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Discussion Starter #1
Hi All,

I searched to forums but didn't find any really recent threads and technology changes quickly. I am looking for a stand alone, offline GPS. The most important thing to me is map detail. I will use navigation features when in town but the best maps offline is the most important thing to me. I am looking at the Garmin DriveSmart 65:


Back up camera might be cool. Being able to use my cell phone as a data link in town might be cool. Any comments on this unit or suggestions for a better one?

Thanks!
 

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Is it the standalone part that's important to you, or the offline part? Or maybe both?

Many people don't appreciate the difference between a GPS receiver and a mapping application because they are usually seen combined.

I think it's safe to say that every smart phone produced in the last decade has a very good GPS receiver built in. When people think of maps, it's usually Google or maybe Bing, or whatever other flavour of the month is out there. All of these want you to be connected to the Internet to function well - which, you probably know doesn't work well in many situations.

I ditched my standalone GPS receivers years ago in favour of smart phones, but I very rarely use mapping services that require (or "encourage") me to be connected.

Look up Open Street Maps for Android (OSMAnd) and you'll find a feature rich application with highly detailed, regularly updated, worldwide, downloadable maps. It's a painless process to find the maps for the areas you'll be travelling in and download them on WiFi ahead of your trip.

The application is free with some limitations, and for a cost much lower than a standalone unit you can purchase the app and have no limitations.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Well, I guess I don't know the difference between standalone and offline. This is the kind of technolgy I suck at, you can't use ohm's law to figure out what you need to do. I have backcountry navigator pro on my phone but I have to download maps painstakingly and the screen is small. I have a bunch of small nits with it.

Primarily, I need the most detailed map I can get when out of cell coverage. Obviously, a really good GPS receiver is needed to keep GPS coverage. An external antenna connector would be a plus.
 

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I also use BCNav, but for "raster" maps, those made from tiles/images/pictures. These are great when aerial information is useful to travel, like trying to skirt around a wetland in a remote wilderness area. Or finding a tiny navigable waterway (though seasonal changes introduce another challenge).

Online maps are also usually raster/tile based. On a slow connection, you may have noticed the map filling in little squares. Each of these is a picture generated by the map server.

OSMAnd uses offline (download once ahead of time) vector maps. These take up less storage space but can contain plentiful detail for road and trail navigation. Vector maps are made up of lines, points, shapes, text, etc. and the application generates a good looking map from that data. It also means you can change how it looks on the fly, like changing to a "dark" theme at night, or highlighting more/different detail for off-road/trail use

Give it a chance. So long as your phone isn't complete crap, you might like it. (Note: I don't know if there's an iPhone version) The only cost is your time and I'd be happy to help the initial learning curve where I can.
 

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Easy enough to make your own GPS device with a cheap tablet and good software. Many tablets have same GPS antenna as smartphones. That way you can have a 10" GPS screen!

Offline satellite imagery, even if downloaded, would be great. Or a topo map option.

I've had a Garmin Nuvi 255w for a dozen years or more, and it works just fine for finding addresses and routes. I recently replaced the built-in battery because it no longer allowed the device to start up. I primarily use the iGo program built into my double DIN Android radio, but the software went glitchy last year and I can't really "upgrade" because the radio used Android 4 (very out of date). I'm contemplating getting a whole new radio for $100 just because I'd like a current OS so I can run newer apps.

I can't use my phone for GPS very well because it's a 3.5" screen iPhone 3. I'm waiting for a NEW pocket sized phone to take it's place; I have no use for a giant screen phone to make calls and texts, and they only seem to offer giant screen phones now.
 

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I can't use my phone for GPS very well because it's a 3.5" screen iPhone 3. I'm waiting for a NEW pocket sized phone to take it's place; I have no use for a giant screen phone to make calls and texts, and they only seem to offer giant screen phones now.
A tangent, but I recently switched from a Kyocera Brigadier to a OnePlus 6. The phone is massive in comparison. I was hesitant but understand now why they're so popular. I'm sold.

Also, the suggestion of using a tablet is a good one. It can be used as a dedicated device so you can keep the small phone in your pocket. OSMAnd works just as well or better on an Android tablet. I was actually considering this, but my newer phone's screen seems big enough for me.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Surly, how do you think the GPS receiver in a tablet compares to a purpose built one? I am often under trees or in mountainous terrain. If they are just as good, how easy is it to get a complete, detailed map of the US and Canada?
 

