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  #1  
Old 22 Jul 2003
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GPS - Global Puzzlement System?

Hi,

Just spent a (quite a) few happy hours learning a bit about GPS and making my brain hurt. I have a few questions that you people might be able to help me with. I'm looking for a handheld unit that can be mounted to the bike because I would like to carry it with me if I go off hiking or whatever and I don't want to carry a supercomputer. I haven't used a GPS in anger before so consider me a total novice...

Do all GPS provide altitude? Some seem to mention it as a feature linked to an inbuilt barometer but I'm guessing that this just provides a more accurate reading?

Are the barometer features useful? It would seem so to me because it would allow some short-term weather forecasting that could avert misery. Altimiters and barometers are available in watches so perhaps that is the way to go?

Some have digital compasses. How important is that? It doesn't feel very essential to me given that you have to carry a compass anyway?

I was originally quite taken with the Garmin Etrex units but I have read quite a few bad reports of reliability and robustness (and company attitude towards it) so I looked further afield. The Magellan Meridian's (especially the Platinum)look good, and sturdy, but has anyone really given one a hard life, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of comments on Magellan?

The Silva multi navigator looks good too in that it seems to have all the features you could want but keeps the package simple e.g. no colours or icons or fancy mapping. I like this 'tool for the job' approach but has anone out there tried one? are they easy to use or have they gone too far in the quest for simplicity.

I have begun to get a bit suckered by the mapping features. I know they will be useless for the remote regions I am planning to visit but do they become really useful when you approach civilisation e.g locating embassies etc or are they a complete waste of money? If they are useful then the Magellan looks top banana because it takes SD cards so you don't run out of memory. BTW, I don't plan on taking a laptop, just a PDA and a mobile phone.

I guess my shortlist if I went for all the above features would be

Magellan Meridian Platinum (expensive)
Garmin 76S (even more expensive)
Silva Multi Navigator (don't know the price yet)

If the voice of experience says 'forget the barometer, compass and mapping' then I guess ther are plenty of other cheaper (but still robust) units that do the job?

Thanks Andy.
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  #2  
Old 23 Jul 2003
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Andy,

Fist of all I am not an expert, but have used my gps for the last couple of years, mostly for hiking, hunting that type of thing. First of all it is not a replacement for common sense and outdoor skills. I have seen people try that and if the battries die they panic. I have the etrex vista with mapping, compass the works. This is how mine works, but others may be diffrent.

The map can be very handy at times, but is not necessary depending on how you want to use it.

The compass is a handy feature as well. Esp if your non electronic one gets lost or broken. Also if your not sure you can double check your direction, magnetic declination etc.

The altimeter uses barometric pressure to determin altatud, but can be calibrated either using a known elevation marker like at airports or the gps will give you an altude that is close enough. I haven't found mine useful, but I could see its use in going through high elevations, mountains etc.

All have waypoints and I recommend setting those once in a while so if you do get lost, you can find your way back to where you were not lost and start over.

Most have track logs, again a good way to back track.


Used in cojuction with a decent map you can pin point where you are at on a map, but I recommend you dont use this only. Remember if you do that and it gets broken in a crash you are lost. Be sure to get a GPS that has multipal map datums so you can use the one that goes with your map. Otherwise you will be off any where from a few feet to a couple of miles. Not good if things are going bad.

I think a GPS is a very handy tool to double check your other skills, but not a cure all. I guess the best way to put it is don't go anywhere with a GPS you wouldnt go without one. Always always always have non electronic maps of the area if possable to use in conjuction with the GPS that have UTM markings. I hope this helps.


------------------
John
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  #3  
Old 23 Jul 2003
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All modern GPS units offer altitude as part of its location data. However, depending on the unit, and for reasons that will take too long to explain here, altitude data aren’t as accurate as long/lat data. That’s why some units feature an altimeter.

Barometers are useful if you need them. I never needed one in the Sahara personally.

A built in digital compass is nice to have as a backup. However make sure that the unit is equipped with a real digital compass. Modern GPS units WITHOUT a compass will still give you a compass display while you’re moving since it tracks your movement and tell which way you’re heading. If you stand still and turn the unit around it won’t correct your heading. I hope I’m making myself clear here….

I would consider the mapping features essential only if you’re going to travel on-road in well developed areas like Europe and the US. Other than that, forget it. You can still store embassies waypoints on a regular GPS if you want to.

Ask yourself if you really need the barometer, altimeter or any other of those cool add-ons. I still use the basic Garmin II+ and I’m very happy with it. When I feel like going hi-tech for a while I hook up my laptop and display some topo maps.

