Is Standalone GPS Obsolete?

Category: Gadgets

I'm thinking about buying a GPS for my car. But my smartphone already has Google Maps and it's free. What are the pros and cons of standalone GPS units?

Should You Buy a GPS?

Virtually every smartphone, tablet, and even the iPod Touch can access GPS mapping applications. Even so-called "feature phones" have GPS chips built in. So is it time to bid farewell to standalone GPS units?

It certainly looks like it. Consider the Garmin nuvi 1300 standalone GPS unit: list price, $250; on sale at for only $99.88, with free shipping. You don't see discounts like that on thriving products! Even more telling, Amazon will give you this GPS unit for free if you buy a $100 audiobooks subscription, which you can pay for at the rate of $14.95 per month.

On a broader scale, Garmin reported a 31 per cent decline in sales during the 2010 holiday season versus the previous year. Competitor TomTom saw its 2010 profits squeezed by over 40 per cent, and even the president's "upbeat" quarterly report predicted "flat" revenues in 2011. It's been two years since I wrote Why I Hate My TomTom GPS and my opinion hasn't changed. Clearly, things are looking dim for standalone GPS unit manufacturers.
Smartphone GPS Mapping

One of the biggest drawbacks of standalone GPS is its reliance on offline map databases. When you buy a standalone GPS it comes loaded with a current map database. Over time, new construction makes the map database obsolete. And then there's the "points of interest" (POI) problem. Have you ever searched for a gas station, restaurant or business that you KNOW is located in a certain town, but the GPS just can't find it? That's probably because the POI database that came with your GPS is woefully out of date. GPS manufacturers have reaped profits in the past by selling updated map and POI databases for upwards of $50 apiece. But now, Google Maps provides constantly updated mapping data via 3G and 4G mobile devices. For free.

But Wait, There's Less!

The one-function nature of standalone GPS makes it uncompetitive against smartphones that can do so much more. Even feature phones, the cheapest on the market, are crowding standalone GPS on price and performance. Verizon Wireless is adding the GPS apps AllSport GPS, Geocache Navigator and Trimble Outdoors to feature phone models like the Samsung Alias 2, the Samsung Convoy and the Nokia 7705 Twist. Nokia is including its voice-guided GPS app, Nokia Maps, to $40 feature phones.

Specialized standalone GPS units designed for marine and aviation applications have held their own. But that may change as the FAA has recently approved iPad-based flight navigation systems. Either an iPad or a GPS unit with appropriate software beats hauling 35 pounds of flight charts in a briefcase.

Standalone GPS units still have a few advantages over phones, of course. With all of their mapping data on board, they don't need cellular reception to function. Some models are larger and easier to read than any phone, although tablets are hard to beat. A standalone GPS unit can be very rugged to accommodate backwoods hikers, kayakers, and other thrill seekers. But overall, no one seems to hold much hope for standalone GPS.

Will you buy a GPS, or rely on your phone or other mobile device? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is Standalone GPS Obsolete?"

Posted by:

Steve Bell
19 Jul 2011

Saw a stand alone at CostCo that was reasonably priced ($140) and had automatic map updating. And a decent sized screen.
If I didn't already have a built in I would have grabbed it quickly...


Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

I have a built-in GPS in one veh. Have Blackberry Nav. which I use in another. Slow acquiring signal.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

I love my stand alone GPS from Garmin. I can easily download new points of interest and on my Harley Davidson it is rugged and water proof so rain will not effect it. It comes in very handy being glove friendly which my iPhone is not. I purchased the life-time maps so I get 4 new maps a year with all the latest road changes.

Like i said, I really like my stane alone GPS, and never leave on a trip without it.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

I like stand alone GPS because of his capabilitie of store pathways and tracking points of my voyages.
I am still using and old Legend etrex and I am happy with it.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

I have a stand alone GPS a TOMTOM 1 which I love. The biggest problem is ensuring accuracy when inputting addresses - remember GIGO. My smart phone doesn't have a GPS capability and I wouldn't want to pay all the data charges for GPS service if it did.
I have used my TOMTOM all over Western Canada and NW USA for several years and only once has it let me down taking me down a road which had recently been blocked off.
I update it frequently, at least once a week, and whn available download new maps and points of interest. And I have added my own points of interest.
So yes, I think there is a place for a stand alone GPS, but unfortunately for TOMTOM I will only be replacing this one if it breaks

Posted by:

Mike Mihalo
19 Jul 2011

My Nav 5000 is no longer supported by Cobra. Nor are they manufacturing personal GPS units any longer, altho OTR trucker units are still being sold.

