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Handheld GPS units under $200 that get the job done

For those on tight budgets, experts identify some good alternatives. The least expensive handheld GPS units have monochrome displays, but some experts suggest skipping monochrome units because color contrast makes a small screen easier to read.

Reviewers say that any device in Garmin's affordable eTrex line will do for a budget-minded user, but we found the most recommendations for the eTrex Venture HC (*Est. $150). Because it is an entry-level GPS receiver, the eTrex Venture HC is not packed with high-end features, but it does get the job done admirably. Its 24 MB of onboard memory is enough for 500 waypoints, 50 routes and 10 saved tracks. Users and reviewers praise it for its accuracy, though it is not as precise as some high-end models. Unlike other inexpensive handheld GPS receivers, the eTrex Venture HC has a vivid color display. It supports topographic maps at a scale of 1:100,000, as well as City Navigator maps for driving and National Park Service trail maps. It is also enabled for geocaching, a sport that uses GPS coordinates to find hidden "treasure" such as logbooks or other tokens.

GPSTracklog.com picks the eTrex Venture HC as its top budget receiver, calling it an "excellent backcountry GPS." Another professional reviewer honors it as well for its combination of features and price. It is also one of several highly rated handheld GPS devices on Amazon.com, where it receives more than 300 reviews, with an overall rating of nearly 4 out of 5 stars.

The Garmin eTrex Vista HCx (*Est. $200) might also be worth considering. It receives a little bit of editorial consideration, as well as a slightly higher rating than the Venture HC following more than 270 customer reviewers at Amazon.com. The more costly Vista HCx is similar to the Venture HC, and has some extra features, but it does not have built-in memory. The eTrex Vista HCx ships with base maps that can be upgraded, but its lack of built-in memory means that these upgrades, and any additional maps, must be on a micro SD card. Running on AA batteries, the Vista HCx provides an impressive 25 hours of use.

The Magellan eXplorist GC (*Est. $150) is the only handheld GPS in TrustedReviews.com's 2011 Best Satellite Navigation Roundup. There, the eXplorist GC is praised as an excellent entry-level and basic GPS for those interested in the sport of geocaching. It's a "reasonably accurate" GPS whose color screen has a large viewing angle and is bright and easy to see in most conditions, editors say. It comes preloaded with a database of geocaches and additional geocaching information can be downloaded into the unit.

The rubberized case of the eXplorist GC is rugged and can withstand being dropped onto rocks. As this is not a touch-screen device, it has a bank of buttons beneath the screen that some of the customer reviewers at Amazon.com have difficulty using. Another drawback is the eXplorist GC's lack of an internal compass, reviewers say, meaning users can only get a reading when moving. In addition, its position update can be slow and it's not too accurate when close to the geocache. Even given these limitations, it still receives praise and recommendations as a GPS unit for novice geocachers.

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Garmin Garmin eTrex Vista HCx Handheld GPS w/High Sensitivity GPS
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from Amazon.com
New: $299.99   
Average Customer Review:  
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Magellan eXplorist GC Waterproof Geocaching GPS
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from Amazon.com
New: $199.00   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  

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