Gadgetell Guide: What to consider when purchasing a GPS

Sections: Buying Guide, Cellphones, Communications, Features, Gadgets / Other, GPS/Navigation, Originals, Smartphones, Transportation, Web, Websites

submit to reddit

Harmon/Kardon generic GPS

One of the hottest gadgets that many people are buying are GPSs. For the past few years, they are always up there in top industry sales yearly. Many new cars support built-in GPSs, but many people would rather purchase standalone units. However, there are many other alternatives to built-in GPSs or standalone units, which I will explore in a moment, but first, let’s take a look at how we got to where we are now.

Paper Map

Before the modern GPS was born

Only about five or so years ago, many people would carry maps in their cars, in case they ever got lost and needed quick directions to get to their destination. Today, it is hard to imagine having to carry a map in the car with all the technology we have in GPSs and cell phones. But don’t disregard paper maps entirely since they are cheap, never crash, not likely to get stolen, and never run out of battery power.

These maps were good at the time, very portable and accurate. However, with all the small lines and words, it can cause quite a headache for the lost traveler. As history as shown before, general maps would soon take a backseat to newer technologies.

MapQuest logo

Routes via the web

Coinciding with when the Internet became popular, a few websites displayed maps as well as traveling directions. Two very famous examples are MapQuest, and Google Maps. Both of these services will provide the user with maps of the area surrounding his/her search, as well as directions to get from one location to another. This proved to be a lot better than carrying around a general map. Once again, this is another very cheap option and fine for those who do not want to explore or do not plan detours.

Now, one could effortlessly print out the needed directions, and wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost. This pretty much put the conventional map to rest, however, a few drivers still kept it in the car for those “just in case” instances. This was nice and all, but modern technology was still changing at a rapid pace, and soon websites such as MapQuest and Google Maps would lose their popularity to an electronic device – the GPS.

Fast Forward to the Present

The modern GPS has been around for several years now, but has only become practical and popular in the past couple of years. The GPS can be found in many forms, whether it is built into a car, a standalone unit, or built-into a smartphone. Each of these present slightly different uses, so it boils down to what and when you plan to use your GPS, which will ultimately dictate which GPS to get.

Now, I will talk about the pros and cons to any GPS. One of the main things to keep in mind when purchasing a GPS is what will your primary use of the GPS be, always ask that to yourself when looking around.

GPS built-into a car

GPS in a car

Many cars nowadays come with the option in having a GPS installed into the dashboard of your car. This nifty piece of technology will work when you want it to, and you use keypad to enter in the necessary data and it will then devise a route and speak out the directions. Another nice feature is that it will always be in the car.

A major problem that many encounter with GPSs is that they often misplace it or someone steals it. However, by being already in the car, makes it nearly impossible to be misplaced or easily stolen. However, having the GPS installed in the car can sometimes be costly and the major drawback is that it can only be used in that car. Let’s say your wife, husband, or child is going somewhere and wants to take the GPS; if it is only in one car, then it is impossible to allow other drives to use it in their own car.

GPS on iPhone

GPS on a phone

Many phones these days come with GPS, however, the better GPSs comes in smartphone, like your BlackBerries, iPhones, etc. Depending on how technologically advanced your cell phone is will dictate how well the GPS works. In most phones, the GPS works very well, considering it’s in a phone.

Main uses of GPSs in a cell phone would probably be limited to local directions, and not so much as if you are driving. Again, this GPS is limited to only your cell phone, so you can’t really give your “GPS” to a family member if they need to use it.

Standalone GPS

Standalone GPSs are the most popular form of GPSs. They range from inexpensive models, to some really high-end and expensive models. Again, we need to consider what will be the primary use of your GPS. Standalone units typically come with a nice sized touch screen, 3.5-4.3 inches, Bluetooth, and Points of Interest (POI). Such models would probably sell for under $200.

As we get more advanced, we can find units that play audio/video, and come with traffic updates. Various models even come with gaming support. Gaming support coupled with audio and video playback are always nice to have on a trip as they can keep your kids in the backseat occupied. The nice thing with these units is that you can easily lend your GPS to family members if they are going somewhere.

The major con here is that you have to take your GPS wherever you go. If a thief sees your GPS in your car, they will be able to grab it easier. Also, it is easy to misplace as it isn’t on your cell phone or built in to your car.

What to consider when purchasing a GPS

Now, we know all the different types of GPSs out there, but we have to think which kind is better suited to fulfill our navigational needs. There is nothing set in stone that you have to follow when buying a GPS, rather you have to use common sense and think about what you need. For families that travel a lot, I would recommend getting a standalone unit. The nice thing about this is that you can easily give it to a family member, it comes with a bunch of handy features, and it’s pretty cheap depending on what features you want.

For the lone traveler

For a single person who travels a lot on their own, I would recommend getting a GPS for your car, although you can opt in getting the standalone unit. The good thing about having it built-into your car is that you will never lose or break it due to mishandling the actual device. Since you wouldn’t give it away to family, and you would only drive one car, there is no point getting the standalone unit.

Is a phone ever good enough?

For the GPS in the phone, I don’t think that that kind of GPS is good enough for any person. I believe it is something nice to have, but can’t take the place of a car GPS or a standalone unit. Let’s say you are walking in an unfamiliar city, then it is nice to whip out your phone and find out where you are and where you have to go. However, if you travel a lot by car, then it is always nice to have a real GPS, whether it be built-in or standalone, to use.

Repurpose that laptop

There is one last GPS option I’d like to talk about – Microsoft Streets & Trips. Basically, this is a program by Microsoft that adds GPS functionality to a PC or a laptop. For about $80, you can opt to get a GPS receiver built-into the program. This would work well on a laptop, so you can bring it with you on trips and it can act like a GPS. While this is certainly cheaper than most GPSs (assuming you already own a laptop), you would have to take into account bugging your expensive laptop on all car trips and hoping a sudden stop doesn’t send your laptop crashing down.

Final Thoughts:

I hope this guide can provide you with some insight when you decide to purchase your first or next GPS. If you think I missed any important information or have any questions, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Print Friendly
  • Tina Marshall

    This is a very informational post. Thanks for sharing!

    I found a great piece on Peterman's Eye about the use and unique aspects of paper maps. I thought it was a great read, so I'll share…