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GPS Buying Guide

Everything you wanted to know before buying a GPS device

There are a lot of choices for consumers and professionals when it comes to buying a global positioning system (GPS) device. This article tries to present these choices in a way that can help you choose the right device for your needs.

Why do you need a GPS device?

A GPS device can be used for many things. From giving you turn-by-turn directions on a map to measuring time with great accuracy. First step is to find out why you need a GPS device.

You could classify the GPS users in following categories. Along with each category are a few things that GPS devices could be used for. Find out which category you belong to:

Consumer

  • Get turn-by-turn directions to the destination
  • Find places of interest near a location
  • Share location with friends and connect with them
  • Track kids or pets

Adventurer

  • Hiking a trail or off-road traveling
  • Recording,sharing and exploring the wild. Playing games like geocaching

Sportsperson

  • Athletic training
  • Recording players' movement on field and analyzing
  • Golfing

Surveyor

  • Mapping an area
  • Collecting ground control

Corporate

  • Managing fleet of vehicle/ asset management
  • Employee tracking and security


What are the choices available in the market?

Now you should have a fair idea which category you belong to. If you could identify at least one category where you belong, you should be ready for the next step in the process for selecting your GPS device. Now you can find out what kind of device is right for you:

Consumer

A large share of products are designed for the consumer electronics segment. They typically fall into 3 categories
  • Portable Navigation Device (PND) or a Navigator: This is ususally a device that can be installed in a car/bike and once you set your destination in the device, it gives you turn-by-turn voice directions.
  • GPS enabled mobile phones: A lot of newer mobile phones come with built-in GPS receiver. You can also buy a bluetooth receiver to be used with your existing phone. Most GPS handsets come with pre-loaded maps for a few cities and it can work the same way as a PND to give you directions. There are a lot of local and social networking applications available on the mobile phone that take advantage of the build-in GPS capabilities.
  • Tracker Devices: These are used to track pets or kids. Most of them are in form of collars (for pets) or watches(for kids) and one can see the real-time position of the device on a computer.

Adventurer

There are quite a few choices in this segment.
  • Handheld GPS device: Typically used for mapping small areas, these GPS receivers can store contour maps, plot your route, mark points of interest etc.
  • GPS Watches: These are small GPS-enabled devices that have altimeter, compass, temperature and other sensors as well to help adventurers

Sportsperson

  • GPS Watches: These watch-like devices measure heart-rate, body temperature along with speed/altitude etc to give useful data for athletes/
  • Golf Equipments: Many specialized products are available for golfing industry. These include handheld devices with the map of golf courses and GPS golf balls which can be tracked using the handheld deivce.

Surveyor

Two kinds of receivers are available for survey professionals

  • Handheld GPS devices: As mentioned in previous segment, these can be used to map small areas and can store many points and tracks.
  • Geodetic survey equipment: These are high-end and very precise instruments. These are used for precise mapping and establishing ground control.

Corporate

'Tracking' products are the primary group in this segment.
  • Offline GPS Tracker: These can be attached to any asset or humans and can track the movement and store the location data. This can be later downloaded to a computer for viewing
  • Online GPS Tracker: These devices contain a transmitter of some kind ( GPRS/Radio/satellite ) which transmit the real-time location data to a server. Using these, one can monitor the activity of the object "live".
  • Fleet tracking service: If one wants to manage a large fleet of vehicles and track their movement, one can purchase such serivce from specialized companies who provide hardware,software and maintenance of the entire system.

Which device to buy?

Now let's get down to business. You know the choices available to you. Below are some tips on what to keep in mind when choosing the right device for you.

Consumer

  • Consider the maps available for the particular device. Does it have national/international coverage? What is cost of buying maps for additional cities if you need them?
  • Ask how frequently the maps are updated. Having the latest maps is crucial to a good navigation experience.
  • Are you an avid traveler? Go for a national coverage, as buying individual city maps will be generally costlier than entire country.
  • If you primarily use car as a means of transport, a PND might be a better choice. But if you use walking, public transport or other mode, a GPS Phone is more portable.
  • For tracking device, buy a small device which looks unsuspicious and like any other accessory. Otherwise person intending to harm your kids/pets will remove the device first. Also many mobile phones can be used as a tracker, so explore that option before purchasing such a device.

Adventurer

  • Check if the device will work under heavy tree cover. Many older models need a clear view of the sky for using GPS and it may not work well in forests.
  • Size and battery life are the key. Buy a device that has long battery life or buy a backup battery. You do not want a bulky equipment to be carried around while hiking, so smaller size is always perferable.

Sportsperson

  • Size is the key. Choose a device that is small and doesn't interfere with your training

Surveyor

  • A device that supports more channels and multiple systems ( like GPS, GLONASS, Galelio etc. ) is generally more accurate and flexible

Corporate

  • Online trackers are more expensive to buy and maintain. Assess your needs carefully to see if an offline tracker will suffice the purpose.
  • When buying a fleet tracking system, go for the one that gives you ability to generate custom reports.

Where to buy GPS device?

Consumer
Adventurer
Sportsperson
Surveyor
Corporate