smartphone v dedicated gps

Where do you think things stand with respect to buying a dedicated gps versus apps on a smartphone?
My specific requirement is for mountain biking - I’ve never previously needed a gps here, but have moved to a new area and am doing a lot of the classic routes. Seems like I’m stopping the bike every 5 mins and getting the map out; loads of turns and path navigation so it would be a big help to just mount a gps on the bars. So my requirement is for real-time mapping, with a picture of the map. So it’s a bit different from genuine navigation and route finding, it’s more to save time and make the ride flow better.

On my phone I have a gps function which works with the viewranger app, using OS ordnance survey mapping. It is fantastic, but needs a phone signal (I think due to licensing restrictions from the ordnance survey) so you could be stuck with no maps out in the hills. But, you can buy the entire UK 1:50 thou ordnance survery map for the phone for 90 quid as a permanent installation, so that would appear to make you good to go. My phone is a defy - screen is good and it’s pretty rugged as far as smartphones go.

Or, I could get a nice gps like this one (promo vid) for 300 quid. Clearly a nice device, but maybe a bit superfluous?

Any thoughts? Clearly how you use your GPS will vary a lot according to your activity - hiking, cycling, sailing etc, but has anyone else made this sort of decision recently?



Dedicated devices tend to have the maps internally. This means they are static and more effort to update, but they are always available to you.

Smartphones get their maps from the network. They are updated whenever your provider feels like it, or when you switch apps. But you have to have an active network connection for them to work…and it counts towards your data max for the month, if you have a cap.

That being said…it’s up to you as to which is the better deal. I personally use my smartphone, because it gets the job done in places I need it. Except when I travel internationally and don’t want the roaming charges - then I borrow a dedicated GPS from a friend.


I have the HTC Incredible that came with both Google Maps and Google Turn-by-turn Navigation for free. There’s also the free Google My Tracks for jogging, hiking, and cycling. It’s saved my ass in some unfamiliar cities.

My carrier is Virgin here in new jersey and they seem to be pretty spotty. It might be the phone, but I researched their offerings and the LG Optimus V seemed to be the best of the lot regardless of price. Since Virgin gets their bandwidth from Sprint IIRC, I guess they don’t get priority.

So in my case, there’s no choice. Although the nuvi 2460 I got does have a pedestrian mode, my main interest is for driving. The fact that it came with lifetime maps and traffic was a big plus, as was the huge 5" screen.

However in your case if you want something that is rugged and waterproof, the unit you linked to seems like it would do the job. And since you’re never out of range of the satellites, as long as it has a good receiver chip, that’s probably going to give you consistent and reliable performance. Obviously you need to do the research first, but on it’s face, it seems to be the better option.

That depends on the individual app. I use TomTom on my iPhone, and the maps are local on the device.

Thks for the replies. The OP was a bit rambling, sry, but to clarify if I spend £90 I can buy the entire UK OS map and stick it on my phone permanently, removing the phone signal problem.

I guess it’s quite a specific question really, as it will come down to how well my particular phone performs in the field versus a gps ostensibly performing the same function. One big question would be battery - my phone destroys them. I have an old garmin gps that would last ten times longer.

If you’re often out in the backwoods, it might be a good idea to have both. We are talking about modern electronics after all and for some reason manufacturers still install gremlin chips in every device. So if you open your pack and one is curled into a little ball of death, at least you have a backup.

With the Google Maps mobile app, you can preload areas, so if you know you’re going to be out of coverage but know generally where you’re going that’s not a problem.

I have a GPS that was a top of the line outdoors unit about 5 years ago, and an Android smart phone, and really the only way the phone isn’t superior is in battery life. Using navigation apps continuously or even just intermittently tends to drain the battery very quickly. Putting the phone on airplane mode can help, but it still wouldn’t last a whole day hike.

Does all current GPS technology need a satellite signal to be effective? I have an old GPS that uses satellite navigation and, like my old satellite tv, my GPS signal goes out when it’s cloudy or stormy (precisely the conditions when I most need it, ironically). If there’s a GPS solution that doesn’t require a connection by satellite, I’d be all about that.

