New to GPS and need help

  1. I was planning a trip this summer, and wanted to get a GPS device to help me out. The last trip I took in February, I relied on a map I printed out and a compass. That wasn't easy. And it was hard to find specific locations because the map wasn't detailed enough. And sometimes I'd want to go south, look at my compass and it says I'm going south, then after going perfectly straight for a mile or two, the compass says I'm going north. I don't want to deal with that again, so I want to use a GPS. But I don't know anything about them.
    Do they require subscription fees? Is it a service I have to pay for monthly or yearly? Or do I buy the device and I get to use it for free as much as I want for as long as I want?
  2. jcsd
  3. Stand alone GPS device does not require service. The signals are being beamed down from space and any device can simply pick them up and calculate your location. Some may require fees for updating maps and the like.

    GPS that is built into a phone often relies on the satellites as well as the cell towers. But even without phone service a smartphone's GPS should work by using GPS satellite alone.
  4. I was thinking of getting a used one on Ebay. If I was going to get one new, it would be at least 80$ from what I can tell. So if I get one on Ebay, should I ask if it requires a service fee before I bid?
  5. berkeman

    Staff: Mentor

    I bought a GPS and then a month later upgraded my cell phone to an Android smart phone. I haven't used the GPS, because Google Maps works fine on my phone. Do you have a smart phone, or plan on upgrading anytime soon?
  6. collinsmark

    collinsmark 2,297
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    If you have an android smartphone you can get a free app from Google called Google Maps. It gives you turn-by-turn directions, maps and all. I'm guessing there's probably something similar on the iPhone (but I haven't looked into that).

    Here is a link with a video explaining the whole thing. The video is old, made when the navigation feature was first introduced, but it explains the navigation idea.

    Here is Google Maps:
  7. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    Be very wary of google maps, they are very inaccurate unless you are inside a large city, it seems they don't care about keeping up to date in newer or rural areas. I've been trying to get them to show my street correctly for 6 years. They show my street in another subdivision that is divided from my subdivision by a cliff. Every time I use their "report' function to advise them of an error, I get a message saying the report function isn't functioning. I used to have a job where I'd have to drive to see clients and was always ending up at dead ends or going west like the map said when I should've gone east.

    Also, be very careful driving over bridges using google maps.
  8. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    These answers are useless unless we know what kind of trip it is. Given that a compass is essentially pointless in a car, I'm guessing it isn't a road trip.

    What kind of trip is it and what exactly do you want the GPS to do?

    There are some other oddities about the OP...
    Last edited: May 7, 2013
  9. berkeman

    Staff: Mentor

  10. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    Some trekking models - like Garmin Oregon or 62CS - come with maps on SD card (so they don't require any further subscriptions nor connections). But they are definitely more expensive than $80, and you should check what maps (what area) you buy.

    We have two separate models, both with very good topographic map of Poland (area comparable to New Mexico). Perfect for bike and trekking trips, usable for car.
  11. I don't have a smart phone. I have just about the dumbest phone possible. I don't plan on upgrading any time soon, because the monthly service is too expensive, and I'm getting this phone service I have right now for free.

    Wanna sell your GPS?
    I wanted to go to San Francisco and visit a friend, but I don't want to get lost or deal with the compass issue like I did last time.
    The compass wasn't completely pointless, but it did mess me up at times.
    Why do you say it's pointless? Do moving cars affect the gravitational field of the Earth?
    I just want the GPS to help me locate addresses. What I did before was look up everywhere I wanted to go, made a huge map, and put letters on the map and wrote out a legend. But I couldn't find the precise locations of my letters in the actual city.
    What other oddities are there about the OP?
    So the GPS comes with maps, and if I go somewhere that the GPS doesn't have a map of, I have to buy it?

    Thanks for the responses.
  12. berkeman

    Staff: Mentor

    Will send you a PM.
  13. AlephZero

    AlephZero 7,244
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    A compass doesn't work using gravity! There is enough magnetic material (steel bodywork and engine, plus magnets in the car speakers etc) to make a simple compass designed for hiking useless.

