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Future of Garmin and dedicated GPSr ??

Started by vt.flatlander, April 25, 2016, 07:14:00 AM

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I have owned only three individual Garmin GPSr's over the past ten years and have been happy with what each successive unit has provided. My current unit is an Oregon 600 which I am building my own basic topo maps for. It has been fun and educational but I'm wondering if I should start focusing on what other technologies have to offer in respect to map building and GPS use.
I'm probably in a very small minority of persons who don't actually own a cell phone so I have no experience with such devices in regard to using them for purposes other than communication.
Thoughts from anyone?


I think the writing is on the wall. Sales of dedicated PNDs have dropped dramatically over the last 5 or 6 years. Just look at these forums, the forums and the gpspassion forums. They are very sleepy places today, but go back to 2009 and they were buzzing with discussion. People were really excited about gps devices then, eager to discuss the new models, discovering what they could do with their own units.

As you said, you are in a small minority of people without cell phones. I don't think you and your peers are going to buy enough dedicated gps devices to fuel the market. The sad reality is that people who prefer dedicated devices are getting older every day, and eventually they will be gone (I am 66 myself ;) ).

So Garmin will no doubt continue selling devices, but there will be fewer of them and new models will just be incremental upgrades (like their recent handhelds). Garmin's hardware is at least 5 years behind smartphone/tablet technology and it costs twice as much. I think we are coming to a point where people get tired of that. I know I am. I have owned 4 Garmin handhelds and 7 automotive GPS devices, going back to around 2003 IIRC (before that I had a Magellan handheld and DeLorme Earthmate puck for my laptop).

Highly unlikely that I will buy any more Garmin devices. I got an iPhone 6s Plus in December and am really happy with it as a GPS. I use several apps, including Garmin StreetPilot, which is almost identical to the Nuvi. In a desparate kind of strategy, Garmin prevents you from importing/exporting any data from the StreetPilot app and you cannot add any maps, it only works with City Navigator the country you purchased. I had the EU version from a trip a couple years ago. I actually had to purchase the whole app again to get the North America maps. The only reason they make this all so difficult is that it could easily replace the Nuvi otherwise.

Garmin has the Monterra handheld that is Android based and ridiculously expensive $650 IIRC. The software is a separate app called Garmin Outdoors. They could easily offer this as a standalone iOS and Android app, but they won't. Again, they are protecting their hardware sales. I think they're missing the boat, I would pay a premium for a full featured Garmin app, perhaps $100.

Garmin is transitioning to wearable devices, fitness and other things that interest "millenials". Look at their recent products, like dog collars, a baby monitor, a bathroom scale....

You might enjoy this discussion over at GPSreview:


Interesting thread over at gpsreview.
I am 56 yeas old and still prefer a printed street map to get around(when I do travel outside my normal circle).
For me the GPSr is mostly used for recording where I go when I am in the field. When heading out  I bring in order of priority a compass(plus a backup),paper map and GPSr. I use the GPSr to help me get in and out of places in the dark but during daylight I only glance at it to get a better position as to where I am on the map.
I paid $215.00 for my Oregon 600 from Cabela's on sale and I used my Club points to get it so it was essentially free. I have only used free maps from this site and am now using my own. So my investment has been minimal.
At this point I would be sad not to have my handheld along with me so if it failed I would buy another.


With a dedicated GPSR, you get one App and access to a limited set of maps.

With a Smartphone, you get a choice of apps and, usually, the ability to add your own maps.

I use an Android Nexus when hiking, quite often without carrying a paper map. I use Back Country Navigator and MyTrails - when I need more screen space (e.g for planning a route the night before) I put the same maps on a iPad and use GalileoGPS. Since having a moving map to see where I am going, I never load a digital route in advance of a trip.

Apart from Open Street Map, many counties are now offering free digital maps. In New Zealand you can post off a hard drive to a government agency and receive it back fully loaded with maps.

200 pounds (~$300) buys a very powerful device nowadays. And it will make calls, send texts, deliver Emails and a whole lot more.

For me, the future is the smartphone.


