National Geographic maps available on new GPS device

National Geographic maps avaialbe on the Active 10 TREK GPS deviceEarlier this week National Geographic announced that it was joining forces with Satmap to release a handheld GPS device that offers support for a range of maps from their library. The collaboration of the two organizations means that backpackers, hikers, and adventure travelers will have an electronic version of Nat Geo’s award winning Topo!, Trails Illustrated, and AdventureMaps in the palm of their hands for the first time.

The Active 10 TREK is a fully featured GPS device that has been on sale in Europe for some time, but makes its way stateside thanks to this partnership. It comes fully loaded with U.S. and World base maps, which offer a solid level of detail for the average user looking to navigate between landmarks. But the device also supports expansion through the use of SD cards, and that is where the National Geographic maps come into play.

Nat Geo has already made 14 of their Topo! map guides, which contain USGS topographic map data, available for use on the Active 10. Those maps cover Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, the Mid-Atlantic region, Montana, Nevada, New England, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The rest of the states and other regions of the U.S. will be made available in the first quarter of 2011. Additionally, three of the Trails Illustrated maps are available as well covering California’s Sierra Nevada, the Southern Appalachians and America’s “Greatest National Parks.” Entries into the AdventureMaps category, which includes international destinations, will be added in the future as well. Topographic map packs are also available for most Western European countries too.

The actual GPS device clocks in at an MSRP of $369.99 and each of the National Geographic Maps SD cards run $99.99 each. The complete line of products launched this week and is already available online. Click here for more information on the Active 10 Trek and here for a look at the various maps packs that are currently available.

This combination of the Active 10 and the Nat Geo map packs should be a great tool for adventure travelers. The National Geographic maps are packed with information and preset points of interests, which make them perfect for navigation in a variety of remote locations around the world. The device has plenty of nice options as well, including a long battery life, a bright, color screen, ruggedized construction, and a fast processor, all of which help to ease the navigation process. I know I’d certainly enjoy finding one of these under my tree this holiday season.

T-Mobile Garminfone review – is this the best GPS unit ever created?

Three weeks ago, Gadling was one of the first to post a real hands-on with the the upcoming T-Mobile Garminfone. In this full review, you’ll get a closer look at the hardware, software and additional applications of this Android powered GPS navigation device.

If you are in the market for a new (smart) phone, then your timing is good – because the Garminfone will be available on June 9th for $199 (after a $50 mail in rebate and a new 2 year agreement).
The hardware

The Garmin-Asus designed Garminfone is an Android powered smartphone – even if you never plan to use it as a GPS device, you’ll still have yourself a very competent mobile device. Under the hood is Android 1.6 – not the most recent version, but thanks to the hard work of the designers, you’d never know.

The phone itself feels more like a phone than a GPS unit – on the front are four touch sensitive buttons and a D-Pad with center button. On the left side are contacts for the charging cradle, and on the right are buttons for the camera and volume control.

The only other connector on the phone is a MiniUSB jack on the bottom – which also means the designers chose to outfit the phone without a 3.5mm headphone jack – a crime in today’s phone market if you ask me.

The battery cover slides off and provides access to an 1150mAh battery, a MicroSD slot and a SIM card slot. The memory card is “hot swappable”, so you won’t need to remove the battery to change cards. On the back of the unit is also where you’ll find the 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera, but no flash.

Photos from the camera are “OK” – certainly no replacement for a point and shoot camera, but adequate for capturing spur of the moment shots.

Inside the device, is a 600MHz Qualcomm processor, 256MB of ram and 256MB of rom. Connectivity comes from a quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE radio, 3G HSDPA on 1700 and 2100MHz, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The phone weighs 4.9 ounces (with battery) and measures 4.57 x .49 x 2.46 inches.

The Garminfone next to the Google Nexus One and Verizon Droid Increidble.

Included with the Garminfone is a 2GB MicroSD card (installed in the phone), a USB car charger, dash mount and active (powered) cradle. This cradle means the unit will switch to landscape mode when plugged in – and makes it very easy to install or remove the unit from your vehicle.

Audio in phone calls is very clear, and callers on the other side of my conversation never complained about the quality. The speakerphone is sufficient for a call at your desk, but I found it lacking volume when used in a noisy car.

