Difference Between Recreational and Professional GPS

Cost, accuracy, handling and functionality are some of the key factors that distinguish these two GPS grades. 

GPS is everywhere — just look around and you will find GPS in your friend’s phone, your cousin’s smart watch, your uncle’s car and maybe his boss’s shoes or jacket. Given the large number of smart devices easily available in the market today — some of them costing barely $100 — selecting the right product can be tricky. However, the good news is that these devices come under the recreational GPS grade and are in no way even close to the professional grade. So, what is the difference between professional and recreational GPS? Let’s find out.

Difference Between Recreational and Professional GPS
A recreational GPS receiver is designed without the need for very high accuracy. Picture from: Outdoor Gearlab


Recreational GPS is easily available in devices sold at most electronics and sports goods stores. These are e also widely available e-commerce sites. These devices are the least expensive and are generally accurate to within +/- 25 feet (7.6 meters). On the other hand, mapping or survey grade GPS receivers, or simply professional GPS receivers, are sold by high-end and licensed resellers. These receivers are less user-friendly and cost significantly more.


As their names suggest, recreational and professional GPS units are planned, designed and built for different purposes. A recreational GPS unit is essentially designed to get a basic location (Also Read: 5 key Location Intelligence trends for 2019) without the need for very high accuracy. For instance, the GPS on your smartphone often takes you to a building a few meters from your desired location. Even though recreational products are not specifically designed for GIS mapping, they can be used successfully in some applications. Most GIS users need extremely accurate placement of features, often within a meter or less so that data layers can be overlaid and intricate spatial relationships can be determined. Professional or Survey grade GPS are accurate to within a centimeter and are used primarily by professional surveyors. These excel in high accuracy measurements of fixed positions.


A device with recreational GPS grade is available for anything between $100 and $500. On the other hand, mapping grade GPS generally come in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. The most expensive category of GPS, survey grade, includes devices that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Mapping grade GPS receivers are mostly used by government agencies, researchers and other users who require accurate and dependable coordinate fixes.

Data quality and other factors

The ability to determine the quality of data is provided by professional GPS units, which in a way allow users to control the accuracy of the position points. Through a simple interface, users can establish specific thresholds for acceptable data quality. A user can choose the number of satellites and position above the horizon needed to achieve a certain degree of accuracy. The quality control settings let the user to filter out poor data that may degrade the overall quality.

When shopping for a GPS unit, a user must assess a receiver against his project and GIS application requirements. There are significant differences between recreational and professional-grade GPS receivers, which are designed and built for different purposes.

Also Read: How GPS has revolutionized our lives

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