A handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) is a boon in today’s world. It not only makes travelling and hiking so much easier and safer by minimizing the chances of getting lost, it also helps you find the newest restaurant or ice-cream parlor at anytime of the day, without having to trouble people asking for directions. They are built to withstand all weather conditions and have many features which determine where you are, and have been.
There are different types of GPS units in the market with the high performing devices boasting of extra features while the low performing devices are simple in features. Handheld or portable GPS units are best to carry around with you wherever you go and can be used for any type of activity.
Compare Top 7 Handheld GPS of 2017
|Picture||Name||3D Map||Battery life||Our Rating|
|Garmin vívoactive Black||Yes||Up to 3 weeks*||4.8|
|Yes||Up to 2 weeks*||4.8|
|Garmin GPSMAP 64s||No||Up to 1 week*||4.7|
|Yes||Up to 8 days*
|Garmin GPSMAP 64st||No||Up to 1 week*||4.5|
|Garmin eTrex 10||No||—||4.3|
Garmin now has the perfect GPS smartwatch for those with an active lifestyle- the Garmin vivoactive black. This is an ultra-thin, lightweight smartwatch with various apps you can use while running, golfing, cycling, swimming and activity tracking and will also send you important work notifications while you workout.
The device is so comfortable to wear all-day long, wherever you go. It keeps you connected by alerting you to all email and text messages and Facebook Twitter and other social media notifications you receive on your compatible Bluetooth enabled device. There’s no worry about the battery as its rechargeable battery lasts a maximum of 3 weeks in watch/activity tracking mode and as long as 10 hours when on GPS.
- Has a sunlight-readable, high-resolution color touch screen.
- Pairs with your Smartphone to alert you whenever you receive messages and notifications
- Battery charges a maximum of 3 weeks in watch/activity mode and 10 hours in GPS mode.
- Built-in sports apps like golfing, swimming and cycling apps keeps track of your vital data while working out.
- More than 38,000 golf courses worldwide to download map from and keep track of your golf game
- With its 5ATM water rating, you can wear the device while swimming, sweating and showering without any worries
- Its Auto Length technology automatically gauges laps, total distance; calories burnt and stroke count while swimming
- Keeps track of your fitness levels even when you are not physically active like tracking calories burnt when you sleep
- Its Connect IQ store offers free downloads to use to personalize your watch face and add data fields and informative apps and widgets.
- Connect, compete and compare your progress in activities with friends and families across the world
- Tends to over count the number of laps swum by a wide margin
- May not be the perfect swim watch for average swimmers
- Very dim screen which seems to be more like a color LCD with a button to push for backlight
- Directions for use are rather complicated
- Some users developed red band welts/irritation resembling a severe chemical burn
Looking for a multi-featured portable GPS device? The Garmin Fenix 3 HR is a rugged, smart and capable device worth considering! It offers heart rate technology which measures your wrist heart rate, so that you needn’t wear a chests strap anymore. It’s black, soft and flexible silicone band gives a luxurious feel to the wearer and is resistant to discoloration.
As its water rated to 10ATM or 100m, it’s safe and suitable for swimming. With its wireless connectivity, you can use one or more Wi-Fi hot spots to automatically sync data with Garmin Connect and update software whenever it’s in range.
It’s outdoor navigation features like 3-axis compass, altimeter and barometer and TracBack feature and fitness training feature sets, this is the perfect GPS to use during any training session or competition. It’s Omni-directional EXO antenna when paired with GLONASS and EPO gives a much better satellite reception and more accurate positioning than GPS alone.
- Comes with a 1.2” sunlight-readable, high resolution color Garmin Chroma Display
- Offers various fitness training features like recovery advisor, VO2 max and vertical oscillation and ratio
- Elevated wrist heart technology
- Better satellite reception with EXO antenna, GLONASS and GPS
- Connect IQTM platform access provides for customization of watch faces and data fields and downloadable widgets and apps
- Additional training features with advanced dynamics and physiological metrics determining your form and fitness
- ABC sensors provide relevant and real-time information about your position
- Keeps track of your stroke distance and pace while swimming and rowing stroke count, rate and distance
- Golf mode helps you traverse courses downloaded from Garmin Connect while ski/board mode tells you your speed, distance and vertical drop.
