Laptops & Netbooks

This article will explain what you'll need in order to use your laptop as a navigation device. We discuss how the different components work together, advantages & disadvantages of this kind of navigation set-up, ease of use, and accessories (such a a laptop mount/stand or shelf).
Article By: ExplorOz Team - Adele
Created: January 2013
Revised: May 2016
Latest Feedback: September 2015

Getting Started

Did you know, you can turn your Laptop/Netbook into a high powered, customised navigation device? But first, you'll need to load map viewing software, digital map files, and you'll need to plug in a GPS receiver. Many travellers will already travel with a laptop for other purposes, so using a device you will already be carrying makes sense in terms of space utilisation, and as you are only paying for the accessories (if you already own the laptop itself), this can often be the most cost-effective solution to consider.

How to access the GPS network

As most laptops don't have an inbuilt GPS, you will need to connect an external device to receive your position from the GPS network. There are two options:
  • an external GPS receiver, or
  • a Handheld GPS
GPS receivers are an affordable accessory, with many available for less than $100. Devices can connect to your computer via USB or Bluetooth, and transmit your live moving position data to the map viewing software, which can then display a suitable map of where you are located (if available).

Mapping Software & How it Works

Mapping Software enables you to view various Digital Map files on your computer. Most full versions as opposed to trial version or even "lite" versions) of these programs on the market also do much more than this. You can plan trips by creating or importing waypoints (geographic positions to navigate to) and routes (a series of positions that form a navigable “track”).

Map viewing software also allows you to use a moving map function, which allows the software to select the most appropriate mapping for your current location according to the data provided by your GPS receiver. As you move, the mapping will continue to “move” according to your position (referred to as Moving Map). If you have already created waypoints and routes (or uploaded waypoint and plot files) you can also use this software to “follow” these points (referred to as route navigation).

Many types of map viewing software also allow you to record your movements into route, which enables you to renavigate to an area or share your track with others, for example by uploading them as a plot file to User Treks on ExplorOz.

There are several options available to you in terms of which mapping software you utilise (this will also depend on what type of Laptop/Netbook you are using). However, the two most popular mapping software programs for Windows Devices are OziExplorer and TrackRanger.


OziExplorer is an Australian made, Windows-based program that’s very powerful and quite complex in its capabilities. It’s intended for those people that have a fair understanding of computers and appreciate a large selection of features and navigational tools. You can also purchase an additional upgrade to OziExplorer to enable map images to be viewed in 3D with the ability to rotate in all directions and zoom in and out of the view. Included with the purchase of OziExplorer is the ability to download upgrades to the latest software version. Compatible for use with any Windows Laptop, Netbook, and due to the release of Windows 8, it can now be used on Windows 8 Tablets (but not mobile devices with Windows RT).

ExplorOz is a retail distributor of the OziExplorer mapping software program, which means you can purchase it from our online shop. For additional product information, and online help files, you can visit the OziExplorer website - NOTE: this website (ExplorOz) is not the same business that has produces the OziExplorer software, despite the names often being confused.

OziExplorer map viewing software does not come with any Digital Mapping preloaded. To view and purchase digital mapping compatible with OziExplorer you’ll find a large range of digital mapping in the ExplorOz Online Shop. We recommend EOTopo 200k published by ExplorOz for up to date, Australia-wide mapping, see the EOTopo page for further information on this product.


TrackRanger, which is also Australian made, is a graphical map-based navigation software package designed for those who appreciate a program that’s powerful but also intuitive and rather easy to use. TrackRanger can be installed on almost any Laptop PC and accurately plots your GPS position in real-time and its ‘Auto-Pilot’ feature can automatically select the best map to match your current location. You can use TrackRanger to predefine your travel route with simple point and click actions and after your trip has been planned, you can use the program to direct you via audible voiced instructions.

Trackranger is also available from the ExplorOz online shop. View the Trackranger page to see a detailed description of the program features. Compatible for use with any Windows Laptop, Netbook, and due to the release of Windows 8, it can now be used on Windows 8 Tablets. Trackranger can also be installed on Mac computers, but it requires the download of PC emulation software at an additional cost.

Digital Map Options

The next requirement for this set-up is to acquire the maps themselves, as map viewing software doesn’t typically come with its own mapping (however in the ExplorOz Shop, we do sell bundled software with maps and mouse GPS).

Choosing your maps is where the customisable aspect of this type of navigation becomes apparent, as you have your pick of digital mapping on the market, and you can select the types of mapping that most suit your needs (street mapping, 4wd mapping, topographic mapping), and only pay for mapping in areas you are going to use.

There is a large range of digital mapping available on the market on CD, DVD and for download, this can all be stored in a maps folder on your hard drive for easy accessibility when trip planning and navigating. There are two many individual products to list here separately, so follow this link to the Digital Maps category of our shop.

Navigation with a laptop setup gives you a very fast solution for digital navigation in remote areas, however there are a few things to consider before forging ahead with this kind of set-up.

First of all, space requirements. In order to be able to use the laptop comfortably in the vehicle, it is preferable to have a laptop specific shelf/mount installed, which requires a certain amount of space.

This type of navigation also provides a great scope for seeing a large area at once (as your viewing area is as large as the laptop’s screen), however is far more friendly to a passenger/navigator rather than a driver/navigator, so if you’re planning on travelling alone, you may be better off with a more compact all in one GPS navigator or a Smartphone or Tablet.

When using a Laptop for navigation, your entire trip planning activities, downloads and mapping are created, stored and subsequently displayed by the one device. However, you do need to be relatively tech-savvy and willing to spend time learning how to use all of the map viewing software’s various functions in order to get the most out of it (so if you expect to be able to intuitively use the software right away then this may not be the best solution for you).

It also requires some familiarity with computers to load/install the receiver, software and mapping and configure them to work together. However, if you have the confidence in your ability to learn how to “drive” it, and prepared to put in the time to "make it work", this is a tried and tested way to ensure you can navigate to where you need to go, wherever you are.


See the other related articles in our Navigation section for more about using Smartphones & Tablets, GPS Units devices.

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