GPS systems out there range anywhere from $70 to upwards of $400 depending on the feature sets included.
I recently took advantage of the fact that some of the low-end GPS systems on the market run on Windows CE. This leaves open the opportunity to hack the system, gain access to the Windows CE desktop, and from there, the sky’s limit.
The GPS system that I purchased is the Nextar X3-01, which is a portable 3.5″ screen unit that comes complete with car mounting kit and SD card slot (this is critical). You’ll most likely be able to find this kind of model in the bargain bin or at liquidation retailers. Online the prices range from $80 – $300, but you can probably find it at the low end of that range at some local store.
Sure, you won’t get the latest in GPS technology, but in my experience the results are very good and the connection to the GPS satellites is quite snappy, especially when mounted on your car’s dashboard with good line of sight to the sky. The other main challenge is the software. Typically the maps are a few years old and the navigation software is lacking features. This is where some ingenuity and willingness to void your warranty comes in (not a big loss since most of these end-of-line models only come with very short warranties).
Depending on the device you bought, chances are there’ll be instructions online as to how you can enter the Windows CE desktop, and once you’re there, you can install your own software. Pretty much anything goes, but of course your main objective will be to install more up-to-date, feature-rich GPS Navigation software. I decided on Nav N Go iGO 8 with maps that are less than 6 months old, a ton of great features, and the benefit of great customization tweaks online: Everything from custom themes to different vehicles to replace the boring arrow on the screen.
How much did that cost and didn’t it ruin the whole idea of a cheap GPS system? Well, use your Internet smarts and you’ll soon find out that it’s not so bad.
When it was all said and done, I had an $80 GPS running sophisticated navigation software, an image viewer, a media player (audio and video), a GPS Geocaching application (with support for waypoint files), and more. The main limitation to this Windows CE based marvel is that the system resets certain parts of its Flash memory on each reboot, which made it impossible (or at least too difficult for me to bother) to install things such as the Compact .Net Framework. We recently went on a trip to Vancouver and thanks to this GPS we did literally no planning at all, just punched in our destination and let it guide us. It was great!