Handheld GPS reviews

Finding your way in the world can cost the earth with some of these handheld GPS.
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  • Updated:6 Apr 2009

04.What to look for

When choosing a handheld GPS, these are some of the things you should look for.

  • The screen should be clear and bright enough to see everything you need. Lettering of essential information, such as the numbers in coordinates, should be large enough to read properly. A colour screen makes waypoints and points of interest more noticeable.
  • Size and weight make a difference – the larger the unit, the more difficult it will be to hold. If you have large hands, or are off to a colder climate and plan on using the GPS with gloves on, a larger unit could be a good option.
  • The unit needs to be comfortable in your hand, ideally with well-spaced buttons that allow you to select functions more easily.
  • A battery compartment that accepts standard batteries (AA or AAA) means you can use either rechargeable or normal alkalines in an emergency. All the devices use AA batteries.
  • PC mapping software allows you to select a waypoint or route at home and download it to your GPS to use in the field.
  • A connectivity cable allows your GPS to connect to a PC or Mac to download and upload information. But beware — these cables can be expensive if they use a proprietary connection.
  • Most units also have an alarm to let you know when you've arrived back at the starting position and if you move too far off the saved path.

Desirable features

  • A thumbwheel or joystick can make the device easier to use if the interface is designed well.
  • The control placement makes a big difference in being able to use the device one-handed or not. According to our experts, controls along the top and sides of the GPS are easier to use.
  • PC or Mac software is useful for setting up maps before heading out for a hike or downloading your trip afterwards. All but the Garmin eTrex H have this capability and come with the necessary cable.
  • A topograhical map is useful for seeing contour lines, though none on test come with this feature. Check the maps available for the models on test at the contact websites; you may be able to buy them more cheaply from third party vendors. We found prices starting from $299.
  • Two-in-one GPSs such as the Magellan CrossoverGPS can be used both as a car and hiking GPS, supplying maps for both functions, as well as topographical maps for the handheld GPS function. It’s a little difficult to hold because of its width, and did not score well in acquisition or battery tests. In our recent car GPS report, the CrossoverGPS scored 70% overall.
  • Some Handheld GPS have no mapping capabilities, but have a very good electronic compass and could indicate not only the barometric pressure but also the rate of change effectively giving you a portable weather station. This will probably lower the battery performance compared to other units due to the fact that they will be constantly collecting barometric pressure information, even when turned off.

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