To Tablet or Not To Tablet: GPS Navigation Options for RVs

As technology marches on, us RV folks are faced with a peculiar conundrum when it comes to navigating. Do we stick to tried and true dedicated GPS devices, or do we make the leap to using a tablet and GPS apps? Both have their benefits and drawbacks, so let’s mosey on down the trail and ponder the possibilities from all angles, just like my Great Aunt Edna used to do every Sunday after church.

Dedicated RV GPS Devices – Old Reliable

For many years, RV travelers have relied on dedicated GPS units to navigate them across this grand land of purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain. These units are designed specifically with RVers in mind, taking into account our massive vehicles and need to avoid low bridges and tight turns that would put an Italian sports car to shame.

Here are some of the key benefits offered by dedicated RV GPS devices:

  • RV-friendly routing: They look out for us, avoiding those pesky low clearances and tight turns that would run our rigs right off the road! It’s like having a second pair of eyes watching over your driving.
  • Large, easy-to-see screens: With display sizes up to 7 inches, you can easily view map details and upcoming turns from the driver’s seat. No more squinting at a tiny phone screen!
  • Durability: Made to withstand vibration, drops, and more, they can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. Perfect for the bumpy open road!
  • Long battery life: With battery life measured in hours rather than minutes, you won’t be frantically searching for a charger at every pit stop.
  • Traffic monitoring: Many models provide real-time traffic info to steer you clear of backups and delays. Sailing smoothly along while everyone else fumes in traffic? Yes please!
  • Specialized POIs: Points of interest tailored to RVers include campgrounds, dumping stations, parking areas, and other necessities. Takes the guesswork out of finding spots to pull over!
  • FM transmitter: Broadcasts voice guidance over your stereo so you don’t miss a single turn. So long as you don’t mind your music occasionally being interrupted mid-chorus.
  • Hands-free control: Voice command capabilities let you operate the unit without ever taking your hands off the wheel. Safety first, kids!

Now I don’t want to paint too rosy of a picture here. Dedicated GPS units aren’t without their drawbacks:

  • Cost: Quality RV GPS units run $200-400 typically. That’s a mighty big bite out of your RV trip budget off the bat!
  • Limited functionality: While optimized for routing and navigation, they lack the versatility and convenience of a tablet. You won’t be surfing the web or posting pics of your trip on one, that’s for dang sure.
  • Frequent updates required: Map data can become outdated quickly, requiring pricey annual map updates. Yet another hidden cost to factor in!
  • Small screen size: While larger than a phone screen, a 7 inch display still feels cramped when viewing maps and routing.

Dedicated RV GPS units excel at providing an optimized navigation experience tailored to the unique needs of RVers. However, the tradeoff is limited functionality beyond routing, less bang for your buck, and the hassle of map updates. If pure A-to-B navigation is your top priority, these purpose-built devices fill that role admirably. But for other uses beyond travel guidance? Read on, friends…

Tablets with GPS Apps – Shiny and New

What’s flashier than a Vegas neon sign, more versatile than a Swiss army knife, and has that exciting “new gadget” smell? Tablets, baby! Chock full of GPS apps galore, tablets cram a ton of functionality into one sleek little package. But do they match up to dedicated units for the intrepid RVer? Grab a cup of joe and settle in as we investigate:

  • Crisp, high-resolution displays: With screen sizes up to 12 inches and resolutions exceeding dedicated GPS units, tablets allow for gorgeous map displays and visibility from all seats.
  • Internet connectivity: Tablets with cellular data or WiFi allow access to cloud-based maps and info on the go. We’re living in the future, people!
  • Bigger bang for your buck: For the same cost as a dedicated GPS, a tablet provides navigation plus apps, video/music streaming, games, e-books, web access, and more.
  • Regular map updates included: Connectivity means map data stays fresh automatically without costly annual updates. Cha-ching!
  • Multi-tasking magic: Switch from navigation to apps to entertainment and back seamlessly. Do it all on one compact device!
  • DIY mounting options: From window to dash to seatback, tablets can be mounted creatively using off-the-shelf parts. Install it your way!

Of course, embracing the newfangled tablet approach has some cons to consider as well:

  • Durability concerns: Tablets aren’t as rugged as dedicated units. Drops and bumps on the road can lead to costly repairs or replacement. Treat it with care!
  • Limited RV-friendly routing: General navigation apps may route you under low bridges or down tight turns not suited for an RV’s proportions. Double check all routes!
  • Battery drain: Constant connectivity and multi-tasking can mean frequent charging stops to keep your device powered up. Bring cords and a backup battery pack just in case.
  • Distraction risks: The versatility of tablets means more potential for eyes straying from the road. Stay focused on driving first and tech second!
  • Upfront cost for device: While you save on map updates, you still have to pay for the tablet itself upfront. An iPad or Galaxy Tab will run you a few hundred bucks minimum.

So if you don’t mind handling your tech with kid gloves, staying vigilant to avoid RV-unfriendly routes, and keeping device charging a top priority, tablets can be an appealing one-stop solution. But those accustomed to the reliability and specialized focus of a dedicated GPS may find the switch frustrating at times.

No single right answer here, folks – it comes down to your tech comfort level, budget, and personal priorities. Me? I’ve got one foot firmly planted in the dedicated GPS camp, but the other toe is dippin’ into those tablet waters with increasing frequency. Change blows in like the wind whether we’re ready or not!

Tips for RV Tablet Navigation

If you decide to take the tablet GPS plunge, here are a few tips for making the transition smooth as butter:

  • Get a rugged case: Invest in a heavy-duty case rated for drops and shocks to protect your device investment. An ounce of prevention and all that!
  • Install multiple navigation apps: Try out different options like Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, AllStays Camp & RV, and NaviMaps to compare features. Go with what suits your style best.
  • Save offline maps when possible: For trips in rural areas with sparse cellular signal, preload offline map data so you’re never fully lost!
  • Bring multiple charging options: Pack your cord plus a backup battery, inverter, and car charger to keep juice flowing on long travel days far from outlets.
  • Use a large, adjustable mount: Position your tablet front and center for optimal visibility while driving. Aftermarket mounts provide flexibility.
  • Use voice commands when possible: Keep your eyes up and hands on the wheel by using voice control for operation when safe to do so.
  • Configure settings for RV use: Enter your vehicle height, width and weight in navigation app settings so you’re routed accordingly.
  • Plan routes ahead of time: Thoroughly preview any suggested routes to look for potential no-go’s before hitting the road. An ounce of prevention!
  • Keep the co-pilot on watch: Have your passenger double check all routes and act as navigator if needed to avoid distraction. Two heads are better than one!

Whether you rely on Ol’ Reliable or jump on the New Hotness train, just get out there and make memories on the open road – that’s what it’s all about! And remember, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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