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GPS and battery life: Ask the Editors

CNET editors answer reader questions about the batteries on portable navigation devices and why we don't review handheld GPS.


This week, not one but two reader questions. Woo--getting crazy up in here. I kid, but hopefully, you're finding these posts helpful, and if you've got a question about your own, feel free to hit me up at That said, on with the show.

Q: Starting to look at GPS navigation devices, and don't know much about them. One of the vehicles that I may be using it in, does not have cigarette lighter. Since I have seen handlebar mounts for bicycles, I am wondering if these units are like cell phones and MP3 players in that they are rechargeable, since I always see them plugged in as dash-mounted units, I assumed that they needed to be plugged in to work. --ndhelp001 via CNET forums

A: Most of today's portable navigation devices (PNDs) come with rechargeable lithium ion batteries, so like today's cell phones and MP3 players, once fully charged, they can operate untethered for a number of hours.

The capacity of the battery varies by GPS model, but typically, you can get anywhere from 2 to 5 hours of use on a single charge, so provided that you're not going on any long road trips, it's possible to use one of these PNDs in your car that does not have a cigarette lighter. That said, I'd really try to keep that to a minimum. There are a number of other factors that can affect battery life, such as screen brightness and other radios (e.g., Bluetooth), and in testing these systems, I've found when not plugged in, the battery drains pretty fast so I wouldn't want you to driving in unknown territory and have the GPS die on you.

Something else to note: a number of GPS manufacturers only include a car charger in the box, so make sure to check the list of packaged accessories to see if you need to buy an extra AC adapter or not.

Magellan Triton 2000
Magellan Triton 2000 Magellan

Q: Why don't you review GPS that are not for car use? Say review them for hiking ... or maybe geocaching. There are a number of new models out that can be carried on a person. All I ever see is GPS for cars. Just wondering. --Wolf via e-mail

A: Hey Wolf. Good question. Handheld GPS, whether it be for hiking, running, or geocaching, is definitely something I would love to review more of but unfortunately, it's just been hard to find the time. When I'm not reviewing in-car GPS, I'm tinkering with all the latest smartphones, so that keeps me busy most of the time. That said, I'm looking to expand to the other types of GPS and in fact, I just got in the Magellan Triton 2000 so be on the look out for that review as well as others. Also, if there are any products in particular that you want to see reviewed, let me know!