GPS Tracking Review

Thursday, Jul 06, 2017 at 16:58

Sand Man (SA)

Hema Navigator (OziExplorer) vs Spot Messenger vs EO Traveller app (running on iPhone6)
Garmin Nuvi vs TomTom Go

I recently completed an 8 week trip from Adelaide, through the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of WA (including the Gibb River Road), then back down through the centre, diverting to Kings Canyon and Ayers Rock along the way.
Wishing to record my travels, I added to my Hema Navigator a couple of other devices to evaluate their usefulness. The following is my experience with the different devices.


Hema Navigator 6.
This device I have had for a few years and has served me well.
I have configured the settings to save a daily log, as relying on the internal memory will eventually result in overwriting of the earlier data during long trips. As I have a habit of turning off the device overnight to save battery capacity, I generally perform a manual export of each days tracking data to an external file on the memory card, as I am unsure when the automatic saving of a daily log occurs.
OziExplorer has a bit of a learning curve to get the most out its tracking capabilities but the moving map display is excellent in showing where you are at any given point in time. As well as the digital hema maps supplied with the device, I have also loaded the EOTopo Australia map and tend to use this the majority of the time as it suits my purpose admirably. I did notice that some tracks shown as unsealed, were in fact now sealed. The Agnew/Sandstone road from Leinster and the Mt Magnet/Sandstone road being two examples, both of which are now blacktop. I’m sure David is updating EOTopo on an ongoing basis and roads such as these will show as sealed in later releases.
The one “negative” I have with the Hema, is when power is interrupted, such as when turning the ignition switch on/off/on. This results in a message “After 30 seconds, the device will automatically enter sleep mode”. If you don’t select “Cancel” to keep the device active, it will enter sleep mode and you will not be tracking until you manually press the power button. This little idiosyncrasy is a PITA and I missed recording one section of the trip by not being observant enough.
My TomTom device will start to perform a similar routine, but if power is restored before the time limit is reached, the device will override the “sleep” process and maintain its active state. It only takes a momentary turn of the ignition switch and the Hema will perform its “shut down” process. Hema needs to fix this annoying problem in future devices.
All up though, the combination of the Hema Navigator and OziExplorer will give an excellent facility to display your progress as a moving map feature and also record your track data and any waypoints entered for future reference. The recorded track is continuous and true.


Spot Messenger Gen3.
I purchased this device from the ExplorOz shop prior to my departure for two main reasons.
Firstly, as “a means of last resort” in an absolute emergency, to alert the authorities. This replaced my old GME MT410G personal locator beacon which has reached the end of its notified battery life as shown on the device.
Secondly, as a means of notifying family and friends of our whereabouts at a given time as I knew we would be out of mobile coverage on several occasions during our trip.
This feature performed extremely well. There are two methods associated with this ability.
The first one is by setting up a link to the ExplorOz EOTrackMe facility and sending the URL link to nominated persons. At any given time, a person can click on the URL and be shown the GPS co-ordinates on a map to see where you are. As GPS communications is via satellite, this process is both automatic and accurate, as to your current location.
A second method is by setting up a pre-programmed email message to nominated persons. A press of the OK button on the Messenger will result in an email being sent to all persons you have previously entered in your personal Spot account. They will receive a fixed email such as, “Hi all, we are happy and healthy” or anything else you have set up in the database, and also the GPS co-ordinates link which when clicked on in the email, will display a map of your current location.
The Spot Messenger will also record your progress in the EOTrackMe facility but in my opinion is not all that practical for future reference as the accuracy is nowhere near as good as the Hema device mentioned above. The Spot Messenger requires an annual account to perform this function and the cost is not cheap by any means.
The Spot Messenger has three tracking levels, (Basic, Unlimited or Extreme).
At the time of issuing this article, the annual service plan will cost you around AU$239 for the basic service. Tracking needs to be enabled each 24 hour period, which in practice, would be hard enough to remember to perform each day.This requires pressing the Tracking button. (footprint logo)
An annual upgrade to the Unlimited plan (US$50 – AU$66) will give you a “set it and forget it” feature so you don’t need to start tracking each day and a minimum 5 min automatic update interval.
An annual upgrade to the Extreme plan (US$150 – AU$197) will reduce the automatic update interval down to a 2.5 mins. I am unaware of any other additional features you may get for the “Extreme” plan, but the exorbitant annual cost would be extremely hard to justify for anyone.
Even a 2.5 minute tracking interval does not even come close to the continuous tracking ability of the Hema Navigator and the Hema does not require an annual “plan”. A look at the recorded track provided by the Spot will show a series of straight lines between each 5 minute interval that I have set and will provide an average quality recording of your route.
I wouldn’t recommend the Spot Messenger if you require an accurate and continuous tracking feature of your travels.


