Here is a guide to help you along with making your purchasing decisions so that you can get the GPS system that best fits your needs.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have become extremely commonplace these days. Most smartphones now come equipped with an included GPS navigation app to help users find their way to destinations that they have never been to before.

One thing that is often confused, however, is the difference between GPS tracking and GPS navigation systems. We tend to just lump them all together, not understanding what the essential differences are between the two.

So, what do you need to know about the two and what do you need to look for when purchasing the right system for your needs? Here is a guide to help you along with making your purchasing decisions so that you can get the system that best fits your needs.

What is GPS tracking?

GPS tracking is a device that uses information obtained from GPS satellites. When this information is received, it is then transmitted from as far as a few hundred miles away. The device can be something as small as a sim card in a smartphone or it can be hardwired into a vehicle itself. The information is then displayed on either another piece of equipment or through an app on the aforementioned smartphone.

The main purpose of GPS tracking is to track the whereabouts of someone or something. GPS tracking is most commonly used in the parcel service, but it can also be used to monitor something like the health of a vehicle or its positioning.

GPS tracking is used for a wide array of things like tracking cargo, keeping track of a fleet of vehicles, even to track kids, pets, or dementia patients who can wander off or become lost. There is really nothing that GPS tracking cannot do.

What is GPS Navigation?

This is generally what people think of when they hear the term GPS. GPS navigation is most commonly found in built-in systems in your vehicle, in a separate device, or using an app on a smartphone. These methods help users to find their way or to get directions to where you want to go. These methods contact GPS satellites for information based on the information that you put in, such as an address or perhaps a landmark that you are trying to get to.

In addition to satellites, they may also use wifi signals or cellular towers to assist the device or app in knowing where you are so that they can then plot an accurate route. This also assists with things like traffic, road conditions, or if there are emergencies or accidents along that route that may cause delays.

The key thing to remember what the difference between GPS tracking and navigation is that the former can locate someone whereas the latter can help you find your destination. Both are incredibly useful and have changed the way that we use global positioning systems.

What are the most important GPS specs?

As we go through the different specs available for your GPS system, you will come to learn that there are some commonalities between a GPS navigation system and a GPS tracking system. When there are specific features for one device, it will be mentioned below.


This applies to both types of units. Ultimately, you need to be able to see the display clearly. That means having ample screen size to view maps or the location of what it is you are tracking. Not all screens are created equally and can vary greatly depending on what type of device you are purchasing.

Look for a device that comes with crisp colors and ample size so that you can easily view your GPS menus without having to squint or hold it right up to your face. Some GPS devices also have touch screen capability, making it even easier to use.


The whole point of GPS is to be able to communicate with these satellites to get the information that you need. If your GPS device has less than stellar receiver capabilities, it can result in complete frustration when trying to get the information from your device that you need.

Ample receiver strength is hugely important regardless of the type of GPS device that you are using. This allows the device to communicate with satellite systems to get the information that it needs to give you the accurate information that you need.

Device compatibility

GPS devices have evolved quite a bit over time. There used to be a time where you could only make updates to your device (this is before smartphone apps became commonplace) by plugging it into your laptop or desktop computer.

Those times have since changed. While you still can plug your device into your laptop or desktop, it is no longer the only method. Most devices have built-in wifi that allows you to connect wirelessly to the internet. This is great for downloading updates for your device as well as sharing routes and other features with other users. The versatility has come a long, long way from the early days of GPS devices.

Having the ability to sync with Bluetooth connections is also another great feature to have. Simply put: you want to make sure that your device has multiple connection methods and that the built-in wifi feature is there for easy updates.

Battery life

This is easy to forget at times, but the battery life of your GPS device can mean quite a bit. If you are using a GPS tracking system, the last thing that you need is for your device to lose power while you are trying to track your pet or child.

The same goes for a GPS navigation device. If you are on a road trip or traveling to a place that you have never been before, you don’t want your device to falter. Most GPS devices will come with extended battery life so you rarely have to worry about this issue.

Battery life has come a long way from the early days of GPS devices; some allow for nearly 30 hours of use before needing to recharge. That makes it easy to just turn it on and get the most usage out of it without having to stress about the life of the battery.

Other GPS Features

Not all GPS apps and devices are created equally. Some are very basic and will get you from point A to point B. This is fine for daily usage, though it might be slightly inconvenient if you do use your GPS navigation on a daily basis.

Some apps and devices will include a set of features that can include custom routes, saved routes, updates on traffic and construction, and a slew of other things. Finding the right app or device that can save those important routes can make your life all the more convenient.

There are also apps and devices that will suggest routes for you which can be helpful if you are not familiar with an area and need the best route available. We have all been in the position of being unfamiliar with a route and wind up in the middle of construction. Never again with a nav system that has excellent features.

How do I choose the right system for me?

Like any other product out on the market, you need to determine what your intended use is. If you plan to use GPS navigation, there are a number of different routes that you can go to. The apps that can easily be downloaded on your phone or used through your vehicle are great, but they are also pretty basic. They will get you from place to place, but some might not even show you things like accident reports or traffic conditions. Finding the right app for your daily usage can make the difference between a calm commute and a crazy one.

Though they can be quite a bit more costly, getting a GPS navigation device can be a great investment. You can save routes, download current maps, get up to date traffic conditions or construction notices, and so much more. The caveats are two-fold: you have to pay for the device (and some can be quite pricey) and you have to mount it somewhere in your vehicle. These aren’t major caveats, but they are caveats no less.

As for GPS tracking, this can be a bit simpler. For everyday usage, people like you and I really only use them for one purpose. Whether you have pets, children, or both, being able to track their whereabouts should they become lost is an essential feature to have. Never have that ugly moment of panic again when you can use an application associated with the device to locate your child or pet no matter where they may be.

Ultimately, it is up to you to determine just what use you need out of your GPS system. Be it tracking or navigation, having GPS available at your fingertips can change the way that you live your life. The majority of people across the United States use GPS in their lives at some point and it is pretty clear to see why that is true.