Factors to Consider for Your GPS Unit

Before choosing a product from the wide variety of GPS solutions, it is important to first understand what the market has to offer.  There are numerous factors that must be considered from the receiver itself to portability and critical features such as mapping.  You can use this article as a guideline to finding a GPS unit that meets your needs.

Common GPS Applications

When it comes to GPS devices, there are essentially three classes of application: road, hiking and maritime.  Road is the most common civilian application as it refers to in-car or in-vehicle devices.  These units must be reliable and reasonably accurate in order to provide you with good results.  They should contain details on all the roads and points of interest for the area in which the unit will be operating.  You can also find a portable device that is suitable for in-vehicle use.  These units make great alternatives to those that come built into vehicles.

The Importance of Mapping and Updates

When shopping for a GPS unit, it is critical to remember that each type of device will be updated in a different way.  For instance, dedicated in-vehicle models are typically updated through a CD, which must be purchased from a road map data supplier.  Those attached to PDAs, as well as most dedicated handheld devices, are usually updated through a PC.  These types of units also require maps, but they can often be acquired at a much lower price than dedicated branded versions for other systems.  Having the ability to easily update your device at a reasonable cost should be an important aspect of the decision process.

In contrast to other consumer electronics, the actual cost of a GPS device is proportional to its usefulness.  Fortunately, many software developers have map solutions that can be easily uploaded to the unit.  Some will even allow you to define your own maps so that you can get the most out of your GPS unit.

Accounting for Accuracy and Portability

If accuracy is of any importance to you, and it should be, then you may want to consider a unit equipped with WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) capability.  WAAS is a satellite service that delivers additional correction data to the GPS receiver and increases its accuracy.  WAAS-enabled devices are particularly useful for road users, as well as those who need the ability to pinpoint their position down to a few feet.  However, this type of system is virtually useless in an area where WAAS service isn’t available.

If portability is a feature you desire, you should keep in mind that it usually comes at the price of accuracy.  This could be degraded accuracy from a poor a GPS signal acquisition or a mediocre software application coupled with less detailed maps.  Portability can be affected by a number of factors including weight, size and the antenna as well.  These factors could also have an effect on the features and capabilities the unit offers.  For example, if the device has a tiny screen and the entire unit is only about half the size of a cell phone, it is probably safe to assume that it will lack advanced features and possibly accuracy.


In the end, choosing a GPS unit is a relatively straightforward process.  To ensure that it is, always try to keep portability, features and cost in mind.  Doing so will make it much easier to find a GPS device that is just right for you at the right price.


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