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Where do I get a GPS receiver ?

(also includes advice on adding flat screens, getting power, etc)

Updated Friday 3rd December 2010

BU-303 Robin This page is intended for those of you thinking of buying their first GPS receiver. It gives you the basic facts about what products are available, and suitable for use with GPSS. There is no cost for the GPS service, which is provided free by the US Government. Since May 2000, there have been no deliberate SA errors fed in, so any GPS should be accurate to 5 metres or better. Please look at all of this page before you rush to buy a GPS product - or you may make a mistake. Right now my best advice would probably be to shop around for a very low cost (30 USD or less ?) "GPS Mouse" such as the BU-303 on the left, or later BU-353 above. This is if you have a laptop with USB and no serial ports.

a complete GPSS solution based on Pocket PC or Smartphone ...

Alex in Corfu's picture Sham in Staines' picture Most of the advice on this page is for those choosing a simple low cost GPS mouse, or handheld GPS, to plug into a Laptop PC running GPSS. In 2006 we released GPSSppc for the Pocket PC. Some of you may choose to buy one of these smart devices that do not need a Laptop PC. GPSSppc needs Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003, 5 or 6. A low cost example is the Mio P350 seen here on the left. Shop around and you may get a product like this for less than 150 GBP / 230 Euro / 300 USD. These Pocket PC based systems often include their own GPS and some are combined with mobile 'phone electronics to provide a "Smartphone". This is perhaps the most exciting development in recent years: the arrival of small, handheld products that can not only provide GPS navigation, but remote tracking, as on our AVL page. Maps can include those able to show "house level" detail, like that on the right. The Pocket PC version has a much more friendly user interface.

a GPS Mouse to plug into your Laptop PC running GPSS ...

Search for "BU353" or "USB GPS" or "GPS mouse", etc on google or other search engines, or on ebay. TWIG CD

Prices continue to come down, and in whatever country you live, you should be able to get a suitable GPS for a lot less than 45 USD / 30 GBP / 40 Euro.

The BU-353 is made by Globalsat in Taiwan on our Partners page - but that's not why I mention it here :-)

Other low cost GPS are those from Twig Solutions in Australia, who once distributed GPSS on their CDs. If you have one of the old Twig CDs, with an obsolete copy of GPSS, please click here.

or a low cost handheld GPS - that can also plug into the Laptop ...

Garmin Etrex Magellan 310 For years my advice was to shop around for the lowest cost Garmin Etrex with a serial cable. A low cost hand-held GPS gives you a lot of self-contained capability, independent of the Laptop PC, at a sensible price. This was before most new laptops only had USB and no serial port. It was also before Garmin released their new USB product which does not yet support NMEA - I am sure Garmin will fix this in the future, as have other GPS manufacturers. A handheld GPS might be only 100 USD, if you are in the USA, to perhaps 300 USD in countries with heavy import duties. In the UK you might pay 110 for the GPS and 25 for the data cable. A hand-held GPS can be used with GPSS, and also for Geocaching - the "GPS Treasurehunt" sport. This is a good first GPS, even if it relates to business If your Laptop does have a serial port (the 9 pin D socket) then you can use a GPS with a serial interface, such as many Garmin products and those from Magelan such as the M310 or M315.
The new Garmin etrex C with USB does NOT support NMEA. Please see "Get a GPS with an NMEA interface" below.

Get a GPS with an NMEA interface

There is one golden rule if you want to buy a GPS receiver for use with GPSS: insist on it having an NMEA interface - which has been an industry standard for many years. Most suppliers have NMEA products, but they also have products with non standard proprietary interfaces, peculiar to the manufacturer and not supported by GPSS.

iFinder GO2 New GPS products with more capability but lower price are appearing: I saw the Lowrance iFinder GO2 in my local Maplin Electronics at only 100 GBP (190 USD or 150 Euro) and this seems to have all the usual handheld facilities, a standard NMEA interface, AND detailed mapping on it's own screen. I'm waiting to hear more from the manufacturer and the small number of people who registered GPSS with an iFinder GO product. The iFinder GO2 may do for Lowrance what the etrex did for Garmin a year or two earlier.

For years all Garmin GPS products supported both their own protocol and standard NMEA. However, the new etrex "C" with USB interface has departed from this policy and does not support NMEA. This USB etrex is therefore not suitable for use with GPSS.

The original DeLorme Earthmate GPS was not NMEA, and so would not work directly with GPSS (unless you used a solution described on the Earthmate page). This was always a "messy" solution, and you can now buy NMEA GPS units, probably at lower cost than these. The older DeLorme Tripmate, and more recent Earthmate, is NMEA and will therefore work with GPSS. GPSS recognises a Tripmate from "ASTRAL" output on switch-on, and initiates the Tripmate to make it output NMEA.

MAKE SURE THE GPS YOU BUY IS NMEA.

