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Who Makes the Best Portable GPS?

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/19/2011

When looking to invest in the best all around portable GPS device you're going to want to know which model is best and what kind of company stands behind its products and services, especially the expandable and updateable mapping capabilities. Read on for very some careful analysis about this.

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    Features and Capabilities that Make a Portable GPS Superlative

    • Waterproof and durable to withstand the elements, and rugged use. Small and lightweight so you can carry it easily in a pocket, pack, or clipped to clothing, and can be operated with just one hand.
    • 12 channels to lock on to the satellites; older models with less are too slow and not accurate enough.
    • WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) enabled – this means your GPS unit will give you up to five times the accuracy because you're linked in with a system of satellites that ensures position accuracy within 10 feet (3 meters) for about 95% of your searching endeavors. Many Garmin models have this technology.
    • Plenty of waypoint storage capacity. Waypoints mark where a geocache is. You can also input them as you go, to easily retrace your steps back. Expandable memory means detailed routes and points of interest for all your far flung travels in the backcountry are right at your finger tips.
    • Removable SD Card for any additional maps you want on it.
    • You want to be able to read the screen easily in direct sun, under heavy clouds, with your shades on, and at night.
    • Long battery life. Easily replaceable and/or rechargeable.
    • Preferably a USB cord compatibility to hook into your computer for downloading data such as maps and cache coordinates from software or online.
    • A built-in compass that works when you’re not moving.
    • Altimeter to know your elevation and to further assist you in acclimating to your surroundings.
    • Mapping capabilities with terrain features included which either come with the unit, or the unit has the capability and storage room to download them off the Web or from software.
    • A powerful external antenna certainly comes in handy when you're under a thick patch of cedars or deep in the canyons walled by either steep rock faces or skyscrapers. It keeps you from losing your lock on those eyes in the distant sky, the GPS satellite systems.
    • A rocker key pad (operates with a wheel similar to an IPod) or touch-screen.
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    Garmin GPS: Superior Performance and Capabilities

    Garmin is the best manufacturer of GPS devices for several reasons. Their products have high customer approval ratings from novices and experts alike. Garmin constantly works to improve their technology whether its hardware, increasing accuracy, memory storage and interchangeability, and most especially maps. For all you need to know about Garmin maps and why their mapping software puts them on top, please read the informative series Garmin Handheld GPS Maps: Basic Overview.

     

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    Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx

    Pros

    • Widely regarded as one of the best all around GPS devices for outdoor enthusiasts.
    • A High-sensitivity GPS receiver and SiRF star III chipset which is received through a helix antenna, locks on to those satellites in heavy tree cover, deep canyons, and heavy cloud cover, with 12 channels.
    • The electronic compass shows you your heading and direction.
    • The barometric altimeter is great for climbers.
    • The IPX7 waterproof (and dustproof) case can even be totally submerged in water, plus there is a quickly accessible button that immediately marks the spot of a “man overboard.”
    • The display screen is large and in color, one of the most easily viewable screens wherever the sun or moon happen to be.
    • It has a roughly 18 hour battery (2 AA) life.
    • Stores up to 1000 waypoints. Plenty of memory (with removable card) to download more maps and you can purchase cards with up to 1 GB of memory for more detailed topographic maps.
    • A blank 64 megabyte (MB) microSD card comes with the 60CSx which enables you to store extra maps from optional MapSource® mapping software. Expandable memory is the way to go.
    • Use the USB cable to hook your device to your computer and you can load map data, cache points, or transfer routes and waypoints.
    • You can buy extra MicroSD cards that are preloaded MapSource maps if you want them. Garmin’s Topo maps are fantastic to have along with you.GPSMAP 60CSx 
    • Hunting/fishing calendar.
    • This unit will cost you roughly $350.

    Cons

    • Navigating through the icons might be difficult for the novice.
    • Micro SD card not as easy to manipulate as a full size SD card.

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    Garmin Colorado 400T

    Pros

    • Large color touch screen or rocker wheel with great visibility even in direct sunlight.
    • Preloaded maps are a backcountry rambler's dream, including national and state parks and forests in all their glory with details on elevation, trails, rivers, lakes, and points of interest.
    • 3D map view option for those detailed topographic maps, to better help orient yourself to your surroundings.
    • SD Card slot.
    • WAAS receiver is extremely sensitive and stays locked on, giving you accurate results in all terrains and in all meteorological conditions.
    • Share waypoints, routes, and geocaches wirelessly with other Colorado users just by pressing a “Send” button.
    • It's got an electric compass, and a barometric altimeter. Colorado® 400t 
    • Battery life of 15 hours.
    • Paperless geocaching.
    • Picture viewer is a cool yet somewhat extraneous feature.
    • Hunting/fishing calendar.
    • Adaptable with add on features for fitness enthusiasts such as a heart monitor.

    Cons

    • Route planning option could be streamlined better.
    • Mastering all the features through the menu requires some time.
    • Expensive. (Roughly $400)