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Smart phone in lieu of dedicated GPS unit?
Old 08-05-2015, 04:05 PM   #1
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Smart phone in lieu of dedicated GPS unit?

With the ever-increasing reach and capabilities of smart phones and their apps and the availability of unlimited data plans, I'm wondering if anyone here uses their smart phone in lieu of a dedicated GPS unit (like Garmin, Tomtom, etc.), especially on long-distance travels through areas that might be considered a bit off the beaten path (i.e. might have poor cell tower coverage)?

About 3+ years ago, I ran a side-by-side 'test' of a free Android app (can't recall which one atm) on my Sprint smart phone and my ancient Garmin GPS on a long drive between Ohio and Florida. The Garmin worked flawlessly whereas the smartphone seemed to encounter numerous areas that didn't seem to have any cell coverage.

In the interest of being frugal, I've held off investing any $, but it's becoming obvious that I will eventually need to do something to stay current with changes to the road system -- download new maps onto the Garmin, buy a new GPS, possibly switch to using my smart phone equipped with a good GPS app or ....?

Any suggestions?

omni
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Old 08-05-2015, 04:19 PM   #2
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I've started using my phone for all my GPS needs. Why, it's much easier to Google a place by name or address and get a Google maps destination. I have a perfectly good Garmin sitting in the vehicle, but it's a PIA to enter the address. Screen is slightly smaller, but not enough to bother me. YMMV
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Old 08-05-2015, 04:30 PM   #3
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It is all we use. Android Moto X (Republic/Sprint) in a carmount, usually just running GoogleMaps (sometimes Waze). Just in case, we have an updated US road atlas in the cars; useful for major reroutes or pleasure jaunts.

I've been doing this, or the same with an older phone (via Verizon), for 4 or 5 years. Just got back from a trip through the ozarks, right on the MO/Ark border, and no problems with reception even in empty areas.
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Old 08-05-2015, 04:31 PM   #4
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Yeah my garmin is collecting dust too.

I've used my iPhone overseas for GPS, using Google Maps.

Worse case, I can download offline maps and use it like a standalone GPS, with a better screen to boot.

That way, don't have to pack the Garmin and cables, which are more bulky than iPhone and charge cable.
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Old 08-05-2015, 04:32 PM   #5
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There are apps that work even if you don't have a good data signal. I use an app called co-pilot and it works well.
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Old 08-05-2015, 04:42 PM   #6
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I prefer a dedicated GPS, principally because of cell phone coverage in rural areas. I bought a Garmin last spring (a model they were phasing out but was well rated) for about $125 and it has been great. No longer available new but factory refurbished units are available for ~$100.

Amazon.com: Garmin nuvi 2595LMT 5-Inch Portable Bluetooth GPS Navigator with Lifetime Maps and Traffic (Certified Refurbished): Electronics
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Old 08-05-2015, 05:18 PM   #7
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Yes! I've been using the smartphone exclusively. Typically I use Google Maps. However, there is also the free for Android "Here Maps" which lets you download maps for offline use. It is made by Nokia and equally as good as Google Maps for Navigation. Zero need for the standalone GPS.
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Old 08-05-2015, 05:22 PM   #8
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I've never owned a dedicated GPS. I stayed with maps for a long time, whether commercial ones, or ones drawn by me from google maps on my PC. When I got a smartphone I started using google maps on it, even though where I live, cell reception can be spotty. I find that as long as I plug in the destination before I leave, it handles the turns for me. I had a problem today where I started from an area with no cell service and tried to use it to get somewhere. When I had trouble getting the map to zoom in to my position I gave up pretty quickly because I was pretty sure I knew the way to get to the main road.

I still draw maps or write up a turn sheet for most new places I go as a backup, especially if I'm heading somewhere pretty remote, which does happen a lot for places we go trail running.

When Garmins and such were newer I'd heard people say that they didn't always have all the backroads anyway, and could fall out of date. I guess it's more common to be able to upgrade maps now? I still don't know that I would trust them 100% either, but probably more than my phone. Seems like a few years ago I was out in western NC and we had to take a detour and their garmin wasn't helping, and they had no map. We made it but I'm not sure we took a very good route and there was some worry.
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Old 08-05-2015, 05:43 PM   #9
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You don't need cell coverage to use GPS on a smart phone, just turn on the GPS feature and you get the same satellites Garmin et al use. I switched to the smart phone exclusively a few years ago. I should probably Craigslist the Garmin. Right now I think it's in the garage sitting on the fax machine.

Also, I don't think you use much in the way of data when using the phone as a GPS. If you use it all day every day, maybe. But I've used it fairly frequently and didn't notice a significant increase in my data usage.
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Old 08-05-2015, 05:43 PM   #10
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Garmin sells units with "lifetime maps" that allow updating forever through their website so the maps are always fresh.

On the phone side, a free app and maps is OSM, "open street maps", which allows your phone memory to store an entire map of the US, or just regions, and use the gps feature of the device even out of range of cell towers. Put it in airplane mode to save the battery if needed. The same process will work with a tablet so you have a larger screen. Even motorcyclists are now using cradled phones and tablets for nav, although waterproofing is an issue there.
Ziplock bags do the job for now.
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Old 08-05-2015, 06:06 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by harley View Post
You don't need cell coverage to use GPS on a smart phone, just turn on the GPS feature and you get the same satellites Garmin et al use...
Yes, the internal GPS receiver chip gets your position from GPS satellites, not from the cell towers. But without the cell signal, you get no map, hence are still lost.

