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The smartphone has replaced a growing number of standalone devices Have Smartphones Rendered Everything Obsolete? [We Ask You] Have Smartphones Rendered Everything Obsolete? [We Ask You] Point and shoot cameras, MP3 players, alarm clocks, GPS systems, and wristwatches – all replaced. What's next? Read More : the iPod, the alarm clock, the compact camera. And, the satellite navigation device. With GPS and maps built into literally every smartphone, there’s no obvious need to buy a dedicated GPS device anymore. Or is there?

Is there still a good reason to buy a dedicated in-car sat nav, or a handheld GPS for outdoor use? Let’s take a look.

The In-Car Sat Nav

Every modern smartphone has GPS capability 6 Technologies That Will Change How You Use Your Smartphone 6 Technologies That Will Change How You Use Your Smartphone What will our phones look like in five years? Let's talk about the exciting technologies that could change the way we use our phones in the near future. Read More that works just as well as that of a dedicated device. In fact, in some cases they may actually get a faster fix on your location since smartphones are able to use cell tower triangulation to augment the GPS technology.

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Mapping

Smartphones come with a full mapping package pre-installed. Both Google Maps and Apple Maps Is Apple Maps a Reliable Navigator Yet? Is Apple Maps a Reliable Navigator Yet? After replacing Google's navigation, Apple Maps endured a rocky start, heaps of criticism and some very funny jokes – but has all been forgiven? Read More are mostly reliant on having an Internet connection to download maps as you go. If you’re in an area of poor coverage, or traveling overseas, this isn’t always available.

An update to Google Maps later this year will bring more comprehensive offline support Google Maps on Android: Everything You Need to Know Google Maps on Android: Everything You Need to Know Does Google Maps on your Android device feel a bit daunting? We've got you covered. Here's everything you need to know about using Google Maps on Android. Read More , while Nokia’s HERE Maps — in the process of being bought by BMW, Audi and Mercedes — already offers full, downloadable worldwide maps for free on every smartphone platform.

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Offline coverage is preferable, since it ensures your sat nav system won’t stop working the moment you drive into a tunnel, but they do consume space on your device. In HERE Maps, the whole of the USA requires more than 4.5GB of storage, with individual states averaging between 200MB and 500MB each.

This is one of the few areas where a dedicated device wins out. Many users won’t want, or be able to, afford so much of their limited smartphone space Low on Storage? Save Space on Android With Great Apps Under 10 Megabytes Low on Storage? Save Space on Android With Great Apps Under 10 Megabytes Running low on storage space on your phone or tablet? These tiny apps should be able to remedy that! Read More to maps. With a dedicated sat nav, you have no such concerns; with many manufacturers offering lifetime map updates, they’ll stay up to date too.

Ease of Use

The other area where the specialist system wins out is that they’re physically designed to be used in cars. They come with windshield mounts Mount Your Smartphone to Almost Any Car for Just $19.99 Mount Your Smartphone to Almost Any Car for Just $19.99 Can you think of a reason you might want to mount a smartphone in your car? Get an awesome mount for 33% off from MakeUseOf Deals right now! Read More and battery chargers (you’ll need to buy each of these for your smartphone), and have speakers that can be heard over engine and traffic noise. The speakers on many smartphones are simply not up to this task.

tomtom iphone

If yours isn’t, then Bluetooth audio is an option if your car stereo supports it. Otherwise, you’ll need an adapter, or mount with built-in speakers.

Sat nav devices used to have better interfaces for in-car use, designed to be understood, and prodded, at a glance. It’s not quite so true now. There are many apps that switch your smartphone into car mode The 5 Best Dashboard Car Mode Apps For Android Compared The 5 Best Dashboard Car Mode Apps For Android Compared Want a safe way to use your Android smartphone while driving? These car mode apps make it easy. Read More , and smartphone screens are also generally larger and higher resolution than those on dedicated satnavs.

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The emergence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto What Is Android Auto And How Can You Get It? What Is Android Auto And How Can You Get It? Android Auto generated a lot of buzz at CES this year, but what exactly is it and how can you get your hands on it? Let's examine it. Read More will only help cement the role of the smartphone in the car.

Live Traffic and Other Features

Beyond this, the benefits of a dedicated sat nav over a smartphone can be chalked off one by one.

The free Google, Apple, and Nokia apps are a good starting point, covering all the basics such as 3D routing, live re-routing and comprehensive points of interest (including speed cameras).

