When you are not using your phone, there are two options in the car to GPS navigation : built-in car and portable. We’ve reviewed both to help you make the choice that’s best for you.

In-Das vs handheld GPS

General conclusions

Built-in GPS navigators
  • Controlled through the display of the head unit — no need to buy or install additional equipment.

  • Clean appearance without any fasteners or wires cluttering up the interior of the car.

  • Always connected — never discharged.

  • Hardware upgrades and replacements can be expensive or difficult to install.

  • Cannot be easily moved to another vehicle or user or taken on outdoor excursions.

Portable GPS navigators
  • Accessible on the go: Easy to move from car to car or person to person.

  • Usually cheaper than in-dash. Buying a new portable device can be cheaper than upgrading an embedded system.

  • Great risk of being lost or stolen.

  • Increased interference: Installation requires cables, adapters and mounts.

Built-in or built-in GPS navigators use the car’s head unit to control and display maps and GPS information. Unlike portable devices, GPS is smaller and can be taken with you.

Built-in GPS pros and cons

Benefits
  • Clean, uncluttered GPS system.

  • Generally easier to use and manage than portable GPS systems.

Flaws
  • More expensive than portable devices.

  • Often difficult or expensive to install and upgrade.

  • Cannot be moved or taken with you.

The appeal of built-in GPS navigators comes down to the form factor. Whether it’s aftermarket upgrades or branded equipment, embedded devices offer a clean and uncluttered system for GPS navigation. How easy the system is to use depends on the manufacturer—whether the head unit came with the car or was installed second-hand—but in general, built-in units are simpler and easier to use than portable ones.

The downside is that in-dash navigators tend to cost more than portable systems. Although they include a number of built-in infotainment applications and features built-in Dashboard navigators can be expensive to install or update. They also lack the convenience of being portable or smartphone GPS . They cannot be easily moved to another vehicle or user, or taken on hikes or outdoor adventures.

Portable GPS pros and cons

Benefits
  • Portable: Can be easily moved to a new vehicle or carried around.

  • Cheaper than dashboard GPS: Upgrades and replacements don’t matter much.

Flaws
  • Create a cluttered dashboard, with cables, adapters and mounts.

  • Smaller screens.

  • High risk of loss or theft.

Portable GPS navigators are preferred almost entirely due to their portability. They’re not as sleek or pre-built as dash-mounted systems, but they’re easy to move from car to car or person to person. They are also cheaper than built-in navigators. Since they are generally cheaper, replacing and upgrading them is also possible. This means that the car should not be stuck with an outdated GPS system made by a company with little software experience.

The downside of portable devices is size and potential interference. They usually have smaller screens and require a lot of cables, adapters and mounts to install. Because they are portable, they are at greater risk of being lost or stolen.

Should I buy a built-in or portable GPS navigator?

Built-in and portable GPS systems are different enough to suit individual needs. If you plan on driving the same vehicle for a while and can update your maps periodically, an in-dash system might be right for you. If you want something that you can take between vehicles or hold on to, or something cheaper, get a portable GPS device.

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