In my opinion I would get 2 cheap units rather than one expensive one for fault tolerance’s sake.

Also make sure you write all your waypoints down in your notepad at regular intervals, twice a day if you’re going off-road. GPS units do fail and might reset its memory for no apparent reason. This is less of a problem with modern units but it still happens.

Hope this helps.

------------------
A.B.

OasisPhoto.com – Images from the Magical Sahara.
ShortWheelbase.com – Jeep preparations.
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OasisPhoto.com – Images from the Magical Sahara.
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  #4  
Old 23 Jul 2003
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I posted a couple of navigation books on my site OasisPhoto.com (Check the reading room).


------------------
A.B.

OasisPhoto.com – Images from the Magical Sahara.
ShortWheelbase.com – Jeep preparations.
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  #5  
Old 5 Aug 2003
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Thanks for all your help on this. At the moment, my ideal product does not exist :-(

I really want a robust handhled unit that I can hike with that does not support mapping (making it cheaper) but does support bluetooth (wireless) so that I can use a PDA as the mapping part to plan routes and track progress. PDA's have much better res screens, and larger, and the mapping software looks good in that you can calibrate and scan in your own maps which you then view on the PDA / PC and can be used for route planning and tracking etc.

Given that I am taking a PDA anyway in preference to a laptop, it makes sense to use it's capabilities for mapping. None of the GPS that support mapping allow you to download other peoples maps and their own software doesn't support Pocket PC / Palm. This would be ok if they could supply topo maps of much of the world but they don't.

The PDA GPS sleeves simply don't look robust enough to me and I don't want the reliability of the GPS to be linked to the reliability of the PDA anyway.

If I was happy with a cable connecting the GPS and PDA then I could easily do this. It would be ok on the bike but a pain when hiking. Roll on the next range of bluetooth enabled handheld GPS units! There is one on the market made by a company called Fortuna (I think) but it looks more of a business focused GPS rather than one that's designed to be sunk / kicked / trodden on.

Hopefully someone from Garmin or Magellan will read this plea.

Cheers Andy.
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  #6  
Old 6 Aug 2003
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For hiking, since you won’t be covering a lot of ground, I would stick only to a non mapping GPS. I prepare my route on the PC and print the area covered on a small peace of paper complete with routes and waypoint. I follow the GPS and explore a bit using the map. This limits the amounts of equipment I carry / can fail / carry batteries for etc…

I would keep the PDA / Laptop options for a bike / car setup and even then I would take very good care of the PDA and try to protect it as well as I can. I haven’t seen a PDA that could stand the outdoors well. I know there are some outdoor / industrial / indestructible models out there but these cost a fortune and they’re still susceptible to regular loss of data and software errors (don’t you just love windows )

If you decide to go with a PDA while hiking anyway, here are some solutions that might help:

1) Garmin has released their own Palm with a built in GPS, the iQue 3600. No need for Bluetooth or wires or anything. I know the unit comes with it’s own vector mapping software, which is still a proprietary system, but it’s a Plam. I’m sure you can upload any mapping software you like.

2) Get one of those minimalist GPS that look like the external antennas. These are very small full functioning GPS units that don’t have any display or buttons. You just hook them up (usually via a wire) to a PDA or PC and run a mapping software. Get one of those, shorten the wire and fix it somehow to the PDA. You got yourself a small portable mapping unit.

3) Get an Otter Box to protect your PDA and fix the small GPS to it.

------------------
A.B.

OasisPhoto.com – Images from the Magical Sahara.
ShortWheelbase.com – Jeep preparations.

[This message has been edited by A.B. (edited 06 August 2003).]
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  #7  
Old 7 Aug 2003
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Agreed, PDA'a are built for the office jungle not the real jungle, but the otter boxes look great, have you tried one? I saw the iQue from Garmin but wouldn't buy it because PDA technology moves so fast I wouldn't want the two (PDA and GPS) in one unit. My Palm Vx is already suffering dodgy buttons and for what I paid for it, I can get something so much better now. Ditto the 'headless' GPS's, these are a good in car solution IMHO but again they leave your navigation reliant on the robustness of the PDA and that's a risk too far for me..on a bike at least. I think the Silva Multi-Navigator would be ideal if it had wireless. If nothing comes out I'll just go with a cable based PDA - GPS solution for the bike and forget the PDA when hiking as you suggest. The main thing is that the GPS *always* works, the mapping / routing / track storage provided by the PDA is just sugar.

