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There are different types of GPS receivers. Before deciding which receiver to buy, you might consider a quick read of the following. This could eventually change your decision.
 
Type 1: Not-self-contained receivers (without screen), also known as RS232 receivers or also GPS mice. This type needs a computer (often a Pocket-PC or Palm PDA) and according program in order to visualize the actual position of the GPS receiver. The link between the GPS and the computer can be wireless (Bluetooth), by means of a cable or via a card-slot or sleeve. This type is often used for car-navigation systems with moving map on the computer screen and for golf GPS systems. See also our Car GPS page.

Type 2: Self-contained receivers (with screen). Here the computer is integrated in the GPS receiver. We have to distinguish between non-mapping devices (often handheld) and mapping devices which can be handheld or mounted in boat, car or plane (often with external antenna). This type sometimes has extra features as a barometer/altimeter, an electronic compass or even a radio transmitter/receiver.

 
If your primary use will be in boating or aviation, you should look for a receiver for those particular fields, as they offer you some extra features and readings that will be missing on general purpose models. On the other hand will a good handheld marine GPS receiver serve you perfectly on land.
 
Type 3: The more sophisticated GPS Receivers for professional use in agriculture, mapping and GIS, military, oil and gas, public safety, survey etc. The principle of these receivers is the same as the above, but they often use extra receivers and special antennas for higher accuracy and can often store an enormous amount of in the field collected data, which can be treated later in the office.
 
Type 4: Dedicated single-purpose GPS systems as there are the car GPS systems with a build-in GPS receiver, using maps from the device manufacturer. Very useful for this purpose, especially because you can take the system from one vehicle to another without hassle. So you can even use it in a rented car or Jeep, during your holidays, contrary to the fixed in-vehicle GPS systems. You can only use maps of the device manufacturer and you can not upload your own maps.
 
Here we also have to mention the stand-alone golf GPS systems, which show you where you are in relation to various targets on the golf-course of your choice. Most models in this category will not perform good (at all) as a classic GPS receiver. 

Type 5: Very special applications, using GPS, as there are vehicle tracking systems and child-locator devices. Both use a GPS-chip to measure their location and some form of wireless phone system to communicate this information over great distances, eventually via Internet.

Type 6: Phones with incorporated GPS receiver. They could already be used for in-car navigation with street maps coming in through the air. End May 2005 Sylvan Ascent Inc. launched TopoPhone, which provides outdoor recreation enthusiasts with a better GPS solution by turning a cell phone with built-in GPS into a complete Topographic mapping system. TopoPhone is superior to traditional GPS units, because it uses the phone to download maps automatically, and allows you to see where your friends and family are located.

Mapping or non-mapping GPS receiver?

With a comparable mapping GPS you can do everything that you can do with the non-mapping one and more (example the Garmin GPSMAP 76 and the GPS 76). But neither into the non-mapping, nor into the mapping version can you load your own maps. Only maps of the GPS manufacturer can be loaded into the mapping GPS and if you want to use it outside of the US or Europe, you will probably not find suitable maps.

And if you are a walker or a hiker who uses small-scale topographic maps, you can probably forget it all together to find any usable map. As a mapping GPS is about 60% more expensive than the non-mapping version, you should only buy the mapping version if the manufacturer has at least one very good map (or marine chart) for your use or could sell it in the near future.

Even a non-mapping GPS receiver has a map page. The word is correct, but if you love beautiful paper maps, be prepared for a disappointment. It will only show some points (waypoints) and some lines (routes and/or tracks). For most navigation tasks however, you don’t need more.

And what if you absolutely want or need to use your own (digital) maps with your GPS?

Today’s PDA’s can store 1GB or more of data on removable memory-cards and are powerful enough to run sophisticated software that can move your maps and even zoom in and out automatically. So your maps and software are stored in your PDA and a separate GPS receiver, linked to the PDA, delivers the GPS data.

The most flexible GPS configuration

Almost every GPS receiver can communicate with a PDA (Pocket-PC or Palm). A good non-mapping GPS receiver will serve you much more than a car navigation system could ever achieve. As stand-alone classic GPS receiver it will be your guiding assistant wherever you are on land, at sea or in the air. Linked to a PDA with commercial navigation software and a route-planner, it is a complete door-to-door car navigation system.

Would you like to use your own (digitized) topographic maps with your GPS? In this configuration you can. All you need is PC software (See our GPS Software page) that allows you to geo-reference imported or scanned (topo)maps and a small moving-map software for your PocketPC. If you already have a PocketPC, running PC2000 or higher, this is definitely the way to go.

Together with a non-mapping GPS receiver, you can learn all aspects of GPS use.