Sunday, April 13, 2008

Keychain GPS SiRF III Receiver and Keychain GPS 2000

I think Proporta have just been trying to confuse us. First they bring out the Keychain GPS 2000, reviewed here by Andrew Merritt, and then they bring out the Keychain GPS SiRF III Receiver, reviewed here by Andy Langdon, which is even smaller! Read both reviews to get a flavour for the sweet spot between size, battery life and notification LEDs. Or just flip a coin, to see which one to buy...?

The Review

The Freedom Keychain GPS 2000 is a very compact unit that is intended, as the name suggests, to be kept on your keyring so it's always with you; it has a short chain and clip, so it's easy to attach. It's well presented in the box, and comes with instructions, a USB to miniUSB cable, and a car charger. You can therefore charge it as you go in the car, or any time you're near a PC.

There are four coloured LEDs; red to indicate low power, green to show charging, amber to indicate whether enough satellites have been detected, and blue to indicate Bluetooth activity. There's a power saving mode if no Bluetooth device is detected. Battery life is claimed to be up to 10 hours.

It's not as small as the Freedom Mini GPS, claimed to be the smallest unit available, but it is still very compact. It's shorter but wider than the GPSlim 240 that Navicore supply, and much smaller than the (somewhat older) Copilot unit. Dimensions are roughly 45 x 30 x 14mm; smaller than a matchbox:

The Freedom GPS comes with no software, it's intended to be used with any Bluetooth phone or handheld and whatever program you choose.

I had no trouble pairing it with my E51, and it worked fine with Google Maps, 3dtracking, FOAM (Find on a Map) and Nokia Sports Tracker. One thing I've used Sports Tracker for is to see how far I run during a game of Ultimate Frisbee. The Freedom GPS is small enough to put in your pocket and not notice as you run around. It doesn't feel quite as solid as the GPSlim, but does feel as though it would stand up to everyday use. It possibly would not survive being put in a back pocket and sat on heavily. The USB socket, used for charging the unit, has a plastic cover; this works well to keep the socket clean, even when the GPS receiver was attached to my dog; it's small and light enough to just clip on to the dog's collar or harness without being intrusive, and it seemed to be unharmed apart from some light marks on the case. With a range of 10 metres, there was no problem tracking Micky when he was on a flexi-lead. The clip looked robust enough to stand up to this too.

Compared with the Holux GPSlim unit, the Freedom GPS picked up a fix from 'cold' in about the same time, around 40 seconds, which is consistent with the published specs.

GPS receivers are now becoming commodity items, so they all do pretty much the same thing; the main selling points of this one are that it comes in a very convenient small package, and it works well with no fuss.

- Andrew Merritt

Still a bit brief. Lets check what Steve wanted: "Anyone willing to do a 300
word review of the Freedom Mini GPS".

Could be tricky, the problem is its very hard to write a detailed review about an item that basically is a small matchbox size block of plastic with a LED, mini USB port and a switch and does what it says on the box.

Anyway, in the package you get the GPS unit itself, a USB to miniUSB charging cable and a car power supply to miniUSB charger. You also get a ring to allow you to attach the receiver to your keyring and a brief instruction leaflet. There is no mains charger, which may be a problem if travelling without a car or a handy PC.

There is only one switch on the device and connecting it to my Nokia E61 was as simple as switching on Bluetooth and searching for the device. Then, via Nokia maps, you just have to tell it what Bluetooth device the GPS unit is and that's it!

This is the first time I've used a portable GPS device - it took a couple of minutes to get a satellite fix, which is about what I was expecting. Reception seemed good. I had no problems using it from a train, so I imagine it will also work fine in a car. I have even managed to get reception inside a few buildings. It works fine with the reciever in your pocket and your phone in your hand.

One thing that confused me was that I'd left my phone switched on for a while without looking at it so my keypad lock had become activated. Upon unlocking my phone, Nokia Maps showed my position as where I was when the lock was activated and it did not update. Upon checking the GPS I had lost the orange light that signifies that it has found or is looking for satellites. I initially thought the battery was flat but I think its some sort of power saving mode. If you switch the GPS unit off and on then it wakes up and remembers the satellites it found, so immediately resumes giving your current position.

This power saving mode makes it a bit hard to give an accurate estimate of how long the battery will last but I suspect it is good for a couple of hours continuous use. Which is probably enough for most purposes, remembering that for long car journeys you can use the supplied car power lead.

The fact that you can keep it on your keyring means that it should always be with you and is probably nearly as good as having GPS built into your phone. Of course, it does not have assisted GPS but the reception seems more reliable than my friend's Nokia N95. I think the main problem will be: although I'm likely to have the GPS receiver on me, will it be charged up when I want to use it?

The Mini GPS is definitely a very useful addition to my E61 and its smallness is a big plus point. I can also find very little wrong with it.

Oh blast! That's over 500 words, Steve. Sorry.

- Andy Langdon

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