I suppose satellite service is more reliable than being in range of a cell tower, at least.

I use Verizon Navigator on my Blackberry, and I like it a lot. I am in my car a lot, so I use a bluetooth headset, and I can receive verbal directions form the GPS and switch to incoming calls, all hands free. It also accesses my contact list on my phone to navigate to repeat customers. I like having it all in one device so I have it with me all the time, even when I am in someone else’s car.

GPS receivers should still work just fine in bad weather. The accuracy might degrade a little on a cheap unit, but they should still work so long as you have an unobstructed view of at least part of the sky.

Interestingly, Honda came out with a non-GPS based car navigation system back in the 80’s that just worked by sensing the inertia of the car and therefore didn’t need a satellite connection:

I had a number of dedicated GPS devices, until I bought my Droid X. Now I would never, ever go back to a dedicated GPS device. Google Navigation on my Droid X is simply superior to every GPS I have ever owned or used.

Maps are always up to date, so no downloading or synching updated map data, and the navigation is accurate, whether I need driving or walking directions, or just a map of where I am. POI are always up to date as well. The other advantage, of course, is if I select a POI, not only does it give me distance, directions, address and phone number (if the POI is a business), I can call the POI by simply tapping the phone number.

Specifically the Garmin Edge series - the 800 (or the older 605 and 705) have built in maps. Plus wireless heart rate and cadence functions which are good for cycling. Some of them are compatible with ANT+ powermeters. Being able to track speed, elevation, heart rate is nice, especially if you are a competitive cyclist. But it’s good even if you just want to track your training for general fitness reasons.

However, I believe most map databases are for roads - I would be really surprised if they had single track trails. But you could ride the trails once with a GPS and save the route, sort of building your own maps for the trail you ride.

I’ve got a Memory Map Adventurer 2800 as my dedicated GPS. I like it for walking because I can get 1:25000 Explorer maps that have even the smallest paths marked. The 1:50k are usually good enough for mountain biking since you’re restricted to bridleways and byways (except in Scotland).

My Android phone is pretty cheap & cheerful and the GPS is a bit flakey. I used Google Tracks to record a local walk. It recorded it as a little over 5 miles. Using the dedicated GPS it came to about 4.5 miles which agrees when drawing the route in either Memory Map or Google Earth. The battery life on the phone when using GPS sucks.

For a quick “where the hell am I?” I’d use the phone but for route finding or route recording I’d use the GPS.

Perhaps they should - but sometimes they don’t. It might well be the case that my Droid X has a marginal GPS unit in it, but on excessively cloudy days (say, when rain is imminent) my Droid X has trouble connecting to the GPS satellites. I once had to play an entire round on a golf course without benefit of GPS. (Yeah, yeah, I know, Oh The Horror!!!)

I think I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again. Not all GPS chipsets are created equal. SiRF seems to be the best manufacturer and probably the most expensive, so not all GPS enabled devices will use these chips. As a result, if less sensitive chips are used, you will see inconsistent performance in more marginal conditions than would be the case were your unit using a better chipset.

I’ve got both. The Garmin does what it does relentlessly & flawlessly to the extent it has the maps. It doesn’t require cellphone service, but maps can be old. The phone has a navigator app from Android Market and it does work with perfectly up-to-date maps, but it craps out whenever I’m out of a cellphone service area. Also, the legislatures are coming very close to limiting any phone use in cars (including navigation functions) just one state over.

But, for grins an giggles, its occasionally fun to set both on a long trip from A to B: one with a male voice and the other with female. When the two argue w/o ever really listening to each other its like being 5 in the backseat of the family car all over again! :smiley:

Restricted to bridleways, of course :wink:

Thanks all for the replies - food for thought. I can see the gps being the more powerful device, but reckon the OS maps on the phone would be great for general route finding on the MTB. The battery life is so superior with the GPS, though. I can also trade in my old timey garmin for a wee discount on a new one, so I think that’s what I’ll do.