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The Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Dedicated GPS vs A Smart Phone GPS

Updated on July 11, 2011

Owning a GPS years ago meant that you could never get lost. No more asking for directions. You could even search for points of interest and shopping centers. Never again did you need to stop at a gas station and ask for directions that were never accurate. Owning a GPS was and still is a luxury.Today, modern day smart phones are equipped with GPS antennas. This allowed smart phones to replace dedicated GPS devices. Is replacing your dedicated GPS device with a smart phone really a good idea? What exactly are the benefits of owning a dedicated GPS device over a smart phone? Wouldn't it be cheaper to just buy a smart phone and use it's GPS feature?

Before owning a GPS became popular, people had to go online and search MapQuest for directions. Getting directions on MapQuest became a ritual for long road trips, especially going to amusement parks like Six Flags or Disneyland. Getting directions online had its flaws. For one, you always needed a passenger to read you the directions. Unless you're good at multi-tasking. It wasn't a good idea to read while driving. Then, you had to worry about getting the directions printed. Once you got the directions printed and a good friend as a navigator, there's still no guarantee that you will reach your destination. I can recall plenty of times where printing maps were inaccurate and we got lost. The problem with online map services in the past was variables. They didn't account for variables such as traffic or even worse, detours. Detours and road blocks were a surefire way to get lost if you had printed maps. Another problems with using this method of navigation is its unforgiving nature. If you accidentally took or missed the wrong exit, you are now driving in the dark. This is where GPS devices come in.

Garmin Nuvi 3790T
Garmin Nuvi 3790T

Some popular brands of GPS are Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom. These GPS devices eliminate all the drawbacks of printed maps. Most GPS devices feature spoken street names, real time traffic reports, and turn by turn directions. They usually come with a dash or windshield mount so you can keep your eyes on the road. The nice thing about these GPS devices is they are able to reroute on the fly if you get lost or take the wrong turn. Most GPS allow you to search for points of interests, shopping centers, and gas stations starting at $100 while higher end models go up to $400. Another nice thing about GPS devices is the large screen. Smart phones have large screens themselves but they are still a bit smaller than the top of the line GPS devices. Having a dedicated GPS is nice. Although it only does one job, it does it very well.

Smart Phone GPS

As phones get better and better, smart phones became a viable alternative to dedicated GPS devices. Smart phones are able to do many things and GPS devices can only navigate. With the right software, smart phones are able to provide the same features as dedicated GPS devices. It only seems natural that smart phones would replace dedicated GPS devices however, that has not been the case. I have used both a smart phone GPS, and a dedicated GPS and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. 

If you are using a smart phone as your primary GPS, you can run into problems. For one, smart phones generally don't have a very good battery. Most smart phones only last about a day with moderate usage. By using your smart phone as a GPS, not only does it drain more battery by turning on the GPS antenna, but the screen also needs to be on drawing more power. Be sure to have a car charger and keep your smart phone plugged. Another possible downside in using your smart phone as a GPS device is receiving calls. Most GPS software that is available on smart phones have a feature that disables incoming calls when in GPS mode. This keeps the device working properly while driving but it also gimps your means of communication. Even if you disable this mode and allow incoming calls, you lose your turn by turn screen to take the call. As of today, there is no phone that will seamlessly allow you to take calls and use the GPS while driving. Until then, this is a major disadvantage of using your smart phone as a GPS. On the plus side, generally, the GPS software on smart phones is updated often and almost always a bit newer than the software on dedicated GPS devices. On newer GPS devices, some maps are updated automatically. This is not really a big deal in the suburbs but developing urban areas often have new roads and traffic pattern that has to be updated in order to function properly. 

Nexus One with GPS
Nexus One with GPS

About a year ago, there was heavy construction on a bridge near my area. My dedicated TomTom GPS was trying to take me somewhere but I knew better. I was taking the bridge and it was quite a funny sight when my GPS showed that I was flying over the water. This was a case where I needed a map update. Unfortunately, I had to pay a one time fee of $20. TomTom sells update cards much like phone cards in national retailers such as Walmart and Target. Comparing it to my GPS software, Sprint Navigation, whenever there was road work, the software would always be updated. Same thing can be said for Google Maps with navigation on Android. 

Some people like using a smart phone as a GPS but over the years, I prefer buying a dedicated GPS device to take care of my commuting needs. I like keeping my phone as a phone first and a GPS device as a back up. I enjoy the feature of a large screen on the bigger, high end GPS devices and I also try my best to not use my phone at all while driving. I find myself more distracted when I use my phone while driving, even if it is only being used as a GPS. The benefits of using a dedicated GPS is subtle but it is a preference I prefer. Most people like the idea of consolidating their devices like music player, GPS, and phone into one. The problem is not that is doesn't work, but it doesn't do it as well for me.

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    • grizzlyff profile image


      6 years ago from Sugar Hill, GA

      Since I started using my Smartphone (Windows (HTC) Phone with Garmin software), I use it exclusively when I need to to use a GPS in my car. For me, the only real drawback is the phone slides off the dashboard, and i assume i can (and should) buy an adapter to make that more handy. You are so right about the map updating aspect on fixed GPSs...and I always make sure I keep the phone plugged in, so it doesn't run down the battery. Good article!

    • vinner profile image


      8 years ago from India

      Good work I have a Galaxy 5 phone with A GPS but it cannot be used to replace a dedicated GPS

    • MrLynch profile image


      8 years ago

      I agree. I have a Tom Tom and a Blackberry Curve. The GPS on the phone is much slower and combined with the smaller screen it's more suited as an emergency backup.


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