With so many apps and options available to customize your smartphone into a handheld wonder, it may seem like the dedicated GPS devices are being replaced by their smaller multitasking cousins. But are smartphones really better than more traditional GPS devices? We’ll take a look and you can decide.
For the sake of comparison, we will judge both the GPS device and smartphone based on a few basic attributes.
Convenience – Smartphone
Obviously, the smartphone is going to win out on convenience a majority of the time, simply because most people have their phones on them at all times. There is no need to remember to grab your GPS or meddle with stashing it away from car thieves. Smartphones are terribly convenient, and adding GPS to their growing list of things they replace is ridiculously easy for most situations–provided you weren’t planning on using the phone for anything else while navigating.
Battery – Tie
Your dedicated GPS device is probably going to be better with battery because it doesn’t have to save its power for any other functions and will generally last for longer trips. While GPS modes can be turned on and off on most phones to prevent battery drain while you aren’t navigating, when you do run the navigation program it will tax your battery. You can, of course, plug the phone in to counteract this which technically makes it a tie between the two.
Screen – GPS Device
Without a doubt, the GPS Device has the upper hand with screen size. While there are some phones with enormous screens, most phone screens aren’t as large as GPS devices. Most GPS devices have 5 inch screens, making text simple to read while driving. Also, GPS devices have fewer bells and whistles so they tend to be a little sharper as far as appearance. And even for the apps that are equally sharp, the small screen of most phones makes it hard to properly appreciate.
Signal – GPS Device
The clear winner in this category is going to be GPS devices because they use (as the name implies) GPS satellites and can get a signal where no cell phone would dream of succeeding. Most smartphones that have GPS actually still rely on their cell phone network, using what is referred to as AGPS (assisted GPS) meaning they will still fail to acquire a signal in the middle of nowhere. GPS devices do, of course, occasionally run into trouble with heavily foliage creating an obstacle between them and the sky, but nothing is perfect and it does vary from device to device. Overall, your dedicated GPS will have better signal a majority of the time than your phone will.
Accuracy – Tie
Accuracy is a solid tie because while the phones automatically update their maps and can give you realtime updates, it is all dependent on how your service signal is and what app you are using. GPS devices, on the other hand, are completely reliant on your map. If you download an old map, then your directions are going to be wrong, plain and simple. Most GPS devices now come with free lifetime map updates, but they don’t all update automatically so you may not realize until too late that your map is wrong. All in all, this category is entirely too situational to really have a clear winner.
Simplicity – GPS Device
While it may seem that smartphones should win this tie because most people are already familiar with their usage, navigating with a tiny screen while driving is anything but simple. GPS device are designed to be used while driving, so the letters are often larger and easier to read. In addition, the microphones for your GPS device often will be louder or will easily sync into your car speakers so you can hear over road noise. So, as far as operating while driving, the GPS hands-down beats a smartphone and is safer to boot.
Cost – Tie
When they first came out, GPS devices were easily in the $500 range and you had to pay a monthly fee for the service PLUS pay money for additional maps. Nowadays GPS devices are more affordable than ever–in part because of the stiff competition from GPS apps and smartphones–and you can purchase a simple one for around $100 and many come with lifetime map updates. Smartphones, on the other hand, have risen steeply in cost in the last few years and, while most people already own a smartphone, the navigation and map apps and necessary mounting equipment can quickly add up to easily equal the price of a cheaper GPS device. For this reason, they are probably tied.
Based on these categories, the GPS device clearly is more suited to navigation than your smartphone because of its larger size, simplicity to read while navigating and reliable signal. However, the smartphone is incredibly convenient for simple, short trips–especially if you have a passenger to operate the phone. Ultimately, it will depend on how you use your device and your own personal preferences.