The 10 Best GPS Units

Updated April 28, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

10 Best GPS Units
Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive
We spent 37 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. You'll always know right where you are, no matter your location, thanks to any one of these high quality GPS units, which can then show you how to get to your destination. We've included models best suited for automotive installation, handheld devices for boating or hiking, and even watch-style units that are perfect for keeping track of your daily jogs and staying on top of your vital statistics. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best gps unit on Amazon.

10. TomTom Via 1525TM

The TomTom Via 1525TM is an affordable unit for in-car use. It offers a split-screen display, so you can see your route and the next upcoming junction at the same time, and it receives daily updates regarding detours and speed limits.
  • accurate travel time estimates
  • three display sizes to choose from
  • user interface is not intuitive
Brand TomTom
Model 1AA5.019.01
Weight 1 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

9. Suunto Ambit3 Peak

The Suunto Ambit3 Peak has a very durable waterproof case, which makes it ideal for the extreme athletes out there who plan on subjecting it to grueling climbs, high-speed wakeboarding, and triathlons. It connects quickly to smartphones for syncing data.
  • capable of 5-second positioning
  • can display weather info
  • feels bulky on the wrist
Brand Suunto
Model SS020674000
Weight 12.8 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

8. Garmin Edge 25

At less than one ounce, the Garmin Edge 25 is one of the smallest GPS-enabled cycling computers. Its reliable satellite connection allows it to track how far, how fast, and where you ride, even when you are under a heavy canopy of trees.
  • able to pair with heart rate monitor
  • can download other riders' courses
  • battery life is short
Brand Garmin
Model 010-03709-20
Weight 5.3 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

7. Garmin GPSMap 64

Offering 4GB of internal memory, ANT+ sensor pairing, and the ability to use standard batteries or the included rechargeable NiMH pack, the Garmin GPSMap 64 is a versatile unit that can help you stay on track. Plus, its rugged housing can stand up to heavy use.
  • almost always maintains its location
  • highly detailed map renderings
  • user interface is a little clunky
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01199-00
Weight 14.9 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

6. Polar M430 Watch

The Polar M430 Watch is completely waterproof and comes with a built-in heart rate monitor, so you can take it virtually anywhere and always keep track of your fitness level. It integrates with the Polar Flow app, which allows you to share your training with friends.
  • supports smart notifications
  • access to free training routines
  • two independent interval timers
Brand Polar
Model 90064401
Weight 9.6 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

5. Garmin Drive 50

The Garmin Drive 50 can be purchased with a 5" or 6" screen, and provides drivers with alerts for sharp curves, upcoming speed limit changes, and even speed cameras, so you are never caught unawares. When guiding you, it uses helpful landmarks in addition to road signs.
  • portrait or landscape orientation
  • database of popular restaurants
  • suggests break times on long drives
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01532-06
Weight 14.1 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

4. Garmin Oregon 650t

The Garmin Oregon 650t has a bright, full color, 3.5-inch, multitouch-capable screen that can be seen in direct sunlight. It also features two-band GPS/GLONASS positioning and, if all that wasn't enough, it can even function like an 8MP digital camera.
  • holds unlimited geocaches
  • can share data with wireless devices
  • small size is ideal for hiking
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01066-30
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

3. Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire

Whether you're a runner, a skier, or a mountain climber, the fully-featured Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire has got you covered. It features an altimeter, a barometer, and a compass, so you can plan for altitude, weather, and direction, and it will track all of your vitals.
  • in-depth running diagnostics
  • preloaded with topographic maps
  • waterproof to 300 feet
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01733-00
Weight 9.6 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

2. Pentax O-GPS1

The Pentax O-GPS1 provides interval position tracking and the ability to add geotags to your images, making it the perfect accessory to any K-5, K-r, or 645D camera when traveling through the world's scenic spots. It has its own power source and an AstroTracer function.
  • records the direction you are facing
  • compass rarely needs recalibration
  • acquires satellites quickly
Brand Pentax
Model GPS Unit 0-GPS1
Weight 5.3 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. Garmin DriveAssist 51

With a capacitive touchscreen display and the ability to pinch-to-zoom for a more detailed look at the upcoming turns and details, the Garmin DriveAssist 51 is a breeze to use without taking up too much of your attention while you drive.
  • integrated dash cam
  • free lifetime map updates
  • provides helpful driver alerts
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01682-02
Weight 15.2 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

What Exactly Is GPS?

