Garmin's GPS 18
Laptop GPS Receiver
November 5, 2005
(Added Information on NMEA Support for USB Version August 30, 2006)
Review By: Sam Penrod
GPS Information Home Page
The GPS 18 is Garmin's
product for use as a laptop GPS system, with auto-routing and
voice directions. It is a small, hockey puck type receiver with
a cable, which must be connected to a laptop computer.
(Unfortunately, the computer is not
included.) The GPS 18 is operated by a Garmin software
known as nRoute. This
review should be used in conjunction with a review of nRoute which is available on
gpsinformation.net and can be
The GPS 18 comes in two forms, the GPS sensor with USB connection
which transfers both data and powers the unit. The other
variation is a PC
version which has a serial connection and is powered by a 12V cigarette
lighter connection. The package includes City Select mapping
full unlock, (a 25 character unlock code for the GPS 18 is in the
package) the software program nRoute and a windshield
Street prices for the package is about $130. Check discount
prices Click HERE.
The GPS 18 seems to be Garmin's answer to
Microsoft's Street and Trips and Delorme's Earthmate. Garmin
sells the GPS 18 package for less than it costs just to buy the
software on its own. This seems to be a way to keep the GPS 18
with other laptop GPS systems, which typically sell for a little over
$100. With City Select, and nRoute, you can input addresses,
find points of interest (food, lodging, shopping, etc.) and then using
the GPS 18, navigate to them, with voice directions.
The GPS 18 is fairly small, about the same diameter as a can of
Coke. It includes a 12 channel receiver and is WAAS enabled. Acquire times seem to
be pretty good, in most cases less than a minute. (Although the initial satellite acquire out
of the box took about ten minutes.) One
thing the GPS 18 does not have is any type of display or even an
There is no way to tell if it is powered up or if it
has a satellite lock. A flashing LED for acquiring and a solid
with a lock would be nice, but since its primary use is to be connected
to a computer, it is not necessary. The unit comes with an
attached cable, either USB or serial which is six feet long. The
unit has a magnetic bottom and
can be put on the hood or roof of a car. You can attach the unit
the included windshield mount using the internal magnet or
it to the mount, using an included set screw. The only way to get
data from the GPS 18 is to connect it to a computer.
(Or in the case of the PC version, to an NMEA type device)
USB vs PC
The USB version is probably the best model to buy, if your
primary use of the GPS 18, is to use it for what it is designed
for, as a laptop car navigator. That way, there is only one
connection required to the computer. The USB version includes USB
2.0 interface and the unit is powered through the USB connection.
With the USB cable, you could
easily add a standard USB extension cable as well, if you need more
of July of 2006, Garmin added a free software download to make the USB
version compatible with most non-Garmin GPS and mapping programs using
the standard NMEA GPS language. It is known as Spanner and according to Garmin.com:
You can download the Spanner software by following this link.
- Spanner allows you to use your GPS 18 USB with most NMEA 0183-compliant
mapping programs. It adds a virtual com port interface to your GPS 18 so that
you can send NMEA data to other programs.
- Spanner works only with GPS 18 software version 2.90 or later. Be sure to
load the latest GPS 18 software before using this program
The PC model includes both the serial port connector and the cigarette
lighter adapter. The cables merge into one cable, three feet from
the unit, so there is only one
cable going into the GPS receiver itself. The PC model uses
serial port with NMEA data, according to Garmin, the PC version is:
"asynchronous serial input compatible with RS-232 or TTL voltage
levels, RS-232 polarity." What this means is that yes, the PC
model may be used to get out NMEA data. For example, you can use
it as a sensor to send lat/lon, altitude, speed, heading, etc. I
use the PC model as a GPS receiver for an amateur radio tracker,
utilizing APRS technology. The PC model is what you
need if you are dedicating an old laptop to be used with the GPS
18, if it does not have a USB connection.
Can I save waypoints and routes
to the GPS 18?
Not to the unit itself, however with the use of nRoute, your
waypoint, route and track data is stored for use in the program.
In other words, there are no files you open in nRoute like you
would in MapSource.
The GPS 18 is only a receiver which will send
data to a computer, although it is a functional self contained receiver.
Is the GPS 18 suitable for hiking or geocaching?
We would say no-- unless you want to pack along your laptop, which can
be cumbersome and dangerous for the laptop.
Can you put the GPS 18 on the roof or
outside of the car?
You can, it has a magnetic bottom which is strong enough for outside of
a car. However, because of the risk of theft, it is only
recommended that you mount it outside temporarily and not permanently.
I actually purchased the GPS
for use with APRS, a ham radio GPS hobby . But it did
work as it is advertised with nRoute, as a car navigator laptop
found mounting the windshield mount and then setting the actual
receiver on it while I was using it, worked out the best. Setting
up the computer and inputting route information took more time,
just using a dedicated car navigator. But again with the GPS 18,
you are getting the same features of a StreetPilot type model, but at a
fraction of the price. What I will say about the 18, is that
it is working very well with my APRS tracker. The original GPS
receiver I was using was a similar laptop type, however it had trouble
getting a satellite lock, especially if the car started in a parking
The GPS 18 is a low expense car navigator, compared to the StreetPilot
series. It has most of the features and in some cases more,
allowing for routes and track logs, satellite page, lat/lon, etc,
which Garmin has cut out of the c3XX and new iX series. However,
because you have to use a laptop computer, the GPS 18 has some
It can be difficult and un-safe to operate while driving.
The recommended use would be to have help in operating the system
from a passenger. The time of setting up the laptop and
then powering it through an inverter will take more time and
space, than a typical
StreetPilot or other car navigator. However, if you only use
a navigator for family vacations or other trips where you need
navigation help occasionally, the GPS 18 may be the way to go.
Again, more information about using the GPS 18 with nRoute can be found here.