Cheers Andy.
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  #8  
Old 8 Aug 2003
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Quote:
Originally posted by apattrick:
Thanks for all your help on this. At the moment, my ideal product does not exist :-(

I really want a robust handhled unit that I can hike with that does not support mapping (making it cheaper) but does support bluetooth (wireless) so that I can use a PDA as the mapping part to plan routes and track progress. PDA's have much better res screens, and larger, and the mapping software looks good in that you can calibrate and scan in your own maps which you then view on the PDA / PC and can be used for route planning and tracking etc.

Given that I am taking a PDA anyway in preference to a laptop, it makes sense to use it's capabilities for mapping. None of the GPS that support mapping allow you to download other peoples maps and their own software doesn't support Pocket PC / Palm. This would be ok if they could supply topo maps of much of the world but they don't.

The PDA GPS sleeves simply don't look robust enough to me and I don't want the reliability of the GPS to be linked to the reliability of the PDA anyway.

If I was happy with a cable connecting the GPS and PDA then I could easily do this. It would be ok on the bike but a pain when hiking. Roll on the next range of bluetooth enabled handheld GPS units! There is one on the market made by a company called Fortuna (I think) but it looks more of a business focused GPS rather than one that's designed to be sunk / kicked / trodden on.

Hopefully someone from Garmin or Magellan will read this plea.

Cheers Andy.
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  #9  
Old 8 Aug 2003
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Bugger, hit the wrong button! Sorry.

You wrote:
" does not support mapping (making it cheaper) but does support bluetooth (wireless) so that I can use a PDA as the mapping part to plan routes and track progress. "

How good's your french? I found at www.rueducommerce.com a product which answers what you're looking for. Do a product search for GPS in the top left, and you'll find the "GPSmart bluetooth" (ref gpsmart bt).
Dunno who makes it, or how good the tech support would be, but the shop gives a very good turnaround on guarantee items; I've bought other stuff from them.
Considering it only costs £180 you can afford an Otter box to protect it, you don't even have to make holes for wires!
Good luck
Luke
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  #10  
Old 8 Aug 2003
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Hi,

Yeah thats the only bluetooth handheld available at the moment and its made by fortuna. It only seems to support one datum though so if you were navigating using it (rather than the PDA) it might be no good.

I've been thinking more about this and since I've learned about the Otter Box (thanks A.B.) I'm coming round to the idea that perhaps a PDA is up to the job. The new iPaq 2210 looks really good, much smaller than the other iPaqs and takes CF and SD cards so you could put an IBM microdrive in the CF slot and have 1Gb worth of maps on it, and use the SD slot for other stuff. One of these coupled with OziExplorer and either the Fortuna GPSSmart or a 'headless' receiver like the EMTAC Crux II (which would fit nicely in the small pocket on my Camelback in a waterproof bag) *might* be really good.

GlobalPositioningSystems in the UK have a fairly good package deal on with these at the moment...

http://www.globalpositioningsystems....product_id=269

I think I'll wait for a while though as these bluetooth enabled GPS's are fairly new to the market and the prices are a bit steep and should come down fairly rapidly. I have also read that EMTAC might be making a version that includes a datalogger to record tracks so that you don't need to keep the PDA switched on.

I found this a useful site for information and in-depth reviews:
http://www.pocketgps.co.uk

Cheers Andy.
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  #11  
Old 8 Aug 2003
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Wow!

Just found this product due out soon, basically tiny NMEA 12 channel GPS receiver that you can dock to a power pack / bluetooth dockingstation. It looks like a brilliant idea and just what I've been waiting for. According to the press releases will be sold for less than 300USD which would include the receiver and the powerpack / bluetooth docking station.

Can't wait :-O

http://www.delorme.com/earthmate/con....asp#bluetooth
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  #12  
Old 9 Aug 2003
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Things are heating up in the GPS world these days

------------------
A.B.

OasisPhoto.com – Images from the Magical Sahara.
ShortWheelbase.com – Jeep preparations.
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  #13  
Old 9 Aug 2003
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Yeah the pace is quickening. I wonder how long it will be before Oakley or Scott integrate GPS into their goggles so that the direction arrow can be projected onto the inside of the lens like a fighter pilot head up display. If you're reading this Mr Oakley or Mr Scott I will expect a royalty :-)
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  #14  
Old 11 Aug 2003
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Of interest to anybody considering purchasing GPS kit: check the American markets on e-bay, they are sometimes unbelievably cheap. I have just bought a Garmin e-trex for $100 (including shipping.)
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  #15  
Old 11 Aug 2003
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Good tip. Did you end up paying any VAT or import duty or was it mailed as a low value gift? As I understand it, a major courier like UPS or DHL will charge you the duty themselves on delivery so that there is no chance of 'escape' unless the value is set low enough on the paperwork. Is this right?

Andy.
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