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GPS Loggers

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For my first tech blog I’m going to discuss one of my favorite little gadget, GPS Loggers. Unfortunately, since I don’t have manufacturers sending me their units to demo, I’ll be talking more generally about them and what I’ve learned through my research to purchase one.
Although many are not directly aimed at the traveler, most will meet their needs while others might not come close. So lets look at some of the features you’ll want to consider before settling on a particular device.

First is power. Does the unit use rechargeable batteries or the single use variety? Although single use batteries often will last longer than rechargeable ones, you will have to carry spares with you. Since you will be leaving the logger on all day during your trip, you will probably run through them more than you might think. Rechargeable won’t require constant changing, but you need to know how they are recharged. Does it have a removable battery that you put in a separate charger, do you plug in a special power supply that came with the unit or will it charge off a USB cable either plugged into your computer or USB style charger (common with a lot of phones and MP3 players)?

I like the last option. This is one less thing you have to remember to pack and carry around with you. The more you travel, the more you will appreciate not having that one little extra piece to have to keep up with. With external batteries you will probably want to have an extra battery to charge while you’re out. Yet again one more thing to keep up with.

Next, how do you get the data off the device. At the end of the day you need to retrieve all the coordinates that it has been keeping track of. Do you plug it into your computer’s USB port? Does it use a SD or other type of memory card? Can you connect to it via Bluetooth? Some even appear like a new drive on your computer with the data as a file. This can be helpful if you are using a third party software to use the data.

Any of these options are acceptable to me. I like the Bluetooth option, because it is one less thing you have to do at the end of a long day to start the process of retrieval. But, none of them are that difficult or time consuming.

Finally, what software comes with the unit to work with the information it has collected. Can you save the info as a KML (Google Earth) or other format to use or share online. Does it mark waypoints that you have logged (more on this later). Most important, can it attach the coordinates to the photos you took during the day. I say this is most important because that was my main reason for purchasing a GPS Logger. It allows you to not only look at your past photos, but also see where you were when you took the picture. This lets you and others to see where you were when you took a picture. This is helpful for you if you ever go back and need to remember where a favorite place is and others to know how to find that want to find it when they go for the first time.

This last feature is probably the most important and the least perfected by most of the available devices out there. From what I’ve read and my personal experience, most of the manufacturers focus on the device itself and then throw a software package together.

Now that I’ve covered the basic features, let’s look at a few more options that can help you decide. One not so obvious feature is the number of channels the unit operates on. Basically, the higher the better. The more satellites it can see, the more accurate it is. This also helps when in areas with poor exposure to the sky, because it can keep a lock on more visible satellites.

Another nice feature is the ability to mark a waypoint. This is usually a small button that you can press at any moment to mark a specific spot during your day. This is especially helpful when you want to remember something but don’t want to have to rely on just a photo. As I said you just need to push the button and make a note of the time and what it is you’re trying to mark. This could be a restaurant your want to remember or anything special you want to see or share with others. Just make sure the button isn’t too exposed or you might find a bunch of unwanted markers when you download the data off the device.

A less obvious trait is it’s packaging or how it is carried. You’ll want it to have as much exposure to the sky as possible. So if you have to carry it in a pocket of your clothes or pack, it might not get as much as you would think. If it has a case that you can hook onto your day pack or belt loop might work better.

Now, your probably wondering which device I have. It’s the Qstarz BT-Q1000XT. It’s a little more expensive of the units out there, but it does have some nice features. Here’s a list of the good and bad features.

Good:

  • 66 Channels – So it can get a very accurate position, when it can see all the satellites
  • Rechargeable Battery can operate 42 hours – Quite a bit of time between charges
  • USB Rechargeable – Can charge off your computer or USB power supply
  • 400,000 position memory – This gives you several days of records before you have to dump the memory
  • Bluetooth capable – For transferring data or even to use with mapping software for instant location or routing.
  • Waypoint button – To mark special points on your journey.

Bad:

  • Special battery – If you do run out of power, your only choice is to recharge or purchase another battery for backup prior to your trip.
  • It has a little trouble while not moving for extended periods of time. Your track appears to jump around if you stay in one place for too long.
  • The pouch that comes with it doesn’t have a way to secure the device. So your left to keeping it in a pocket most of the time.
  • The software that comes with it is not very good and quite clunky. I’m looking at other options for future trips.
  • I’ve considered trying other devices, but haven’t found one with the same specs as this one.

I would love to hear other peoples experiences and what they have used, good or bad. So, feel free to comment on the topic.

Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Author: Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Alan Stiebing has been traveling for over 20 years. He blogs and photographs his experiences and passions for travelinal.com and other digital and print outlets.

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