The End Of The GPSr As We Know It?

I’ve been searching for my next GPS unit for a while now. I don’t need a new one, I’m still completely in love with my Blackberry as my main caching tool, but it felt like time I joined the ‘real’ cachers by having a ‘real’ GPS unit.

But my search has not gone well.

You see, I want a GPS unit that can do it all. And I can’t find one.

My wife wants me to get aDelorme Earthmate PN-60W with Spot (so she knows I’m safe), but I’m not sure I want to be the only person in New Zealand with one, especially with all the NZ maps available for Garmin units.

My sister recently got an Garmin Oregon 450 and whilst it was a nice unit I have read too many complaints about the touch screen for it to be my first pick.

My father-in-law has a Garmin GPSMAP 62s that I reviewed back in January. I really like this unit but it doesn’t play Wherigo cartrages and that is something I’m looking to do more of. The newest GPSr heavyweight on the scene, the Garmin Montana 650, also suffers from the same problem.

And that’s when I started thinking – why do I need a new GPS unit when the Blackberry does everything I want it to do!?! With CacheSense I have the perfect geocaching software. The accuracy of the Blackberry seems to be very good and it’s ability to pick up a signal under heavy cover is awesome. And for the moment I’m satisfied that it can play Wherigo by using OPENWIG (and I would expect a more permanent solution to appear sometime in the foreseeable future).

So why would I want to buy a new GPSr when a smartphone can do it all and more!?!

Which leads me to wonder whether we are beginning to see the end of the GPSr as we know it? Of course, this was something we pondered a while ago, but at that time the biggest impact was seemingly on the vehicle navigation market. Is it now the case that smartphones are cannabilizing the geocaching GPSr market as well?

Smartphones have certainly helped increase the numbers of geocachers out there. My Blackberry was my introduction to the sport. But being introduced to the sport by a smartphone is quite different to choosing a smartphone over a dedicated GPSr.

By now all the doubters will be claiming that smartphones are not accurate or robust enough. Piffle. The Blackberry can keep up with the best GPS units and wrapped up in an Otterbox makes it nearly as robust.

So now I’m thinking my next GPSr purchase will be…a Blackberry!?

Not convinced? No, neither am I. Whilst I suspect the future of GPS and geocaching tools is likely wrapped up with smartphones I’m not sure I’m ready to completely handover my geocaching experience to them just yet. I’m still in need of a decent back up for when the Blackberry’s batteries run low. But I wonder how long it will be until a smartphone is released that is given as much respect as the top GPS units? Not long I think.



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  1. paul collins

    Bang on! I too started caching on a blackberry and soon found CacheSense. Blackberry gps does seem to just work. With 7 satellites locked I will get 3m accuracy 19 times out of 20 and where other loggers say tree cover has wreaked havoc with their “real” gpsr I’ve rarely had any trouble.
    I’ve ALWAYS been a paperless cacher, and never owned a gpsr as a result. Also the BB and cachesense are good enough to set caches by – I never have had the problems associated with other smartphone brands!
    So does the smartphone spell the end for the gpsr – probably not, but it does provide a VERY viable and mutipurpose alternative – particularly when one considers that its possible to browse gc.com, and search on the fly, take photos, then log and upload, oh and tweet the find as well..
    A truly paperless, gpsr-less digital caching experience!
    Paul @ geocachetourist.com

    1. Cumbyrocks

      I couldn’t have put it better myself!! 🙂

  2. Clan Riffster

    As technology improves, and prices on smart phones drop, folks who play GPS games, and start out with a phone grow less likely to plunk down a big chunk of cash for a more traditional handheld GPSr. If you focus mainly on urban hunts, the extra expense simply is not justified. True, a traditional GPS is technically more accurate than a phone, due to the patch style antennas which are used in phones, but in clear skies, trying to find a film can in a parking lot, accuracy is sufficient.

    Where handhelds own the market are those folks who like to venture away from the parking lots and sterile county parks. I’ve seen too many smart phones perish as they got dropped on rocks and dunked in rivers to ever consider one for a primary caching tool.

    Of the half dozen handhelds I’ve owned and extensively played with, I’d rate the no longer produced 60CSx as the toughest, the PN-60 as the most accurate and the Oregon series as the most versatile and the easiest to use. Since Garmin redid the touch screen to do away with the nasty glare issue, they are truly a joy to use. Very intuitive in the layout.

    1. Cumbyrocks

      I use my Blackberry for my outback caching and have not had an issue with it since I put it in an otterbox. I’ve dropped it many times and never ever worried. I’m also quite amused when caching with others and they ask what kind of GPS it is…it looks just like one in it’s little yellow and black safety suit!

  3. kjwx

    I hope RIM is playing you for the extensive BB promotion, Peter. And personally I haven’t had a problem with the Oregon’s touchscreen but I also believe my Android is just, if not more, accurate than my Garmin. It’s also worth pointing out that Garmin canned its nuvi smartphone model pretty quickly so the switchover may be further away than you’d like.

    1. Cumbyrocks

      One does not require payment from the love of their life! 😉

      I’d suggest that Garmin canned the Nuvi-phone because it realised it couldn’t produce a phone good enough and it was always going to get whipped by the iPhone.