UPDATE: The low volume is only an issue when you use the phone as a speakerphone – spoken GPS directions are very loud and clear.

Software

The interface on the Garminfone is probably one of the best designed I’ve seen in a long time. The UI designers managed to make the phone look like a regular Garmin navigation unit, while still keeping some of the look and feel of Android on the device.

Best of all – the interface is perfect for using in your car. Of course, I’d never suggest you use it while driving, but if you happen to press a few buttons when on the road, the large icons won’t distract too much.

The list of features included in the navigation portion of the Garminfone is endless – this goes way beyond what you usually get on a GPS device. Some of the navigation features include:

  • Navigate to Google search location
  • Local gas prices
  • Navigate to events
  • Panoramio local content (photo searches)
  • Store and navigate to saved parking spot

Navigation itself is also very efficient – maps move very smooth and recalculations are swift when you miss a turn.

GPS reception did become an issue when I was driving in an area with tall buildings – in downtown Chicago the unit managed to lose track of me several times – and took a while to lock on to the signal. A Gamin Nuvi next to the Garminfone did not have these issues.

Other features brought over from the regular Garmin devices include the ability to pick a vehicle picture and create your own voice recordings for navigation.

Besides the navigation portion, the Garminfone comes with a very good selection of pre-loaded apps:

  • Movie times
  • Flight status
  • Traffic incident search
  • Facebook
  • Unit converter
  • Garmin voice studio
  • Weather

And of course, you also get access to the >50,000 apps in the Google market.

Final thoughts

I’m just going to say it – this is the best GPS unit I have ever tested. Not just the best connected GPS unit – but the best, period. Yes – the reception issue was rather annoying, but it was rare enough to overlook, and something that could be fixed in the final version, or updated with software. The phone is fast, looks good and the user interface is exceptional.

The price is a little on the high side, especially when it has to go up against the new iPhone 4. Still, when you consider that a GPS unit with these features can cost over $300, the $199 (after $50 rebate) really isn’t all that bad.

To learn more about the Garminfone, or to register your interest in this new device, head on over to the T-Mobile Garminfone site.

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Let your own voice tell you where to go with the Garmin GPS voice studio

Do you often get bored of the voice in your GPS unit? I’ll usually switch between the British male and female voices once a week, just to keep things interesting. If none of the standard voices interest you, how about recording your own? The new Garmin Voice Studio was announced at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, and is now available to download.

It’ll work on almost any recent Garmin unit, including most nüvi series devices. Recording your own commands is pretty simple – you download and install the program, then record the 68 voice commands using a microphone. I tried it with the built in microphone in my laptop, and the results were not too bad. Once recorded, you connect your GPS device and click the “send to GPS” button. Then, you simply change the voice setting to your newly recorded version.

Of course, nothing is stopping you from asking someone with a sexier voice to do the recording for you, or you could even recruit your kids to make your GPS unit a little more human.

The program is free of charge, and is available directly from Garmin.com. It is currently Windows only, and any device with text-to-speech will still use a Garmin voice to speak the street names.

Gadling gear review – i-GotU GT-120 GPS logger

You’ll have no doubt noticed a bit of a GPS trend today here on Gadling, and in line with that, I’m going to introduce you to the Mobile Action I-GotU GT-120 mobile GPS logger.

This tiny device looks quite unimpressive, but actually houses several handy GPS functions in one product.

The GT-120 can function as a USB GPS receiver, providing your location to a variety of GPS enabled applications. The device also stores several days of your location tracks, allowing you to read your position and overlay it on a Google map in the included tracking software. When importing your tracks, the application can even match the time and location with your photos, adding geotag information to your shots.
The i-GotU comes with a USB cable and a silicone jacket, and the receiver is waterproof. To operate the unit, you are provided with just one button, and 2 LED lights. There is no user interaction other than turning it on or off. All the settings, including its tracking interval are controlled through the software.

The USB cable connects the device to your PC, and charges it. Battery life during my test was good for several days. Inside the device is 16MB of flash memory, which is enough for 65,000 tracking points. I found the GPS signal sensitivity to be pretty good – but it did take a good clear view of the sky for its initial fix. Once it grabbed the signal, I was able to hang it from a clip onto my camera bag, and the tracks during the day appeared to be constant, with no loss of signal.

