How to Pick a GPS Unit

GPS makes navigation of all sorts easier. With a GPS device and an unobstructed view of the sky, you will never be lost again. There are a wide assortment of GPS devices available, and purchasing the correct one for your needs will help guarantee that you get the most out of your GPS unit.

A device that does not work well for your needs tends to sit on the shelf and not be used. This article will help you select the right type of GPS for you so that you will get years of utilization from your GPS. Step 1: Picking the correct type of unit Before you buy a GPS, you need to know about the various types of GPS devices out there and how each will meet your specific requirements.

The important types of GPS units are: vehicle, handheld, and PDA attachments. The type of GPS device you purchase will vary based on your requirements, and the features you should look for will vary based on the type of device you are purchasing. Vehicle GPS systems are a great benefit if you make trips to lots of different locations with which you are not familiar, or you drive for a living.

Vehicle GPS units may also come with features that make using them in a vehicle very easy: features like automatic route finding which tell you where and when to make turns so that you do not need to take your eyes off the road. Some vehicle GPS devices feature technology that makes them aware of real-time traffic-reports so that your route can be recalculated based on current traffic conditions. If you plan to use your GPS primarily in your vehicle, you should look for a device designed specifically for this type of usage as these systems tend to have bigger, easier-to-read, screens than most handheld devices. Handheld GPS units tend to be the most versatile type of GPS devices for sale. They can be used when driving, camping, hiking, really any place you can go.

But, this versatility commonly results in a system that has fewer advanced features. Since the unit needs to be portable, the screen size is commonly limited and this can make many features of a GPS (such as breadcrumbs, route marking, visuals, etc) harder to use than a system that is fixed in a vehicle or that makes use of a larger screen on a PDA or computer. If you intend on using your GPS chiefly in your car, the small screen may make it harder to use.

If you intend on using your GPS when fishing, walking, or camping, this is probably the best kind of GPS for you. GPS systems that link up directly to a PDA or laptop usually rely on the PDA or computer for all of the advanced GPS functionality except for the collection of the data from the GPS satellites. Because a significant amount of the functionality is moved to the PDA or laptop, the GPS unit itself is usually much cheaper than a free-standing GPS unit. But if you intend to use your GPS for hiking, backpacking, camping, or in a marine environment, bringing your PDA or laptop may make the use of your GPS system somewhat inconvenient. Because of this, GPS systems that connect to other devices are most often used in cars and for folks who navigate by foot in cities.

If you are looking for the cheapest GPS device available and you already have a GPS-compatible PDA or computer, this may be the optimal choice for you. Step 2: Picking GPS Features Based on the kind of GPS device your are buying, here are some features you will want to consider. Accuracy -- In general, GPS units have an accuracy of about 50 feet.

If accuracy is important to you (perhaps you are laying out a course for a race and you really want to make sure you get the 5K distance correct), consider a system with WAAS (wide area augmentation system) as this at least doubles the accuracy of a GPS system. This is usually most useful in handheld units. Address Finding -- Some GPS devices let you to enter a specific street address. This can be very useful when driving and is a feature most often found in vehicle GPS units or systems used in vehicles.

Automatic Route Finding -- This is most often used in conjunction with address finding. This feature sets up the GPS so that it will tell you precisely where to turn to get to a pre-programmed final destination. This is a very useful feature for vehicle systems, or systems used in vehicles, as it allows you to use the device without having to try and read the GPS while you are driving.

Built-in Maps -- Lots of GPS devices come with maps that are pre-installed; for example, all of the United States. If plan to getting a system with a pre-installed map, be sure you get a GPS for your area, especially if you are buying on-line. In addition, make sure that the map can be updated.

Compass -- It seems counter-intuitive, but there are GPS devices that do not have a compass except for when you are moving above some minimum speed (usually faster than a hiking speed). But there are GPS devices that provide true compass functionality even when you are stopped. This feature is usually most useful on handheld GPS devices. Computer Compatibility -- If you are looking at a GPS system that gets updated maps via a computer (which is most of them), and you are using a non-Windows computer (like a Mac or a Linux machine) be sure that the GPS device can connect to the type of computer you have.

Every GPS device that connects to a computer will support a Windows computer. But compatibility with other operating system varies. Downloadable Maps -- Many GPS units allow maps to be downloaded onto them. This is very convenient for people who travel to a wide variety of places.

It also makes it easier to purchase a GPS with less memory since you can easily swap out the map to fit the area you will be in. Expandable Memory -- If you are using your GPS device with maps, you'll want to be certain that you have sufficient memory to support the number of maps you will be using. As it is with computers, the same is true with GPS systems: the more memory the better. Extended Battery Life -- If you are going to be getting a handheld or PDA attached GPS system, look closely at the battery life as this can often be the limiting factor in your usage of the GPS. External Antennas -- Some GPS systems provide for an external antenna to be attached.

This can be helpful in vehicle units where the satellite signal may be impeded by the unit being in a car. It can also be useful in handheld devices as it allows you to keep the unit in your backpack but still be operational for things like creating trails. Traffic Alerts -- Some GPS units come with the capability to wirelessly download real-time traffic information.

If you drive in an urban area, this is an incredibly helpful feature even if you know the area you are in. This feature is most often available in vehicle systems and in PDA/computer attached devices. Water-Resistant/Proof -- If you are purchasing a handheld GPS device and you intend to go fishing, backpacking, hiking, boating, or doing anything outdoors with your GPS unit, think about getting a system that has some level of resistance to water.

Also, be aware of the difference between waterproof and water-resistant. Water-resistant indicates that the unit can be exposed to small amounts of water but it can't be totally submerged. If there is a chance your GPS will be totally submerged, you should consider a waterproof GPS, not one that is water-resistant.

Buster is a lover of electronic devices. He's been playing with GPS units for over 10 years. You can check out his GPS reviews at

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