Smart & Connected Life Connected Car Tech In-Dash vs. Portable GPS Navigation Systems What's the difference between integrated and portable GPS systems? Share Pin Email Print Connected Car Tech Android Auto Apple Carplay Navigation By Jeremy Laukkonen Writer Jeremy Laukkonen is tech writer and the creator of a popular blog and video game startup. He also ghostwrites articles for numerous major trade publications. our editorial process Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Jeremy Laukkonen Updated February 05, 2020 27 27 people found this article helpful Unless you're using a phone, there are two options for GPS navigation in a car: those built into the car and those that come in a portable, handheld device. We reviewed both to help you make the choice that works best for you. Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen Overall Findings In-Dash GPS Navigators Controlled through the head unit display—no additional hardware to buy or install. Clean look and feel with no mounts or wires cluttering the car interior. Always plugged in—never runs out of battery. Upgrades and hardware replacements can be costly or difficult to install. Can't be easily moved to another car or user or taken on outdoor excursions. Portable GPS Navigators Available on the go: Easily move from car to car or person to person. Generally less expensive than in-dash systems. Buying a new portable unit may be cheaper than updating an in-dash system. Greater risk of getting lost or stolen. Increased clutter: Require cables, adaptors, and mounts to install. Built-in or in-dash GPS navigators use the car's head unit to control and display GPS maps and information. In contrast, portable GPS units are smaller and can be taken with you. In-Dash GPS Pros and Cons Advantages Clean, uncluttered GPS system. Generally easier to use and control than portable GPS systems. Disadvantages More expensive than portable units. Often difficult or expensive to install and upgrade. Cannot be relocated or taken with you. The appeal of built-in GPS navigators solutions comes down to form factor. Whether it's an aftermarket upgrade or proprietary hardware, built-in units offer a clean and uncluttered system for GPS navigation. How easy the system is to use depends on the manufacturer—if the head unit came with the car or was installed second-hand—but, in general, built-in units are more seamless and easier to use than portable ones. The downside is that in-dash navigators are generally more expensive than portable systems. While they include a number of onboard infotainment apps and features, in-dash navigators can be expensive to install or upgrade. They also lack the convenience of a portable or smartphone GPS unit. They cannot be easily relocated to another car or user or taken on hikes or outdoor adventures. Portable GPS Pros and Cons Advantages Portable: Can easily be moved to a new vehicle or carried with you. Cheaper than in-dash GPS: Upgrades and replacements not a big deal. Disadvantages Create dashboard clutter, with cables, adaptors, and mounts. Smaller screens. Greater risk of loss or theft. Portable GPS navigators are preferred almost entirely for their portability. They are not as sleek or readymade as in-dash systems, but they can easily be moved from car to car or person to person. They're also less expensive than built-in navigators. Because they're generally cheaper, replacing and upgrading them are as well. That means a car doesn't have to be stuck with an out-of-date GPS system made by a company with little software experience. The drawback with portable units is the size and clutter potential. They usually have smaller screens and require a host of cables, adaptors, and mounts to install. Because they're portable, they're at greater risk of being lost or stolen. Should You Get an In-Dash or Portable GPS Navigator? In-dash and portable GPS systems are different enough to appeal to individual needs. If you plan on driving the same vehicle for a while and are okay with occasionally updating your maps, an in-dash system may be the right call. If you want something that you can take between vehicles or hold on your person or something that costs less, get a portable GPS unit.