Review - Holux GPSport 245
I got a new toy! Up until now I've always mapped out rides manually which is both time consuming and somewhat inaccurate (do you remember EXACTLY where you were the night before?)... Well the Holux GPSport 245 changes all that!
I've been thinking about getting some sort of GPS logger for a while... I recently got serious and really started checking things out, this is what I came up with!
What's a GPS Logger?
When most people think "GPS" they think of TomTom or Garmin car-oriented devices that give turn-by-turn directions. "TURN LEFT 50 METERS" and the like...
GPS loggers are a totally different beast. Rather than telling you where to go, their job is to tell you where you've been! They do this by recording your location into memory at set intervals - distance based or time based. For instance you might want to record where you are every 5 seconds, or perhaps every 30 meters instead. Most loggers also have "Point of Interest" recording - you can press a button and set a "flag" for the position you're at right now in case you want to remember it later.
Once you get home, you connect the logger to your computer and download your "track", the list of points the device has been since it started recording. From there there's lots of different things you can do - upload your track to Google Maps or sites like GPS Visualizer, tag your photos with their location, load in to Goole Earth and replay your route and all sorts of other possibilities.
Most GPS loggers are very small pocket-sized devices with nothing more than a status LED and a button or two. Many can also be used to give GPS capabilities to other devices, such as laptop computers. In fact there's hundreds of different applications that can use real-time data from a GPS logger to give themselves extra "location-aware" capabilities.
Holux GPSport 245
The GPSport 245 is targetted at "Active" individuals like cyclists, hikers, etc who will be using it outdoors and probably could stand to have a LITTLE bit of information displayed - unlike most other GPS loggers the Holux GPSport does actually have an LCD display. Along the "outdoors" theme the GPSport 245 is water resistant - all buttons are rubber sealed so the device is fine to use in the rain.
In the box you'll find a standard USB to Mini-USB cable, a plug-in wall charger with a Mini-USB end for the GPS, a software CD and a bicycle handlebar/stem mount. The charger can be used with other Mini-USB devices such as Motorolla cell phones, and likewise any Mini-USB charger can be used with the GPSport 245. Very convenient!
The bike mount wil attach either to handlebars or a cylindrical stem - it can be rotated 90 degrees and mounts two ways. It attaches using a supplied set of zip-ties which do have a tab allowing them to be removed, however since you cut them to length they're basically single use. There's nothing special about them though - any Canadian Tire zipties will work fine. The holder seems fairly robust - the device clicks in securely and mounts fairly high above the bars for good visibility and it should be sufficently far from the knees of most cyclists.
The GPSort 245 has an embedded Lithium Ion battery that charges automatically when you have it plugged in to the computer or to the wall charger. The specifications say it's good for 28 hours continuous logging with the backlight off or 18 hours with the backlight on. I haven't yet run it down to nothing so time will tell!
Using the GPSport 245
The GPSport 245 is incredibly straightforward to use. Once it's powered on it will automatically acquire a GPS signal - there is a small satellite icon in status bar along the top that switches from a question mark to a solid satellite once it gets a lock. Also shown is a memory status indicator and battery indicator.
The system menus can be accessed by pressing a button on the left side of the device. Holding this button down also turns on or off the backlight - you can configure the backlight to stay on continuously for night riding, or just have it come on for a short period of time after pressing any button on the device. The one issue I've found with this is there is no button you can hit that doesn't do something while riding. If you don't want to have the light on all the time but just want to quickly check your speed or elapsed distance there's no easy way to do so.
To actually start recording you simply hit the start/stop button on the bottom right of the device. Once you press it the 'Start' icon on the display changes to the elapsed distance on this track, and a "Sport" icon appears on the top left corner of the device. The "Sport" can be cycling, hiking or driving. With each sport type the device will make calorie burn calculations - cycling has one rate, hiking another and driving burns no calories at all, disabling the calorie counting feature.
One interesting feature is a "Find Home" function. You can manually enter a set of GPS co-ordinates and the device can tell you how far and in what direction you need to go to get there. For myself I set it to my couch - I can always tell how far away I am from being home! Naturally this is "as the crow flies" rather than actual travelling distance.
Also within the device are two odometers. You can switch which odometer you use through the system menu allowing you to keep track of total distance covered in two different ways. Personally I use one odometer for biking and the other for "everything else" - I've found it's fun just to keep the GPSport in my pocket when I go out and about, ie driving, going to work, whatever.
As I'm not a Windows user I haven't even taken the included CD out of the box, so I can't comment on the supplied software. Instead I use the excellent free BT747 software. BT747 works with a variety of different GPS loggers and runs on Linux, Mac and Windows. It talks to the GPS chipset directly so it can enable some features that aren't otherwise accessible with most devices such as choosing exactly what data is logged, the logging frequency and sets several parameters that are otherwise hidden. At the same time it's got a few config screens that are a little overly techy.
Simply start up BT747, plug in your Holux GPSport 245 and click "Connect" - once the status screen shows a good connection you can download all the data from your logger and then do all sorts of things with it.
This is a fun one - your camera stamps your photos with the time it took them. The GPS logger knows what time you were at a particular location. Guess what's coming next?
You can point BT747 at a folder full of photos and the software will synch up the times you were at any particular location with the times on the photos, then add the coordinates to your pictures automatically. No need for a fancy camera with GPS - this works with absolutely ANY digital camera. Even if the clock in your camera is off BT747 can compensate - once you figure out how far off it was you just enter that in to the software and it takes care of the rest.
Once tagged you can upload your photos to sites like Flickr which are geotagging-aware. I'm working on that for Vancruisers too by the way!
You can also export your track into KML files which can be uploaded to all sorts of places. There's a new content type here on Vancruisers called "geoxml" - this will automatically create an embedded map here on the site from any KML file allowing you to share your routes. This will be a big one for our Heavy Pedal Wednesdays!
Google Earth can also load KML files (in fact it's Google Earth's native format) - you can use Google Earth to do edits to your route such as adding additional points of interest and giving more detailed descriptions. Google Earth will also let you play back your route from an aerial view - you hit "Play" and watch where you rode!
I haven't seen much else in the GPS Logger space that even comes close to the Holux GPSport 245. There's some other devices out there that run on multiple AAA batteries - sounds like a pain in the butt to me not to mention the huge size. Most other loggers have no display whatsoever, and honestly you will have a hard time beating the price of the Holux GPSport 245 even for a basic logger with no real features other than logging.
Holux GPSport 245 - Street Price approx. $110 Canadian - Available at CanadaGPS.com