Hybrid Crossover GPS Devices
Over the past couple of months, the most popular question we’ve received is “what GPS devices can be used for both on-road and off-road navigation?” The question is typically prompted by a few new devices labeled as “crossover” GPS devices. Lots of people are looking for one GPS device which “does it all”. Here are our thoughts on the topic.
GPS and Bicycles
The hybrid GPS debate has many parallels with purchasing a bicycle. You can purchase a mountain bike, a road bike, or hybrid bikes. The mountain bikes are great for off-road use due to the wider tires and the gears are suited for slower speeds. However on the road the wide tires are noisy and the deep treads create additional friction which will slow you down. A road bike works wonders on the road, but can be scary (and dangerous!) to ride off-road since the tires don’t have as much traction and the drivetrain is geared towards higher speeds.
Therefore, may people are attracted to hybrid bicycles which offer a wider tire like a mountain bike, but a smoother tread like a road bike. For some people, this can work fine. However for many enthusiasts it doesn’t work well. A hybrid bike doesn’t perform as well on the road as a road bike and doesn’t perform as well off-road as a mountain bike. As a result, some people are left feeling like they have a bike that isn’t good at anything.
Enter hybrid GPS devices. Just like bicycles, hybrid GPS devices come from one of two angles. Sometimes the device is primarily a handheld, outdoor based GPS device which can also have road maps installed. Other devices are primarily road navigators which can also have topographic (topo) maps installed on them. Here are a few factors you should consider.
Most GPS devices designed for outdoor use have smaller screens than those designed for auto use. This makes sense because a handheld device will be kept closer to your eyes, and the smaller size makes them easier to carry. However a really small screen won’t make for the best auto navigation experience, especially when the GPS sits away from you on the dash.
Likewise, the larger screen size on an auto GPS device is nice to have while in the car, but can be extremely bulky to carry with you on a hike.
Auto GPS devices don’t typically have many buttons and are operated through the touch screen. This can be a major drawback if you are trying to use the device while hiking. Especially if you have gloves on, operating a touch screen in this environment can be tricky.
Handheld GPS devices for outdoor activities don’t typically have a touch screen. Therefore using them in a car can be challenging. Using they few buttons to enter addresses can take hundreds of button presses and can be really frustrating.
One of the best features of most auto GPS devices is voice prompts, or even better yet text-to-speech. The device will actually say to you “turn right in 500 feet” or “turn right onto Maple Avenue”. Handheld GPS devices don’t typically feature voice prompts and instead resort to different tones to alert you to a turn. This is a significant drawback to auto navigation.
Garmin has announced that in the future you will be able to load some of their off-road maps onto Nuvi devices. While this might sound like a great idea, taking your Nuvi with you on a hike might not be such a great idea. See those three big holes on the right of the Nuvi for SD cards, USB, and headphones? Think about what might happen if you get water in there? These devices just are not designed for off-road use.
What about the Crossover?
Many people have asked specifically about the Crossover GPS from Magellan. They have addressed some of the issues mentioned here. For example the device is IPX-4 water resistant. The IPX-4 standard means that the device will stand up to water splashed on it from any angle. However this does not mean you can drop it in a stream. For that you want a device that is IPX-7 waterproof. The Crossover is not.
Also consider the detail of the maps you are getting. The topo maps in the crossover are only of a 90 meter resolution. This is much less detail than the 30 meter maps they offer with their handheld devices. (You will be able to upgrade to 30 meter maps for an additional charge.) Also, the Crossover GPS does not display small trails and streams. For most people, the lack of detail in these maps prevents this device from working as a sufficient off-road navigation device.
So What Do We Recommend?
Purchase one GPS designed specifically for the task at hand. Consider the price of the “hybrid” GPS device you are considering. The Magellan Crossover is currently about $425 on average. If you were to purchase a handheld GPS and then purchase the additional road maps you might pay about the same price, in the mid $400 range. In the end you will have a GPS device which is only really good at one part of the task and works okay for the other, secondary task.
So consider purchasing two GPS devices. You might actually save some money and you will have a GPS specifically designed for each task at hand. For example you could purchase the eTrex Legend Cx from Garmin right now for about $215 and then get the Topo maps product for about $110. Then, there are a variety of auto GPS devices which can be had for around the $200 mark right now bringing the total of both devices to around $525. Slightly more than a Crossover, but you will get way more bang for the extra $75-100. If you just can’t tolerate that much more money, you could opt for a grayscale handheld GPS device such as the eTrex Legend for about $115 making the total price $425. For the same price as the Crossover, you can get two GPS devices, each designed for the task, and with a higher quality topo map.
The concept of the hybrid/Crossover GPS is a good one, and the Magellan Crossover might be a good choice for a select group of people, however you should evaluate how well it will perform each task and consider purchasing two GPS devices, one dedicated to each task.