If you want something more advanced then the paid TomTom and Garmin apps give you virtually the same software that you get in one of their devices. This includes features like multi-point routing and lane guidance.

traffic

Moreover, live traffic information is included as standard in all of these apps, and extras such as real-time gas prices are common too. They require an Internet connection, so to get them on a dedicated sat nav you need to connect it up to your smartphone anyway.

With all this in mind, sat nav makers are exploring new features to add to their products. An example is the Garmin NuviCam, which incorporates a dash cam into the device. Even so, smartphones have already got it covered 3 Dash Cam Apps For Android, Compared: Which One Can Protect You Best? 3 Dash Cam Apps For Android, Compared: Which One Can Protect You Best? Should you spend a few hundred dollars on a stand-alone dash cam or should you use the camera and GPS device you already have - your Android smartphone? Let's find out. Read More .

Garmin NuviCam LMTHD 6-Inch Navigator Garmin NuviCam LMTHD 6-Inch Navigator Built-in dash Cam -Continuously records your drive and automatically saves files on impact; GPS records where and when events occurred Buy Now At Amazon $309.00

The Case for a Dedicated Sat Nav

It’s hard to argue the advantages for the dedicated sat nav these days. Apart from a few small areas, the smartphone is at least as good, if not better.

If you’re a professional driver, you might prefer to have a device you can just leave in the car. Everyone else, though, will find that what they’ve already got does the job well enough.

The Handheld GPS

The other most common type of navigation device is the handheld GPS. Used for hiking, cycling, geocaching, or any other outdoor pursuit, it is also based on technology that has been subsumed by the smartphone.

handheld gps

Yet it also has a different set of strengths that the smartphone is less adept at competing with.

Tougher and Longer Lasting

Handheld GPS devices are used outdoors, in a variety of weather conditions and terrains, and far away from a convenient charging point. This is well outside the comfort zone of most smartphones.

You can get a rugged case 6 Great Cases For The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus 6 Great Cases For The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus There is a huge range of cases available for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, covering just about every usage scenario you can come up with. Here are six of them. Read More , such as an Otterbox, for your iPhone or Android phone, to protect it against the elements. External charging packs can also give your phone an extra boost of power when it is needed. Both of these solutions add considerable bulk and turn the pocket-sized device into something altogether more unwieldy.

etrex 20x

Handheld GPS devices, on the other hand, are far more rugged and have much better battery life. A typical mid-range device like the Garmin eTrex 20x, for instance, is waterproof and dustproof, and provides up to 25 hours of battery life. And it runs on AA batteries, so they can be swapped out easily when you need to.

Garmin eTrex 20x Garmin eTrex 20x UPGRADED DISPLAY - Features a 2.2" 65K color sunglight readable display offering increased resolution (240 x 320 pixels) Buy Now At Amazon $164.93

If you’re well off the beaten track, the last thing you want is for you phone’s battery to die just when you need it the most.

Other Features

Handheld GPS devices are also able to incorporate niche elements that the userbase requires in a way that smartphones cannot. Their screens are designed to be more easily viewed outdoors, button-based models are usable while wearing gloves, and hardware features such as a compass or altimeter are often built in.

The iPhone has an electronic compass The 5 Best iPhone Compass Apps The 5 Best iPhone Compass Apps Read More , as do some high-end Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6, but mid-range and lower smartphones tend not to.

Mapping and Software

On the side of the smartphones you’ve got a larger, higher resolution display, faster performance and a built-in camera.

There’s also a greater range of maps, not limited to the first-party options that handheld devices use. As with the in-car systems, these will eat into your available storage. Offline mapping is not really an option when you’ll frequently be using it in areas with no network coverage.

viewranger

Some outdoor mapping products, such as ViewRanger GPS, can share basic routing and other info to an Apple Watch or Android Wear smartwatch, while your phone stays safely in your pocket.

Otherwise, the basic functionality is the same across the two types of device. Key features you’ll need such as routing, waypoints, and support for GPX files (the standard format for GPS data) are present in both.

The Case for a Handheld GPS

A handheld GPS is a much more specialist device than an in-car system. As a result, it has certain requirements that a smartphone cannot yet provide.

If you’re just taking the dog for a walk in a nearby forest, then your smartphone and Google Maps (with cached maps for offline use) will ensure you don’t get lost.

But for more serious use, whether hiking, cycling, or even playing golf, then the added toughness and superior battery life make a handheld GPS device the right choice.

We want to hear your thoughts on GPS devices. Do you still use a dedicated in-car satnav system? Have you ever taken your iPhone on a hike? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Image credits: TomTom Go 500 via tomtom.com, TomTom iPhone via tomtom.com, Handheld GPS via Darron Birgenheier, eTrex 20x via garmin.com, Viewranger via viewranger.com

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