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How Well Does a Cell Phone GPS Work?

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/30/2009

Before too long, cell phones will have an application to double as the kitchen sink. Until then, let us explore how well cell phones with activated GPS work and compare them to the conventional, dedicated GPS devices.

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    Cell Phones and GPS

    Most cell phones have GPS receiving capabilities of varying degrees installed to locate a user in the case of an emergency. This article pertains to cell phones that have full-featured GPS capabilities. These phones can be used for navigating, giving you turn-by-turn directions to the destinations you command it to find. How does GPS on a cell phone work? It informs you exactly where you are by tracking you through a combination of cell phone tower triangulation and the numerous satellites out in space designed for tracking and directing human progress through the receiver in the phone.

    Major carriers that have the GPS capabilities include Verizon, Sprint, Blackberry, and AT&T. Because a GPS phone must be enabled to work as a receiver, the calling plan must support the transmission of maps over the wires to your phone model. Verizon customers have Verizon VZ Navigator software to activate their phone's GPS while Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile use Telenav's GPS Navigator. Of course, the iPhone can work in this capacity as well as many Motorollas, LGs, and Blackberrys.

    GPS phones work very well for turn-by-turn directions on highways, roads, and cities wherever you get coverage and in some cases, just by satellite. They work just as well as a dedicated GPS for this purpose offering voice commands and visual mapping on the screen. A tremendous advantage is all of the additional features, communication abilities, and web-access you also have apart from GPS locating on one of these multi-faceted cell phones.

    You enable your cell phone for this capability by downloading GPS software and the maps you want or buying the service package from your carrier whereby you get access to all that information wirelessly (which is the way to go). Looking at things from the opposite direction, GPS cell phones are great to locate someone who has one remotely, such as a kid or an employee, if you want to track a cell phone on a GPS.

    Since the GPS information on cell phones are updated at the server which is constantly sending that data to your phone, you will get the latest and most accurate information about traffic, detours, Points of Interest (POIs), and businesses you want to find that is available. That makes it an extremely effective GPS choice in which you don’t have to worry about downloading software yourself.

    The disadvantage is certainly the small screen which is difficult to view when driving. A standard GPS has a bigger screen for reading convenience. Also, your higher end dedicated GPS devices will be more accurate (if you’re using it for something like Geocaching) because that is what they’re designed for primarily. But a cell phone and this service will be cheaper for you.

    Be sure to refer to an article entitled “Using a GPS Phone for your Hiking Trips?” to learn how these particular type of phones work in more remote areas off the beaten path. If that is something you’re interested in, you’ll be given the information and resources you need to bring it on a hiking expedition with you.