    You can get a compass designed for fitting to a car, with magnetic compensation. On cheap ones you have to set up the compensation the same way as you used to "swing the compass" on a boat, by pointing the car in known directions and adjusting the position of small magnets insde the compass case. More expensive ones have automatic battery-powered adjustment systems - but they cost in the region of $50 or more.

    But unless you do a lot of off-road driving, it's hard to see what real use even a working compass would be in a car.
    Last edited: May 7, 2013
  14. berkeman

    Staff: Mentor

    Yeah, that is a funny typo! :rofl:
  15. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Er, the point is that roads only go two directions, they are 180 degrees apart and they typically contain signs that say which direction you are going, so you shouldn't need a compass to tell you. A compass really doesn't tell you anything of value for navigating a road. I've never considered using one for driving.
    Ok, well if this is for driving then any standard car GPS will do.
    The idea of using a compass to navigate a car. The idea of a compass being problematic (though I suppose if used in a car and not fixed in a spot where there isn't much magnetic interference it could be). The idea of a printed map not being detailed enough to be useful.

    I guess the perspective of the question was just alien to me.
    No, the GPS has maps of all roads up to the date when they were developed for the device, so they may be a few years out of date for newer roads. Evo's problem is pretty common - my street probably took 5 years to be covered by mapping services.
  16. SteamKing

    SteamKing 10,946
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
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    If you are going to SF, I would hire a guide.
  17. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    In the type I am referring to - yes. It can also happen that the map requires an upgrade, as things do change; whether the upgrade is covered by your original purchase depends on the seller/maker policy. In my experience this happens less often in the off road areas, but even there tourist paths are sometimes modified.
  18. Well that explains my 2.5 GPA.
    But if I'm lifting it up in the air in my car, it wouldn't be close enough to any source of magnetism to affect it, would it? I mean, I could take a neodymium magnet and put it a 2 feet away from a compass, and it wouldn't affect it at all. And those are really strong magnets.
    I rarely see N,S,E or W on street signs. RARELY.
    So I have no way of knowing which direction I'm going without a compass.
    The printed map wasn't detailed enough because it only showed the bigger roads. Like when I was in Los Angeles, I used the map that I printed, and it showed, for example, Lebrea and Century, but none of the smaller roads that are near them. So unless I was on one of the roads that was on the map, I had no point of reference for where I was. So I had to spend time trying to find roads that the map actually showed, and then I had to use the compass to find out which direction I was going on the roads, because I never saw any direction on the actual street signs.
    How much would that cost? Or maybe I could find someone here who lives there and I could treat them to lunch or something in exchange for showing me around.
    Have you been there before? Is it confusing? Would GPS not be good enough? If so, then my usual map and compass strategy definitely wouldn't work.
    I'm not too picky. I just mainly want to find the redwood trees and do some nature photography.
  19. turbo

    turbo 7,063
    Gold Member

    leroy, some GPS services might be OK, but the mapping services that I have checked looking up the last address where my wife and I lived are terrible - Google included. That neighborhood is a well-established development built over 30 years ago, and still Google can't manage to map the streets, name the streets, etc. properly. If I was planning on using a GPS in neighborhoods like that, I would try to get "close" then start knocking on doors asking about the people that I wanted to visit. Do you have any friends in SF that could help you out with that?

    I know you wanted to see redwoods, etc, but certainly you will need lodging and supplies. I wouldn't trust Google for that based on my experience. Good luck. Real maps are preferable IMO, but not the thin incomplete ones that you may be tempted to print off the Internet.
  20. SteamKing

    SteamKing 10,946
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    "So I have no way of knowing which direction I'm going without a compass."

    The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. In between, in the northern hemisphere, it is located in a southerly direction.
  21. SteamKing

    SteamKing 10,946
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
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    Printed maps have different scales and cover different areas. A map of the interstates which would be handy for navigating coast to coast would be useless within a large urban area. For finding a street in a large city, you need a map of that city.

    Here's a way to help you navigate US interstates: The even numbered routes (I-10, I-20, etc.) run east and west. Odd numbered routes (I-5, I-95) run north and south. Routes with three digits are generally confined within cities. The same applies to non-interstate roads, like the old Route 66 and Highway 1.
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