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Christmas Cheer Hardware

Recommended GPS Receivers? 54

vergere asks: "Christmas has come and gone and I've got the go-ahead from the SO to make one of those big once-a-year electronic purchases. I've decided to get a handheld GPS receiver, so I'd like to draw on the collective knowledge of Slashdot and ask for recommendations. I'd like a good set of features (nothing too basic) and mapping capability - the more bells and whistles I can get for my budget of $350 the better. I'm currently looking at the Garmin GPSMAP 76S - any user experiences with this particular model would be welcomed."
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Recommended GPS Receivers?

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  • including the most important - the ability to download data. I would see the floating part demonstrated as well as the waterproof before I trusted it however.

    As for accuracy, any GPS can be affected by how fast you walk vs how fast it updates, so it takes a little practice.
  • OnStar (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    why not just hack an OnStar []?
  • by jcwren ( 166164 ) on Friday December 26, 2003 @05:53PM (#7814584) Homepage

    I've not checked every possible nook and cranny on the 'net, but [] has the cheapest price I've managed to find anywhere.


  • Garmin GPS V (Score:3, Informative)

    by jaredmauch ( 633928 ) <> on Friday December 26, 2003 @05:56PM (#7814595) Homepage
    I have two of these. Work quite well, only problem is you periodically have to complain to them about map quality. Get the Deluxe package, it'll cost you about $400 last time I got one. Excellent handheld and Car (auto-routing built in, no need to calculate routes offline) use.

    I also have the US topo map CDs and have used them for hiking as well. These are accurate as they are provided by the USGS and not their other map vendor (Navtech).

    The 4.01 North America City Select fixed a lot of the accuracy issues, but be prepared to pay $120 every year or so for updated maps if you are going to want them.

  • by Exocet ( 3998 ) on Friday December 26, 2003 @06:00PM (#7814615) Homepage Journal
    I've had a GPS receiver with mapping and one with out. My current GPS, the Garmin eTrex Summit has all the basic GPS features plus fine-grain elevation-related information.

    I've found that I don't miss the mapping capabilities because now I simply plug the GPS via a serial cable into the available nine pin com port on my laptop. I use Streets and Trips from MS and USA PhotoMaps for down to 1 meter photo views. I plug the GPS in when I'm stumbling for wireless AP's, too.

    I occasionally use the GPS while Geocaching and while snowshoe hiking. Again, both hobbies don't really need/make use of the maps. I simply set a waypoint for the car before I leave and, if necessary, I can use the backtrack function to find my way back. Otherwise, you just walk towards the waypoint you made.

    MS's S&T is about $30, USAPhotoMaps is either free or there is a small donation requested. A Garmin eTrex Summit GPS is $180-190 (via Streets and Trips will outstrip the maps on the GPS by FAR, assuming you already have a laptop and won't have to suffer that additional expense.

    Otherwise, the eTrex Legend has mapping capabilities and is $160 at Wal-Mart and has mapping capabilities. No need to spend the full $350! The eTrex line is nice, IMO. A friend of mine has the basic yellow eTrex and we've used it (and my Summit) on the water, in the cold (snow), heat, etc. They've both been banged around a bit and haven't suffered at all from our adventures.
    • I think this is a good question - do you really need internal maps?

      Many years ago, I bought a Garmin GPS 12XL. Excellent receiver performance, built in LCD shows breadcrumb trail, waypoints, etc. No road maps, etc. When I want those I connect it to my PC.

      When it came time to replace it, I looked around at all the fancy new features, maps, and all. What did I buy? Another Garmin 12XL. Fits in my shirt pocket, now has US city database.

      Can be had for less than $200.

      • The Garmin 12XL is an excelent unit, I picked one up for my dad a few years ago. (gift from my mom to him, I picked the unit). It has been excelent.

