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Handheld GPS reviews

Last updated: 17 February 2015

If you're heading to the great outdoors for a spot of bush-bashing or some camping, you could probably use a handheld GPS. We test and review the latest models to help you find the best handheld GPS for hiking, cycling, orienteering or other outdoor adventures. Our buying guide will explain the features to look for.

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Our test covers GPS handheld devices as well as a GPS watch.

Our expert testers give every device a thorough workout to help find the models that are:

  • the most accurate at locating your position
  • the quickest at locating your position
  • the easiest to use

Our interactive comparison tool helps you find out which handheld GPS devices support GLONASS (Russia's satellite positioning system), which have a touchscreen and which support topographic maps. Our Recommended list will help you see quickly which models come out on top.

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List of brands we tested in this review.

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Touchscreen
Barometric altimeter
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A barometric altimeter gives you your position in elevation, which can be helpful for bikers, hikers and fitness enthusiasts. The data combined with your distance travelled can give you a more accurate representation of your trip. But the accuracy for elevation (Z axis) with GPS devices is not as solid as the position on the map (X-Y axis).

Electronic compass
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An electronic compass can be a handy feature. While all GPS receivers can tell you your exact position, some cheaper models have no way of telling which direction you are facing. So you need to start moving in any direction before the GPS shows you where you were, where you need to go and adjust your direction accordingly. Models with an electronic compass show you the direction you should head straight away. Make sure you calibrate the compass first to get the best performance.

Waterproof
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All models claim to be waterproof to IPX7 Standards. To test their waterproofing, we submerge them to a depth of one metre for 30 minutes. The units are then dried and turned on to obtain a fix.

Topographic map preloaded
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Most of the devices on test (except the Magellan Explorist 110, Garmin etrex 10 and Fenix watch) can use topo maps which deliver topographic information such as terrain contours, elevations and summits to coverage of perennial and intermittent lakes, rivers and streams with 3D shading. Pay more and you will get a map with more detailed contour intervals as well as some extra features such as 4WD tracks and camping destination points.

Test results

Overall score
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Overall score is made up of ease of use (70%) and accuracy (30%) scores.

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Ease of use score
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We assess ease of starting the unit, logging a waypoint or route, button accessibility and screen readability. Members of the Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad also examine a selection of the devices, plotting a simple route and following the track log to gauge its accuracy, and commenting on its effectiveness.

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Accuracy score
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Assessed by testing the devices at three survey points. The test is repeated twice at different times of day, when a different constellation of satellites would be within range. No handheld GPS tested had more than 6m average location error, and none had more than 10m average height error except for the Fenix watch with 20m error.

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Specifications

Number of storable routes

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Number of waypoints
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Saving a waypoint - such as a river crossing, interesting rock formation or even hard-to-find bookstore - is an ideal way to record any route markers or points of interest when you're out walking (they're called points of interest on car GPS units). Simply press a button or two on the unit. If you want it to record the entire journey, a tracking feature creates a snail-trail that evolves as you move. Once a track is created, you can save it as a route to use later or to guide you back to your original position.

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Included in this review

Members-only access
  • Overall score
  • Ease of use score
  • Accuracy score
  • Minimum acquistion time minutes
  • Maximum acquistion time minutes
  • Waterproof
  • Number of storable routes
  • Number of waypoints
  • Number of storable track logs
  • Weight (grams)
  • Good points
  • Bad points
  • Recommended
  • Brand
  • Model
  • Price
  • Touchscreen
  • Colour display
  • Electronic compass
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Geo caching paperless
  • Routing ability
  • Memory card microsd
  • Support for topographic maps
  • Topographic map preloaded
  • PC map update
  • GLONASS
  • Pre-loaded map
  • Mini B USB
  • Bluetooth
  • External antenna support
  • Li ion battery pack
  • Ni mh battery
  • AA battery
  • Claimed battery life (hours)
  • Display size WxH (mm)
  • Display size WxH (pixels)
  • Memory (GB)
  • Camera (megapixels)
  • Dimensions HxWxD (mm)
  • Website
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