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Tablet GPS Solutions

Posted in How To on May 15, 2013
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In the old days, we all navigated trails with the aid of USGS paper topo maps that show the terrain, waterways, and existing trails. With publicly available GPS signals today, anyone can purchase a handheld or vehicle-mounted navigation unit and use it for backcountry exploration.

Small handheld units are rugged and great to use when hiking but can be hard to read when navigating trails in a vehicle. Our 7-inch–screen Nexus 7 has proven to be easy to read for navigating trails off road. Track recording can be turned on or off as desired, much like a standard GPS unit.

Small handheld GPS units are compact but can be difficult to read when viewing terrain or topo maps in a vehicle. We've known off-roaders to use laptops or netbooks with GPS software to provide large, easy-to-read maps, but they can be expensive and bulky. Recently, the increased availability of tablet devices has further opened possibilities for in-vehicle navigation.

As popular as the Apple iPad and iPad Mini are for a variety of uses, only the cellular-capable models currently have Assisted GPS and GLONASS (Russian system) capability. The Wi-Fi-only models have no GPS receiver but can use an external one for off-road navigation.

We are currently using a Google Nexus 7 tablet for topo map navigation. This is a touchscreen Android-based 7-inch tablet with a built-in GPS receiver. We're using this $200 tablet with ViewRanger GPS software. It has the capability of recording tracks and displaying topo maps and routes you can load onto the device. With it mounted on the upper dash of our truck, it's easy to check progress on a terrain map as we travel off road.

One way to add GPS capability to most any Bluetooth-capable device is by using an external GPS receiver module like the Dual Universal GPS Receiver, which is compact and can sit on your vehicle dash. It can operate from a rechargeable battery or car charger.

Today we have an increasing number of great choices to use for off-road navigation and exploring. Consider checking out a tablet solution for your GPS needs.

With the ViewRanger software ($15 with full U.S. topo maps), we're able to download topo maps via USB connection or Wi-Fi and have them stored for a trip. (A live data connection is needed to add additional maps not in the tablet memory.) We can also download premade trail routes in .gpx format. These screenshots give some example of the ability to display several types of maps, including USGS topo maps, shaded terrain, and satellite imagery. (ViewRanger is available in both Apple and Android versions.)

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