Dear Capt. Paul:

I am in the market for a newer GPS unit, but I am not sure to get one where the controls are activated via a touch screen or one that requires a rocker button. Of course, cost is a concern, but I am not sure which way to go. Is there a difference in weather protection? 

Can you give me your thoughts on which one you prefer? 

Jack W.

Capt. Paul’s response: 

I get this question on a regular basis. The bottom line is strictly a personal choice. You did not specify if you are considering a marine mounted unit or one of the latest handheld units. If you are a novice using a smart phone or pad, I would not recommend that you try the touch screen model. However, I do have some thoughts about both types of operating systems. Both systems require that you access different options on the screen by navigating through different choices on the screen, so they are similar in that matter. One type requires that you touch the screen while in the different boxes, while the other requires that you navigate via the different buttons. 

Generally, I prefer the rocker/push button configuration GPS, but each person should make up their mind as to his own preference. I suggest that you visit a stocking dealer and experience the way each unit operates. Check how the functions are selected, the brightness of the screens and the overall ease of operation. Note the ease of accessing the controls. Try them all, then put on a pair of gloves.

As for my observations, first visualize a GPS with buttons around the screen. Most manufacturers configure their mounted units with the operating buttons on the right side of the unit in order to accommodate using your right hand, mainly your thumb to access the different buttons. Their handheld units usually have the control keys in a position that is below the visual screen area. These locations are designed for the thumb to be used in accessing the main rocker switch as well as most of the other buttons with your fingers behind the unit. You will note that your thumb can be used to access most of function buttons. The use of the thumb to do the functions rather than trying to “push” one of the keys with a finger insures a more proficient operation of the device. Try it and you will see what I mean. This is especially true with your mounted unit when underway, or when walking on a trail with a handheld unit. 

The control button models can usually be operated with gloves in adverse weather. This is a big advantage in not having to remove your gloves to operate the device, especially in cold and rainy conditions, or if you’re in a tree stand. Activation of the unit functions are not usually affected by having a GPS handheld unit in a pocket or pack.

Touch controls 

The advantage with most touch screens is that they operate similarly to how your smart phone of smart pad works. It is similar, but you won’t be able to use your two thumbs to operate the device. They generally require a finger push to accomplish a task. You simply touch the icon shown on the screen to operate a function on the unit. This is an advantage if you have a new cell phone or pad, as you don’t have to learn a completely new system. In addition, some of the touch screen units can communicate with a smart phone or smart pad. 

Generally, the touch screen icons are brightly illuminated, but I have seen some units where the screens were not as bright as expected. When I inquired, the operator indicated that the unit was subjected to the sun for a longer time than it should have been. Remember, this is a very sensitive screen. Replacement of just the screen is usually not an option unless it is still under warranty. Even then, the manufacturer may not repair, but might simply replace the entire unit. This allows me to again stress my favorite recommendation: BACK UP, BACK UP, BACK UP. If not, you may lose all of your precious waypoints, tracks and routes that are in the unit. Some of the newer units now have a WiFi connection, which makes communicating with the unit via your computer easier than ever before. So, go back up your data. You will not regret it. 

Generally, it is not feasible to use your two thumbs to control the units as you would on a smart phone, etc. The functions are simply too far apart. This mandates that you “push” the screen to accomplish the function. This has some advantages, but it also has some drawbacks, especially while underway or walking. 

The IPX Code, International Protection Marking, classifies and rates the degree of protection provided against dust, accidental contact and water by mechanical casings and electrical enclosures. The IPX rating means that the device is protected by immersion in water up to a depth of 3 feet for a time of 30 minutes. Both types of control feature units are generally protected to an IPX7 weather resistant rating, so they are both weather resistant, meaning they’re resistant — not weatherproof. In addition, some of the touch screen units can communicate with a smart phone or smart pad. If so, your device should still work. That means that the button-controlled or touch screen units should not be affected by normal weather conditions.

Again, I suggest that you visit a dealer and experience the way the units operate. The ultimate decision is going to be yours, but consider all of the possibilities when making your choice. 

Capt. Paul