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August 30, 2006 6:21 PM   Subscribe

[GPSFilter] Should I buy a GPS or GPS-enabled phone?

I want a GPS unit and I'm also in the market for a new cellphone. The cellphone can wait but I want the GPS now... unless there's a GPS cellphone which fits the bill. (This may be laughably optimistic but I know nothing).

GPS duties:
Used for tracking/navigating hikes and bikes, including trips into the back-country that may last for up to 7 days. (During the winter I tend to spend a lot of time on snowshoes wandering around in forests and it is very easy to get lost. I currently use a compass to basically make it back to where I started, which works pretty well.)

An altimeter would be really useful.

It needs to be totally weatherproof and rugged (i am really hard on equipment).

It needs to be light and small enough that it's not going to bug me if I'm only carrying a hydration pack (this is also why I'd like a cell/GPS combo).

I guess one option is buy both a GPS unit for serious duties AND a GPS phone for less onerous trips.

Needs to work reliably pretty much anywhere in the world where there's cell service (currently I have an Ericsson T39 which rocks but is getting reeeely old).
posted by unSane to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
All phones are GPS capable now, in the sense that at least the cell phone company and 911 can locate you. One of my kids has a Razor with nav and it works reasonably well to get you somewhere on the road. However, I would hardly call it weatherproof and the battery lasts for not too long. I recommend you get a separate GPS, one that is weatherproof and takes regular batteries and when you are camping keep your cell in a waterproof bag.
posted by caddis at 6:27 PM on August 30, 2006

i got this for bike touring and it has proved itself increasingly useful. it runs off 4 aa batteries for quite a while if you keep the backlight off, and is relatively waterproof. depending on the level of detail you need you may want to purchase additional maps and software, as well as an SD card to enhance the storage. it comes preloaded with basic basemaps of either north america or europe and has an altimeter but no topography. my only regret is that i didnt get something a bit smaller, as it is kind of clunky to pull out on a bike.
posted by fidgets at 6:40 PM on August 30, 2006

If you must go all cell, perhaps a portable AAA battery based recharger will help.
posted by caddis at 6:43 PM on August 30, 2006

I've used lots of handheld GPS and the new ones are pretty sweet and the better screens and the number of receivers are a big part of that so I'd say go GPS over phone. They're all pretty rugged but then again I usually keep mine in a drybag/ ziploc or otter box just in case.

I can tell you what not to get. Some of the newer Etrex's from Garmin (in the sparkly colors) have an incredibly stupid feature that allows you to move the waypoints simply by pushing too hard on the little joystick while you're looking at them. Totally idiotic. Same geniuses who made a waterproof GPS with a non waterproof battery compartment a few years before.

Actually Garmin is one of your few options for affordable handheld units. Just make sure you spend a LOT of time playing with it in the store so you can buy whatever model currently has the smallest number of dangerous, stupid features.

Any of the handhelds are small enough not to bug you in a pack. My experience has been that the altimeters are often wildly inaccurate on GPS units.
posted by fshgrl at 7:45 PM on August 30, 2006

I am a fan of keeping your gadgets separate unless you are a dilettante. I have a camera that is a camera, a phone that is a phone a gps that is a gps, and a mp3 player that is a mp3 player. More stuff to haul around, however the quality of each is better than cramming everything together.

just my opinion tho.
posted by edgeways at 9:47 PM on August 30, 2006

...wandering around in forests and it is very easy to get lost....

...then carrying the extra weight might not be worth it to you. GPSs have a hard time getting signal lock in forested areas, or anywhere there isn't a direct line of sight into the sky. It's a convenient supplement, but the compass will still be your primary nav.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:21 PM on August 30, 2006

The only decent altimeters of late in consumer stuff are the barometric ones Garmin uses in the Edge 305 (biking) and 60CSx models, and perhaps some others. They auto-calibrate based on the GPS signal. If you have the cash for a dedicated bike GPS unit, the Edge 305 is spectacular. The SiRFstar is so incredible when I compare it to my older eMap w/o WAAS/SiRFstar.

I can't see combining devices and getting 7 days of battery life, even if you keep it off when not used. If you go from usnig the phone for a bit, then the GPS for a bit (though you'd usually keep it on for anything like tracking or finding waypoints), etc., it'll die very very quickly.
posted by kcm at 10:26 PM on August 30, 2006

Hewlett-Packard is supposed to roll out their iPaq 6945 real soon now. It has a 3rd generation GPS chip; my friend who field tested it says it's head and shoulders above the current state of the art.

However, the HP website says they're rolling it out in NA in Summer 2006, and yet there's exactly zero buzz about it, so I don't know what to think about that - they don't have much time left if they're going to make that deadline. It's certainly not available yet.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:31 PM on August 30, 2006

GPS in the Cella ain't quite here yet.

Verizon offers a non-satellite GPS service on some of their phones, but it's aimed at city folks; it won't help you out in the woods, especially if the woods don't have cell coverage. Cinguar offers a similar service, iirc. I demoed Verizon's service and thought it worked great, but I'd rather have a full-featured GPS.
posted by notyou at 8:00 AM on August 31, 2006

That Edge 305 looks like the business -- thank you.
posted by unSane at 9:50 AM on August 31, 2006

Nextel phones have GPS units built-in and work well wherever there's sight of the sky.

Nextel phones cannot be used all-over the world, as per your request, but they can do the walky-talky thing to other nextel phones even in places where there isn't cellular coverage.

The battery probably won't last you 7 days unless you turn it off frequently. But you can turn the cellular radio off while using GPS, so that should save you some energy.
posted by aereoperro at 3:08 PM on August 31, 2006

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