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GPS devices are wonderfully capable but also complicated for the new user. GPS Primer provides GPS info explained in simple, everyday terms to get you started on the right foot in your travels.

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GPS Types

GPS Units have exploded in popularity and usefulness from the simple handheld units for hikers of the 1990s. The variety of features, brands and models available make it impossible to list here. Rather, let us organize them into broad categories to get you started. Here are the most popular categories today, and some general buying tips.

Vehicle GPS Vehicle GPS are used on your dashboard for turn-by-turn directions. The popularity of these is growing exponentially; they are quickly becoming a "must-have" gadget for drivers. Look for units that come with plenty of maps and lifetime updates, because any extra maps or updates must otherwise be purchased separately, which can quickly negate the savings of cheaper units. The best-selling model is currently the Garmin Nuvi.

Handheld GPS Handheld GPS is intended for use for hiking and outdoor activity. These units can be programmed with topographical maps and a series of waypoints to guide the hiker. They do not replace paper maps, but rather supplement them. Furthermore, they are not "turn by turn" guides, but rather "general direction" indicators. A handheld GPS is what is needed for geocaching.

Fitness GPS Fitness GPS are designed to provide information on how far and fast you have traveled on your workout. Some can also biometric feedback like heart rate.

Marine GPS Marine GPS can be programmed with nautical maps and provide nautical calculations. Some models also include sonars for fish-finding.

A Word About Cell Phone GPS Cell phones may also have GPS capabilities, but they may not use the satellite system. Cell towers can be used to triangulate position just like satellites can. Of course, cell service is required. A clear signal from at least three towers is needed, as well, so in areas where cell service is spotty, so will your phone's GPS capabilities.