        I have the GPS 48; basicly the marine version of the 12XL; different antena hookup, and has additional navigation aids. It has worked well in the time I have had it, although the internal battery is toast. I sent garmin email and they confirmed that it is still covered. They expect the internal battery to last a lot longer than it did, so even though the warant
        • THAT is what i call customer service.
          You got my attention. For these fragile, non-hackable little gadgets, good customer service is worth more than any number of features.
      • At the risk of posting a "me too" comment...

        Yes, the Garmin GPS 12XL is a fantastic unit. I've used one since 1998 for work purposes and have absolutely no complaints. Like Alrescha, this is my second unit (the first one was stolen from my truck) and I had no qualms about getting another. The latest revision of the 12XL (circa 2001, I believe) added several new features such as track area calculations, a power-saving mode, higher-capacity battery, and others.

        I must say that it is a definite improve
  • I've owned both of these units and I've found the Magellan to be a better buy:

    • Etrex Venture []
    • Pro: Small, lightweight
    • Pro: Easy to use
    • Con: Does not work indoors
    • Con: Put it in your pocket or walk under tree cover, *poof*, no more signal.
    • Con: Almost too small of a display to read.
    • Con: Joystick can be fragile.

    • Magellan Meridian Platinum []
    • Pro: Can insert MMC cards to store maps, uncluding roads and topo maps
    • Pro: Works indoors to some degree and works very well under treecover and in your pocket/backpack.
    • Con: A bit larger/bulkier to carry around.
    • Pro: Comes with an initial U.S. Map installed.
    • Con: Doesn't have a neat "range ring" based on your satellite reception.

    YMMV, but those are my observations. My father got an ETrex for Christmas from someone this year, and I told him not to even open the package, return it and get the Meridian. The Etrex's patch antennae works for sh*t in my experience.

    Also be sure to check the forums over on [] -- this subject has been talked to death there.

    • check the forums, but just FYI...

      in my experience the Magellan v. Garmin is a low key religious war... Not unlike the choice between certain operating systems. They do things differently, but they both will get the job done. Personally I find that the Garmin interface is a bit more natural to me, but it is religion not science. Play with the particular model you want... interface is everything.
    • Almost forgot. Another huge pro of the Magellan unit is that it has a compass that works regardless of satellite coverage. Turn it on and you can use the compass right away.

      The Garmin unit (at least the Venture and those below it) has a sort-of compass that only works if you have satellite coverage and are moving.

      • Some of the eTrex models have a true magnetic compass capability. I have an old Garmin GPS III. My only real gripe is that while geocaching, it sucks to try and get a bearing while standing still (can't be done) or moving slowly (painful at best).

        BTW, do any eTrex owners know if the mag compass funciton does automatic drift correction (or whatever it's called -- the magnetic bearing offset that's provided on topo maps)?

        • BTW, do any eTrex owners know if the mag compass funciton does automatic drift correction (or whatever it's called -- the magnetic bearing offset that's provided on topo maps)?

          You are talking about magnetic variation. In Garmin units you can set the display to read True Heading or Magnetic Heading. The variation is computed by the unit based on your lat/long and its magnetic model. I think you can override its computed setting and set your own however.

          Your topo maps have another north line on

  • by nocomment ( 239368 ) on Friday December 26, 2003 @06:16PM (#7814675) Homepage Journal
    How well does it work indoors (if it works indoors it works under wet trees with cloud cover)
    if you fish then floating might be neat
    Does it give you a bearing if you are standing still? This could be soved with a simple compass but still, it's nice to have embedded in the device. Maps are nice, does it have pluggable modules?
    Also, if you are going to be in the woods, like say geocaching with buddies, it's nice to have one with the built-in two way radio.
    • Having a unit work indoors doesn't tell you ifit will work in tree cover; it might be a good hint but I wouldn't trust that.