- Some complain the Garmin handheld GPS is heavy, bulky and difficult to operate
- Many consider it unfit for a lady as it has a manly, raw and military style look befitting men
- Not touch screen so is a bit time-consuming to use
- Its bulky size may make it difficult for some to do push-ups, weight lifting or play tennis while wearing the device
- Some complain it’s not that accurate with its readings
- Recognizes only one sleep a day; so you need to manually set it to sleeping mode while napping and exit the mode when you wake up.
- Heart rate sensor doesn’t run 24/7
The Garmin GPSMAP 64s Worldwide with High-Sensitivity GPS and GLONASS receiver quickly and precisely locates your position even amidst heavy cover and deep canyons. Works on a dual battery system with 2 traditional AA batteries or its rechargeable NiMH battery pack.
Easily add maps on its built-in worldwide base map in its 4GB onboard memory and microSC card slot and hit the trail. Its 2.6” color display screen is sunlight readable and has wireless connectivity via Bluetooth technology or ANT+.
Supports geocaching with 250,000 preloaded caches and a 16-hour battery life. Use the free trip-planning software BaseCamp to plan your next trip by organizing relevant maps, routes, waypoints and tracks.
- Has a 2.6” color sunlight-readable color display screen
- Dual battery system and expanded 4GB internal memory
- Preloaded paperless geocaches and a year’s BirdsEye satellite Imagery subscription
- Highly sensitive GPS and GLONASS receiver with quad helix antenna
- Easily get bearings with its 3-axix compass with barometric altimeter
- Share your waypoints, geocaches, tracks and routes wirelessly through Bluetooth or ANT+
- Smart Notification helps you stay connected without your Smartphone, by wirelessly receiving emails, texts and alerts from your compatible iPhone4s or later.
- Detailed built-in map
- Poor battery life
- Poor user manual spanning only 18 pages with only basic information
- Moving and stopped times are different because of inaccurate starting and stopping times
- The device looks cheap and like a toy
- Display is not so easy to read in sunlight
- Complicated menus
This ultra-thin 8mm thick handheld Garmin vivoactive black bundle device has a built-in GPS with running, swimming, golfing, biking and activity tracking apps which you just have to tap to view your stats even without your phone.
It has a high-resolution, color, touch screen sunlight-readable display and can be paired with your Smartphone to vibrate and display alerts of incoming emails, text, calls, calendar items and even social media and other app notifications.
Its battery lasts for 3 weeks in watch/activity mode and 10 hours with GPS. Can be customized with free widgets, apps and watch face designs through the Connect IQ store. This Garmin handheld GPS unit has an added feature of pairing with a heart rate monitor chest strap which you can comfortably wear during fitness activities to monitor your heart rate.
- Ultra-thin GPS unit with high-resolution sunlight-readable display screen
- Built-in accelerometer and trackers tracks your steps while cycling app measures distance, speed, time and calories
- Download golf course maps from its 38,000 courses database by pairing with your Smartphone
- Keeps track of your golfing scores, shot distance and time on course.
- Swimming app gauges laps, calories, session, stroke count and session averages.
- The 5ATM water rating means you can wear the GPS while swimming and showering without any worries
- Keeps tracks of calories burnt throughout the day, even in sleep mode
- Helps you stay connected by receiving all notifications like emails, messages and social media notifications received on your compatible Bluetooth-enabled Smartphone
- Use free downloads from Connect IQ store to personalize your vivoactive device
- Not that great a swim watch as it overcounts number of laps
- Screen is rather dim; more like a colour LCD with a backlight button to push
- Counts steps even if you are driving in the car
- Complicated directions
- Doesn’t give much information while sleeping like the kind of sleep you have
- Heart monitor not that well connected to the GPS; needs some improvement here.
With your Garmin GPSMAP 64st TOPO U.S. 100K in hand, you know you can easily find your way around. Its 3-axis compass with barometric altimeter and high-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS receiver and quad helix antenna accurately defines your position even in heavy cover and amidst high buildings or canyons.
Reading maps and directions is a cinch with its 2.6” sunlight-readable color screen. With the unit’s built-in worldwide base map and its 8GB internal memory and microSD card, downloading TOPO 24K and 100K maps to hit the trail is so easy. Transforming maps into paper and electronic maps can also be done for free with Garmin Custom Maps.
Use the device to enjoy geocaching with its 16-hour battery life and 250,000 preloaded paperless geocaches. Plan your next trip with the free trip planning software BaseCamp where you can view and organize routes, tracks maps and waypoints and share your Garmin Adventures with friends and family.
