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Choosing a Handheld GPS


Mount it in the car or put it in your pocket; GPS satellite navigation gets you where you want to go.

Forget the idea that satellite navigation is only for keen hikers or expensive cars; you can get a handheld GPS that's also at home on the dashboard of your car, choose an ultra portable that tracks your heart rate as well as your position or add a Bluetooth GPS to your smart phone. If you haven't looked at GPS since the advent of the first handheld devices that showed only directions and waypoints rather than actual maps, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Today's latest models offer color screens, step-by-step instructions and databases of places and services.

What To Look For

A portable GPS that's mainly designed to use in a car may be in a triangular case to put the screen at a good angle for the driver, such as older TomTom models. These don't need an extra holder when you use them in the car, but they aren't as convenient to carry as the flatter PDA-style handheld devices. There are several units with 3.5" screens, which are large enough to see the map and small enough to carry in your pocket.

For jogging or cycling, look for an extra-small and -light device. Garmin's Forerunner 305 wraps around your wrist like a watch and the antenna is in the strap for better reception. It monitors your heart rate, speed, distance, pace and calories burned, and you can set the time, speed or distance you want to reach in your workout. The Garmin Edge 305 is a little larger-designed to clip onto a bike, it includes a cycle computer. The Garmin Foretrex also fits on your wrist like a bulky watch but has basic navigation rather than exercise tools. These devices track your route rather than planning it and they don't have mapping tools.

A GPS device doesn't have to have maps; the Forefront is a running computer that uses location.

Apart from these exercise devices and the basic units intended for hiking and geo-caching, rather than map navigation, almost all handheld GPS devices have color screens. The larger the screen the more detail you'll see on the map, but that increases the price and the weight, so make sure you can still carry it comfortably. Widescreen devices are also showing up in the channel; their aspect ratio often works better for 3D maps than the portrait screens on early models.

You will use your GPS outside or in the car, so make sure you can see the screen clearly in bright sunlight and at the angle you need. Most handheld units have touch screens; with a smart phone you're more likely to be controlling it from a menu driven by soft keys on the phone. The size of the antenna and battery will also affect the size and weight of the device. If you will mostly use the unit in your car, for example, a car charger is more useful than a big battery.

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