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Surly, how do you think the GPS receiver in a tablet compares to a purpose built one? I am often under trees or in mountainous terrain. If they are just as good, how easy is it to get a complete, detailed map of the US and Canada?
I suspect they are going to vary in reception based on the hardware, so a websearch for best tablet gps is in your future. I have an old Garmin eTrex Legend-c, and that thing takes FOREVER to find satellites, sometimes never finds enough, and wasn't very reliable in the Redwoods. Newer smartphones seem to take only a few seconds, and work pretty good under the redwood canopy. If a tablet has the same hardware, it should perform the same. An optional external antenna WOULD be a plus, though.
 

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Trees aren't much of an issue for modern receivers. Mountains and lots of tall buildings can be a problem.

It has to do with the amount of sky "visible", but to RF, which can go through a lot. Also which satellites are in that visible area, of which there are many available in most populated areas.

I don't think you're going to find an appreciable improvement with a dedicated unit, but I have no personal experience to back this up. There are only so many companies capable of mass producing the chipsets and antennae.

I'd even go further and bet that just like the aftermarket audio system replacements, many standalone GPS units are built from Android hardware. It's a perfect platform with low development costs. Most users wouldn't notice the difference.

ADDED: GPS Status & Toolbox - Apps on Google Play

Use the above to see what your phone's GPS receiver is doing and the satellites it is receiving.

I'll step down from the soap box now... 😁
 

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I just compared my current phone (OnePlus 6) with my old one (Kyocera Brigadier) and there's a distinct difference between the two.

The new phone takes seconds to find at least 12 satellites and get a fix within 10m ... FROM INSIDE MY METAL VAN WITH METAL PARTITION. I'm very impressed by this. Outside in an area with only a few low buildings it's significantly better, tracking 18 satellites and an immediate accuracy (gets better with time) of 3m.

Now, the old phone is a comparable disappointment. Again from inside the van I just about gave up on it getting a fix, but after a few minutes it finally did. It struggled to track 6 satellites and was reading positional accuracy of around 50 to 100m. I'm sure it would do better up front in the cab and definitely outside. The GPS on this phone successfully guided my way (or at least provided verification) on many a trip in the past.

Sorry.. kinda hogging the podium here. I'm passionate about this because I witness people all the time not fully taking advantage of the electronics they already own. They end up purchasing other things they think are needed, only to be disappointed by them. It generates a phenomenal amount of waste.

... Might be done now 😉
 

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I ditched my standalone GPS receivers years ago in favour of smart phones, but I very rarely use mapping services that require (or "encourage") me to be connected.
If I wake up in an area with no internet and need to navigate to my next destination, a standalone GPS is my go to. A smart phone isn't going to cut it. The GPS is like having a Rand McNally road atlas in the vehicle from days gone past.
 

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If I wake up in an area with no internet and need to navigate to my next destination, a standalone GPS is my go to. A smart phone isn't going to cut it. The GPS is like having a Rand McNally road atlas in the vehicle from days gone past.
This is the sort of nonsense I don't get. I've lived and navigated with no data/Internet plan on my phones for years and years before just recently getting it. It's naive.

The only thing you don't get are live conditions like traffic and construction. Otherwise the experience is pretty much the same, with no data connection required.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Great! Another rabbit hole to explore! o_O

For sure I am getting a larger GPS. While the phone with Backcountry Navigator Pro is fine for hiking, the screen is too small to use for general use on the road and route planning. Just this weekend we were finding our way on some small dirt tracks and Dream Girl and I trying to huddle over the phone to where we could both see it just wasn't working.

A tablet is an interesting idea. It would be cool to be able to put FORSCAN on it. The only thing is I find it hard to believe that they have as good a GPS receiver. GPS chips cost money, as does an antenna. They suck up power too. My understanding (very limited) is that the phone/tablet GPS is also generally augmented with cell phone triangulation.

Scout, I love the Rand-McNally atlases. I also have the Delorme and Benchmark ones. Sadly, they are not available for all states and are slowly getting out of date as I think it is no longer profitable to update for them. What GPS do you use?
 

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I have a couple 10" and an old Samsung 7" tablet that I'm pondering what to do with. They all have old Android OS and can't be updated to new OS. Besides installing a GPS program, I think putting a digital version of an actual MAP on it would be a big benefit. Before we had access to satellites and cellular phone service, we used paper maps and did pretty well with them. In fact, I keep a "western states" multimap under my seat. So, load the Rand McNally or Forest Service topo maps other plain old non-interactive maps on your tablet, too. I've screen-captured satellite imagery of specific areas and saved them to my tablet as JPEGs for some trips.