Thank you for the feedback.
Quote from: jolly47roger on April 26, 2016, 07:46:39 AM

200 pounds (~$300) buys a very powerful device nowadays. And it will make calls, send texts, deliver Emails and a whole lot more.

For me, the future is the smartphone.
What are the typical additional monthly costs for having cell service?
I realize I'm in the minority these days not having a need for a cell phone. Coverage in my area is poor and unreliable.
What kind of accuracy and reliability can one expect from cell phone service in remote locations regarding GPS use?


I think the price depends on which country you are in. In Britain, I pay 7.50pounds per month for 200 minutes of calls, texts and 500MB of data. But there are plans where you just pay for usage as long as you buy something every few months.

But to use a smartphone for GPS you do not need a cellular service at all. Indeed, if I am not expecting calls I switch to airplane mode when on the trail and this prolongs the battery life. You can load the maps from a PC via USB or wifi and the GPS/GLONASS signals are not part of the cellular spectrum. In clear conditions I get 5metres accuracy or better.

An alternative (but heavier to carry) is a tablet with GPS and no cellular function at all. This has zero recurring cost.


Quote from: vt.flatlander on April 26, 2016, 08:58:47 AMWhat are the typical additional monthly costs for having cell service?
I realize I'm in the minority these days not having a need for a cell phone. Coverage in my area is poor and unreliable.
What kind of accuracy and reliability can one expect from cell phone service in remote locations regarding GPS use?

My friend from the EU is in New York for a couple weeks and we setup a T-mobile plan a few years ago for when she visits. Gave her my old iPhone 4 - even though this is about a 5 year old device, I would bet it has 2x or 3x the cpu of current Garmin handhelds as well as 32gb internal memory. You should be able to get something like this very inexpensively (although newer is better, perhaps an iPhone 5s).

Anyway, when we first opened her T-Mobile acct, it was necessary to deposit a minimum of $10 every 3 months to "keep it alive". This would be their "pay as you go" plan where you only pay for the calls you make. The money just accumulates in the plan if you don't make any calls. After a year (IIRC) they said she was a "loyal customer" and now I just deposit $10 in the account once per year and it remains active for the next time she will visit the US.

Just looked at their plans and they are very confusing, but from what I can tell, $60/ month gives you unlimited US calls (maybe canada too?) and unlimited text messages. It also includes (I think) 2gb of data, but that is on their highest speed network. I think it is actually unlimited data, but after 2gb it will be slower. This is what she has while visiting, but she... talks and texts a lot. ;)

IF you don't really need that much, you can just use the pay as you go rates, and keep adding money to your account as needed. No idea how good their coverage is.

I have used both Verizon and AT&T and the coverage is very similar, and widely available except for remote areas. Cell service is weak where I live, can't usually get a decent signal inside the house. Out in the yard it usually works with a 2-bar signal. I have a device called a Femtocell at home. It's a miniature cell tower that just covers the area around the house and sends the call over my DSL connection. It's all user-transparent, works just like any other phone call. All the companies have some version of this, mine is an "AT&T MicroCell".

GPS chip quality can vary, the newer models are generally better and include GLONASS. If you want better accuracy, you can use a bluetooth device like the Garmin GLO. I have reviewed this at GPSTracklog several years ago, and also did some testing with it recently - see:

From your question, not sure if you understand. Modern smartphones have standalone GPS receivers inside, they do not require any cellular service to operate. If cellular and/or wifi signals are present however, they can use these to augment the precision of the GPS fix.

At the operating system level, iOS chooses whatever source is most accurate. If you read my report about the Garmin StreetPilot app in New York City, I found it better at showing my position than a dedicated gps. I assume this was due to cell and wifi signals. It even tracked me through the Lincoln tunnel as I sped up and slowed down with traffic. :)


Thanks for all the info here.
I honestly have no knowledge of cell phone use,plans,or features so this in very informative.
I was not aware that phones have GPS receivers in them and could be used without service. How rugged is a typical cell phone as opposed to something like my Oregon 600 ?


