Are Standalone GPS Devices Irrelevant in the Age of Android?

Posted on 26 August 2011 by Tony Santos

It’s hard to imagine that it was only a decade or so ago that drivers were first introduced to consumer-level in-car GPS vehicle tracking systems. The ability to have a dash-mounted unit display driving directions upon your command and even speak them to you was a definite game changer. Needless to say, such devices were tremendous successes. You’ve undoubtedly either directly experienced the luxury of a GPS navigation system or have at least been in a vehicle where such a device was being implemented. 

The only problem has been that these devices aren’t cheap. While you don’t necessarily have to count on car title loans to afford one, even in the year 2011 quality-made GPS devices made for automobiles usually run in the $100-$200 range. That purchase pays for the device itself plus the connection to the satellite. Originally, those were separate costs and the subscription was monthly.

Yet, the car GPS industry has seen a 20 percent dip in sales since 2008. The cause has been the rise of the Google Android phone. Android includes a free GPS service on phones that use the operating system. Users can speak their destination and have the directions displayed to them in a reasonably easy to see virtual version of your actual global positioning.

What’s that? The app is free? Then there’s certainly no hope for standalone GPS units anymore, right?

Not so fast. The comparison between Garmin and Google’s Maps app sums up the classic adage, “You get what you pay for.” While the GPS on an Android phone is roughly the same level of directional accuracy as services that cost money, there’s plenty of perk to traditional GPS devices that Android phones simply can’t compete against.

Plainly speaking, the Android Maps app is dangerous to use when actually driving. Vocally requesting directions still requires you to tap for confirmation, which isn’t something you should be doing on the freeway.

Then there’s the issue with the display. Even the screens of the latest released smartphones aren’t big enough for the graphics display to be easily readable. Therefore you probably want to stick with spoken directions. Yet, depending on the model of phone you have, these directions can be incredibly difficult to hear, even through the car’s own stereo.

These kinks are figured out through the typical standalone GPS services. For starters, most come with relatively huge displays so you can easily reference your position without taking your eyes off the road for longer than 1/4th of a second. Voice command alone initiates directions to be provided. Spoken directions are crystal clear with or without use of the car’s speakers.

With that said, free is free. When the GPS service itself is compared, there’s virtually nothing that tells Garmin from Google. If you already have an Android-backed smartphone, then give the free app a shot first. You’ll either be satisfied or certain that the cost of a paid-for GPS device is well worth it.

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