What is a Handheld GPS?

Mitch Morgan
Mitch Morgan

A handheld GPS is a device that uses the Global Positioning System, combining modern geographic technology with a portable, user-friendly device for everyday use. Introduced in the late 1990s, the handheld GPS has many functions, including navigation assistance and land-survey data. Features on some models may also provide information on geographic locations like national and historic landmarks. The device is often used by outdoors enthusiasts to pinpoint the coordinates of an certain location for future reference.

Geocaching is a modern-day scavenger hunt that uses GPS to find the treasures of the hunt.
Geocaching is a modern-day scavenger hunt that uses GPS to find the treasures of the hunt.

The portable GPS has grown in popularity since its release, prompting cellular phone companies like Sprint® and Verizon® to offer mobile phones with global positioning capabilities. The presence of GPS capability in mobile phones has become commonplace as consumer demand grows and newer, more sophisticated versions of the units are made available. Full-color screens, 3D maps, and user-friendly interfaces are only a few features found on the device. Satellite imagery even allows one to view his or her own house as it is seen from space.

GPS units have also been integrated into an on-board attachment for vehicles. In addition to performing standard GPS functions, these devices include built-in road map software that helps drivers easily locate their destination. By simply typing in the current and final addresses, these GPS units will speak the directions and alert one when approaching a turn or detour. For many drivers, these devices have replaced the road atlas due to convenience, accuracy, and ease of use.

Although the handheld system is capable of performing many practical tasks, some individuals purchase the portable version for fun. Aside from its conventional purpose, the handheld GPS has become widely used for an outdoor treasure-seeking game known as geocaching. Based on an old English game known as letterboxing, the activity is a treasure hunt that involves either teams or individuals who leave a “cache,” usually a small plastic container full of toys and surprises, hidden at a certain geographic coordinate. The team or person then releases these coordinates for others with a GPS handheld to find. The hobby is an international phenomenon that continues to grow in popularity as the handheld technology becomes more affordable.

One potential drawback for consumers in the market for a handheld GPS is its geographic reliability. Unlike its larger predecessor, the handheld GPS relies on a minimum of three available satellites, therefore making it less reliable, with a typical accuracy of within about 100 feet (30 m). A military mandate restricts the devices from maintaining a accuracy capable of within about 16 feet (5 m).

Mitch Morgan
Mitch Morgan

Mitch is a journalist, photographer, and test administrator who has contributed to a diverse array of publications, including the Oxford, Mississippi arts and entertainment guide Oxford Town and the trade publication Nightclub & Bar Magazine. In addition to his freelance work for EasyTechJunkie and several other websites, Mitch has written dozens of album reviews, allowing him to showcase his love of music and media.

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Discussion Comments


A GPS system in a cell phone may not be as accurate as a system built for the military, but it's more than good enough for most consumers. Actually, adding GPS to smartphones was a move that borders on revolutionary. Smartphones are now very common and figuring out where you are, where you want to go and how to get there without the aid of a map or stopping to ask for directions has become so common that we rarely think about how fantastic portable GPS is.

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