For any serious outdoor use you would want a rugged case. I have an Otterbox Defender that offers good shock protection and some water resistance (not submersible though, the speaker and microphone are not covered). Phone pops in and out of the case pretty easily. I think it cost about $50.

I got a waterproof case initially, it was around $70. Ended up returning it. Too difficult to put the phone in/out. Also concerned about audio quality since it is completely sealed inside the case.

You can get rugged cases with a battery. Phone screens are much higher resolution than Garmin screens and have much brighter backlights. They are not transreflective however, so you must always run the backlight to see the screen. In full, direct sun they are challenged, but in almost every other situation they are equal or better to any of my Garmin units.

My iPhone 6s Plus will run ~5 hours at full brightness. Could extend that at a lower setting, or use a battery case for even longer times. Mophie is a popular brand of battery case:

As I mentioned, you can use a Bluetooth GPS receiver if you want higher accuracy. These are small and can clip on to your pocket, hat, pack, etc. My Garmin GLO cost $90. You can get sub-meter accuracy with some bluetooth devices, but they are very expensive.

The phone's internal GPS is pretty good, I am using it in the car with no problem. Have not done any serious testing of the internal GPS on my iPhone. I have a Samsung Android tablet and the internal GPS there is pretty bad. It works well with the bluetooth GPS however.


For real outdoor use, a dedicated unit still makes more sense.  You don't have to worry about banging it up or dropping it in a creek or needing a case to protect it.  One battery charge will last two or three days of use.


For my personal use, those differences aren't very compelling, I don't go on long hikes. But I still have my Montana 600, GPSMap60csx and even Magellan Triton 1500. That's my point.... Garmin is not likely to introduce any NEW products that interest me, especially considering the premium price.

Seems most of your points are addressed by a case like this for $130

IP68 Ingress Protection. Tested and passed standards against the invasion of dust, foreign objects and water immersion up to 1.2m for 30 minutes.

Powerful 2,750mAh battery and integrated power button let you choose when to charge; saving juice for when you need it most.

Military Standard 810G is a United States Military Standard that tests against vibrations, shocks and drops. *Drop protection:
MIL STD 810G-516.6, up to 1.2m

Additional hours.
2,750mAh delivers more than 100% extra battery. See additional hours broken down below.

The juice pack H2PRO features a flexible, scratch-resistant membrane that is compatible with Touch ID and still allows full use of the phone's touch screen. Integrated mute switch, volume and lock buttons complete the pass-through design allowing total control of your iPhone 6s / 6.


For weather protection, I use an Aquapac which is light and totally waterproof.

I can work the buttons and touchscreen through it and as it hangs round my neck I won't drop the phone.

And it's good for reading a Kindle in the bath, too!


I have been doing some reading and my have to come out from under the rock I have been living under. :)
I suspect when the time comes when my Oregon 600 fails on me I will have to consider what the (then) current cell phone technology has to offer in regards to stand alone GPS use.
I may even consider buying an older version iPhone5 or the like just to see how well it works without cell coverage. Looks like about the same price as I paid for my current GPSr.


One thing to consider on the iPhone - get as much memory as you can afford, I would say a minimum of 32gb. Raster based maps are large and you will quickly fill a 16gb phone. Unfortunately apple devices don't have card slots and cannot be upgraded. This is why I got a 128gb iPhone 6s plus.

Android phones typically have SD card slots which give you more flexibility.


Quote from: Boyd on April 26, 2016, 01:17:10 PMMy friend from the EU is in New York for a couple weeks and we setup a T-mobile plan a few years ago for when she visits.

This would be their "pay as you go" plan where you only pay for the calls you make. The money just accumulates in the plan if you don't make any calls.

Wanted to update this for the benefit of anyone who stumbles across this thread. My friend just returned home to the EU, and in reading all the fine print on T-Mobile's site I leaned that the "pay as you go" plans were changed in August 2014. There is now a minimum charge of $3/month which includes 30 minutes of talk time. But you are still charged $3/month even if you don't use the phone, and the money does not accumulate in your account like it did before.

Too bad, this plan used to be very popular with people who visited the US and wanted to keep a T-mobile number. It now costs $36/year to do that. :(