There are three kinds of GPS devices on the market. We explain the difference between each style to help you find your way.
The bush can be a tricky place to navigate when there are a million and one dirt tracks scattered around the place, especially when they all look the bloody same! Back in the day of the true blue bushman, a strong shadow or a compass was enough to lead the way for most adventurers, but something tells us it’s a little bit different for the modern-day 4WDer. Yep, these days we’ve got technology on our side, and it’s a good thing we do; most of us couldn’t tell north from south without our smartphones! The biggest question is, with the amount of different GPS devices out there these days, which one suits your style of travel the best? Obviously, we can’t test every single device on the market, but what we can do is run through the pros and cons of the different types of GPS devices that might suit you as a modern-day adventurer. With that in mind, let’s shine a little light on the murkiness around the GPS market.
Dedicated in-car GPS units are always going to be a hard option to beat for the keen 4WDer. They’re literally designed and built with the sole intention of guiding you while you drive. Its ergonomics are perfected for in-car use, even the software it employs is crafted to make things easier on the fly. You can expect to see a nice, solid mounting bracket incorporated into the overall package, which anticipates bumpy tracks, and the same goes for the charging cable’s ability to stay secure during transit. All this is obviously dependent on the brand you choose, but most models built for offroad navigation share these common goals. Built-in voice guidance allows you to pay attention to the road instead of constantly monitoring the navigation screen and most current models usually feature voice commands too, so you don’t need to fiddle around anywhere near as much as in the past. Bear in mind, that these features are usually only accessible while you’re navigating on-road, not off it! The screen itself is usually well thought out too, with an emphasis on easy viewing that doesn’t obstruct your vision.
If the idea of dishing out a fair chunk of cash for a dedicated GPS doesn’t quite add up to you, another option is to buy the mapping software in the form of an application. What’s the advantage of that? Well, you’re not restricted to one product or brand. Heck, you can have a bunch of the best applications on the planet all on the one device! Just imagine having the likes of Google Earth, Hema Explorer, Mud Maps and a bunch of other maps at your disposal while you’re out on the tracks; if you still get lost, nothing else is going to save you!
In saying all that, there are a few downsides. Often you’ll find some of the applications only supply limited or basic maps to start with, so if you need a more specific map you’ll have to purchase it as you go, which isn’t ideal if you’ve got no reception but not a major problem if you do your research first. The other thing to consider is if your device has an in-built GPS tracker, if not, there are external GPS trackers available at an extra cost. You’ll find these apps are only limited by the capabilities of your device too, which means things like volume and screen resolution or backlighting are limited, same goes for memory, battery life and durability, but hey, that’s not always a bad thing given how advanced these devices are these days.
To get the most from these products, you’ll want to grab yourself an aftermarket heavy-duty mount, which isn’t always cheap. However, most would agree that with a tablet, the larger touch screen makes this navigation option really nice and easy device to use on the tracks.
If you’re the type to ditch the 4WD every now and then in favour of more specialised adventures, a smaller, more versatile handheld GPS comes into its own. These things are designed to be super reliable with detailed topographical maps for hikers, bike riders, kayakers and pretty much anyone who ventures off the beaten track. Believe it or not, a few of their features can really work to the keen 4WDers advantage too. For example, the battery life on these designs usually lasts longer than on larger, bulkier devices. Plus, you’ve got the advantage of using it across a whole range of different outdoor activities too. Having a small screen isn’t ideal when you’re driving, but you’ll find these types of units are built much tougher, so you’ll no doubt get your money’s worth! Some are even waterproof, and it’s worth mentioning there’s usually a choice between replaceable batteries instead of built-in rechargeable ones (like most other GPS units). Oh, and it goes without saying these maps will usually scale down to a much more detailed map too, which means they will typically show more features than other devices, depending on their software of course.