GPS isn't just for cars any more. There are terrific GPS-enabled devices for a wide range of sports, from golfing, to running, to bicycling, as well as backpacking and hiking. But if you are looking for a GPS gift for someone who needs practical driving (or public transportation) directions, I've included a $99 car GPS that works great, plus information on the top 10 GPS navigation apps for iPhones and Android-powered phones. Read on for the full review. Click on images to enlarge for a closer look.
GPS technology provides the best option for runners interested in keeping track of distance and routes. A GPS watch is an excellent device for training and competition, because it tracks all of the important running data, and saves files that may be easily uploaded to an online training log for easy compilation and analysis. The Garmin Forerunner 10, new this year, is an excellent gift because it's reasonably priced, and comes in three colors (green and white, pink and white, and black). The Forerunner 10 is easy to use (starts with a single button press) and has pace, auto-pause and auto-lap, in addition to the basic stopwatch and distance functions. The Forerunner 10 has a rechargeable battery and links to a computer via an included USB cable.
iPhones and Android-powered smartphones can be good turn-by-turn GPS navigation devices, with the right apps installed. But there's still the issue of holding the phone where it can be seen while you drive, and keeping the phone charged (GPS use tends to drain battery power quickly). The iOttie Easy Flex 2 solves that problem with an easy-to-use suction mount, a holder that adapts to any phone shape, and the ability to pivot in any direction for easy viewing. The iOttie also looks good, and can serve as a desk stand.
A handheld GPS, which is rugged and waterproof, and has special back-country features, is still the best choice (compared to a smartphone) for dedicated hikers and backpackers. But a handheld GPS is only as good as its mapset, and topographic maps are often pricey extras. Enter the Magellan eXlporist 310 National Geographic Topo Edition, which comes bundled with a vast set of good topo maps loaded with tons of additional information for outdoor recreation. Beyond the maps, the eXlporist 310 has a bright color screen, paperless geocaching, and more.
A lot of people rely on their smartphones to get around, but when it comes time to navigate to a new destination in unfamiliar territory, I still use a windshield-mounted, dedicated GPS. Screen size, a good speaker for spoken directions, and other features still make car GPS the standard to beat. And the good news for consumers is that prices have come down. The TomTom Start 45, for example, has a sharp, 4.3-inch (diagonal) touchscreen, spoken-street-name turn-by-turn directions, a terrific lane guidance system (shows you the correct lane well ahead of your turn), and more for just $99.
GPS Smartphone Apps With Turn-by-Turn Navigation ($0 to $49)
Both the iPhone app store and the Android app store let you purchase and deliver apps as gifts. A good, turn-by-turn GPS navigation app makes a terrific gift. These apps include many of the features once found only in high-end dedicated GPS devices. See my review of the top ten apps for guidance on the best apps out there.
Modern golf GPS devices can give you the distance to the hole, show hazards and distances to hazards, keep score with terrific scorekeeping utility, and more. The Garmin G6 is among the best of the latest generation of golf GPS devices. It comes with a free, product-lifetime updatable database of more than 28,000 courses worldwide. Beyond the basics, it includes maps with layup-distance arcs, a good stat-tracker, personalized club-distance averages, all presented on a nice color touchscreen.
The Garmin Dakota 20 is designed to be a versatile, do-it-all, rugged, touchscreen handheld GPS that's small enough (2.2" x 3.9" x 1.3") to comfortably take on a run or mount on a bike, yet substantial enough to rely upon as your main GPS on a multi-day backpacking trip. You can even mount it in a vehicle and place it in car routing mode. Advanced features include a 3-axis electronic compass, paperless geocaching, and a barometric altimeter.
GPS is well-suited to bicycling for two reasons: It eliminates the need for wires and unsightly spoke magnets, and it is easily interchangeable between bikes. Garmin's Edge 200 is a terrific value in this category, with rugged, waterproof construction, a rechargeable battery, and multi functions, including virtual training partner. You may easily download ride data the the free Garmin Connect service to store, analyze, and share (if you wish) all of your routes and training info.