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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.

Screen Size

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.

Button Placement

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.

Voice Prompts

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.

35 Responses

  1. What about battery life? Handhelds typically have more than twice the battery life as a GPS designed for auto use. Most of that difference is probably screen size.

    And I have a feeling that some features that make a GSP great for auto routing, like a touch screen and simple interface. I would imagine it’s very difficult to make a portable GPS both touchscreen and rugged (g-shock and waterproof).

    So I agree that, the best thing to do is to get two units. Hybrids would be a compromise in both environments.

    Jonavin - April 9th, 2007
  2. Great point about battery life Jonavin. You are absolutely correct, to power the bigger screen which normally has a backlight running takes a good amount of battery power. Some auto GPS devices don’t even come with a battery, some have dismal battery life, and only a few last more than a couple of hours.

    Tim - April 9th, 2007
  3. I understand that specific devices are better than do all devices at each specific thing. However, that results to five batteries to charge, a fist full of devices, five storage cases, a lot of planning to know what I am going to need before I go, and more memory than I have in my head to remember how to operate five separate devices.

    Larry - April 14th, 2007
  4. That is true Larry. Unfortunately (in my opinion) nobody has yet made one device that can tackle both tasks and produce good results. As mentioned in the last paragraph of the article the Magellan device might work really well for people that don’t need too much functionality on either side of operation. But know that there will be limitations.

    Tim - April 14th, 2007
  5. Help me quick!
    I just ordered a garmin 76CSX that will be used for auto, boat, motorcycle,& whatever. I will have to buy the city nav software, and the inland lakes software. so how am I doing so far? Also at the last minute I am having doubts about not buying the garmin GPSMAP 378 that is preloaded with all I would need, its just bigger and battery hungry and about 75-100 bucks more. give me your thoughts on my definition of a crossover unit.

    Evans Shaw - April 18th, 2007
  6. Evans, it sounds as though you are not looking for a handheld device by the activities you describe. Is that correct?

    Tim - April 19th, 2007
  7. I’m trying to find a unit that will work with my Mac for any needed software updates .Garmin is out, but do U know of any that will work for me?

    david claycomb - April 27th, 2007
  8. Why is Garmin out? You can use the web updater on Macs now.

    Tim - April 27th, 2007
  9. Garmin told me just this morning that they are not compatible with the Mac…

    david claycomb - April 27th, 2007
  10. The product is still in beta which might be why they said that. Also not all of their products are compatible, but the web updater is available in beta.

    Tim - April 27th, 2007
  11. Hi, nice article, but I still find it hard to believe there isn’t a suitable hybrid (more towards the woodsie side).
    My situation: I have an old Rhino 120 I’ve used for military purposes (thinking about selling to a friend), but I want something new and I’m about to be deployed again to the Baltic region where I would be traveling both by foot and humvee and use military friendly topographic maps and entering/using the Military Grid Reference System for routes, waypoints, and POI’s (some of which I would self mark).

    Upon my I return home I plan on doing a 3-4 month tour of Central/South America on my motorcycle (BMW F650GS), but would only be using the GPS if I got myself really lost, but possibly handlebar mount.

    For neither of these uses would I want a large auto-type GPS that gives step-by-step driving directions, but want something sufficient that would show terrain, roads, possibly color, decent battery life, motorcycle mountable, hand-carriable, and fairly weather proof… am I asking for too much? Money isn’t a (very) big issue, nor is purchasing maps. Any help or updates on upcoming products would be helpful.
    PS: I had a David Claycomb as a geology professor years ago….

    Jordan - April 30th, 2007
  12. Jordan, I think in your case you will probably find an acceptable solution in one of the Garmin mapping handhelds. Since your auto requirements are not as high as most others you will probably be okay within the limitations of a handheld GPS. The bigger issue might be finding map coverage in the areas of Central/South America.

    Tim - April 30th, 2007
  13. Tim,
    I read the comments, as you suggested. They are interesting. In my comment on the PN20 site, I did not mean to suggest that I was going to give up my 2610. It is old at this point, I know, and loses the signal in tree shrouded areas more than I would like, but it is still pretty good. What I want is a unit that will do hiking and biking, with car/motorcycle navigation in a pinch. What I get from the comments on this site is that the Garmin 60CS, or the 76CS might do for that. When I feel richer, a ZUMO is looking good because of the motorcycle slant

    Justin - June 4th, 2007
  14. Hi Justin, that sounds like a good assessment. Despite the other limitations, the other downside to using a handheld for auto navigation “in a pinch” is the cost of the maps. But if you can live with the limitations, and the price of the extra maps, it will certainly serve that purpose.

