Garmin Handhelds vs GPS-enabled PPCs - a Comparison

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Originally reviewed by Logos on 31 Oct 2005 in Reviews module [1].

This article may need merging with the smaller article Garmin GPS vs PDA Integrated GPS some time soon.


Many have wondered whether it is better to acquire a GPS setup by getting a standalone Garmin such as the eTrex or Map series or to use a PPC. The following summarises the pros and cons of both options. Note: Palm PDA's are omitted in this comparo as GPS software for Palm OS are limited and I have no experience using it. Garmin units dedicated for cars and boats are also not included as they are in a different category. For recommendation on a specific model, please write to the Forum. Some helpful souls will respond.

Garmin handheld standalones[edit]


  • Portable, quite rugged, water-resist
  • Good for outdoor use like trekking, fishing, sailing
  • Software (to be distinguished from the map in it) is robust
  • Wide availability of Garmin maps (original and amateur) for many countries
  • Good for tracking with selectable tracking settings for greater accuracy
  • Can use local routable maps which are constantly improving...and free!
  • Neat built-in features like best fishing times, moon phases etc.
  • Some models have reflective screens that look even better in direct sunlight
  • Use easily available AA batteries


  • Garmin GPS chipsets lag behind recent OEM BT GPSr's in the very important issue of receiver sensitivity. This determines how fast the time for first fix (TTFF) is, the ability to stay locked on satellites and accuracy of fix.
  • Works by line-of-sight to satellites only; will not work under many types of solar-film (needs an external antenna to resolve this problem)
  • Small screens make in-car navigation more difficult while driving • No voice, only beeping alarms for turn-by-turn instruction
  • Software restricted to Garmin and limited upgradeability (only for firmware and maps)

GPS-enabled PPCs[edit]


  • Blue Tooth (BT) GPSrs lead the way in sensitivity, especially the new generation of 32-channel and SiRF Star III chipsets
  • Faster time to first fix (TTFF), greater ability to keep a lock on satellites and more accuracy which all come from better sensitivity
  • Some BT GPSr's do not even need direct-line of sight to satellites and are untroubled by solar-films
  • Choice of several third-party software which allow routing and voice navigation
  • New software by developers like are introducing state-of-art maps that are searchable by block and postal code
  • Can use Garmin format maps with third-party software like Russa and PocketMV
  • Can route and voice navigate with Garmin maps if used with Garmin QUE software originally intended for Garmin GPSr.
  • Bigger screen of PPC’s good for in-car navigation
  • Memory storage expandable through CF and SD slots
  • Can use PPC for other virtually unlimited purposes such as PIM, MP3, Photoviewer etc.
  • Cheaper to acquire GPS capability if one already owns a PPC
  • Highly upgradeability for different maps, software and hardware


  • Two pieces of hardware instead of one, not rugged or water-resist
  • Batteries for PDA and BT GPSr are proprietary and do not usually last as long (not a problem when used with car charger)
  • Robustness of navigation software varies according to the software vendor
  • Tracking ability and flexibility is limited by the software

A comment on maps[edit]

As indicated above, the availability of good maps to work with the hardware is always an important consideration. Garmin does not presently offer maps for Singapore or Malaysia, but this lapse has been amply taken up by which provides free, regularly updated, detailed Garmin formatted maps which are fully routable. For a perspective, Singapore alone has over 10,000 roads (that’s why you need GPS to find your way!).

Free Garmin amateur maps of other countries may also be found at although not every country is available and the detail and quality vary from map to map. The free Garmin basemap that comes with the device is virtually useless. Original Garmin maps are good but expensive (over S$300 for the Australian map, for example). Garmin GPSr’s will not work with any other map not in the Garmin format. PPC maps work only with those GPS software intended for them.


Thus, Mapking maps only work with Mapking GPS software and will not work with other software. Mapking has maps of Singapore, Malaysia and many other countries in Asia. Its roadmap of Singapore is often criticised for errors but despite this, it is still one of the better ones for routing navigation in Singapore because of its nifty software platform. Mapking makes an effort to correct the errors as reported to them and is due to release an updated map for Singapore soon.

Just before the turn into the year 2007, Malsingmaps announced a collaboration with Mapking whereby Malsingmaps are now available in Mapking format, other than just the Garmin format. However, our Malsingmaps Mapking Maps are only available to run in Mapking software G10 and 2007 version only. Members with Mapking software version other than G10 or 2007 has to buy or upgrade to the G10 or 2007 software in order to use Malsingmaps Mapking Maps. Mapking G12 is not an advanced release of G10 contrary to popular convention and is thus unable to run the Malsingmaps Mapking Maps.

Update 22 March 2007[edit]

As of 22nd March 2007, Mapking has released (on the website of its Singapore representative, EastGear Pte Ltd) an updated map of Singapore for software version G10 and 2007. One major change in this release is the inclusion of a massive number of HDB blocks and private residences (inclusive of Postal Code) into the map. This is an advantage over the current Malsingmaps, which grouped only the HDB Blocks by way of the entrance to the carpark nearest to the particular group of HDB blocks, through a map overlay.


Agis has more detailed maps of Singapore and Malaysia which show building names and block numbers, but their software engine for routing and navigation require much improvement.[edit] has just released the best GPS-enabled map of Singapore with all you can ever ask for in a map (searchable by block and postal code), but the software does not allow for routing or voice navigation. It will just show you the point you are at on the street map.

Garmin Que[edit]

A recent major development is that the Garmin QUE software for PPC has been made usable with OEM BT GPSr’s. With this, all GPS-enabled PPC’s can now take advantage of the pool of free public domain Garmin maps to provide routing and voice navigation. So a major advantage of Garmin handhelds over PPC’s is now lost.

Besides this, non-Garmin PPC maps of other countries are widely available through developers like Mapopolis, Tom Tom and PapaGo (actually Mapking renamed for other markets).


Which alternative you should go for ultimately depends on what you want to mainly use your GPS setup for. If it's for outdoor use, then a Garmin standalone has the advantage for its ruggedness, portability and easily-replaced batteries. If it's for in-car navigation, then the better sensitivity of BT GPSr's and bigger screen of the PPC may prove decisive.

There’s also the subjective factor of product appeal which can only be addressed by your going to the shops and having a look and feel for the unit.

Still undecided? Take the plunge and go for one. Standalone or PPC, it should serve you well in a variety of situations and get you going on the learning curve of using GPS. Then if you get smitten by this hobby, get the other setup and enjoy the best of both worlds!