The big battle: GPS vs Smartphone

The big battle: GPS vs Smartphone

Only 15 short years ago satellite navigation devices were big, bulky and the center of our outdoor trip discussions. Who will carry it? How many meters above the sea are we? Is it showing the correct position? How far away is our destination?

Author Hanka

Tall mountains were perfect, but dense forests suddenly became our least favorite landscapes – the device couldn’t communicate with the satellites and turned into a useless heavy box. Well, at least you could use it for cutting your bread and cheese during a snack break!

These days are almost forgotten because we all have GPS navigation on our smartphones. So how come there are still companies who create – and sell – specialized GPS navigation devices? Are there situations when it would be better not to rely on our smartphone?

Brother from another GPS-mother?

According to the many tests conducted, the accuracy of both smartphones and GPS devices is comparable. It’s not really a surprise, because they process the signals and calculate the location similarly.

However, there might be some important differences between the smartphones themselves depending on the model you purchased. If a GPS device can use both GPS and Glonass signals, it produces slightly more accurate results, but for hiking, it is a negligible difference.

Another functionality that we can compare is offline navigation. If you have downloaded the map or prepared a route with points of interest early, the GPS device works offline all the time.

But phones also don’t really have problems with offline navigation – given it has all the necessary data saved in its memory in advance.

Start cold with a smartphone

One big difference between GPS and phone is in case you switch it on after a long time – the so-called Cold Start. First, the location of the device is determined. Here, the smartphones beat the GPS devices, because they get data from the assistance center of their (or even a foreign) mobile operator.

This service is called A-GPS (Assisted GPS) and can shorten the time of localization of your mobile by tens of seconds. In contrast, classic GPS needs up-to-date satellite information to determine its location. Satellite data has limited validity and must be refreshed every few days.

GPS devices win in a difficult terrain

If you are nice and comfortable in your car, your phone – loaded with offline maps and the desired destination – will help you get there usually without problems.

But you might want to reconsider trusting your little technological best friend in case you venture to some more complex terrain. Research suggests that in that case, it’s better to use a specialized GPS navigation system.

Plus, if your travels lead you to a cold climate, you don’t have to choose between getting lost or freezing your fingers off, as you can control most GPS devices even in gloves, because they have – you wouldn’t believe it – buttons.

Extreme cold temperatures are often deadly for both types of devices, so if you are planning to go to the Arctic or high mountains, it’s a good idea to invest in some GPS that can handle that.

Flat is bad. At least for a battery

As owners of most smartphones know, battery life is always a problem. A modern phone can function about 24 hours, and last time we checked, they are not running on AA batteries or prayers. And even widely used power banks can store only a limited amount of electricity.

On the contrary, a GPS device will last much longer. You can also easily replace the batteries and just move on. Manufacturers say these devices last up to 5 times longer than a smartphone.

After all, their only job is to know where you are and where you should be going. No push Facebook notifications, Viber calls or unsolicited e-mails from Bill.

So, if you want to escape civilization (and Bill) for a while, choose a longer trek and one of the specialized GPS devices.

Choose your GPS guide

If you're wondering whether to go off-road with your mobile or GPS navigation, don’t stress too much. In most situations, it doesn't matter so much. Under normal conditions, the devices are comparable. You should get a special GPS device only if you are going to a difficult alpine or freezing terrain.

At our outdoor team building games, you can do with a smartphone or a GPS tablet!