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GPS or Mobile Hotspot

We are heading to Scotland next month and renting a car. We have rented in Ireland in the past and chose to rent a GPS vs. The Mobile hot spot option.
What experience has anybody had with a Mobile Hot spot option?
Is there spotty service going with that option vs. GPS?

Posted by
4700 posts

If you have a smart phone, you can use is as a GPS (Google Maps) WITHOUT any hotspot, SIM card, or internet connection. It communicates with the satellites even when your phone is in airplane mode.

All you need to do is download the maps ahead of time - e.g. Google Maps "offline." Try it at home: download the map for where you live in Google Maps "offline" (go into "Settings" in Google maps to find it). Then put the phone in airplane mode. Then get driving directions, go for a drive, see how it works. It will work the same in Scotland, once you download the "offline" map for Scotland into Google Maps.

The biggest downside of Google Maps "offline" is: no traffic data. Just driving directions and maps. (And no walking or public transit directions - just driving directions.)

Renting a hotspot makes no sense unless your phone is locked and you cannot buy a SIM card - or your phone is really old and has no ability to work in Europe with European mobile frequencies. Or your carrier doesn't offer a cheap international roaming plan (e.g. if you are Canadian). I guess people with multiple devices using a lot of data might get good value out of a hotspot, but otherwise it would be more expensive than just buying a SIM card - and it means one more device to keep track of.

Posted by
941 posts

Hi, dacil31,

You can get a good AA road atlas for 1 pound 99 at Tesco filling stations, or 8 pounds 99 anywhere else. It'll take you anywhere you need to go, and then some. Electronics are fallible; road maps aren't. Unless, of course, you've bought the 2018 AA atlas, which shows the Aberdeen bypass as being completed. It isn't. It was supposed to be by now, but it isn't. :(

From my personal experience, road atlases don't provide spotty service. Unless you spill a drink on them; then you may get spots.

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
38 posts

We may be there around the same time... mid-September for us. We've been having the same discussion.

While I love Google Maps generally, I've had too many instances in my life where, because I was too far away from cellular data service in the States where it failed to make me feel like that is the best option. Plus, while my cellular carrier does have data service in Scotland, it's not free. So, we landed on the combination of a purchased GPS AND a printed map. I like something that gives the turn-by-turn directions and GPS fits the bill... but as Mike said, they are not infallible (I've learned that over the years too) and so want a printed backup.

Of course, for us, it is our first time driving on the left side of the road, so its also one less thing to worry about, and gives the driver more time to focus on saying "stay left".

Posted by
4700 posts

Steve:

While I love Google Maps generally, I've had too many instances in my life where, because I was too far away from cellular data service in the States where it failed to make me feel like that is the best option.

Again - use your phone in offline mode and you won't have to worry about cellular data at all. Put the phone in airplane mode while you drive - then you CAN'T use cellular data anyway. GPS works without a cell signal. Cellular data is needed for traffic etc or to download the maps and directions - but in "offline" mode, maps and directions are stored in the phone so no data is needed.

If you have cellular data (leave the phone on normally not in airplane mode), when you lose your data connection, you can keep navigating as long as you have downloaded the map in "offline" mode.

Posted by
279 posts

I use the app Co-Pilot for navigation when I have a rental car. It has worked great for me in the continental US, Hawaii, and two years ago in Wales. It worked great. It even displayed the paths through the roundabouts. You have to purchase and download the U.K. maps, but then you are good to go. From my experience in driving in the highlands, I would expect the cell phone coverage to be pretty spotty.

Posted by
4700 posts

From my experience in driving in the highlands, I would expect the cell phone coverage to be pretty spotty.

Again...if you are using "offline" maps with an app like Google maps, cell phone coverage is irrelevant. If you put your phone in airplane mode, you won't have any cell phone coverage, but GPS will still work as well as a "regular" GPS. You just have to use "offline" maps. If you use cell phone signal anyway to add traffic coverage but you lose your cell connection, GPS will still work fine as long as you downloaded the "offline" maps; you just won't have traffic info while you don't have cell phone reception. If you don't care about traffic, leave the phone in airplane mode while using it as a GPS.

Posted by
38 posts

Well,who knew I'd learn something about my phone on a Rick Steves Scotland forum. I have been using Google Maps for years and somehow never knew you could download offline maps. Looks like all of Scotland is a mere 250 MB.

Thanks Andrew.

Posted by
4700 posts

No problem, Steve. The "offline" mode of Google Maps is fairly new so I'm not surprised you didn't know about it. I highly recommend you try it out at home with your local area maps first, to see how it works. It's slightly different than "normal" Google Maps but still works pretty well. Maps expire in 30 days FYI so you'll be asked to update them. So unless you are going to Scotland in less than a month, don't bother downloading the maps yet.

If you have mobile data on your phone, you still might consider using it at least in areas where you might want traffic info. Just download the offline map either way and you can choose - and if you lose your mobile phone reception, you can keep navigating without it.

Posted by
6674 posts

I use HERE maps offline as a GPS when driving abroad. As Andrew H. explained above, it gets the signal from satellites and does NOT need a cellular or wifi connection to work. (You'll need to upload the map for your area to your device before heading out though -- I do this from the comfort of home.)

Heck I also use it when walking abroad, for that matter.

As always- you hage shared lots of great info. I appreciate it and think we may go with the offline maps combined with paper maps.

Thanks again!

Posted by
17 posts

I just came back from Scotland yesterday, 8/26. We rented a car and drove all over. The car had GPS and there was never an issue with reception even in the highest of the Cairngorms. I didn't go to Skye or to the outer islands, so I can't speak to that. Sometimes the routes weren't up to date in the GPS and we got turned around a few times, but that's part of the fun to me anyway. I used my Google maps in realtime and was back on track and had the GPS matched up soon enough. I only used the paper maps I bought for general reference on route planning. The radio reception, well that was another story.

It's absolutely gorgeous landscape. You will love it! Happy travels :))

Posted by
169 posts

I cast my vote for the mobile hotspot if it is an option. Used one in Ireland and it worked great. Just put it my backpack and went all over- backroads, hikes etc Had no problems with coverage. Hope to try it in rural Romania next month. That should be a good test..Will have map backups.We did notice that my cellphone GPS took us on some backroads in Wales and Cornwall that we questioned but did get us to our destination. Good luck..