As smartphones become increasingly popular, they are taking over markets previously filled by stand-alone devices. For example, smartphones have largely replaced MP3 and other handheld music players. For many people, they also fill the role of digital cameras. With these takeovers, we cannot help but ask – have smartphones made handheld GPS units obsolete?

The answer to this question largely depends on how you use your GPS. There are some cases where your smartphone will meet your needs and replace a handheld GPS. However, in some instances, a smartphone cannot hold up where GPS units can. In this article, we outline some of the pros and cons of handheld GPS and smartphone GPS.

Smartphone GPS
The biggest draw to use your smartphone as your GPS is convenience. Your smartphone is something that you most likely have on hand at all times. This means it is readily available when you need it and you do not have to think about packing any extra gear.

A smartphone is a good, reliable option for navigating your way through the city by foot or car. A smartphone GPS is also good to have on hand for short hikes because it offers trail information and can be used in an emergency.

Many smartphones have built-in GPS maps designed to provide directions from point A to point B. There is also a variety of reliable apps available that are specifically designed for smartphone GPS tracking and for improving smartphone GPS accuracy; there are apps that cater to hiking enthusiasts and some for geocachers.

Using your smartphone and available smartphone apps is significantly cheaper than buying a new handheld GPS. Even a cheap handheld GPS, like the eTrex Touch from Garmin, starts at around $200.

Handheld GPS
While there are many areas where a smartphone GPS excels, there are a couple of areas where it cannot yet compete with the best handheld GPS units. Durability is the most obvious of these areas. If you buy a smartphone specifically for outdoor activities, then there is a small chance it might be able to hold up in tough outdoor conditions. However, the smartphones that the average user is drawn to will not fare well when used as a GPS in harsh conditions.

If you are looking for a GPS for hiking or fishing, then a true handheld GPS device is better than a smartphone. Many GPS units are waterproof or splashproof. This means they perform well even in tough conditions like heavy rain or snow. If you accidentally drop it in the river or lake, it will not be ruined.

The second reason why a handheld GPS is better for hiking or long trips in the mountains is battery life. Handheld recreational GPS units have interchangeable batteries. Many operate using AA batteries that can easily be swapped. If you are going to be away from a power source for an extended period, then a handheld GPS is a better choice for you than just using your smartphone.

Both handheld GPS and smartphone GPS systems provide accurate directions and can be used in a variety of ways. If you are looking for a GPS to take with you on runs around town or day hikes, then a smartphone GPS could be the most affordable option and take the place of a traditional handheld GPS. However, if you need a reliable device to take with you on backpacking trips or in harsh terrain, then a handheld GPS is still the best fit.

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