- Extra sensitive GPS and GLONASS receive with quad helix antenna
- Sunlight-readable color screen
- microSD card slot and 8GB internal memory
- built-in worldwide base map and preloaded TOPO U.S. 100K maps
- 250,000 preloaded paperless caches
- 1 year’s free subscription of BirdsEye Satellite imagery for transferring unlimited satellite images
- Wireless connectivity with other Garmin compatible and Garmin portable GPS units through Bluetooth or ANT+
- Stay connected and receive email, texts and alerts from compatible iPhone 4s or later.
- Gives different moving and stopped time readings
- Cheap quality plastic body makes it feel like a toy
- Complicated menus
- Expensive supplementary 24 maps have no updates so new maps have to be bought once outdated
The DeLorme AG-008727-201 InReach Explorer is not just a portable GPS unit, but also a two-way satellite communicator during emergencies. You just have to send an SOS to their 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center and you receive a confirmation that help on the way. Also sends and receives 160 character text messages to global email addresses and cell numbers.
Plan and navigate your trip by creating waypoints and logging your trip so that you can easily find your way back and even share your route with family and friends to follow you, and track you. You can also access topographic maps and US NOAA charts on pairing with your mobile device.
- Equipped with a compass, accelerometer and barometric altimeter
- Can trigger and SOS with their 24/7 search and rescue monitoring centre in emergencies and wait for help.
- Plan routes before time with waypoints and share with friends and family to keep a tab on you
- Create routes to help you return home after your adventure trip
- Use the device to send and receive 160-character text messages with GPS coordinates to any cell number and email address worldwide
- Pair with your mobile device to download unlimited topographic maps and US NOAA charts
- Comes with digital compass, accelerometer and barometer
- There’s no warning if there’s no signal
- Can’t manually check for messages from the portable GPS; has to be done from phone device
- Not that great a standalone GPS
- Unnecessary words describing location with messages confuses recipients
- Difficult suspending the service if not needed
The rugged Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS navigator comes with enhanced capabilities. Its WAAS-enabled GPS receiver with GLONASS and HotFix support provides for quickly positioning reliable signals. The unit comes preloaded with a global base map and a 2.2” monochrome display screen.
The eTrex Garmin GPS handheld is safe against splashes and water as its waterproof to IPX7 standards. It runs on 2 AA batteries for a maximum 25 hours of usage. Fun for geocaching fans as it supports paperless geocaching and Garmin spine-mounting accessories.
- Simultaneously tracks both GPS and GLONASS satellites using its WAAS-enabled GPS receiver
- Preloaded with worldwide base map
- Safe against splashes and rain as it’s waterproof to IPX7 standards
- Supports paperless geocaching and Garmin spine-mounting accessories
- Runs on 2 AA batteries for a maximum of 25 hours
- 2” monochrome display which is easily read in any light
- Base maps don’t offer much detail so additional maps are needed
- Poor email support
- No refunds or exchanges for mapping products
- Some complain of poor accuracy as a portable GPS unit
What is a GPS unit?
They are satellite based systems which give you the exact information about different points anywhere on earth. The system has more than 20 satellites with atomic clocks which continuously broadcast signals about the satellite’s position and time based on its atomic clock.
The GPS unit collects these signals from the satellites and based on it, can measure the difference in received times from various satellites and accordingly determine your position or your destination. The results are accurate to a few feet; depending on the number of satellites within the GPS device’s range.
Most portable GPS units have programmable profiles to use for recreational use like you can program it for nautical navigation while spending time on the water or a hiker’s profile if you want to hike.
Importance of GPS units
You never know when you may run into problems like bad weather like fog, rain or snow which reduces visibility and make it difficult finding trails. Moreover, there may be washed out or poorly marked trails which all throw you off your intended route.
It’s in such conditions, and while heating into unfamiliar territory that a GPS proves helpful to you. It helps you navigate through all these unexpected conditions with the help of trip data and log tracks so that you safely reach back home.
It basically provides location-based information you can’t see with your eyes like hunters use them to mark their kill’s or trailhead’s location and mountain guides use its tracks function to mark routes to go up and down mountains. Many also use GPS devices looking for hidden treasures called ‘geocaches’ which are pre-programmed in them.
Portable GPS units also do many things maps can’t do. It shows travelers their exact location worldwide, provides accurate instructions for travelling from one destination to another, warns you about traffic problems and detours and identifies nearby gas stations and stores.
Isn’t a Smartphone GPS sufficient to help your way around?
