Garmin eTrex GPS
I have to admit I am a little bit of a gadget freak. I do love fancy little electronic gizmos, particularly if they are well designed and have a useful purpose - whether or not I really need the gadget for that purpose is irrelevant! One of my favourite gadgets is my Garmin Etrex Global Positioning System.
If you don't know what a Global Positioning System is or how it works then I recommend the Howstuffworks website which explains it well.
I bought the unit when I was on holiday in Chicago a couple of years back. I didn't really have a specific use in mind for it when I bought it, it's just another good fun gadet. Having said that, if you can be bothered to spend the time to work out how to use it properly it is a really amazingly handy gadget. When out cycling or driving - even in familiar surroundings - it can be very useful for finding shortcuts and for working out estimated time of arrival.
- Bicycle clamp to attach it to handlebars. The genuine article is £10, but I can't see another way to do this!
- Combined cigar-lighter / serial port lead from Garmin. The genuine lead is about £25, whereas the power lead and PC lead are about £20 each when bought seperately. With the lead I connect the GPS to my laptop and use a neat piece of shareware called GPS Utility to upload waypoints and to project my current position on a map on the laptop screen.
- GPS Signal Booster. About £60 from Maplin. The Garmin Etrex doesn't have the facility to plug in an external aerial. The internal aerial on it is quite small. It doesn't always work brilliantly well inside a car (especially one with small windows like Lucy-Jo, my old Land-Rover). It works acceptably well, but you have to put the gadget where it can "see" out of the windows. I don't like to leave it obviously on display, so I bought a GPS signal booster - which is an little device which receives a signal from a small external aerial, amplifies it and re-transmits the signal inside the vehicle from another little aerial. With this, any GPS works really well inside the car provided it is within a couple of feet of the booster transmitting aerial. Another advantage of using a signal booster as opposed to using a plug-in aerial is that you don't need to bother plugging and unplugging things from the GPS unit. You can just grab the handheld GPS unit and hop out of the car with it. When you get back into the car you can just chuck the unit on the dash and it carries on working as if it was still outside and able to see the sky. The recieving aerial is about 50mm square and 10mm thick. The re-radiating antenna is about the size and shape of a small pencil.
I have tried a few different pieces of software to enable my GPS and my PC to talk to one-another. My favourite is GPS-U which is shareware. I like it a lot, so I have registered my copy.
Another piece of GPS software I've tried is GPSS. This is an all-singing-all-dancing piece of software. It talks to you and you can set it up so that it is voice activated. To be honest though, I didn't find it as easy to use as GPS-U.
Microsoft AutoRoute is quite good. My main reservation with this software is that the maps don't have anything approaching the level of detail of an Ordnance Survey Map. Some of the old versions of Autoroute don't update the displayed position as often as one would like (this fault can be rectified with a hack to the software code though).