How to choose the right GPS

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Choosing the right GPS can be a daunting task especially if you're purchasing one as a gift and don't know much about them. But keeping in mind how the GPS might be used and some basic selections (such as color versus grayscale, mapping capacity, and battery life), your decision can be greatly simplified.

The Holiday Season is upon us and electronic gadgets always make popular gifts. GPS devices are a relatively recent addition to the consumer electronics group of gizmos. GPS devices can serve many useful and fascinating purposes, such as pinpointing your position, showing you which route to take, tracking your route, showing you how fast you're walking/rowing/cycling/etc, and helping you find where the fish are hiding.

Like many electronic gadgets, GPS receivers are packed with interesting options. And there are so many features and varieties that choosing one can often be overwhelming. Here are some typical things you can consider before purchasing a GPS:

Grayscale versus Color -

Color is always easier to look at, but it comes at a higher price. Also grayscale-display GPS units tend to have longer battery life. If you can do without color, you can get a better value with grayscale.

Waterproof -

Handheld GPS units GPS tend to go on outdoor adventures, so they get wet when it rains or snows. Or they may even get dropped in the water. Many handheld portable GPS receivers are waterproof, but if you plan on anything other than fair weather use, check to make sure!

WAAS Enabled -

A GPS that is compatible with this system (WAAS Enabled), will get far greater accuracy than it would otherwise. But the WAAS system is not yet fully operational in all parts of the U.S. It's also worth mentioning that power consumption increases when WAAS is used on a GPS.

Mapping or non Mapping -

A Mapping GPS contains some sort of BaseMap, (which refers to the type of built-in map). Depending on how you might plan to use the GPS, it may have city maps, waterway maps, or topographical maps. Maps can also be purchased as software and installed on mapping GPS units. Some entry-level GPS models do not have built-in mapping capability, so if this feature is important to you, make sure the model you select includes this.

Battery Life -

One important consideration is how long will the GPS unit operate on its batteries? The battery life range is usually about 10 continuous hours up to 20 hours. Most handheld models use AA batteries but some models, such as the Garmin ForeRunner 201, use rechargeable Lithium batteries.

Waypoint Storage -

Waypoints are a way of marking an exact location and saving it for future reference. Most all GPS units have the ability to store Waypoints but the question to ask is how many will it store? If you use your GPS to permanently keep track of interesting points, you may need a lot of Waypoint storage over time.

Computer Interface -

A GPS receiver device is designed to work independently of a computer. But sooner or later, you may want to install software, updates, or downloaded Waypoints to your GPS. This will require that your GPS have some way to communicate with your computer. Check to see if the GPS comes with a cable; if not you may want to plan on purchasing a data cable separately.

External Power -

GPS receivers operate primarily on batteries. But there are times when you can save your batteries and benefit from using other power sources. Most commonly this is done with an AC adapter that plugs into a cigarette lighter in a car, truck, or RV. If you plan to use your GPS in a vehicle or a boat, make sure to purchase a power adapter for it.

Specific Functionality -

GPS units have evolved to suit a variety of uses. Some examples: the Garmin GPSMAP 60 series are specifically designed for the growing sport of GeoCaching, having modes very specific to that sport. The Garmin ForeTrex 201 is designed to be worn on the wrist rather than placed in a pack, purse, or pocket. This is for people who want a GPS suitable for hands-free activity (such as jogging or rowing). And the Garmin iQue 3200 is actually a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) which contains GPS functionality. It combines GPS with PDA technology so you get both technologies in one unit.

So the most important thing to consider when purchasing a GPS is what the intended use will be. Keep in mind the end use and you'll sure to choose the right GPS.

For more information on consumer GPS products:


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Steve Church
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