so you can take it out of the car. There's no outlet power cord, though, which would be handy for entering destinations at home before you leave. There's also no USB cable, so you can forget about downloading live updates online. There is currently no way to subscribe to live traffic or weather data in the U.S., although Navman promises there will be in the future.
It doesn't double as a Bluetooth speakerphone, and it can't play your favorite tunes. But if all you want are good, easy-to-follow directions at a decent price, the Navman F20 is hard to beat.