An Amateurs Guide to Buying a GPS System

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An Amateur's Guide to Buying a GPS System

While most people have undoubtedly heard of a GPS system or device, some individuals may still be confused as to what a GPS actually does or how it can help them in their daily life. The acronym GPS stands for global positioning device. This device uses satellites orbiting around the earth to triangulate positions and provide navigation based on these positions. Though this technology was originally developed for military use, today, GPS devices are incorporated into cell phones, vehicles, and other various devices to help people get where they are going.

Individuals considering purchasing a GPS system for the first time should do their homework and determine what their specific needs are so that they can purchase the GPS device or system that best suits their needs. Once a prospective buyer determines his or her needs as well as how he or she plans to use the GPS system most often, it is simply a matter of selecting the best unit at the best price.

Brief History of GPS Systems

Individuals who rely on GPS devices on a regular basis can thank the Soviets for launching Sputnik into space in 1957. Although the satellite had nothing to do with global positioning, scientists discovered they could follow the orbit of the satellite using changes in its radio frequency. The U.S. Navy developed the first navigational satellite system in the 1960s. Their system, called the TRANSIT system, was comprised of six orbiting satellites and was designed for use with Navy submarines. While this represented a significant milestone in the history of global positioning and satellite navigation, it took several hours to pick up the satellite signals on the ground.

In 1973 the U.S. Defense Department developed the Navstar GPS system, a much quicker GPS system, and the first GPS satellite was launched in 1978. This system, which is still in use today, uses 24 satellites that circle the world twice each day. There are actually more than 30 GPS satellites currently in space, but the extras are only used as backups or called into service when an active satellite goes down.

Consumers Flock to GPS

Though the U.S. President Ronald Reagan allowed for non-military use of the satellite navigational system in 1983, following the Soviet bombing of a Korean passenger jet that had accidentally wandered into Soviet airspace, the military was still scrambling the satellites, which meant that the accuracy for consumers was far inferior. Once the military stopped messing with the signals in 2000, consumer use of GPS devices skyrocketed. Several companies began manufacturing handheld GPS devices, and some of the luxury carmakers started making plans to incorporate GPS systems into some of their pricier models.

The Many Uses of GPS Technology

The main reason most consumers use GPS systems is to get from Point A to Point B; however, this technology is capable of so much more. GPS devices calculate the distance in radio frequency of at least four different satellites and use this information to determine the exact location of the GPS device. This information can then be used in a number of ways. It can be used to generate detailed driving or travelling instructions as is the case when a GPS device is used in the car.

If the location of the GPS receiver is capable of being transmitted to a computer or other device, GPS systems can also be used to locate missing items, including people. This is the basis for GPS tracking on cell phones and the technology that is used by companies that use fleets of vehicles, such as overnight delivery services.

Types of GPS Systems

When shopping for GPS devices, there are a number of options from which to choose. While each type of system has its pros and cons, the first factor for prospective buyers to consider is how they plan to use the GPS system. For example, buyers who want the luxury of using their GPS in any vehicle or even while hiking or biking would not be happy with a GPS device that is installed in the dashboard of a vehicle though individuals who want an easy-to-use integrated GPS might.

Another factor to consider when comparing the various types of GPS devices is their accuracy. Cell phone GPS systems are sometimes less accurate than handheld and vehicle GPS systems, which could mean the difference between arriving at a destination safely and winding up lost.

Type of GPS System



Handheld Unit

Portable, cordless, not a multitasker, easy to use

Easily lost or stolen

In-vehicle Unit

Integrated, cannot get lost, easy to use

Can only be used in the vehicle

Cell Phone GPS

Multitasker, compact

May not be accurate, can be difficult to program; requires service to operate

While many technophiles prefer to use the GPS functionality on their smartphone, it may be a bit complicated for those who do not use technology regularly and talking on the phone or performing other tasks while trying to use GPS may be a bit difficult. Additionally, if the phone is in an area that does not receive cellular service, the GPS functionality may not work. This and the fact that handheld GPS systems are easy to program and use makes them a popular option even though they only perform a single function.

