New HOLUX ezFOX (GM-100) handheld GPS

Short review, by Carlos Puch

Having been playing around for several days with a brand new HOLUX ezFOX (also known as GM-100) handheld mapping GPS, I'd like to post some very early comments on the unit. HOLUX is a Taiwan based company that manufactures a variety of GPS equipment, including this mapping unit. More information on its products can be found on http://www.holux.com.tw/. The Spanish importer, PROTELSA, has been helpful and Iíve received my unit at home in 24 hours (contact: acrull@cecot.es Ė phone: +34-93-590-1154).  Here is what the kit contains

General specifications

-The ezFOX receiver is small: only 114 x 56 x 24 mm (like a cigarette pack which would be 1/3 longer).

-The screen is quite identical in size and pixels to the GIII+/G12MAP's screen (60 x 38 mm; 160 x 100 pixels). It shows 4 levels color scale and is readable in good light conditions. It can also be rotated from portrait to landscape orientation with the push of a button.

-The unit runs on two AA batteries. A couple of 1700mAh NiMH is supplied, and a warning on the battery case advises not to use regular alkaline or non rechargeable cells in conjunction with the supplied power cord, as it might result in damage to the unit.

-The square antenna is folded on the backside of the unit. It rotates to allow for an optimal reception of the GPS signals. Once extracted, it reveals a MCX female receptacle that accepts any of the active antennas running on 3V.

-There's a gap on one side of the case to insert a standard CompactFlash memory card.

-A power/data port is also present. It reminds the female connector of the StarTac Motorola cell phones. (Note: the unit is not waterproof).

-The full package includes (photo 1): ezFOX unit, manual / warranty card, car bracket, leather case, data cable, active antenna (with 5 m cable), 16MB CF memory card, cigarette adapter/charger, 2 AA NiMH 1700mA rechargeable batteries and country map CD. Very impressive!...

Features

-12 channels receiver.

-500 waypoints (8 character length), including 12 char. comment . Waypoint symbol can not be changed (so far).

-20 routes / 30 waypoints each.

-5 tracklogs (4 saved and 1 active), 2500 points each. Track recording mode selectable between time and distance, an also between wrap, fill and off options.

-Only LAT/LON coordinates so far.

-219 datum.

-NMEA0183 serial output.

-Power saving mode available.

Operation

-Once powered on, the unit doesnít apparently run the traditional self-testing sequence, as it switches almost immediately to the satellites page. Simulation mode is available by selecting *Stop navigation* option.

-Acquisition times are fast. Typically 75 sec. cold start, 40 sec. warm start and 15 sec. hot start. The receiver keeps track of the satellites without problem. In urban environment it looses and reacquires the signal provided it has a decent view of the sky. DOP number shown on the lower right of the satellites' page is quite pessimistic if compared to the same shown on a GIII+ running parallel. There's no EPE indication.

-Four main pages are available: Satellites, Map, Status and Compass. A set of menus and submenus are accessible from satellite and map pages. A main menu can be accessed from any of the four pages.

-Satellite page includes a polar diagram and a bar graph showing position and signal level of the satellites being tracked; a battery gauge icon; a small bulb indicating lighting status and the DOP indicator.

-Map page shows the map and an arrow icon showing actual position. On the lower right angle a graphic scale and a shadow rectangle indicating the relative position and extent of the screen in relation to the full map loaded are visible. The coordinates (LAT/LON) of the icon arrow appear to the left or above the scale, depending on the screen orientation. The arrow is empty when there's no fix and red as a position is being computed. It is possible to pan and zoom using the cursor keys (nine zoom levels available: 100m, 200m, 500m, 1km, 2km, 5km, 10km, 20km, 50km). When panning, a cursor appears and its coordinates are then shown. Every time a feature on the map is reached, its name is visible inside a tiny orange hollow rectangle. Map detail varies depending on the zoom scale selected. Maximum detail is only visible below 500m level; this avoids screen cluttering. Thereís no information available on navigation (speed, track, etc.) in this page.

-Status page includes a graphic strip compass on the upper side, followed by eight cells containing numeric indication of: Speed, Track (heading), Odometer, Trip Time, Altitude, Average Speed, Coordinates (LAT/LON) and Time and Date. The fields aren't user configurable. Some of them may be reset.

-Compass page shows a big compass, together with informative fields related to: Next Waypoint, Distance to Next, Time to Next, Distance to Destination and Time to Destination. This is the Route navigation page, and none of the fields can be user configurable.