    Tim - June 5th, 2007
  15. Tim, Re: cost of the maps, yes, but adding another unit to maps you already own costs slightly more than half of the cost for new maps, and that helps a lot. That means I may buy the TOPO, but the City Navigator will be a lot cheaper.

    Justin - June 5th, 2007
  16. Very true!

    Tim - June 5th, 2007
  17. Tim/Justin,
    What about the Garmin Quest 2? It’s waterproof IPX7, preloaded with US,Canada, and P.R. It also gives voice turn-by-turn directions (with external speaker), and rechargeable battery. Correct me if I’m wrong, it can work well in the off-road/hiking arena as well. It might have enough room in it’s memory to download additional maps (topos, marine, maybe foreign maps?).

    Ken - June 6th, 2007
  18. BTW, I’m in a similar situation — I’m looking for a decent GPS for auto, but I would like it to handle well outdoors for hiking, etc. Units that I’m researching so far are the Garmin 60/70CSX, and the Garmin Quest 2. Each has it’s drawbacks too: i.e. 60/70CSX lack voice turn-by-turn directions; the Quest 2 lacks removable batteries and barometric elevation/compass.

    Ken - June 6th, 2007
  19. Ken et. al. The Quest does not have a high sensitivity receiver which might mean that it would not work well in the forest. I know my 2610 is bad on heavily forested roads, never mind on a walk, which, of course it will not do, as it has no batteries. The Quest 2 costs quite a bit more than the Garmin 60 or 76 series. The display is 240 by 160, the same as the Garmin60, though oriented the other way and you cannot put memory cards in. I don’t know how big the internal memory is, but for hikes or such uses, the chances are that you would have to reload some info. Then you would need your computer along. Another layer of complexity. You also have to buy the TOPO program if you want to use those features for a hike or off road trip.

    Justin - June 6th, 2007
  20. The only problem I have with your “recommendation” is that it ignores those of us who ride/drive Jeeps or dual-sport motorcycles. Right now we have a choice of using GPS devices with impossibly tiny screens (ones meant for hiking), which are impossible for us to use while driving on the highway to get to the 4wd roads and trails we’re going to, or using GPS devices that won’t show us the 4wd roads and trails we’re going to or the topography of those roads and trails (typical car devices). The Magellan Crossover is a Jeeper’s wet dream — finally, a device that’ll both get you there, and allow you to get around in the backcountry once you get there!

    Previously I used a Garmin 60Csx in my Jeep and on my dual-sport motorcycle because it’ll show topographical information once I leave pavement, but it is very difficult to use due to the tiny screen. Unfortunately until now there wasn’t anything else that would both route me to the Sierras on pavement, and let me see the topographical info once I left pavement. This Crossover stuff is looking VERY good to me…

    BadTux - June 17th, 2007
  21. how long do you think i will need to wait for a crossover that will provide high quality on/off road and water proof for kayaking? i am ready to buy, but like the others want it all.

    del - June 19th, 2007
  22. BadTux – I’m not ignoring your usage, it is just a minority of what people are looking for. You might also find the lack of detail on their topo maps a limitation over the topo detail found on handheld GPS devices.

    del – Hard to say… I don’t know of anyone specifically making anything but that doesn’t mean something isn’t in development.

    Tim - June 19th, 2007
  23. Additionally, to respond to BadTux, your use of the Crossover and comment come slightly out of context with the article’s main point because your uses, while both on and off road, both include the GPS being plugged into the Jeep and Enduro bike, which makes this an on/off road hybrid GPS, but not a good foot-use GPS for its big screen and low battery life. The article’s aim is at road-navigation combined with off trail walking/hiking/biking. I too have a Jeep and an Enduro-bike, but I’m also an Army squad leader that needs many hours of GPS use on foot in the woods with each charge or battery change. For that it doesn’t pass muster, so a Garmin 60Csx is my choice.

    Jordan - June 19th, 2007
  24. I like that, a jeepster’s wetdream. I’m in the same boat, er jeep, I drive my jeep anywhere (and everwhere) as well as do light hiking, mountain biking and just general city exploring (foot and road bike) so I’m an impossible category to fit. The crossover is currently in the lead though it’s only water resistant, with the 2200T a close second (less rugged, still IPX4 but without the topo – hence smaller price tag). But I just saw the Magellan Triton line, any comment on those? Seem to be a smaller screen then the 2200/2500’s but looks like it has a better integration for on and off road with touch screen and a bunch of other crap not really needed, but is IPX7. Any hands on with that line, looks to be brand new? Also, my main question is on the road nav, I don’t need something to tell me turn right ahead, as long as there’s some indication that in 1/4 mile I need to turn, does the crossover or any other unit do this nicely? I’m looking for a unit that I can lock in my glove box, pull out when I need to find an address, use to get lost and found again off road and if I leave the top off my jeep I don’t have to worry about the unit fried after a rain storm. Ideas?