      Trees contain, or hold a lot of water and that is what will generally kill the signal.
      • I agree completely. My point is, you have a better chance of it working in poor weather under a forest canopy if it will work inside a house, without a clear line of sight to the sky. Of course it depends on many things, how well the roof is built using what materials for houses, and how wet and dense/how many layers in the canopy, and how thick and wet the clouds are.
        If it doesn't say "Works INDOORS!" chances are good that it will lose connection when it's in your pocket. That's all I'm saying.
  • I have one - like it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Foredecker ( 161844 ) on Friday December 26, 2003 @07:19PM (#7814963) Homepage Journal
    I have a Garmin GPS Map 76S. I've used it to navigate cross from Biscayne Bay FL to Bimini Bahamas and surrounds. A GPS with WAAS is dead nuts accurate. I took marks on my way out and navigated my way back too them on the way back. In every instance, the 76S was spot on. All my marks were verifiable by simple ded reckoning.

    I've also used in the colorado mountains and in Puget Sound. Accurate in all cases. By accurate I mean that all marks and the electronic maps matched up with paper maps using simple ded reckoning or orienteering techniques.

    Other notes:

    The 76S will run about 8 hours reliable on a set of AA batteries - be sure to keep one new set of batteries in reserve for emergencies. It will run only 4 to 6 hours on rechargable batteries.

    The unit does float :)

    The on-screen mapping function is usefull, but you must scroll frequently. Be sure to take paper charts/maps with you.

    The UI is easy and relativly intuitive to use. I found no mamor problems.

    The tide table feature is really usefull! It always matched the navigation softare I use on my laptop.

    The unit works well with the various laptop based navigation and mapping software I've used including The Captain and Microsoft Mappoint.

    The Garmin downloadable maps work well and are worth the cost, but don't expect a lot of detail for the Marine (Blue Chart) maps - the do a good job of augmenting good paper charts, but never rely on them by them selves.

    Note that with the 76S you are paying for three tings: 1) more flash memor 2) a barometic altimiter, 3) a magnetic compas. Here are some notes regarding each:

    The flash memory holds a LOT of map information, way points and tracks. You probably really don't need the ammount of memory in the 76S.

    I've never used the barometric altimeter - it must be calibrated and this is a pain. Do you really need it?

    The magnetic compas is the relativly usefull and seemed to always be accurate enough. However, it is no substitute for a god hand held compas or a ships compass.

    All in all, I've been very happy with my Garmin.
    • Having never seen this term in print before I decided to look it up. [] reckons it's probably dead.
      • Both are generaly accpted as correct. The use of "dead" is more modern and a natural simplification of the term. However, the use of the term 'ded' is common in navigation texts such as Bowditch's American Practical Navigator (quoted in Straight Dope's article).

        E.g. neither is more correct than the other though I general find that people who are versed in the art of navigation often use the term 'ded'.

        Also note the assertion by the Straight Dop questionier that "dead reckoning refers to a primitive for
    • You don't need WAAS for that sort of accuracy. I have a Garmin GPSMAP195, and after they turned off Selective Availability a few years ago, I can look at my ground track after a flight and tell that I took off from the centerline but landed to the left or right of centerline.

      With a good unobstructed view of the sky, tracking 10 sats, I see Estimated Probable Error values approaching 4-5 feet. Tell me you need more accuracy than that in a hiking GPS?

    • I got a Garmin 76s for my birthday about a month ago. It does have about every feature with plenty of RAM for maps and waypoints. The only complaint I have (I don't know how it it is on other units) is that it compains if I am not holding it level with any of the applications that use the magnetic compass. Obviously this is expected, except when i use it in my car and can't hold it level and lean over the display. I'd like to be able to hold it againt my steering wheel and get a heading, but alas, it'll
  • GPS units (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tandoori Haggis ( 662404 ) on Friday December 26, 2003 @07:48PM (#7815062)
    Another contender is the Silva Navigator.
    This unit features GPS, barometer and electronic compass. Check the description and tech spec at

    Battery life with the suggested strategy is perfectly adequate for 2 weeks from to AA cells.

    Note the low minimum operating temperatute.

    Built in maps sound like a nice idea but some units have functions specific to certain areas only(North America) which you pay for. Some places you might visit may not be that well served by maps.

    Personally I'd either go for this or one of the Magellan GPS receivers.