Maps:

-Map information is impressive! All the roads (and some dirt roads on the countryside) are present. There's street level maps of almost all the main and middle-size towns in Spain (photo 2). There's also a lot of POI. A *Search Object* menu in the map page allows for street / road, waypoints and POI search. Map data comes from NAVTECH. At a first sight, it appears to be the same being used by Route 66 Spain 2001 (http://www.route66.nl/). There's no information on railroads, coastlines, rivers, lakes, forests and urban areas despite the fact that the map page accesses one submenu with a legend showing all those features. Portugal is included in the same CD. Basically the maps are road/street maps sensu stricto.

-The maps can be downloaded from a single file (in this case the whole Spain occupies 63MB and can be accommodated into a 64MB CF card), or can be previously merged from smaller files which, in the case of Spain, correspond to administrative divisions (regions and provinces). The size of each file varies from around 300KB to around 5MB, depending on the area size and density. The supplied 16MB CF card can load the information needed to cover a long trip using the merging procedure.

-The CD-ROM contains not only the map data (split into full, wide and medium size chunks), but also the utility needed to do the download. Also included are the unitís manual in PDF format and the last firmware available (1.12EI at this time). The download program, called MapEZ, is simple and easy to use. Only the names of the maps are accessible so far. Thereís a new version that also displays the maps in graphic form (I will receive it during next week from the distributor and will update this review).

-The transfer of the maps is performed at a reasonable rate, as the supplied cable connects to the printer (parallel) port of the PC. For instance, the transfer of the whole map

of Spain (63MB) took around 45 min. The transfer speed, according to the manual, is 2.9MB / min.

-Compared to GARMIN Spain MapSource maps, HOLUX maps lack information on railroads, rivers, lakes and coast lines, but the road/street information is almost 8 times more detailed. See for comparison the map of Burgos (photo 3), a small town in the center-north of the country. (Note: the price of every HOLUX country CD is $80; GARMIN Spain MetroGuide is $160 around here).

*First* general impressions

This receiver has pluses and minusesÖ On the positive side:

-The satellite reception is good. The size is small. The form factor is convenient and very useable. The choice of the standard CompactFlash card is a must (I shift them between a Canon digital camera, a Cassiopeia PDA and the GPS itself). The supplied leather case is nice and very protective. Also:

-Navigation over the map seems accurate and responsive. Minor changes in speed and direction at walking speeds are immediately detected. As the cursor moves on the screen, the name of the street and/or the closest feature is highlighted. Donít know so far if a dead reckoning feature is implemented on the software.

-*Search object* menu permits a wide search in alphabetical order of cities, roads, waypoints and POI. *Search screen* menu shows a list of features that are visible on the actual map screen. Once selected one of the items, a page showing its distance and bearing from actual position and its phone number comes to first plane.

-POI includes: City, Road, Hotel, Restaurant, Airport, Bank, Building, Car Service, Culture, Campground, Dam, Government, Gas Station, Hospital, Harbor, Marina, Monument, Others (bar, pub), Park, Police, Rail Station, Recreation, Religion, Railroad, Station (bus), Sports, Scenic, Shopping and School. Some of them arenít available, at least in the Spanish maps (e.g.: Railroad, Religion).

On the negative side:

- A red led blinks once to confirm the correct push of every key. Nevertheless, the keyboard in my unit is quite imprecise, resulting in errors when scrolling and moving through the menus. Writing characters in waypoint naming menu involves frequent typing errors as well (note that the exFOX character set includes capitals, lower-case and signs). I insist on the fact that this may just occur on some units like mine; I have passed this information to the distributor and he has offered a replacement.

-Search functions sometimes lead to unattended lockups. The only way to reset is taking the batteries apart... From my short experience those lockups would seem to be related to the receiverís status (acquiring or simulating), and perhaps to the screen orientation.

-The color lines on the screen are not easy visible under poor lighting conditions; the orientation of the unit with respect to the light source has a lot of influence on this. The electroluminiscent backlight is clearly poor.

All in all, the ezFOX is a reasonable option for people looking for a compact mapping GPS. Looking at the maps, they are superb in street/road detail. Street price in Spain for the full package is $640 (bear in mind this is Europe, not the U.S.!). A similar GARMIN solution (eMap + 16MB data card + MetroGuide CD + cigarette cable + data cable + carrying case + dash-mount support + active external antenna) is by far more expensiveÖ