Smartphone GPS vs Dedicated Portable GPS Device


Your shiny new smartphone comes with a built in GPS and there are a bunch of navigation apps freely available for it. Why would you need a dedicated GPS device? In this article we explore the pros and cons of your smartphone GPS vs a dedicated portable GPS device.


If you already own a smartphone, then you’ve probably used it’s GPS chip at some point. With most networks providers offering low cost data packages, wifi everywhere, and broadband gushing into most homes, pinpointing exactly where you are in the world and what the internet has to say about it is quite literally at your fingertips.

We tend to carry our phones everywhere with us. We can quickly launch an app when we need turn by turn road navigation, followed by a few taps to turn our device into a sports GPS recorder to capture our latest KOM for upload to Strava.

Depending on the type of activity you have in mind, battery life, robustness and waterproofing can be major factors in your decision. All phones are not created equal, with devices such as the Motorola Moto G 3rd Generation being not only waterproof, but benefiting from Motorola’s reputation for building extremely good GPS chips.

There’s also the issue of size. Yes it does matter. If you’re heading out for a run, having a phone bouncing around in your pocket is annoying, and chances are it’ll end up impacting the ground at some point, or getting drenched in a rain shower. If you carry your phone for music while you run then perhaps this isn’t an issue for you, but I tend to prefer a small mp3 player for music and a GPS watch for my tracking data. This combination is unobtrusive and lets me focus on the important thing. My training.

Pros and Cons



  • No cost if you already have a phone thats GPS enabled
  • Lots of free apps
  • Convenient as you’ll most likely have it with you at all times


  • Reduced battery life
  • Risk of weather damage unless your phone is waterproof, etc.
  • May be more difficult to mount on bicycles etc
  • More bulky than a GPS watch for some sports use

Dedicated portable GPS devices


  • Higher accuracy
  • Longer battery Life
  • Physically more robust and weather resistant
  • Wearable/easier to hold


  • Cost – some higher end devices are expensive
  • May not have it with you for impromptu use

So which Portable GPS Device is best for you?

For road navigation, basic outdoor navigation or sports tracking, smartphones can be excellent. With a wealth of apps at your fingertips you can turn your phone into a pretty effective multi-purpose GPS device. Battery life may be an issue, and if you’re using the device outdoors or for sports, robustness and water resistance may be a problem.

If you’re looking for a more versatile piece of kit, with an interface tailored to the intended use, that will stand up to all weathers and reliably help you drive safely, navigate in the wild or record your training and race data then a dedicated portable GPS device is definitely the way to go.

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