The Differences Between Automotive, Outdoor and Marine GPS

It's important to draw a distinction between GPS units built for outdoor, automotive, and marine use. While all three make use of the Global Positioning System, they each have specific features which potential buyers should know about to ensure that they are purchasing the correct type for their needs. Different types also have different strengths due to varying intended audiences and usage scenarios. Furthermore, there are differing tiers for each type, ranging from lower end models with basic functionality and a more conservative price tag to high end devices loaded with special features, Internet connectivity and higher quality materials.

Automotive GPS

Automotive GPS units are likely the most familiar type of GPS. Built to guide users on car trips, these units attach to the windshield or dashboard of a car and usually have a touchscreen and voice capabilities for navigation. Several key features make automotive GPS units stand out from others. They typically come with map data which turns latitude and longitude information into placement on a road map which reflects the real world. Most modern devices can also be updated via the Internet to allow for changes in roads, construction, and other route alterations. Some contain advanced features such as the ability to avoid toll roads, obtain traffic data or even information about which nearby gas stations have the lowest prices. Many also have set lists of potential destinations, such as restaurants and sports venues. Automotive GPS units often depend on up-to-date information, so they may require a wireless Internet connection or a cord that connects them to a computer for updating. Automotive GPS units usually come preloaded with maps for a certain region like North America or Europe.

Outdoor GPS

Outdoor GPS units are built for hikers and other outdoor hobbyists. These devices tend to be rugged with strong satellite reception due to users taking them (literally) off the beaten path. An outdoor GPS needs to function as well at the corner store as it does on the Appalachian Trail. Since an outdoor GPS unit might be a hobbyist's only link to civilization, it is important that they certain safety features like the ability to contact emergency services. Outdoor GPS units also need to be light and portable so that users can readily carry them in their hands, in backpacks, or on belts. The outdoor GPS is less about guiding users to a specific destination and more about helping them stick to a route in the wilderness while keeping track of their exact location. Outdoor GPS units are also mindful of changes in terrain or elevation, also known as topography.

Marine GPS

As the name implies, a marine GPS system is designed for use in watercraft and at sea. These units can be larger and more elaborate than automotive and outdoor ones since they are often mounted to a boat's dashboard. Exact positioning is very important to naval navigation. For this reason, marine GPS units need to combine the accuracy of automobile units with the reception of outdoor units. Boaters depend on these systems for their position information where at sea it is typically much harder to determine exact location. Marine GPS units also often provide other important services such as weather information and other important maritime communications. Unpredictable weather at sea can be a life-threatening concern depending on the size of the craft and the time of year. As such, some units offer specialty features like the ability to "see" the ocean floor below via sounding technology or the use of sonar to locate sea life.

While each of these categories of devices tap into the same system, the unique features of each illustrate just how specialized the GPS industry has become. Users should decide on the role they want their GPS to perform and prioritize which features are most important.