    PT - October 30th, 2007
  25. Hey Tim, I’m really interested in the crossover, for fishing (once every few weeks) and driving (most days). However, I haven’t been able to get any good information concerning the resolution of water features like fishing spots, depth, hidden obstructions, etc… will this do the same thing as small-time marine GPS’s with the right card? Thanks for your help, and I’ve learned a great deal from your site.

    jason - December 6th, 2007
  26. whoa love my garmin products.really want a crossover for truck,atv,sled,dirtbike,boat,etc.not really into foot travel.almost bought magellan,but research proved bad purchase.i beleive lowrance xog crossover gps navigator is new item and i am looking for any type of review or opinion.thankyou

    ace - December 11th, 2007
  27. Tim: I am looking for a gps navigation for my road bike (bicycle) and vehicle. I am thinking the Garmin Quest might work but I am unsure as it does not have an SD card. I am not sure the memory requirments for adding maps. ie If I wanted to go to Europe and needed to add maps would this pose a problem ?


    Greg - January 6th, 2008
  28. I have a sailboat, 4X4truck and I plan on hiking a bit from the boat and truck. I have the same question as Jason— Will a hybrid/Crossover GPS provide marine information? (Charts with depth, rocks etc.)

    Dan Markwick - January 24th, 2008
  29. Please do a 1 on 1 comparison of the Crossover GPS
    units from Magellan and Lowrance. ……Thanx

    Don Meyer - April 9th, 2008
  30. Tim
    I am interested in a unit that displays coordinates accurately (incl altitude if possible) for locating abandoned or obscure cemeteries and grave sites (genealogy). But I do need the road guides and maps, Including Canada if possible. Suggestions?

    Dave Mathewes - May 25th, 2008
  31. What Dave says! Cemeteries, grave sites, geocaching, AND road maps. Suggestions please!
    Leaning toward tomtom but easily swayed.

    Marjorie - May 25th, 2008
  32. Dave & Marjorie: You would be better off (and in many cases spend the same amount of money) buying two GPS devices. You can pickup something like the Nuvi 200 or the TomTom ONE 3rd Edition for under $150 to get you good auto navigation. You could then pickup something like the Garmin eTrex for about $125 (or less) which gives you a decent handheld GPS for outdoor use. So you might spend $275 as opposed to the $250-$400 for the crossover and have a much better platform to work from.

    Tim - May 26th, 2008
  33. I am interested in a ‘hybrid’ GPS as I need a larger screen than typical handheld units due to a central vision loss. I could possibly get away with a smaller screen if teh unit had text-to-speech &/or voice navigation. I am intrigued by the Magellan ‘Crossover’ but as you said, there are issues with the Magellan line and customer satisfaction & returns, so I don’t know if I’d be willing to spend that money on a Magellan. I also need a portable auto GPS, similarily with text-to-speech &/or at least voice prompts for when I venture out of familiar geographical areas in a vehicle. I would opt for your suggested 2 GPS devices, one handheld and one for vehicles, except for the vision aspect when dealing with the handheld. I could really use the voice navigation. I wouild optimally get a GPS that had all the above desired features as well as topo maps, road maps and an altimeter. I haven’t found the GPS of my dreams yet. Any ideas?

    Brad - May 28th, 2008
  34. Garmin finally allows both city nav (built in) and U.S. topo maps to run on the Nuvi’s.

    The topo is installed in segments, so you on the PC/Mac pick the segments you want in the Nuvi and download them.

    Then in the mapinfo page you will see both map sets. Choose the one you want to view and that’s it.

    When you are looking at the TOPO map none of the city navigator POI’s are available. You have to change to the navigator maps.

    The Nuvi’s are not waterproof but will work fine for the casual hiker/camper. Just keep it in a baggie if you are worried about it.

    Richard - June 7th, 2008
  35. Everyone reading this article might very well be interested in this latest news, Garmin has released a hybrid GPS that might very well be the answer many of you are looking for. The Garmin Nuvi 500 is almost here!

    Tim - July 22nd, 2008

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