8 Best GPS Units | April 2017

8 Best GPS Units
Best Mid-Range
★★★
Best High-End
★★★★
Best Inexpensive
★★★
We spent 31 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. Skip to the best gps unit on Amazon.
8
The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc is designed for marine applications and allows for worldwide chart plotting, so if you are a blue water sailor, this is the handheld model for you. It floats, too, just in case you accidentally drop it in the water.
  • lists depth contours and marinas
  • man overboard button
  • screen size is small
Brand Garmin
Model 010-00864-02
Weight 12 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0
7
The Polar M400 GPS Watch is completely waterproof and comes with a 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.
  • tracks your running cadence
  • access to free training routines
  • two independent interval timers
Brand Polar
Model 90051339-Parent
Weight pending
Rating 4.0 / 5.0
6
Offering 4GB of internal memory space, 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
5
With interval position tracking and the ability to add geotags to your images, the Pentax O-GPS1 is 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 a nifty 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 4.0 / 5.0
4
Whether you're a triathlete, skier, geologist, or a mountain climber, the fully-featured Garmin Fenix 3 has got you covered. It features an altimeter, a barometer, and a compass, so you can plan for altitude, weather, and topography, and it will track all of your vitals.
  • waterproof to 300 feet deep
  • customizable face
  • has a golf mode
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01338-70
Weight 12.3 ounces
Rating 3.9 / 5.0
3
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 and landscape views
  • 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
2
If you need an affordable unit for in-car use, the TomTom Via 1515TM fits the bill. It offers a split-screen display so you can see your path and the next upcoming junction at the same time, and it receives daily updates regarding detours and speed limits.
  • free map updates for life
  • covers all of north america
  • very accurate travel time estimates
Brand TomTom
Model 1EN5.019.11
Weight 1.1 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0
1
The Garmin Oregon 650t has a bright, full color, 3.5-inch, multi-touch 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

Buyer's Guide

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 10, 2017 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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