USB or Serial interface ?

When selecting your GPS and/or Laptop PC, you need to think "how will the GPS plug into the Laptop ?". For years the simplest solution was to use a serial interface and the standard 9 pin D connector - normally COM1 on most Laptops.

However, you may be unfortunate in having a new Laptop with USB but no serial port - and a convential GPS with a serial interface. The simplest answer is to get a USB GPS such as that above. Another solution is a "Serial to USB convertor" such as those sold by Maplins and other retailers. This is typically a USB plug that fits into the Laptop USB port and a 9 way D serial plug that mates with your GPS data cable. Driver software is usually included on a CD.

In recent years more GPS are being supplied with a USB interface instead of serial - which is standard NMEA. These can still be used with GPSS by simply telling GPSS what serial port is being emulated (see "Problems?" on DOWNLOAD page).

What types of GPS receiver are there ?

GPS receivers can be roughly catagorised as being in one of three groups:

  • "GPS Mouse" - has no display or buttons, so can only be used Garmin GPS35 when plugged into a Laptop PC running suitable software - such as GPSS. Examples of this type of product include the Garmin GPS35, pictured left, and lower cost products from Globalsat, DeLorme or Rand MacNalley (see later). Price for just the GPS might be as little as 30 GBP (45 Euro or 57 USD) - but don't forget you need a Laptop PC :-)

    Germin Etrex

  • "Hand-held GPS" - can be used for walking, since they have their own small display, buttons, etc. They will at least display your lat/lon location, and may include many other features - depending on the software contained inside. Examples include the lower cost Garmin models like GPS12, GPS12XL and Etrex (on the right), or the 310 or 315 from Magellan (on the left). Many of these have a NMEA interface and an optional interface cable. Price with cable might be from 140 GBP (260 USD) upward; maybe less. A low cost hand-held GPS, with a PC interface cable, is often a good choice for your first GPS - whether it be used for pleasure, or business - as your introduction to GPS technology.

    GPS Software on Pocket PC

  • "High-End GPS Products" - not easy to draw a line here, from the previous category, other than on price, which would normally start at that above, and until recent years, reached 1000 GBP - depending on the product. These would normally include a larger display and some mapping - but sometimes of limited detail or coverage: you may have to pay extra for the mapping. It is a grey area where these "high end" GPS products merge into the "In Car Navigation Systems" offered by the traditional in-car audio vendors such as Alpine, Philips and Blaupunkt. In recent years a number of small, lower cost products have appeared to compete with each other and push prices even lower. e.g. the Garmin Street Pilot which includes speech guidance, and similar in-car-nav products from others such as Navman. Of course, if the product runs Microsoft Windows Mobile, it may run GPSSppc for the Pocket PC and Smartphone :-)

What GPS brands are other people buying ? 2000...2008

Pie Chart Pie Chart Pie Chart Pie Chart Here is a rough indication of what brands of GPS people were buying, from 2000 to 2008. This is based on the last 100 registrations of GPSS and so is a very small, unrepresentative sample.

Pie Chart It shows how Garmin once dominated the market, helped by their Etrex hand-held GPS. Globalsat then had massive sales of GPS Mouse products - a market not exploited by Garmin. Garmin sales were probably not helped by their dropping support for NMEA - the industry-standard interface - in their later USB products.

The rise continued of many smaller "GPS Mouse" suppliers such as Haicom, Holux, Pharos, Lassen, Deluo, Axiam and others, along with DeLorme (Rockwell) and Rand McNalley (Talon/Navman), who pioneered the CD+GPS market in the USA during the early years. Other GPS makers include Eagle, Lowrance, Furuno, San Jose Navigation, Prolific, Fortuna, Silva, Emtac, Smile, Royaltek, Trimble and Motorola.

In recent years, many more players have entered the market, and GPS is included in many PDA and smartphone products. The HP iPAQ is a large proportion of the Pocket PC platforms used with GPSSppc and also Blue Tooth GPS are becoming more popular than the USB mouse.

Where can I get the GPS ?

These days the quickest way of finding a GPS supplier is probably to use a search engine like Google and search on "gps" or "gps mouse".

If you cannot find a GPS distributor in your country, try contacting one of those listed under International Suppliers. They may supply you direct by mail order, or put you in contact with someone who can help you. If you visit the GPSS Links pages you will see a wide range of GPS brands and models being used with GPSS, but the majority are from Garmin. Here is a list of Garmin GPS Distributors in many countries, kindly supplied by Garmin (Europe). You may prefer to use the 'Dealer Locator' on the www.garmin.com which will provide far more up-to-date information. You may also wish to try the Magellan Dealer Locator (if and when available) on www.magellangps.com

dashboard display in the car ?

