How To Evaluate Handheld GPS Units

by Milton Kazmeyer

    Handheld GPS units enhance a variety of outdoor activities. Hikers and anglers find GPS devices invaluable tools for their activities; golfers use GPS units to track information about courses, and no geocacher could participate in his chosen activity without a handheld GPS unit to guide him. With so many different activities that benefit from handheld GPS devices, selecting the right unit for your needs can be a tricky proposition.


    Handheld GPS units focus on specific pursuits and have features corresponding to those activities. A handheld GPS device geared toward hikers, for instance, usually includes topographic maps and a way to set waypoints for navigation, which allows the user to find his way back to camp easily. A golfer’s GPS device, on the other hand, contains maps of golf courses with precise yardage measurements to bunkers, water hazards and other obstacles. If you intend to use your GPS primarily for one activity, it makes sense to select a specialized unit.

    Form Factor and Design

    A large screen on a GPS unit offers good visibility and readability, but it increases the overall size of the unit. A handheld GPS that is too big to fit in a pocket comfortably is awkward to carry when exploring the outdoors. Additional features such as a two-way radio or cellular data connections are useful, but they can drain your battery when in use. A rugged, waterproof case is an option to consider, because accidents happen and damaging your navigational device at an inopportune moment can leave you at the mercy of the wilderness.


    When purchasing a device online, it is difficult to evaluate the control scheme and button placement. A device whose controls are easy and intuitive may be a better choice than one with more features but a more awkward arrangement. Visiting your local electronics store to view and handle display models can give you a feel for the controls of various units, or you can look for online video reviews to get a sense of the device’s handling.

    Additional Costs

    If the GPS device you are interested in offers extra features, investigate any additional costs associated with those features. For instance, many manufacturers offer regular map updates for a price, and some offer free or reduced-price updates for a set period. If the GPS features live services via a cellular data connection, these services often require payment of a monthly or yearly fee to cover the cost of the connection. Check with the manufacturers’ websites to identify any potential subscription or upgrade fees before you decide which unit to choose.

    About the Author

    Milton Kazmeyer has worked in the insurance, financial and manufacturing fields and also served as a federal contractor. He began his writing career in 2007 and now works full-time as a writer and transcriptionist. His primary fields of expertise include computers, astronomy, alternative energy sources and the environment.

    Photo Credits

    • Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images