It’s true that most smartphones have GPS, which should suffice to help you find your way through backcountry. However the benefit of a dedicated handheld GPS over the GPS found in smartphones is that it has better satellite reception, stronger navigation features and better battery life. They are thus better to use for off-trail navigation in conditions with low visibility.
Handheld GPS buying guide
As a portable GPS is a very important device which you will be depending on for directions, and it’s rather expansive, you need to choose the best handheld GPS for yourself. This buying guide will help you in making the best choice for yourself.
While handheld units for cars usually have detailed street maps for a country, and you need to buy additional maps while travelling to other foreign lands, map coverage is usually less homogeneous in handheld models. In fact, as some don’t even display maps, it’s important that the unit you choose offers map coverage.
- 3D map view
As interpreting map data in 3D map or bird’s eye view is faster and easier, it’s better to choose a GPS unit with this feature. It gives you a graphical representation of your surroundings from an elevated stand point.
- Accurate directions
Handheld GPS units provide directions through built-in speakers which gives spoken directions to turn left or right through a built-in speaker.
- Point of interest
The point of interest or POI feature in GPS units provides location information about hotels, coffee shops, parks and other locations in its database. it’s not as accurate as street maps as they tend to change frequently but is a useful feature only if it provides phone numbers along with names and locations.
Handheld devices come with screens smaller than the three to seven inches diagonally large screens of automobile GPS units. While larger screens provide the benefit of displaying larger maps with more room for travel data, they do cost a bit more. As smaller screens make the device weigh less and is better for outdoor travel you need to choose the screen size and type based on where you plan to use the GPS unit.
- Actual traffic reports
Some GPS devices receive real time traffic reports which inform you about traffic jams and delays because of construction, so that you can avoid them by using an alternate route. You however may have to subscribe and pay for these services.
- Media card slots
GPS devices store their map and POI data in their built-in hard drive or flash memory card. Routes are calculated faster in hard drives while media cards are a more durable option. Moreover, the card helps back up information and offers various multimedia features like a music player or give a photo view in high end devices.
The number of channels in the GPS device determines the number of satellite signals the unit can simultaneously receive information from. While cheaper models have about 12 channels, the more expensive ones may have as many as 24 channels. Devices with more channels are more accurate.
This is an important feature in GPS devices as they define specific geographic locations by the recorded latitude and longitude in it. you just have to press your unit’s waypoint record button and you can easily find your way back to the car. The more expansive units have more waypoints stored in them.
This feature helps you backtrack while driving or walking through the countryside by tracking and displaying a breadcrumb trail of your journey.
- Touch screen or button
GPS units are either touch screen or with buttons. While buttons are more reliable than touch screen in extreme weather conditions, touch screens offer faster operation than traditional screens. However touch screens consume more battery power, may freeze in cold conditions and aren’t easy to use with thick gloves.
Buttoned units however are more reliable as they don’t use much battery power, can be used wearing thick or thin gloves and works in all temperature extremes. They however are slower in function and take longer for typing in waypoints.
So you have to make the final decision based on your individual preferences, like if you want a more modern unit which operates quickly or if you want a more reliable unit with longer lasting battery power.
- Type of compass
GPS devices come with electronic or differential compasses, which separate the basic units from the more powerful ones. Electronic compasses show direction without moving while differential compasses show direction only with movement.
Electronic compasses are better when you need to know your direction and can’t move like when you are close to a cliff edge, and are easier and faster to navigate. This however doesn’t mean that everyone needs it; it’s not necessary for average recreational GPS users.
- Barometric altimeter
This feature is not necessary for everyone; as it’s useful for bikers, hikers and athletes in training. Devices with this feature are more accurate at calculating altitude and your location on topo maps as they use special sensors to make calculations. These altimeters track weather patterns and can forecast weather trends.
- Media options
It’s nice, but not necessary to have media options in the unit like camera, voice recorder and microphone. They are useful for documenting adventures to look back at the pictures and videos of the route.
There’s no need of typing in waypoints as it’s marked to share with friends to help keep a track on the route just by looking at the pictures. Survey groups also use media options to record photo evidence of specific areas instead of carrying a camera and then attaching pictures to different waypoints.
- Wireless sharing
High end devices come with various sharing features like the ‘share wirelessly’ option through Bluetooth. You can use it to quickly send track and waypoint files to compatible receiver devices.
This is useful if you have to share track information with others, like another group about to start on the same route you’d taken as you can sync up with devices within minutes and share your route.
These devices can also receive text messages and media updates or ‘smart notifications’ where you sync your GPS with your Smartphone so that you needn’t take your phone out of the backpack but still stay connected.