Factors to Consider When Shopping for a GPS System

Shoppers who are looking for a stand-alone GPS system or a GPS that can be installed in the dashboard of their vehicle should consider several factors before making a purchasing decision. Individuals should look through the following factors and determine which features are important for them and which features they can live without. This should help narrow down the wide range of GPS systems on the market.

Handheld or In-Vehicle

The first factor to consider when shopping for a GPS system is whether to get a stand-alone GPS system or an in-dash system. Individuals who are forgetful or who prefer to have the GPS incorporated may want to consider an in-dash system. Because the system is built into the vehicle, there is no chance for the user to forget to bring the GPS, and it is much more difficult to steal than a stand-alone unit. On the other hand, handheld units are portable, which means they can be used anywhere. Their use is not limited to one location. This feature makes them more desirable to many motorists.


A GPS unit is only as good as the maps it contains. Streets change over time, so trying to navigate using faulty street information could lead to taking a wrong turn or getting lost. Before buying a GPS system, prospective buyers should do a little bit of research to find out which brand or brands provide the best maps for their geographic region. Buyers should also look for GPS systems that offer lifetime map updates so that they can update the maps on their GPS units on a regular basis.

Screen Size

Another important factor to consider when shopping for GPS systems is the size of the GPS screen. Larger screens are easier to read, especially for those whose eyesight may not be perfect. This may make navigating through heavy traffic a little easier and safer. While units with larger screens are larger than those with smaller screens, individuals looking for a small, compact GPS system may want to opt for a smaller screen. Generally speaking, the difference in size between the various screen sizes is negligible, so most shoppers opt for the larger screen size.

Points of Interest

Most handheld GPS systems offer Points of Interest (POIs) on the maps. Typically, these POIs include gas stations, restaurants, and banks, which could be useful when traveling, especially in unknown areas. While these are not an absolute requirement, some individuals find the POIs useful, and they may help drivers locate important establishments, such as gas stations, in the event of an emergency on the road.

Real-Time Traffic Updates

Another handy feature is real-time traffic updates, which could save some drivers hours when commuting. Although not a requirement, this information may help drivers avoid accidents and bottlenecks, shaving time off their commute. Because additional technology is required to receive these real-time traffic updates, GPS systems that offer this service are often more expensive than those that do not, and a monthly subscription service is often also required to receive the traffic updates.

Shopping for GPS Systems

Once a prospective buyer considers all of his or her options and narrows down the list of GPS systems that meet a specific set of needs, it is time to start shopping for the best model and the best price. Individuals who are particular about their electronics may want to take a trip to a local electronics store to see what each GPS unit looks like and how it operates before making a purchasing decision.

These individuals could certainly purchase the unit while at the store; however, they are likely to find better prices by shopping online. Ideally, prospective buyers should have two or more models that they like so they can find out which one is available at the best price. Buyers should be sure to check out the selection of GPS systems offered on eBay as well. There are thousands of products listed for sale on eBay, so prospective buyers are sure to find a variety of GPS systems on the site.

Buying GPS Systems on eBay

If you are ready to take a look at the listings for the GPS systems that are available on eBay, go to eBay's main page and type that phrase into the search box. If you want to search for a specific type or brand of GPS system, you can add that information into the search box as well. For example, if you want a TomTom GPS, search for that phrase to narrow your search down by brand. You can also use the filter options on the search results page to view only those GPS units that meet your criteria.

Before making a purchasing decision, prospective buyers should read through all of the listings for the GPS models they are considering and determine which listing offers the best deal. Prospective buyers should also take a look at the shipping options, and the seller's return policy to determine whether the GPS system can be returned in the event they are not happy with it once it arrives.


GPS system use has exploded in the last decade, and electronics manufacturers are finding new uses and incorporating them into more pieces of technology on a regular basis. Individuals who do not want the hassle of trying to get directions from their smartphones can opt for either a handheld unit, which can be mounted to a vehicle's windshield for hands-free use or an in-dash unit. While motorists who do not travel to foreign places often may not see the need for a GPS system, they not only provide directions to a programmed location, but they can also get a motorist back home from virtually any location.

Although GPS systems are not extremely expensive, they can be an investment so prospective buyers should take the time to do a little research to ensure they select the best unit for their needs. With some knowledge of the types of GPS systems available and the features that they offer, prospective buyers can find the perfect GPS system on eBay.

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