Ah, wireless! By now, wireless access is ubiquitous, in airports and
coffeeshops across the country. It has transformed on-the-road laptop
travel connections from a tangle of wires, phone connectors, and
forgotten dial-up numbers into a mostly hassle-free click of a mouse.
So how about some wireless GPS ? Glad you asked.
Most of the wireless connections in use today are those that comply to
various flavors of the 802.11 protocol.The other standard out there, a
little slower to be adapted, is Bluetooth.
Intended for short-range, temporary links, it is a great way to connect a GPS receiver to a laptop or PDA.
All you need is a Bluetooth "radio" in the laptop or PDA, and a Bluetooth-equipped GPS receiver.
There are only few of these gadgets on the market. The Rayming device we are evaluating here seems to be the consumer market
leader and is quite cost-effective at a street price of less than $225.
The other ones that we know about are the GenEQ GPS SXBlue,
a Trimble professional system called the 5800 RTK Rover,
and the Socket GP0804-405.
The first two are high-end devices geared towards professional surveyors and the like, leaving us hobbysits with two
to choose from as of the time of this review. We did not test the Socket unit, but it looks surprisingly similar in
shape and size to the Rayming. It looks like it might be a rebranded Rayming unit
(or the Rayming may be a Socket? We're guessing). They are very close in price at around $225.
This unit should work with any software that is compliant with NMEA, which includes the usual suspects like
MS Streets and Maps, and DeLorme Street Atlas. We've come a long ways, baby.
For this review, we chose Destinator3
for the PocketPC.
It is the (quite unscientific) opinion of this reviewer that GPS receivers have become commodity items.
The new ones all seem to do a good job of capturing the satellite signals and figuring out latitude, longitude, and altitude.
This Rayming device is no exception. This review does not pretend to accurately determine the accuracy of the device,
just to demonstrate that it functions "good enough" for everyday street navigation. And that it does.
Donations of top-of-the-line test equipment gladly acccepted :)
Bluetooth is Nice
As all modern GPS receivers should, the Rayming TR-206 uses WAAS correction signals, and it can use up to 12 satellites.
The thing that differentiates the TR-206 from other consumer receivers is its Bluetooth capabilities. Once you've got the
pieces in place, it is remarkably convenient. If you've ever used one of the USB-connected GPS cookies, you'll appreciate
the huge difference it makes to have no wires between the display device and the GPS receiver.
The last thing you want while driving in unfamiliar territory is a couple wires strung between the dashboard and
the laptop sitting on the front seat. Bluetooth even makes it possible for the GPS receiver to sit on the dashboard
while the navigator sits in the backseat! Or gets out of the car to look around, PDA in hand.
HP iPAQ 5550 with built-in Bluetooth
Pocket PC 2003 operating system
Destinator3 for PocketPC
If you're new to Bluetooth, don't worry.
Bluetooth devices have great support for "discovering" each other on the fly.
It's an important part of the Bluetooth spec, and one that helps a great deal when it comes to dealing with devices
that are connected and disconnected frequently.
If it doesn't "just work", then you probably need to get a different Bluetooth device. It's not the drivers,
it's the hardware. If it works for one device, it will probably connect to the next one, too.
This reviewer was new to Bluetooth when he started evaluating this unit,
yet everything went smoothly, much to his prolonged amazement and considerable amusement.
The unit comes with a plug in transformer brick with a power cord. To charge the internal battery, you
simply plug the thing into the wall and plug in to the unit with the attached cord. There is also an included
auto charger. The claimed battery life is six hours. In our tests, the PDA ran out of juice well before the GPS.
The unit is obviously unsuitable for backpacking or wilderness travel.
It would be nice if the unit had removeable, rechargeable batteries so that one could carry an extra battery pack.
Once the unit is charged, you just carry it out into the open or lay it on a dashboard.
Note that there is no external antenna jack, so it must be placed where it can see the sky.
It will begin acquiring a signal whether or not it is hooked up to a computer.
The middle amber light indicates that a signal is being acquired.
Getting the positional data from the Bluetooth cookie to your laptop or PDA is Bluetooth's job.
After installing Destinator navigation software on the PDA, we went to work connecting to the GPS receiver.
(We'll tell you all about the great Destinator software in our next review.
For now, suffice it to say that this great software had no trouble getting positioning data from the TR-206.)
When the GPS unit is turned on, a blue LED flashes slowly, indicating that the device is seeking out a Bluetooth partner.
When a connection is established with another Bluetooth device, the blue LED flashes rapidly.
In our case, we used a PDA with built-in Bluetooth support.
On the PDA, we navigated to the Bluetooth Manager which found the Rayming device by its ID of BT-GPTS-XXXXXX.
The X's refer to the serial number of the Rayming device.
Once the Bluetooth device shows up in the list of Bluetooth devices, you click on the "Connect" menu option
to establish the connection. That's it. After you do that, the navigation software on the PC
(in our case, Destinator) will be able to find the GPS receiver.
Destinator has a handy screen which will show GPS status indicating the current latitude, longitude, altitude and
velocity. If something goes wrong, and Destinator loses the device, there is also a handy button called
"Find GPS" that will help you get things back in order.
If your current laptop doesn't have Bluetooth built in (and few do), there are inexpensive Bluetooth adaptors
on the market. They come in various flavors including some diminutive units that simply plug into a free USB port.
As you'd expect, there are also PC card Bluetooth adaptors.
Once you get hooked on this as a connectivity option, you'll want to make sure that your future laptops and
PDAs incude integrated Bluetooth capabilities.
Buying a new car? The new Toyota Prius has built in Bluetooth systems which may provide interesting integration possibilities.
Theoretically, this same GPS unit could be used with a Bluetooth equipped cell phone I suppose,
although this author is not aware of any commercial applications that exploit that capability.
Happiness is Wireless
Being able to throw the device into your bag, where it takes up very little space is extremely convenient for travel.
If you toss in a Bluetooth equipped PDA, you're all set for navigating in whatever strange town you find yourself.
Hertz NeverLost, you don't need.
We were unable to test for interference problems specifically.
We never encountered any communication problems, although it would be interesting to test this unit in
an RF-rich environment. We also don't know whether or not this unit could be shared among more than
one display device at the same time. If so, that would allow backseat passengers to track their location as well.