    Good luck.
  • I've been issued a Rino 120 at work, and I've been really happy with it's features. It has built-in mapping (not especially detailed, but it does have almost all cities, interstate, and primary highways. It is also gaining support from the freeware GPS software writers.

    It includes WAAS support for ~10ft accuracy (or so it says), and even if you don't need the FRS radio now, you'll come up with uses for it.

    Garmin's information page for it is here [] It also comes with an RS-232 cable, and can stre
  • Another thing to consider are GPS "mice", so named because they're about the size of a mouse. I bought mine for $99. The one I have is here: [].

    It works great with Street Atlas, is weatherproof, and has a magnetic back. No display, no internal maps, in fact nothing but a USB cord and one blinkenlight. But if you're just going to hook it up to a laptop, this is what you want.

    Garmin and Trimble make similar ones - look under their OEM/sensor sections.

  • The 76S has been in my hot little hand for a while now, and I did a fairly indepth write up on it here []. As others have said, the eTrex is alright but far too basic for you. I recommend the 76S, it's a great receiver if slightly lacking in battery life. HTH.(and the opportunity for self-pimpage is welcomed :))
  • Garmin 60CS (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tricot ( 12160 ) on Friday December 26, 2003 @10:39PM (#7815539)
    If you can wait for about 2 months, then a new one coming out in a month may be a better option:
    The Garmin 60CS [] has the same features as the 76S, but also has:
    • Color screen
    • USB interface (map uploads are VERY slow over a serial interface)
    • 56Meg of map memory (vs 24 for the 76S)
    • Longer battery life
    • Auto-routing with appropriate maps

    It looks like a sweet little unit. If I hadn't bought a GPS V 6 months ago, I'd seriously consider getting one myself.

    -- Mitch

  • How about a CompactFlash GPS module (about $100+ from places like and a PDA (which you might already have). This and one of several available mapping applications will make for an excellent GPS unit, in-car navigation system and of course, it'll still serve as a PDA.

    CF GPS unit may even work in a laptop with a PCMCIA->CF adapter.
  • It took a bit to get used to the interface, after owning a garmin etrex (the yellow one) I'm REALLY impressed by the performace of the meridian platinum. It works inside my duplex, which no other unit has done. The antenna in it is a superb design. The lame part is that there is no external antenna port. The built in maps can be helpful for road trips, but they're mostly useless. I've got the software for it, but I've yet to pick up a sd card to upload stuff to. The etrex fits your hand nicely, but mine
  • Magellan has some new "Traveler" kits out recently. They bundle various meridians with a memory card, mount, routing software, etc.

    Amazon had the color traveler kit for about 450$ when i looked a couple weeks ago. Theres also a gold traveler kit (non-color lcd) thats cheaper.