When the info in the unit becomes unusable, I will have to recycle it. Perhaps, then I will upgrade my PPC to one with GPS.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

Unfortunately you are probably correct about their eventual demise. I got my TomTom last Fall and I really don't know how I would find some of the places I have been going (to hike) without it however since it is not a Go!Live version it's traffic notifications are few and on-time traffic notifications are almost non-existent. Smartphones have instant traffic updates (as I understand it) but I also don't have to pay $40-60 a month for something I would not use all that much either - yes I have a simple cellphone but it is prepaid. And as you say the screens are bigger and they mount nicely on the windshield. I think they have their place but they won't be selling like hotcakes in the future.

Posted by:

Jerry Williams
19 Jul 2011

Say Bob, I think that there maybe a lot of us out here who do not care to spend the money to have one of those high cost mobile phone plans with an expensive phone with all those features they brag about now. I have TracPhone,with probably their cheapest unit, that I use for making calls every so often. I have a computer at home, etc. I just don't feel the need or inclination to have all that stuff with me all the time. The Jones' left me behind long ago AND I could care less! A stand alone, for the rare times that I might use it does fine for me. I am not out trying to find places all that often. Believe it or not, but I usually know where a place is before I leave home. Astounding, right!

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

dear bob, I have an i-phone an i-pad and a couple of gps. I was canoeing the Jack forks river in missouri just recently and had to use a pay phone at $26.00 for six minutes becauseatt nor sprint, or verison wouldn't work. Also 10 miles from my home a cell phone as a gps is useless because the signal is non- existant. There are 10 to 15 thousand people within a 5 mile radis of my house and the cell phone quaility sucks. This is att, sprint, verison, and probably the rest. I would hope the fcc or whoever decides doesnn't let att merge with t-mobile. All cell phone companies seam to cherrypick and try to reach the most customers. Our erea hasn't inproved in the last 5 years.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2011

Stand alone GPS's seems to still beat the ones on smart phones, etc, in that they come preloaded with maps and catch the satellite signal better. I use the GPS on my HTC smart phone and Samsung Galaxy Tab, but they are slower and sometime fail to get the signal. This could be changed in the near future with faster CPUs and and better signals for smart devices.

Posted by:

Bob Trapani
19 Jul 2011

I doubt that the smartphone alone is killing the standalone GPS. Rather, the onboard navigation which is appearing on more cars today. I have a Garmin, purchased in 2008, which I still use in the older car, but the car I bought in 2010 has built-in navigation.

One big advantage of the Garmin over the smartphone is that it's propped up on the dashboard so the driver can easily see the screen. I wouldn't use the smartphone unless my wife is with me to hold it up for me (something which she doesn't really appreciate).

Even though my Android phone has GPS, when we flew to Seattle last year and rented a car, I rented the Garmin along with it. The smartphone was useful for finding places when we were in our room, but I used the Garmin in the car.

Posted by:

20 Jul 2011

I have two NavMan standalone GPS. One I boght and the other I inherited. Both are "predictive" but the later one is annoying to an extreme
degree "suggesting" anywhere but where I want to go.
Maps are very difficult to update and the cost is around $170.00. minimum on sale $90 for the odler unit. Also new features such as "safety cameras" are at an exhobitant additional cost.
I have found them useful, but will abandon them when I update to a smartphone.

Posted by:

20 Jul 2011

I have a Tracfone ( prepaid ) they DO NOT have any GPS on their prepaid phones. So one would need to have a separate GPS

Posted by:

Dave in Indy
20 Jul 2011

Elan - There are some prepaid smartphone plans out there. I have Virghin Mobile's Beyond Talk (now $35 a month, unlimited web, text, emails and 300 voice minutes) with LG's Optimus ($149) Android smartphone. On a vacation, last month, I took my smartphone and my standalone Tom Tom. I soley used the Android's Navigation and the Tom Tom stayed in the map pocket, the entire time. I think that the TT even cried once.

Posted by:

bill funkhouser
20 Jul 2011

Great article and so relevant. I still use a Garmin Zumo for my motorcycle though, since it is completely waterproof. Yes there are cases for the smartphones, but they are awkward to use. I have my Zumo mounted on my handlebars and when I am in an unfamiliar city, it is great having it give me directions. The downside as you mentioned is that the maps are outdated even as they are shipped. Also, often I can't find a location with my Garmin software, so I have to use Google maps to find the location then get the coordinates for the Garmin.

Posted by:

Joe Doran
21 Jul 2011

I recently drove 900 mi. to Detroit for a Seger concert by myself and I would not have gone without my Garmin GPS mounted on my dash. Brought me right to my parking spot in Auburn Hills without a hitch turn by turn. Fantasticc!

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