You may wish to consider hiding the Laptop away in the car, such as under the front passenger seat, or even the boot. A suitable well engineered flat screen monitor can then be used to display the GPSS picture on a more elegant dashboard display. Most flat screen products you find will probably not take video direct from the Laptop PC (the 15 way D VGA connector), and will need another product, also powered from the car's 12vdc supply, to connect the PC to the flat screen using standard PAL or NTSC video. Here is a combination that Robin has tried with success: the Lilliput 7.2 monitor from Smart Solutions in China on www.ssl-hk.com. The "Lilliput" monitor includes loudspeakers and volume control, in addition to the usual brightness, contrast, etc. If you speak to Isaac on isaac@ssl-hk.com please mention Robin and gpss.co.uk. Robin has also purchased hobby goods from Isaac, such as miniture TV cameras, for his hobby of flying small radio controlled aircraft :-) Robin used an AVerMedia "AVerKey100 Pro" product purchased from his local Maplins shop in UK. Maplins are on www.maplin.co.uk and have high street shops in other countries outside UK. This AVerMedia product was manufactured in Taiwan. Depending on where you purchase from, and the products you choose, you may be able to add a dashboard display option such as this for less than 380 USD (200 GBP). The first time Robin did something similar was early 1995 when a Laptop was added to a Lexus Soarer. If you know of any even lower cost flat screen monitors, able to take VGA video direct from the Laptop, please contact Robin via the CONTACT page.

External 12vdc power from the Car ?

Some GPS receivers allow you to power the unit from your car's 12 volt cigar lighter socket. If you want this option, be sure to ask for it, since not all GPS receivers support it, and the cable will probably be different. Some "GPS Mouse" products supply power from the Laptop PC external keyboard connector.

Powering your Laptop PC from 12vdc

Inverter This is a good time to mention that you should not forget how you will power your Laptop PC in the car. The batteries on most Laptops only last for a few hours - so could go flat just when you need the GPS-Laptop PC to help you !

12vdc-230vac (or 110vac) "inverters" have been a common solution for years - since few Laptop PC makers cater for this practical need to take power directly from 12vdc.

One of the cheapest, yet reliable, 12vdc to 230vac inverters I've seen is that pictured here, sold recently in UK by Maplin Electronics, reduced from 60 GBP to 30 GBP. Maplins are on www.maplin.co.uk The label on the product says, "NIKKAI QM80 150w DC TO AC POWER INVERTER" with a "made in Taiwan" sticker - in case those outside UK want to find it locally.

Another excellent source for 12vdc Laptop Power Supplies is Switched Mode in Theale, UK. Products include the 2911 providing 240vac from 12vdc at about 80 GBP (140USD), and the SM3754 providing 18vdc from 12vdc at nearer 45 GBP (80USD). Check their web site www.switchedmode.com for exact prices, etc. Their UK 'phone number is +44 118 9302299. They do accept major credit cards.

International GPS Suppliers

These companies may be able to take mail order, or put you in touch with someone who can supply you with a GPS in your country :

UK or European Offices of GPS Suppliers

Some of this is old information, but may still be of some use to you.

Garmin (Europe): Call 44 (0) 1794 519944 to find your nearest distributor. Garmin stock a wide range of low cost products, most of which have an NMEA interface. Typical NMEA products are the GPS35 (matchbox sized combined antenna and receiver. takes external 12v power. needs computer. no integral display), and hand help products with display, buttons, etc such as the GPS38 (no external power) GPS45, GPS45XL, GPSII, GPSII+.
Waters & Stanton. Garmin Distributor. 44 (0) 1702 206835. fax 205843.
RD Aviation Ltd. Garmin Distributer. 44 (0) 1865 841441. Alan Farmer.
Darthaven Marina. Garmin Distributor. 44 (0) 1804 25242. Sue Holman.

Magellan: receivers are available from several sources including Maplin Electronics on www.maplin.co.uk They are good, low to moderately priced products, but the computer interface cable is sometimes supplied without a plug. Get a competent "electronics man" to add the required 9 pin female D-type connector. Signal wire to pin 2 and signal ground to pin 5. Note that the Magellan 2000 does NOT have a computer interface. The Magellan 3000 does have an NMEA interface.

For those more technically inclined, and GPS-related businesses, Robin has lists of those that manufacture GPS products and chipsets - see below.

Do you want to be listed on this page ?

Robin We are not making any charge to put GPS suppliers onto this page. We will accept both individual entries from a particular dealer, or a file of distributers from a GPS Supplier Head Office. To qualify to be added to the list, you will need to test your GPS product with GPSS downloaded from this web site, and fill in answers to the "Business Quiz" after reading carefully our BUSINESS page. If you are a business, seeking to buy GPS chipsets or products in quantity, to sell on to the consumer or other businesses, then you will want to contact those that manufacture the hardware, rather than sell it. Those who contact me as suggested above, may get access to my list of GPS hardware manufacturers, and other information.