What to consider before buying a GPS device
Not all GPS devices are created equal. Some will give you seamless service for years to come whereas others may end up in an Kijiji fire sale, a testament to your lack of diligence.
Before buying a standalone GPS, ask yourself whether you really need one. Are you looking for turn-by-turn directions or do you just need general directions? If you just need general directions and you already have an Iphone, Blackberry or a Windows Mobile Smartphone, you can download and install Google maps to the device. Even without an inbuilt GPS or a separate “navigation plan” from your wireless service provider, Google maps can give you a rough approximation of your location using “My Location,” a technology that uses cell phone towers to determine your approximate location. This can be done without your phone being “GPS capable” or a separate “navigation plan” from your wireless provider. You still need a data plan. Though the amount of data transmitted using “My Location” amounts to miniscule Kilobytes per use.
“My Location” may not be feasible for turn by turn directions while driving, which requires the use of GPS for more accurate positioning. Should you choose to use the phone’s GPS, remember that you are not restricted to the “navigation add-on plan” provided by your wireless service provider. Your phone’s GPS will still require the data plan of your wireless service provider. But it can operate on GPS services independent of your wireless provider. For example, you could install Wayfinder Navigator to your phone and pay a subscription fee for their service. Wayfinder offers near global coverage (which most standalone GPS units don’t). The best part is that you get to update the maps for free.
Obviously, a smart phone can never substitute for a standalone GPS unit. But a good dashboard mount and a car charger can get you going. Nevertheless, 98 per cent of smart phones use A-GPS (short for Assisted GPS) rather than standalone GPS. A-GPS utilizes data connections to location servers over the wireless network. These servers are in turn, connected with satellites, that use information transmitted from the cell phone to inform you of your position. The entire operation is dependent on the wireless network, and therefore, A-GPS is also dependent on wireless network coverage (read: urban areas). The very term A-GPS is somewhat of a misnomer, as there is usually no GPS receiver on the cell phone. Just some technology capable of better handling cell tower telemetry.
If you really need a standalone GPS unit, make sure you get your homework done.
Check out ConsumerReports.org for results of lab tests conducted on popular GPS units (requires subscription).
Should you ever choose to use the unit abroad, make sure the unit is capable of being used as such, and that the manufacturer provides maps for the country where you intend to use it (without charging the price for another unit).
Compare additional bells and whistles provided by different manufacturers (real-time traffic info, number of points of interest, ability to share and update points of interest etc.).
Make sure your GPS unit allows you to upload additional data to it through the computer. For example, many parks are now providing files that can be uploaded onto GPS units to better feature these areas on the device.
Lastly but not the least, check what it takes to get the maps on your GPS device to be updated. If updates are available at half the cost of the device, try another manufacturer. The manufacturer’s website can give you a good idea of how seriously they consider updating their maps. For example, Nextar, a little known brand sold by the Canadian retailer Canadian Tire is as pricey as its major league competitors. But as of this date, its website displays map updates only for a few select models. Where are the map updates for the remaining products? Here’s what Nextar had to say in response to an email inquiry regarding a GPS device purchased a few years ago:
We are sorry, but there are no updates or upgrades for this product at this moment. We are currently working on updates but do not have a scheduled release date. When available, the update/upgrades will be posted on our website (listed below) . For now, please do not use any upgrades other than Nextar upgrades, or the product will malfunction and your warranty will be voided.
Such DO NOT WANT moments can be easily avoided with diligence on behalf of the buyer.