  4. GSV

    Form follows function: the Garmin functions well as a GPS and I have no complaints re the Oregon 550 for caching & navigation*. A smartphone functions as a phone with additional features, and therefore the form must follow suit.
    Best unit for on-the-trail & caching: a GPS designed for it
    Best unit for auto navigation: a GPS designed specifically for that role
    (*Oregon isn’t designed specifically for that, try a Nuvi)
    Best unit for communications: a properly designed phone

    Of course you can use the smartphones for caching and they’ll be fine in many situations, but they’re not DESIGNED for such a specific role. Hybrid GPS units will always be good in some areas and only so-so in others. Oh, and don’t get me started on accuracy for *placing* caches with smartphones: that’s a misalignment of tool&job.

    1. Cumbyrocks

      To flat out disagree with you, o’wise and nobel one, your simplified theory disregards the experience of people like Paul (see above) and myself. All brand glorifcation aside I do think there is something very special about a Blackberry with CacheSense that probably has to be experienced to be believed. 🙂

      I’d also challenge your misalignment of tool & job statement. There have been lots of occasions where caches have been placed with the ‘appropriate’ tool & job, only for the coords to be seriously out. So you probably need to insert ‘user’ in their somewhere. 😉

      1. Clan Riffster

        My experience seems to side with GSV on this issue. Many of my friends cache with smart phones, and I really dig being able to pull up a list of local caches without needing to run a PQ, but so long as these phones continue to utilize a patch antenna, there will always be accuracy issues. It’s not really a matter of opinion. It’s really just a matter of science. The key thing that makes a GPSr precise is the ability of the antenna to absorb signal. After that, it’s all software, which is pretty much the same despite the different appearance of their algorithms. (Check the math yourself if you don’t believe it) If the signal that gets forwarded to the processor is weak, the accuracy is going to be affected. A patch antenna is less able to absorb signal.

        Fortunately, we’re not talking about a huge difference.

        When I did my side by side comparison, the test I set up was marking a waypoint on a known, fixed location, under open skies, then being able to return to that same location three times, during different hours of the day/night, with different satellite constellations overhead. I also let each GPSr settle for 10 seconds at the fixed location, before reading a distance from ground zero.

        In order of accuracy, my results were;
        1 ) Delorme PN-60
        2 ) Garmin 60CSx
        3 ) Garmin Colorado 400i
        4 ) Garmin Oregon 300
        5 ) Garmin Vista HCx*
        6 ) iPhone 3*
        7 ) Android HTC (Don’t remember exact model)*
        8 ) Garmin basic yellow eTrex.

        (I did not have a BlackBerry available when I did this test, but since it uses the same antenna as the ‘Droid and the iPhone, I’m guessing the results would be similar. I also didn’t have access to an iPhone 4 at the time of testing. I now have access to both, and an iPad, and I would like to do the test again using these devices.)

        The same test was conducted on a fixed point under moderate tree cover, such as what you might find in light woods. Then the test was conducted under heavy tree growth. The only substantial difference was the Delorme and the 60 swapped places once the foliage grew dense enough.

        In fairness, I should mention that in most cases, the difference between one GPSr and another was only a couple feet. Some of us are anal enough to worry about accuracy, wanting the most precise placement possible. For other, more relaxed folks, anything within 30’ is close enough.

        Cumbyrocks roes make one very valid point though. The greatest cause of bad coordinates is user error, not device failure. All of the devices I tested did a pretty good job getting back to ground zero. Some just did it better than others.

        One thing I would like to point out is the common misunderstanding lots of folks have regarding the accuracy reading provided by most GPSr units, including phones. That number is the result of an algorithm making a guess, based on available data, and programming. That’s why it’s called an EPE, or Estimated Position Error. It really has no significant meaning, other than making folks feel better about their chosen device.

        (* The Vista, iPhone & ‘Droid were actually tied, once all the testing was completed. Under open skies, the Vista did slightly better. Under moderate growth, the ‘Droid did slightly better. Under dense vegetation, the iPhone did slightly better. The difference was so slight as to be barely worth mentioning)

  5. CacheMania

    I’ve only recently started using Cachesense on my Blackberry and I can tell it will allow me to use my BB more often but only as a back up.

    The battery life on my BB doesn’t come close to my GPSr when I have the GPS chip on. I dropped my GPSr in the lake last weekend and didn’t worry about it getting wet, Ottercase or not, I would be a little more concerned about my BB.

    I think of my BB as geocaching backup and as a tool to augment my geocaching activities. Now if a GPSr manufacturer built a tool that allowed me to connect my GPSr to my Blackberry in the way that the Playbook is, now that would be interesting.

  6. Pablo Mac

    Caching with a smart phone is a terrific supplement to a stand-alone GPS, but I use GPS for a lot more than geocaching. Relying solely on my field communication device for GPS doesn’t make sense for me, considering that fact, as well as the battery life issue.

  7. Bigeddy

    Just like with cameras, the handheld GPSr market has been ravaged by mobile phones. Garmin, for its part, has responded poorly with clunky, repackaged, narrow products that appeal to only specialized users… geocachers, for example. Their attempt to expand into the phone market–Garminfone anyone?–was a half-hearted failure and showed weak leadership. Blackberry is in a similar boat and sinking just as fast.

    Of course, geocaching itself is being changed by the smartphone. The main things stopping me from using a smartphone as a primary geo-tool are the outrageously expensive data plans, poor phone coverage where I live, and that nasty problem with battery life.

  8. Leland Ford

    I know this is an old article, but if you can find a Garmin Nuvi 500 or 550 you can do the Whereigo Cartridges and it is the only car unit that includes support for Geocache information. But there is a warning with this, DO NOT EVER update the unit with LIfetime Maps. It will mess up all of the preloaded maps that are included with the unit.

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