Today, satellites are integral to the smooth operating of almost every industry, but as recently as forty years ago, they were predominantly used by the military. Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which are entirely dependent on satellites, were originally only available to the military, but the government gave the public access to this technology in the 1980s. GPS is made up of 24 satellites that the U.S. Department of Defense put into orbit in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

GPS, as we know it today, is the culmination of several previous systems, many of which suffered from a major issue; weather interference. Today, the satellites in orbit function under any weather conditions. The satellites go around the earth two times a day, following a specific orbit, and send information to GPS receivers on the ground.

Based on the time stamp of when the satellite sent the information, and the moment it arrived at the receiver, the latter knows exactly how far away the satellite is. The receiver then considers the distance measurements sent from the other satellites (it must be in communication with at least three to function properly), and using all of this information, it can locate where the GPS user is. When in contact with three satellites, a GPS is capable of producing a 2D location for a user. When in contact with at least four satellites, it can offer a 3D location, adding in altitude.

After a GPS has determined the receiver's location, it can determine other pieces of data, like the user's speed, the distance to their destination, and their bearing. GPS does all of this by emitting a low power radio signal that can go through glass, plastic and clouds. In terms of frequency interference issues, GPS has few. Its signal cannot, however, travel through very thick solid objects like buildings, which is why users often lose their GPS signal when they drive through tunnels.

What To Look For In A GPS Unit

While original GPS units were designed for military personnel, who are well-versed in jargon relating to longitude, latitude, and other distance markers, newer units are designed with the civilian in mind. Some, for example, use landmarks to help you know when to turn or stop. This addition might be especially helpful for women since studies suggest that they have great visual memory, and are better at navigating a city based on sites than geographical information.

Travel photographers, particularly those who spend time in open nature, can benefit from a GPS unit that attaches to a camera and adds geotags to images. People who go on hikes, camping trips, and other adventures that take them away from luxuries like electrical outlets and Wi-Fi need a unit with a long battery life, so they don't get lost in the wilderness with a dead GPS. Adventurers usually have to carry a lot of gear and can't hold a GPS unit, so they should look for one that can be worn like a watch. If your GPS unit is primarily for outdoor use, make sure it is ruggedly built and water-resistant.

Some GPS units boast a large memory of up to 4 gigabytes, so they can save your maps and routes. One of the top causes of car accidents in America is a distraction from an electric device. If you're purchasing a GPS unit for your car, look for one with a built-in microphone so you can speak your destination to it rather than punch it in with your hands.

The History Of GPS

The first manmade satellite, Sputnik 1, was placed in orbit in 1957 by the Soviet Union. Soon after, two physicists at Johns Hopkin's Applied Physics Laboratory named George Weiffenbach and William Guier realized that, based on the Doppler effect, they were able to determine Sputnik's location. The two were soon given access to one of the first commercial computers, the UNIVAC, so they could further their research on the concept. Weiffenbach and Guier eventually discovered how they could determine the location of the signal receiver, which spurred the creation of Transit, the first satellite-based navigation system.

Transit was originally used by the Navy in the 1960s. It consisted of just five satellites and sent location information to the user every hour. In 1967, the U.S. Navy improved on Transit and it was eventually replaced by Timation, which utilized accurate atomic clocks in space. Timation allowed its users to know what time the satellites sent out information, making it possible to determine a receivers exact location at any time. In 1973, the government started launching a series of 11 satellites that would be the beginning of the NAVSTAR global positioning system.

In 1983, a Korean passenger jet flying from New York City to Seoul, South Korea was shot down by the USSR, after it accidentally veered from its path and strayed too close to their borders. The USSR claimed they believed the plane was on a spy mission. This not only spurred severe anti-Soviet sentiments in the United States but also encouraged the U.S. government to make GPS systems available to civilians. Their hope was that all forms of transportation, from shipping and cargo jets to commuter boats, would be constantly aware of their location, to avoid accidentally moving into restricted areas.

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Last updated on April 28, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.

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