I have been becoming more and more interested in GPS route tracking and using digital mapping tools like Google Maps. I have dabbled with a few iPhone apps – some that track data to capture your route over a given period and others that store individual way-points.
The process of converting and uploading data files has been a bit of a frustration. I also found that the accuracy of my iPhone 3G GPS positioning was, at times rather unreliable – especially if the 3G signal was weak.
I have been investigating dedicated hand held GPS trackers that would allow for route logging without sacrificing the battery life of my iPhone. I have also been looking for inexpensive devices that could be used by the children in school.
For school, our most likely purchase will be the I-GotU GT-600 Motion Detecting GPS Travel Tracker. This adds route tracking to the features of the similar I-GotU GT120 – which stores way-points. These two inexpensive devices support Windows PCs only, so rule them out for home use as I only have Macs. It would have been nice to have a display of some point to give a visual representation of location, but handhelds with a display are much more expensive.
Finding devices that are Mac compatible is a bit of a challenge. Garmin seems to be adding more support, but documentation is sketchy and it is not clear which of the handhelds are supported for Mac.
The Garmin Base Camp software is available as a free download. This seems to allow export of data from connected devices. The built in map is really poor and I would think the package would only be of use for managing and storing data collected from the handheld. In theory, the software could be used for planning a route to be uploaded to a handheld, but the built in map is too limited. As I do not have a device to test it more fully, I can not comment more at this stage.
A gem of a find on the web was www.gpsvisualizer.com/. This has a number of tools that allow you to make the most of your GPS data.
To make a Google Map (complete with route and waypoints) from a GPS file this form can be used: www.gpsvisualizer.com/map_input?form=google.
To create a KML file from a captured GPX file, this form can be used: www.gpsvisualizer.com/map_input?form=googleearth. You download the converted file, then import it into My Maps on Google Maps.
To find the latitude and longitude of an address, you can use GPS Visualizer’s Quick Geocoder: www.gpsvisualizer.com/geocode. This can covert post codes and address details.
A really good tool for use in school is the freehand drawing tool at www.gpsvisualizer.com/draw/. This allows way-points, tracks and areas to be marked on a Google map, then be saved as a GPX or KML file. The latter is needed for import into Google Maps. If saving Google maps, be mindful of what information they show and whether they are available for public viewing or not. (The default is ‘public’).
Personally, I fancy the Garmin GPSMap 60CSx. The online prices seem to vary enormously from about £183 to £372. Even at the cheaper end of the range, it would be hard to justify the expense, but it does seem to be an accurate, easy to use unit with good functionality. It would seem that this unit was recently discontinued, so availability is likely to be limited.
If you are a Mac user and are successfully capturing routes and way-points from an accurate hand-held GPS device and importing them back to the Mac, I would be interested in hearing from you. Got any alternative suggestions?
The GPS iPhone apps that I have used are:
iMarkMySpot – which stores individual way-points – either with a description or just the location, time & date.
Cyclemeter – logs routes and shows them on an embedded Google map – with labels to indicate distance from starting point.