It feels good to know you’re going the right way—especially if it doesn’t involve unfolding and re-folding a map or, heaven forbid, asking for directions. Auto makers and tech companies have catered for decades to our desire for accurate, hassle-free navigation aids, and today it’s hard to imagine a smartphone or recent-model car that doesn’t offer turn-by-turn GPS.
But modern stand-alone GPS units offer much more than maps and directions, and they’re not just for use in motor vehicles. GPS bicycle computers let you take part in virtual races, comparing your time on a given segment against others who ride the same road, and tell your elevation and heart rate (if you’re wearing the sensor). GPS units designed for truckers help with legally required record-keeping and warn of weight limits ahead. Some handheld hunting and hiking GPS units double as walkie-talkies and cameras. Global positioning is just one of a wide range of functions on many Fitbit wearables. And Garmin’s latest dashboard GPS allows you to go shopping without taking your hands off the wheel.
Stuff like this is fun and useful, even if you know the route by heart. B&H Photo carries a wide range of portable navigation units that use Global Positioning Satellite technology to keep you on course, whether you’re on two, four, or more wheels, or on your own two feet.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a virtual assistant would be offered for in-car use. After all, who needs assistance more than a driver who’s supposed to be concentrating on the road? The Garmin Speak with Amazon Alexa mounts Amazon’s highly popular assistant on your windshield, where you can ask “her” to play music from Amazon Prime through your car’s stereo, operate your smart-home devices, run Alexa Skills apps, or make shopping lists and order goods and services from Amazon. It’s still a navigator, so you get turn-by-turn directions, info on local attractions and services and traffic updates, all updated automatically. Alexa will even crack a joke or share trivia occasionally to pass the time.
The more traditional Garmin car navigators may not have Alexa’s personality, but they do offer many useful features. The DriveLuxe 51 LMT-S Navigation System comes with hands-free calling, incident notification to family and friends, a pinch-to-zoom touchscreen, easy-to-understand directions, hazard alerts, directions within complex locations like airports, voice-activated navigation, real-life directions that include landmarks and businesses, and much more. It will even tip you off to speed and red-light cameras in jurisdictions where that’s permitted.
Garmin may be best known for helping weekend road-trippers get where they’re going, but the company also offers specialized products for other drivers. The dezlCam LMTHD GPS Navigation System with Built-in Dash Cam is stacked with features for truckers: a dash cam that records incidents and accidents, custom routing for the size and weight of their rigs, Hours of Service and Fuel Tax Agreement Documentation record-keeping assistance, a directory of truck stops, repair shops, and other points of interest, weather forecasts and, of course, customary navigation tools like lifetime map and traffic updates. Motorcyclists, too, have Garmin navigators of their own. The zumo 595LM navigator uses Bluetooth to send its spoken turn-by-turn directions to a headset or helmet, helps the rider find or avoid curvy roads, and keeps track of scheduled maintenance; add a separately sold sensor, and it will monitor your tire pressure. See our full catalog of car GPS units here.
Cyclists need to know where they’re going, just like drivers. They’re also hungry for information about their speed and performance—but bikes don’t have dashboards and gauges. Enter companies like Polar, with displays, memory, and connectivity for a wealth of information about the cycling experience. Tracking your route, speed, and distance is only the beginning; the M460 Bike Computer will tell you your altitude and the steepness of the hill you’re struggling to climb (or coasting down). Using its access to the Strava Live Segments service, it provides virtual competition with other cyclists or with your own personal best on a given stretch of road. Pick up the kit with the chest band, and the M460 will display your heart rate and enable various fitness tests. It also displays incoming calls and texts when paired with your smartphone. If you want to see all of B&H’s cycling computers, just click here.
Runners have embraced wearable fitness tech, and many models employ GPS capability. The Fitbit Surge GPS Activity Tracking Watch, for example, uses built-in GPS to add additional accuracy to distance, pace, and elevation tracking, as well as reviewing routes and split times. The Fitbit Charge 2 Fitness Wristband and Blaze Fitness Watch, which connects with the GPS on your smartphone, use GPS to measure your stride. Check out our wide range of sports and training watches here for even more GPS-enabled options from brands like Garmin, Polar, SUUNTO, Timex, and TomTom.
Hikers, hunters and other lovers of the back country have long relied on handheld GPS units to stay oriented. The Garmin Rino 755t takes the functionality further: it’s a navigator, a two-way radio, and a camera. The navigator uses GPS and GLONASS satellites for reliable positioning even under heavy cover or in remote locations, and is equipped with a barometric altimeter and 3-axis compass. Topographic maps and base maps come pre-loaded, and you get a one-year subscription to BirdsEye Satellite Imagery, for sharply detailed aerial views of the territory you’re exploring. The radio works on Family Radio Service and General Mobile Radio Service frequencies, with a range of two miles over FRS and 20 miles over GMRS. (GMRS requires a license.) You can call and text other nearby Rino users, and share your positions on each other’s Rino maps. Finally, the Rino has an 8MP camera with autofocus and an LED flash (which can also be used as a flashlight). The camera automatically geo-tags its pictures so you can return to the scene. B&H offers a growing assortment of handheld units from Garmin and Bushnell—and you can see them all here.
GPS technology became widely available in 2000, when the U.S. government opened its network to civilian use. Today, many cars come with GPS navigation, but a 2016 report showed nearly two-thirds of new car owners used their smartphones or portable navigation devices instead of the one that came with the vehicle. While the auto industry works to make its navigators more user-friendly, makers of portable navigation units are expanding the features they offer, and making GPS products for cyclists, fitness buffs, and outdoor adventurers. Thanks to satellite technology, it seems more people than ever are going the right way.
How has GPS changed the way you drive, ride, and hike? Did we leave a use out? Comment below and we’ll explore the world of GPS use together.