Another handy offline app to put on your "stays in the van" tablet:
Camper leveler
Once set up on a known flat surface (truck scale is a good bet) or with a 4' level on your van floor showing it to be level (it actually isn't level on a level surface...), it will tell you within less than an inch how much each of the four wheels needs to go up or down in order to level the van.

Also, another rabbit hole: 10" screen radio replacement tablets for $70-150. Current latest OS so they'll run any GPS app available, needs a double DIN kit from Metra to take the place of the stock radi0 ($50). Most come with a GPS app and Torque already installed, along with a bunch of other useful and useless software. One downside is that they do not have a player for CD/DVD, if you still use those.
 

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This is the sort of nonsense I don't get. I've lived and navigated with no data/Internet plan on my phones for years and years before just recently getting it. It's naive.

The only thing you don't get are live conditions like traffic and construction. Otherwise the experience is pretty much the same, with no data connection required.
Put your phone in airplane mode and see if you can search for a place to navigate to. I'll wait.
 

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My plan is to upgrade my factory radio to a touchscreen with CarPlay, per one of the dozen threads on the forum. Gaia GPS just released a CarPlay compatible app, which can use pre-downloaded maps of a few dozen varieties, and I have found to be the best for vehicle and foot based mapping. It's still phone based, but I get to use the screen in the van.
 

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Put your phone in airplane mode and see if you can search for a place to navigate to. I'll wait.
With a comment like this it's apparent you've never used OSMAnd.
 

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My 2 cents.

I have three dedicated (standalone) GPS solutions (mostly Garmin) and while rugged and heavy, I don't find them more accurate or speedy than dual purpose products. They do give more details that might be interesting to some like # and location of satellites but I rarely used it after the first month. They are heavy and generally have smaller screens.
I'm also irritated that the GPS companies charge you for annual map updates.

I bluetooth a dedicated (screenless) GPS module to a Samsung Tab and that provides a accurate mapping solution but unless you have a requirement for a large screen, it is awkward taking care (charging, syncing, updating) of two devices. I use it for flying but wouldn't recommend it otherwise.
Check out your local marine store if you are set on this option because they have many purpose made navigation screens and external GPS antenna that can be cabled together.

In an effort to have fewer products that do more, I have moved away from the dedicated solution.

The Garmin inReach Explorer plus is a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) that is a GPS with maps as well as providing SOS and 2 way satellite comms. The downside is the monthly fees. The upside is that someone may be able to find and rescue/recover you if things go poorly. The PLB competitor in the market is SPOT but it doesn't have as functional of mapping solution so I wouldn't recommend it for your needs.

My favorite go-to solution for off network mapping is to put my phone in airplane mode (to save battery power) and pull up the maps.me app. It continues to utilize the phone GPS and the location lock is quite reliable for me. You download the section of the world (or US) that you want to navigate and it's downloaded to your phone. It works on both iphone and android.
The maps are continuously updated by the OSM community which is people like us sending in updates. Sometimes the Garmin maps are a year behind changes. My experience is that maps.me are noticeably more current, especially for dirt roads. It also has a remarkable amount of trails so it becomes your hiking map as well. I've used it across 4 continents without a problem. It can create pins for locations (in advance or realtime), it can create breadcrumbs for documenting a trail.

If you are worried about battery life, add a battery phone case or plug into a power supply although I find that my phone will go all day unplugged in airplane mode.

If you are worried about ruggedness, get a sturdy case like an otterbox case.

I feel maps.me the best recreational mapping product in the market today. It's free so you can easily try it. If you like it, it may be worth $10 to have them get rid of the ads.

Of course if you don't like the size of your phone screen, this won't be perfect for you.:)
 

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Put your phone in airplane mode and see if you can search for a place to navigate to. I'll wait.

If you get an app for your phone that is made to be used in airplane mode, there are several that will be almost instantaneous. Download one and give it a try. Just to be sure I was accurate, I turned off radio, wifi and bluetooth and then pulled up maps.me. Location was immediate. I then had it set a route to a city a city a couple hundred miles away. Turn by turn directions came up in 10 seconds or so,as quick as my car GPS.

The key is downloading the maps because the GPS chips on higher end phones are pretty good. The Samsung Tab chipset isn't great and I wouldn't use it as a standalone mapping tool.

The mapping application support is quite good now for both Android and iPhone. Google maps also allows offline maps but I think it deletes them after 30 days which is a slight pain on longer trips.
 
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