The software is easy to use, and simple questions guide you through the process of importing the data and syncing with your photos.

Trips are imported quickly and can be named, describing what you were doing when you were using the device. From within the software, you can also sync your PC clock with the GPS clock, and display the most accurate time, allowing you to set your camera clock to the current time. Using an accurate camera clock will increase the accuracy of the geotag information written to your photos.

The desktop software extends beyond your PC – once imported, you can share your map, tracks and photos with the world using the @trip site, provided by Mobile Action for free. The site is way more than just a place to store your tracks – it actually functions as a full trip blog allowing you to leave a full visual story of your trip. See this example for how great trips look.

Final thoughts

Despite a couple of minor issues with the device (Windows 7 drivers were not available when I stated testing it), I’m very impressed with this little tracker. It also takes a little getting used to the 2 LED lights, and figuring out what they mean.

The ability to function as a regular USB GPS receiver, a tracker/logger and a geotag adapter means your investment gets you three different devices for the same price. The company behind the GT-120 also offers a Bluetooth enabled version, the GT-200. This device adds the ability to connect to the receiver using Bluetooth.

The GT-120 tracker is available though a US retailer for just $69.85, with free shipping. The hardware is similar to some other products on the market, but the combination of the excellent desktop and web based software make it a real winner. I had a lot of fun reviewing my tracks from a couple of days, and matching my photos to my exact location. If you use a geotag enabled photo sharing site (like Smugmug), you’ll be able to instantly link to a map of the photo location.

Taking your GPS abroad – what you need to know

When you purchase your GPS unit, it’ll usually come with maps of the US, Puerto Rico and Canada. In some cases, the unit may even expand into Mexico, and premium systems will have Europe pre-loaded.

If you are heading abroad, but your GPS unit does not come with maps of your destination, all is not lost, and in some cases you’ll actually be able to load new maps.

Here are five tips on how to travel with your GPS, and how to take it abroad.
Check for international maps

Before you invest in new maps, check to see whether your unit already includes your destination country. In some cases this may be confusing if it holds a “base map” of the country. The base map will show foreign cities, but won’t actually contain anything at street level.

If you know that your unit does not contain an International map, you’ll need to check with the manufacturer to see which countries they offer as a map update. Before making this investment, check the prices of GPS units at your destination. It won’t make sense to spend $100 on a new map, when a brand new GPS unit costs the same. In some cases you may even be able to rent a navigation system from your car rental firm. With so many options, it makes sense to do your homework before leaving.

Switch the unit to the appropriate setting

Make your life easier when you are abroad – if your destination uses the Metric system, switch your GPS unit to Metric too. It’ll help make it easier to know how far you have to go, and whether you are sticking to the speed limit.

Protect your investment

If your GPS unit comes with a carrying case, use it – especially if you are forced to check the bag containing your device.

If you don’t have a carrying case, consider investing in one. They’ll cost about $15, and most of them will hold your GPS unit itself, along with the power cord and windshield mount.

The LCD touch screen on a GPS unit is pretty fragile, and if you end up packing it next to something sharp, a baggage handler may turn it into a useless gadget in a matter of minutes.

Brush up on your geography

A GPS unit is no replacement for basic geography knowledge. Before leaving for your destination, try to get a basic idea where you’ll be heading. In addition to knowing where a city is, try and learn a little about naming schemes. In German, Straße is street, which can be abbreviated to Str, most other international destinations have similar abbreviations, and you will need to know the basics in order to enter a destination into your GPS unit.

When your hotel or other destination provides its address, it may be abbreviated, the last thing you want is a GPS unit with international maps, but lack the knowledge on how to enter an address.

Your phone as a GPS device may be a really, really bad idea

Even though your (smart) phone may come with GPS, it isn’t always wise to use this when abroad. Many phone based navigation systems require a data connection, and international (3G) data costs a fortune. In fact, when you are in Europe, each megabyte of data will cost just under $20. With a normal map application pulling in about half a megabyte/minute (when driving), you’ll pay $600/hour for basic map based navigation. With prices like this, you’d be better off hiring a limo.

There are mobile phone navigation applications that install their map data locally, but even those programs may use the Internet for searches. If in doubt, find a way to disable your data access completely when you are abroad.