3 Types of Car GPS Systems

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Global Positioning Systems, also known as GPS, were created for military applications but have evolved into something many civilians can’t live without, to help you navigate the streets of almost anywhere in the world. With GPS, when you do go off track, miss a turn or just get turned around, you get the “recalculating” message and know everything will be okay. But if you are on the market for a new GPS system, there are now multiple choices of brands and system types. There are three general GPS categories: in-dash systems, smartphone GPS apps, and standalone handheld GPS devices. All three have their pros and cons, and choosing the best one for you is a matter of knowing what features you value the most.

In-Dash GPS Systems

In many modern cars, in-dash systems are becoming more prevalent. They have expanded from exclusively high-end luxury vehicles to the sedans, SUVs and other vehicles within the average driver’s reach. In GPS, size matters; in-dash systems give you a large, clear picture that allows for a greater variety of extra information and views on screen at the same time, while not detracting from the driving directions. These can include a detailed turn-by-turn list alongside the traditional GPS view of the road ahead pointing out turns, a detailed look ahead at the next upcoming turn, or time and mileage to destination. You don’t have to worry about an incoming call shutting off the navigation, or having the radio turned up too loud and missing a command—the car adjusts all of that automatically because all those systems work together as one. There are, however, some cons. An in-dash GPS system comes preloaded with maps, and depending on the age of your vehicle and the manufacturer in question, you might be limited to only those maps, which, over time, could become outdated. Another big con is that the in-dash GPS can’t be taken with you—you can use it in your own vehicle, but if you are in a friend’s car or a rental, or buy a new vehicle, you lose your GPS, including not just functionality, but all of your saved addresses, points of interest and favorite routes. In-car GPS systems tend to be the most expensive option, as well.

GPS Smartphone Apps

Most people today already have a smartphone of some kind in their pockets right now, giving them access to basic navigation without needing to invest in any additional equipment. One big advantage of smartphone apps (aside from the affordability) is that they offer regularly updated maps. They also tend to have access to the widest range of points of interest, such as restaurants or shops along your route, with information such as reviews and websites along with the address. Smartphone GPS apps are easier to use than ever before, especially as many car manufacturers improve their smartphone integration offerings, but even if you have an older car, this might still be an option for you. There are some considerable disadvantages worth considering, though. If your phone drops out of range or loses service, you might lose navigation. Also, these apps tend to drain a phone’s battery pretty quickly, which can be a problem in older cars without USB ports.

Handheld GPS

A dedicated, handheld system was, for many years, the only choice for those who wanted navigation. They were the original option, first designed for the military, and then opened up for consumer use in the 1980s, and initially very expensive. The price has dropped considerably since then—you can find a decent unit for around $100. The biggest advantage for a dedicated GPS unit over in-dash is the portability. You can take either of them with you when you buy a new car, go with friends or have a rental on vacation, and always have a familiar system to guide you along. A dedicated GPS is designed to do nothing except provide you with navigation, and, in general, is going to have more features and options for personalization. Depending on the make and model of the GPS, a single charge could be enough to get you to your final destination with no issues.

Whatever your choice, GPS has come a long way in the 30 years it has been available, revolutionizing the way people navigate the world. And all three options will continue to evolve, offering new features and points of differentiation along the way.