- World GPS
Make sure the device works worldwide if you plan to take it out of the country. This depends on satellite coverage and the maps it has.
You’ll need a waterproof model if you intend to use it in rainy weather, on boats and any other wet conditions to keep the device dry.
- Battery life
It’s the battery life which decides how long you can use your device without a power source, and thus an important feature to consider based on how and where you plan to use the device. However it’s okay to buy a device with rechargeable internal batteries only if you will be going on short trips and have access to some electricity source. If you will be spending days away from any power source, a device which runs on replaceable batteries is a better option.
- Waypoint capacity
Devices with a larger waypoint capacity usually have a larger overall memory capacity which affects the number of routes and destinations which the GPS can store.
The price of the device increases with the accuracy and precision of its location systems. Devices with survey-grade accuracy are generally the more accurate devices.
- Frequency and length of travel
A simple and cheap GPS unit should suffice if you plan to use it occasionally for short trips. However a more sophisticated device is better for everyday use and for complicated travel itineraries or sales calls.
- How often maps are updated
The GPS maps have to be updated to assure you receive accurate directions. If you will be using your unit occasionally to find spots like retail outlets or coffee shops, map updates are not so important and can be done whenever you need to.
You’ll need a unit where maps are updated regularly if you need to reach your destination on time as it assures you travel on the right route to reach your destination on time.
Benefits of using handheld GPS devices
Handheld devices come with its share of benefits. It’s typically cheaper than other types of GPS units, but comes with a host of features like satellite location, navigate routes, mapping capacities and location display.
- Portable GPS units are versatile and can be used for various activities like camping, trekking, travelling, camping or any outdoor activity. They are popular with outdoor enthusiasts as the devices can be easily thrown into a pocket or backpack. Small units are as big as cell phones while larger units are as big as paperback books. There are also units which can also be used in your vehicle.
- Portable GPS devices are usually fully functional on its own, and self contained without outside attachments. This is why they are easy and convenient to use.
- Devices offering Bluetooth integration offer the benefit of syncing with mobile phones for directions. Moreover the voice-enabled devices also let you make hands-free phone calls while focusing on the water and rod in front.
- Not only are GPS handhelds useful navigational devices, they also display information like elevation, time, compass heading, elevation and waypoints which help you retrace steps while providing navigational details through distances.
- As GPS devices are small in size, they can be carried in a pouch or strapped to the wrist. The larger models can also be incorporated in cars and aeroplanes for reliable navigation help also in extreme physical stress.
- As GPS devices can be incorporated in various other devices like laptop computers, PDAs, mobiles, handheld PCs and even portable music players and are thus more useful than purely offering navigational help.
- Handheld GPS or hiking GPS units offer improved safely while travelling as it gives an accurate position called grid reference which you can use to find out where you are. The high end models even show your exact position in digital map displays.
- Handheld GPS units let you enjoy your trip better as you can pre-plan your route and store a series of waypoints in the unit. So instead of focusing on reading the map, you can relax and enjoy your journey while your portable GPS navigates the trip.
However make sure you have sufficient battery power for the entire route and as there is always a chance for electrical gadgets failing, including GPS units, it’s better to take a traditional map and compass with you on your trip.
- Hiking GPS units prove useful in emergency situations as it saves your life by accurately identifying where you are. Knowing your exact location is important if you go hiking in the mountains and weather conditions suddenly grow worse. It’s easier finding your way back, or providing directions to where you are to others if you know where your exact location is.
- Handheld GPS units let you record beautiful views and landmarks while you go trekking, hiking and adventuring which you can return to another time, share with friends or just save as memories to relive some other day. You can also use the device to record your favourite places like restaurants and accommodations while travelling.
- Hiking GPS can also be used for specialist activities like geocaching which involves locating hidden outdoor treasures in containers called geocaches. Some handheld GPS for hunting are used as SatNav in vehicles or in specialist mountain biker or canoeist groups to find routes while travelling off the beaten track.
So it goes without saying that GPS units are very handy for frequent travellers wherein you no longer have to stop to ask for directions in unknown countries and territories. It collects data from various satellites to tell you where you are, and how to reach your destination.
Despite its many benefits, there are so many models available, with so many features, to help you when you go driving, kayaking, cycling, boating, hiking or even geocaching. It’s important you find the GPS which fits your needs by asking yourself what features you require, and going through these few handheld GPS reviews. This makes yourself better prepared and knowledgeable about the device you should buy.