The 10 Best GPS Trackers
This wiki has been updated 32 times since it was first published in February of 2015. Isn't technology amazing? Not only do we no longer need paper maps to find our way around, but, thanks to the same satellites, you can now monitor your teen's driving, quickly locate your young children and pets, and recover lost or stolen property. These GPS trackers let you do all this and more. We've included the best by taking into account price, convenience, and high-tech features. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 29, 2020:
It was a fairly uneventful round of updates, but we did find a few places to improve our rankings, replacing the TrackmateGPS Dash T9 with its logical successor, the TrackmateGPS Dash T11, and switching out the Spy Tec GL300 for an upgraded pick: the Spy Tec GL300 Bundle, which combines the basic unit with a six-month rechargeable battery inside a waterproof, magnetic GPS case.
We also ended up eliminating the Trackmate GPS Mini H 3G due to availability issues, and in its place we introduced the LoneStar Oyster2. The Oyster2 is quite an expensive option, but it still managed to get our attention with its five-year charge life, which is simply delivered via three AA batteries. It also features an IP67 dust and water resistance, which makes it a great choice for work fleets and farm equipment that spend much of their life outside.
Note that this is a list of gear intended to help you remotely monitor your possessions. If you’re in the market for a device that can help you find your way, you may be more interested in our lists of GPS units, GPS backpacks and GPS watches.
May 10, 2019:
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to GPS trackers, but when you weigh the price and benefits, the Americaloc Mini, Optimus 2.0, and Spy Tec Portable still come out on top. Each is quite small and offers various features beyond simple tracking, giving you greater value for your money. Many users like the fact that the latter two offer month-to-month subscription options for a lower upfront cost than many. For something more robust, the TrackmateGPS Dash T9 or Linxup Vehicle are handy, especially since they can be hardwired into a car, removing concerns about battery life. As for pets, we like the Whistle 3, although it's a tad large for most cats. You may notice that we have not elected to add the Garmin Alpha or Astro, both for pets; although they're incredible accurate and durable, they're also extremely expensive and perhaps too feature-heavy for general use. We also decided not to include the relatively popular Bouncie, as it does not work when the car it's installed in is turned off.
Sherlock Invisible You could strap a standard GPS tracker to your bike and hope no one notices, or you could try the Sherlock Invisible, which fits into your handlebar and looks like an end bar cap from the outside. It lasts about seven days per charge and arrives with a micro USB cable for topping up. sherlock.com
GPS Trackers Versus Smart Phones
Keeping tabs on a new driver is a lot easier if you are not relying on that teen to remember to activate the GPS app each time they get behind the wheel.
You may wonder why people buy GPS trackers when you can go to your phone's app store and download dozens of free tracking apps. But a GPS tracker can be more functional and cost effective, especially for businesses and families with lots of little (and big) people to keep up with.
GPS trackers are a no-brainer for businesses that move around a lot of freight or expensive, specialized equipment that can be lost or stolen. It just makes more sense to track the machine and not the driver, who may vary on a day to day basis. In fact, tracking employees on their cell phones might open up employers to privacy lawsuits.
Families may be tempted to simply buy their tot a cell phone, knowing that nearly 70% of pre-teens will end up with a phone anyway. Keep in mind that despite their outrageous costs, the average lifespan of a smart phone is just under two years.
If you simply want to be sure your third-grader made it to elementary school and home again, you can save hundreds in upfront costs (not to mention cheaper monthly fees), by purchasing a small wearable unit or one that fits neatly in your child's backpack.
Installing a GPS tracker in the car your teen normally drives can also be a sound investment. Keeping tabs on a new driver is a lot easier if you are not relying on that teen to remember to activate the GPS app each time they get behind the wheel. There are even units that connect to the car battery so you never have to worry about charging them.
A Brief History Of GPS
The origins of the Global Positioning System date all the way back to the Sputnik era. At the height of the Cold War, Russia scored a major victory by launching the first artificial Earth satellite. Scientists at MIT turned that loss into an eventual win when they began studying the signals transmitted by the small satellite.
By 1983, President Reagan allowed commercial aircraft to use the system to improve air safety.
As scientists tracked the changes in the frequency of the radio signals caused by the Doppler Effect, it gave them the idea to track receivers on the ground based on their distance from multiple satellites.
The Navy built the first real system with six satellites. It was designed to monitor submarines, but was later expanded to ten satellites and kept tabs on vehicles and equipment in all branches of the military. By 1983, President Reagan allowed commercial aircraft to use the system to improve air safety.
The full twenty-four satellite system in use today was launched in 1993. The Department of Defense purposefully decreased the accuracy of the GPS in order to prevent enemy combatants from using it, until the year 2000. At this time GPS became ten times more accurate and civilian usage exploded into every industry, from the transportation of goods to fishing boats to cell phones.
How To Choose A GPS Tracker
Regardless of how you plan to use your GPS tracker, two of the most important things to keep in mind are cost and battery life.
For a versatile tracker that can be moved from car to car or even slipped into a backpack, smaller may seem better, but a tiny unit usually means a shorter battery life. Look for brands that offer an extended battery kit that can give you up to six months between charges.
A cheaper monthly fee could also be tied to a lengthy contract, so don't forget to read the fine print.
If you are considering a GPS tracker for exclusive use in your automobile, you might want to call your car insurance agency first. Most major carriers have rolled out incentive programs that can allow you to save hundreds off your insurance bill when you install their GPS tracker. This usage-based insurance is considered an invasion of privacy by some, but many responsible drivers who already want a GPS tracker in their car don't mind giving up a little privacy to save a few bucks.
When making your final selection, remember that monthly costs can vary widely. A cheaper monthly fee could also be tied to a lengthy contract, so don't forget to read the fine print.
Be sure to compare apples to apples when looking at monthly fees. The information you can get from a GPS tracker depends on what type and brand you choose. For example, a kid-friendly device might offer a panic button, one-way calling, or even send parents an alert if the device leaves a predetermined area.