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General Articles - Extras

Global Positioning Satellite Receivers

Article written by Moab Man

Date Added: 05/07/2006

How many times have you been wheeling and found a great spot that you planned to come back to but can't remember where it was?

Or maybe you want to run the Golden Spike trail of Moab, but no one in your group has ever done it.

Neither of these two scenarios or many others will ever plague you again with a small investment into a Global Positioning Satellite receiver, or GPS as it is commonly known. A basic entry level receiver is all you need and can be picked up for around $100. For those wanting a GPS with more bells and whistles, the sky is the limit in cost.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, here is a brief explanation of the GPS system.

Located 10,900nm above the earth are (currently) twenty nine satellites circling the earth in a 12 hour orbit. As they orbit the earth, they are continually transmitting data which is picked up by your GPS unit. Using some basic calculations, your GPS will determine your location on Earth to within a range of seven to thirty feet.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what the whole GPS thing is, let's look at a few of the different units on the market.
Garmin Etrex (basic)

This little unit can be purchased on sale for around $70, but typically sells for $100.

It is the most basic of GPS's. It will communicate with up to 12 satellites (as is standard), operates on 2 AA batteries, and in battery save mode can last up to 22 hours.

Additional items can be purchased for this unit such as a data cable to connect with your computer, power cord for battery free operation in a vehicle, and numerous attachments for mounting it.

This unit can handle up to 500 user-entered waypoints (point of interest/navigation). It also has Garmin's Trackback® function allowing the user to retrace his/her steps.

This unit is not WAAS capable, and maps cannot be loaded into the unit.
Garmin GPS V Deluxe

With additional cash comes additional bells & whistles. This particular unit will run $240-$300 through Amazon.com.

The screen is similar to the Etrex but larger. It uses 4 AA batteries and will last up to 25 hours.

This unit has the ability to store city/topographic maps and up to 500 waypoints, calculate driving directions, and numerous other functions.

Memory: 19 megabytes for maps

WAAS Enabled
Garmin Etrex Legend C

This little $250 unit has a colored screen and uses 2 AA batteries with an expected life of 15 hours.

The Legend connects to your computer with a mini USB cable allowing for much quicker uploads and downloads.

Memory: 24 megabytes for maps

WAAS Enabled
There are a number of other GPS brands like Magellan and Lowrance available on the market, and each will have their loyal followers. Whichever model/brand you choose, we suggest going with a major name. Many of the brand X models perform less than satisfactory.

So which one should you choose?

This is difficult to answer since personal preference plays such a big part. What we would suggest is doing some research with the following things in mind:

Internal or external antenna? Internal antennas are nice because there is nothing sticking out of the unit. However, external antennas will have better reception where tree foliage is medium to heavy.

Color or non? Color is really nice, easier to read, and looks good. Unfortunately all these good looks reduce battery life. This decision comes down to whether you want the longer battery life, or the good looks.

Accessories? Do your homework and find out what comes with the GPS unit. The basic Etrex is $100, $20 for a power cable, $30 for a data cable, etc... The GPS V and Legend C comes with all of these things and more. Totaling up your cost to equip a cheaper model may approach the price of higher end model.

WAAS? This is a capability allowing for greater accuracy offered on most models. Depending on where you are, WAAS satellites may be difficult to pick up.

Final Thoughts

All GPS's do the same job; they talk to 12 satellites and tell your location. Buying a higher end model will have more functions such as mapping and providing driving directions. None of these things are necessary but can make using your GPS a much better experience. The main thing is to get one that you will enjoy using, or you'll never use it at all.

Shop around!!! The price differences can be extreme. The above listed Garmin GPS V can be found on Amazon.com for $240. At the local sporting goods store, this exact model was listed for $539, and on sale for $459.

Amazon.com has excellent prices on various new GPS's.
MegaGPS.com Has a deeper discount? This company sells factory refurbished units from Garmin, warranty included.

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