ExplorOz Traveller App. (running on iPhone6)
I purchased this app primarily “as a backup” to the Hema tracking. This app replaced an older one, which proved to be inadequate for the iPhone5 I used to own. The older facility used UTrackMe, a 3rd party app which interfaced with EOTrackMe to provide a recorded track of one’s trip. The problem with this older app was when a person was out of mobile coverage for any length of time, the app couldn’t cope with holding data in memory, until cell contact was re-established and data was lost, or spurious phantom track data was shown when not physically travelled.
The new Traveller app was to overcome this problem.
For tracking purposes, the Traveller app is basically “set and forget”, in that you start the app, ensure tracking is enabled and it will record GPS tracking of your journey. When out of cell coverage range, the app stores the data and eventually updates your personal EOTrackMe database with progressive tracking data, when back in range. The app performed this function extremely well. We were out of mobile coverage for several days on occasions, but all tracking data was recorded and sent to the server when within range.
The problem I experienced with the Traveller app was the “timeframe” of recorded data. When looking at the map profile, the track displayed a series of straight lines between points, (like the Spot Messenger did) rather than a smooth and continuous track as recorded on my Hema Navigator.
In some places, one or more phantom tracks are shown between two points, when only one single course was driven.
On returning from our trip, I reported this problem to ExplorOz and the reply from David and Michelle was to the effect that the app appears to work properly on some devices but not others.
At the time of my trip, I was running an “earlier” version of software and the problem, as experienced by me, has been purportedly fixed in version 2.0.2, which I have updated to since my return.
I have yet to prove if the ExplorOz Traveller app version 2.0.2 or later and running on an iPhone 6 has fixed my problem.
Suffice to say, that for me the app did not function adequately for tracking purposes during our trip. Accuracy was compromised and I have no desire to use the recorded data for any worthwhile future purpose.
I sincerely hope that David has fixed the problem in the newer version, but I have no future trip yet planned where I can verify the success and accuracy of the Traveller app running on an iPhone6.

One other idiosyncrasy I experienced with the iPhone6 while travelling may, or may not be associated with the Traveller app. I place no blame on the app itself and I am only mentioning a perplexing problem I experienced on three occasions during the prolonged trip, for reference purposes for other people who may experience a similar phenomenon.
The app was at all times running in the background and on many occasions, I was also employing iPhone’s Carplay to send music from the iPhone to my car audio device. On three occasions, the iPhone rebooted itself for no apparent reason. That is, it shut down and automatically restarted and was still running the Traveller app. The small interruption to tracking was probably not noticeable due to my other problem as mentioned above, but the ability to recreate this fault, by running both ExplorOz Traveller and iPhone Carplay singularly and separately, may be a long time coming, if at all.


Conclusion
The Hema Navigator is still my preferred choice for recording my journey on trips around the Country. It’s ability for a practical Moving Map display and recording accurate tracking of one’s journey for future reference is unsurpassed in my opinion.
None of the above devices provide a practical means of Point to Point navigation and I have included a brief comparison below of two devices I have used.
Point to Point Navigation (Garmin vs TomTom)
I also use a device for point to point navigation purposes
I used to run a Garmin 3597 for “street navigation” purposes, including daily trip planning and navigation in the outback areas of Australia. With the addition of the OzTopo Map facility (not cheap), the Garmin provided a useful map display. However, the Garmin lacked an up to date database of Australian Names and places and GPS co-ordinates obtained by other means had to be entered. I was unable to rectify this problem by any updates obtainable from either Garmin, or a third party.
On researching and subsequently purchasing the TomTom 6100, I now have a comprehensive tool to use both for pre-planning and during each day’s journey, travelling from town/place to town/place.
There is scarcely any Australian town or place of interest that can’t be found in TomTom’s comprehensive database, making selection of destinations such as a town or campground along the route, both simple and accurate.
I plan each day’s journey to give us an achievable distance that will see us arrive well before sunset and not too drowsy, in time to set up camp and relax before darkness falls. Both I and my travelling companions, choose not to travel at night, preferring the safety and restfulness of camp during darkness.
TomTom’s display itself is quite plain compared with the Garmin Nuvi running OZTopo, but a comprehensive map image is not necessary, providing you have other means, such as the Hema device provides. A useful feature of the TomTom is that fuel stations are displayed on a strip along the right hand side of the screen when within 50km and the distance to the next fuel stop is updated continuously as you progress. A really useful feature when you may be running low on fuel.
Another addition to TomTom’s arsenal is TomTom MyDrive. This is a facility that enables preplanning of trips, either online, or via an app running on an iPhone or Android device. Any trip planning can be subsequently downloaded to the TomTom device and called up when desired.
This feature has proved to be much more accurate and intuitive than Garmin’s BaseCamp. In fact, I had not been able to obtain any meaningful planning data from Basecamp to suit Australian conditions, before replacing the Garmin with the TomTom device.
In practice, I must admit I don’t use TomTom MyDrive all that much, preferring to plan a trip on a spreadsheet, displaying daily distances from town to town. The contents however are obtained by using point to point distances and times calculated from the TomTom device. For long trips such as our group has just undertaken, there is generally the need for a “Plan B” due to road closures and other events such as just liking a place and wishing to stay longer, or deciding a place is not worth an extra day and moving on earlier than expected. The spreadsheet is useful as a guide, with achievable daily distances, rather than a strict “bible” of what must be achieved. If one needs to be “back in civilisation” by a given date, it is easy to achieve by looking at the spreadsheet and comparing the pre-planned point you should be with the actual location you are at and adjusting accordingly. This may be by extending a day’s distance, or missing out on a place you originally planned to stop at. Again in practice, we usually find we are a day or two ahead of schedule for one reason or another and can adjust our next destination and the time we spend there, accordingly.
With foreknowledge of where we wish to be at the end of a day’s journey, it is simply a matter of entering the destination in TomTom and the distance and estimated time of arrival is displayed.
Easy as.
Perhaps I am just a “disciple to technology”, but I do enjoy playing with my toys to provide enhanced information and status of where we are and how long to get there and to increase the enjoyment of our journeys around Australia.
There is no one device that will provide both GPS Tracking and Point to Point Navigation at the same time. Even though the Hema Navigator has a Point to Point Navigation facility (iGo), it cannot be run consecutively with OziExplorer , so a separate device is required to provide this ability.
Bill


I'm diagonally parked in a parallel Universe!
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