[en] In search for the perfect GPS Tracker for BlackBerry [tech/GSM/BlackBerry]

24 aprilie 2009

Recently I switched sides;I didn’t go to the Dark Side, to the Jesus phone, the Iphone because I needed a smartphone , not a toy (ok, I’m a bit harsh here, the Iphone is almost a smartphone and will be if they make it a multi-tasking device). So I got a BlackBerry Bold instead. It has a real keyboard, a nice and wide screen and a fast processor.

Now I’m using it and needing a free GPS tracker.So I started testing.
For 2 months I’ve used GPSed. Nice program, lots of options and features, great possibilities on usability.
You can:
- record GPS track from your mobile and trace them on a map
- pin your pictures on a map based on GPS co-ordinates by geotagging
- attach photos to tracks from web-albums like Flickr, Picasa , etc
- share your tracks and photos with friends
- show your geographic position instantly
- the program is available to most of the phones equipped  with a GPS module, on various OS platforms like Symbian , Windows Mobile,Iphone and BlackBerry . Additionally, you can get a Java version for other smartphones. All these are based on Google Maps . That’s both a plus and a minus. A plus is because it’s easier to buld an app on top on a map already very exact. A minus for the same reason: an very exact map but especially focused on Western&North Europe and United States.I live in Romania. If I need a close POI Google Maps is not helpful. A map focused on my region and the locations I visit frequently is for example, Mio.
How it works? Pretty good. All you have to do is to start up the program and it will quietly run in the background all the time while you do other things on your smartphone. You can also run at the same time a GPS program (like AmAze you can run on various OS’-here are a bunch of demos) and even another GPS tracker if you like. The only toll taken is battery life. But I’ll comeback to that later, at the end.
You can be tracked in two ways: the phone updates your position in real time on GPSed.com, so people can track your progress (but this means you have to have a data plan which can be expensive AND GSM signal to constantly uplod data) or you can save your track at the end of the journey on the phone, data that can be uploaded onto GPSed.com by smartphone or PC. The 2nd variant is cheaper and safer. Why safer? Because I noticed that my real-time tracks were uploaded incomplete onto the site. This one was 2x longer than shown here. Why? I don’t know-I traveled on important roads with 3G GSM coverage on more than 60% of the time. An e-mail to the support team at GPSed didn’t change the outcome. They’ve replied a week later telling me they’ve submitted my enquiry to the developer;so far,so good. It’ll probably take them another month to check it.
And this is my main issue: this is a GPS tracker and can’t track my journeys properly. User support is virtually inexistent.It’s nice, it has tons of features I don’t use. I just wanna use the one important to me and I can’t as I should.
I have to say all these are not new. Several other programs offer the same functionality. The next try-out is happening right now.
Instamapper is a simple GPS tracker based on Google Maps (also). A simpler approach was taken probably in order to keep the layout simple and to have optimum results.
The Demo shows how the system works: it links the signals sent by the GPS module to put together the journey. The signals can be sent from the device from 1 to 999 seconds but idealy every 10-15 seconds while in town and over 121 seconds while out-of-town.The reason? As seen, the link doesn’t necessary follow the road and that’s my main gripe. When you travel outside the city, it’s really ok: you don’t change directions so often, so for sure you’ll be following the road even when sending signals every 2 minutes. But when in town, you can’t track the journey very accurate unless you modify the settings so the transmission to the site will be done every 10 to 15 seconds. Otherwise you have eroneous data. Data looks something like this:
2008-04-27 02:24:27
N 47.51167
W 122.19801
Altitude: 197 ft
Speed: 41 mph
Heading: 356
All data will be converted to metric if you live in a "metric" zone. You can save the track and share it with others thru a link you can provide; there is even a Facebook integration.There is some data usage (sending the data from the phone to the site)  but Instamapper figures it won’t be more than 1 MB/month with fair usage. The supported OS’ are Iphone,Android and BlackBerry. Curiously, Nokia (Symbian) isn’t listed although there’s a line about some successful usage with some Nokia. But anybody can try,right?
I more important thing: battery life. Any of the GPS trackers or even regular maping systems will eat the battery in a few hours. A GPS tracker will use around 60% of the battery energy if used non-stop for around 3 hours with a 30 seconds updating schedule. This is a known issue but there is no cure for the moment except restricted usage for long periods of time and/or a car charger. On my way back from Galati I’ve changed the updating period from 30 seconds to 2 minutes thus putting the program at sleep in bewteen communications. This allowed me to use only 25% of the battery life to track the same distance. A big difference indeed.
I am stopping here for the moment but other GPS trackers follow. I am sticking to Instamapper for the moment. It’s free, accurate, simple and efficient.

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