A GPS laptop is a portable computer configured with a global positioning system (GPS) device and mapping software, allowing the user to track his or her position anywhere on the earth. While some laptop computers, or notebooks, are now available with built-in GPS devices, the most common way to configure a laptop to use GPS technology is by purchasing an external device. This external device usually connects to the computer through a USB port or by taking advantage of Bluetooth® wireless technology.
GPS laptops are most commonly used by boaters and motorists, particularly RV drivers or others who frequently make long trips. There are a number of advantages to using a GPS laptop rather than a stand-alone GPS system. One is screen size. Since a laptop display, generally between 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) and 17 inches (43.2 centimeters), provides a level of clarity and detail not available on stand-alone GPS displays which are typically between 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) and 5 inches (12.7 centimeters), GPS laptops are often considered to be easier to use. A GPS laptop also tends to provide more functionality at a lower price point than a stand-alone unit, since it can piggyback on a number of the laptop’s existing functions. One obvious downside to a GPS laptop is that it takes up more space than a smaller stand-alone unit, which can usually be installed on a vehicle’s dash.
There are several things to consider when shopping for a laptop GPS device. One of the most important issues is the means of connection. Some devices plug into a computer’s USB port using a cord, while others connect directly to the port. Either method can limit a user’s options when positioning the device for optimum satellite reception. Higher-end units tend to connect using wireless Bluetooth® technology, which allows the user to position the device anywhere in the vehicle, though of course it’s important to first determine whether a given laptop has Bluetooth® capabilities. A fourth option is to connect a GPS device directly to the laptop using a compact flash (CF) or Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PMCIA) card, in which case the unit is generally coupled with an antenna to be affixed to the exterior of the vehicle.
Most laptop GPS devices come bundled with mapping software, which provides route maps, trip planning and voice navigation. Other features may include weather alerts, local gas prices, and dining and hotel information, often culled from Internet sources. Software updates are generally easy to download and install — another advantage of laptop GPS systems over stand-alone units. Several shareware mapping software packages are available for free download, though they may not be compatible with all GPS devices. Separate mapping software may need to be purchased for international travel.