In order to avoid using up my cell data quota to get map display, particularly when roaming in Canada or even out-of-network in the US, I cache the Google map before hand when I get access to WiFi. The Google app allows you to store maps of a few hundred square miles each, and that is enough to navigate inside a large city.

See: How to Cache Offline Maps in the New Google Maps for Android.
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Smart phone in lieu of dedicated GPS unit?
Old 08-05-2015, 06:27 PM   #12
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Smart phone in lieu of dedicated GPS unit?

I use DW's garmin nuvi for longer road trips, and use cell phone for shorter drives around metro areas. I prefer the nuvi for its larger screen, but it doesn't seem worth carrying multiple devices (phone and GPS) when the phone alone will suffice. I did use my iPad once for a Chicago- Phoenix trip and it was great - except I had to have a data package on the iPad. I also use the phone for hiking and biking applications and it works fine, I rarely travel outside of cell phone coverage. I haven't encountered a situation where the streets on my garmin are more up to date than those on my phone.

My suggestion is - get a garmin if screen size is important. Otherwise, keep using your phone, experimenting with various nav apps. We have some friends that love Waze.


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Old 08-05-2015, 06:29 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by harley View Post
You don't need cell coverage to use GPS on a smart phone, just turn on the GPS feature and you get the same satellites Garmin et al use. ...
As I understand it, some (most?) smart-phone GPS apps will need a data connection to do turn-by-turn navigation, or to recalculate a route (they access the computers in the cloud to figure that out). The GPS alone can show you where you are though. And NW-Bound showed how to cache a map.

But apps like OSM, Co-Pilot (mentioned below), and maybe a few others run the phone just like a GPS with no cell connection. Full turn-by-turn, route re-calc, etc.

-ERD50
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Old 08-05-2015, 06:44 PM   #14
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We use a smartphone combined with paper maps. I love my big spiral bound road atlas for US/Canada because we can look ahead to see camping areas and plot out the next day's driving, plus it gives you something to do when you are a bored passenger.

In places where there is no coverage whatsoever, say, Kazakhstan, you will want large paper maps to spread out on a table and ask locals for advice using whatever gestures you can manage. Those are fun times.

It is nice to use the turn by turn directions with audio straight from a Google search on the fly.
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Old 08-05-2015, 06:48 PM   #15
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I just upgraded my Garmin 255W and was curious what it was worth. The answer is I could buy one like it in good condition for $30 on eBay.

So bottom line, you can buy a nice used GPS these days for peanuts, if cost is a concern.
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Old 08-05-2015, 10:47 PM   #16
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If I'm driving a vehicle, I want a dedicated GPS. If I'm using public transportation or on foot, I prefer the phone.
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Old 08-05-2015, 11:02 PM   #17
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Here's a more complete instruction on how to cache a map with Google Map on a smartphone, and also to manage, delete it, etc... : https://support.google.com/gmm/answer/3273567?hl=en.

Each map is limited to 50km x 50km or 30mi x 30mi, but you can store multiple maps. This feature has let me pre-store and navigate around Canadian cities before without using up the precious roaming quota, by using WiFi in RV parks or public places.

However, without a cellular data connection this function is limited. You do not get turn-by-turn direction, cannot search for stores, addresses, etc... I have worked around it by pre-searching locations I want to visit, then dropping pins at those locations. Without turn-by-turn directions, one can still home in on the destinations and it's no different than navigating with paper maps.

I will agree that a standalone GPS would be better if one has data constraint with a smartphone when roaming.

PS. When driving, I use a USB GPS dongle with MS Street-n-Trip program running on a laptop or netbook. Bigger screen than any GPS one can buy. The map caching with a smartphone is for exploring cities on foot.
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Old 08-05-2015, 11:02 PM   #18
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My Garmin Nuvi is dedicated to my car with a hard wire setup. Cost was about $2500 less than a in-dash unit upgrade when purchasing the car.

Lifetime maps is great and I can remove it at a hotel by unclipping it from it's holder. I have it mounted in the lower left portion of the inside of the windshield just below the inspection sticker.
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Old 08-06-2015, 02:34 AM   #19
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Even though we have dedicated nav systems in both cars, we often use our iPhones (Google or Apple maps). I have an old Garmin Nuvi that served us well in previous non-nav cars, but I only it in rental cars when we fly somewhere now. We prefer the smartphone only because the maps are automatically updated unlike the nav ($169 per update, that's nonsense) or handheld GPS unit (free, but ours has to be plugged into a PC for an update).

We rarely have cell coverage issues where we live/travel, so my preference would be 1) smartphone, 2) handheld GPS and 3) built in nav (ripoff the most costly by far, and way more difficult to update). I was fine in the paper map era and still have road atlases in our cars, but we haven't opened one in at least five years, and I doubt I'll ever buy newer editions.
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Old 08-06-2015, 06:12 AM   #20
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My Garmin Nuvi is dedicated to my car with a hard wire setup. Cost was about $2500 less than a in-dash unit upgrade when purchasing the car....
I can't believe what the auto manufacturers want for GPS/nav systems. It is outrageous!! I was recently in a friend's Highlander and had brought my Garmin since we were going to a place we were unfamiliar with and the Garmin was much better then the high-priced built-in nav system.
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