    That would be the route i would go if you want to do any vehicle navigation.
    1. Drop test. Onto cement or concrete. From a decent height (say, over your head, at minimum)
    2. Float test. Be sure that its waterproof and floats.
    3. Bright color. Yes, yellow is kind of ugly. See the first two points above, and you'll be glad of this.
    4. Mapping capability. Not quite as important, depends on your interests and needs.
    5. Data transfer capability. See where you went and how long it took you... Not quite as important, depends on your interests and needs.
  • The big question is, do you want turn by turn directions? If so look at the Garmin GPS V. I have that one and it's great. You can take it out of the car and carry it with you or leave it mounted. If you don't need that then the 76S is very good and was my choice had I not needed turn-by-turn.
  • First of all, you should buy a GSPr with built-in mapping. Even for simple A->B uses (like geocaching []), having a built-in map is invaluable. For example, a non-mapping GPSr will tell you that point B is 1.5 miles straight ahead. A mapping GPSr will show you that there is a stream and steep canyon straight ahead, and going a less direct route will be much easier. The only downside is cost - a mapping GPSr will cost about $100 more than a non-mapping model, and if you want detailed maps, you'll need ad
  • I have one of these and am very pleased with it. I use mine for everything from mapping to geocaching. I has plenty of memory to store MapSource data (Garmin's maps), is very accurate (down to 2yds at times), and is completely water proof. It also has the added bonus of a barometer and magnetic compass. However, it is most definantly a power hog. Cheap batteries won't even power it with all the features turned on and some of the fonts are a little small. But for the money it is a great buy.
  • Since Selective Availability has come to an end. Does differentially corrected GPS (differential GPS or simply DGPS) provide any more of an accurate position then just plain GPS? In the area I live in I have access to two U.S. Navy DGPS signals. What kind of accuracy can one expect from GPS and DGPS now days? Do the nicer units provided more accuracy possibly due to better timers/clock generators? Where should I look for a highly accurate display-less unit for connection to a laptop/embedded system? A
    • by Anonymous Coward
      WAAS has eliminated the need for DGPS in alot of cases. You can get WAAS built in, where almost every DGPS I have seen is an add-on unit that uses a data cable. Even with SA turned off, the DGPS on my boat is much more accurate, about 3 feet in most cases, which is a must for the wreck fishing and diving we do.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      DGPS is always better because you have one more reference point. There are GPS units with an accuracy of within one meter, which are meant for vehicles. If you are interested in these types of receivers, StarLink is one company that produces and sells them. For surveying, GPS has a few problems with determining the altitude, which is corrected by setting up your own correctional transmitter on site. However, these systems are expensive.
  • i got a magellan 315 of $150 and it has yet to not do anything i've wanted ti to so far. and if there is something it cant do i just hook it to my laptop (you know you wanna do this geek boy) and with the right software, can do anything. if you want advanced mapping features you need to go to something else for that, the handheld units just arn't that great for it. while i havent used all the units out there, the ones i have just dont have the map detail for doing anything off road, like hiking for off ro
  • This is in the same generation (I think)
    as Garmin 12XL, but has a triangular form,
    viewed from the end, so - in a vehicle -
    it sits nicely on a dashboard (preferably
    on top of a layer of 'blue-tack' as a shock-
    absorbing stabilizer)

    Screen ROTATES 90 deg's at the push of a
    button, so you can view it when standing
    on an end or when setting on the dash.

    But... hey! Why aren't we just
    sending people off to the USENET newsgroup:

    sci.geo.satellite.navigation ...where this question is more than
    adequately answered, ev
  • I have a Garmin GPS12 and it suits me fine. You can pick them up in the UK for under 100 (~$250).
    This, like most handheld GPS units, has a serial port that you can use to interface the unit to a PDA (I have personally connected mine to a Handspring Visor, again, a very cheap option) or a laptop. There is some excellent freeware out there that will let you do all kinds of stuff that the device doesn't natively support e.g. tracking altitude.

    I use my GPS for dicking around with when out hiking but I mainly k
  • I upgraded from the basic Garmin eTrex (aka "Old Yeller") to the Vista model 6 months ago, and it's 100 times better than I expected. I started using my GPS receivers for geocaching [] and expected the Vista to be an improvement, which it was. However, I use it more frequently when I drive to a new place. With the Mapsource software (about $90 online) I can pretty quickly set up a route from point A to B and it's completely accurate on the road. In fact, it's so accurate that I rarely need to consult a copy of
  • No-one seems to have mentioned them yet, but its well worth looking at the Garmin iQue 3600 PDA which has inbuilt GPS and which also supports Differential GPS.

    The iQue comes with street level detailed maps of the US (or Europe depending on where you buy), voice-prompt navigation and routing, and you get the bonus of an MP3 player and a PalmOS PDA built in - handy if you need to justify your purchase to the other half<g>

    They are a little outside of your budget if you only want to buy brand new (a
  • I use the eTrex Legend and I'm quite happy with it. The mapping software that is available is top notch, but expensive (around $100 per CD) The one real drawback that I have with it, is it won't work indoors, or under moderate tree cover. It's quite easy to use, and is chock-full of good features. Combined with a laptop, it's extremely poerful and useful on long trips. If you want to use it for hiking, make sure you are not going to be too heavily covered by foliage. The range circle is a nice feature

I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best. -- Oscar Wilde