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August 23, 2009

i-gotU GPS Tracker Review

Let’s say that you’d like to create some maps and review GPS data from your workouts, but don’t feel like investing in a wrist-mounted or hand-held GPS unit. Or maybe you have a wrist GPS but it seems like you need a math degree to use all the features, or you struggle with the software programs to download your trips to your computer.

If that’s the case, you’d really benefit from something simpler; if that’s the case, you’d love the i-gotU GPS tracker.

i-gotU’s GT 120 GPS tracker, manufactured by Taiwanese company Mobile Action, is an ingenious device that not only tracks your trip, but lets you add geotagged photos (more on that in a second), display your journey in 3D on Google Earth, and upload it to a webpage to share with others. And at roughly $70, it's a very affordable and user-friendly way to create maps of all your adventures. I’ve been using it for running, hiking and biking over the past several weeks, and I have to say it’s a pretty cool little gadget.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much – just a tiny 20-gram box about the size of a 9V battery. There’s a single on/off button, and an outlet for a USB cable. That’s basically it; this is probably the most uncomplicated GPS device you’ll ever see. You press the on button, tuck the device into a pocket, and turn it off when your trip is finished.

The purchase pack also comes with a USB cable and mini CD that loads a software program called @trip onto your computer, and that’s where things get fun.

When you come home from your trip, you connect the i-gotU device to the computer, and trip information is downloaded in a matter of seconds. Speed, distance, and elevation data is plotted onto a Google Earth map, like on this screen grab of my regular Tuesday morning 12-miler:

(click to enlarge)

On the computer, a route tracer (a little car or bike icon) will then trace out your course, even speeding up to reflect increased mph, or slowing to reflect decreases.

You can also upload “geotagged” pictures to your trip, so that photos you take along the way are added to the file at the correct location and time. As the icon tracer approaches each photo spot, the photo pops up on the screen. On a recent bike ride with my son, we took a photo at the top of a long climb, which shows up on the screen like this:

(click to enlarge)

If you click the photo as the tracer is there, an enlarged version shows on the screen. The GT120 is compatible with every digital camera and camera phone on the market today – all you have to do is make sure your camera’s internal time stamp is accurate.

Finally, you can upload the whole file to a website to share with anybody you’d like. Like a Picasa album, your files can be private or public, or you can embed them into your blog. When a visitor goes to the file’s webpage, he can zoom and shift the screen like a Google Earth map, view the geotagged pictures, and adjust the data readings like the graphs in the lower right corner. As an example, I’ve created a file from the Tuesday morning run shown above:

Tuesday morning “Three Bears” run (Follow the link, click on "map view" or "3D view", and wait for the icon to start rolling.)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

Its small size belies the technology packed into the GT120. There’s a built-in GPS patch antenna, and a SiRF Star III low power chipset which allows a super long battery life – up to sixty (that's right: 60; six-oh) hours on a single charge. The whole device is water resistant, so you don’t have to worry about getting caught in the rain or sweating on it excessively.

All of the applications I’ve tried are extremely user-friendly, and I’ve had a lot of fun using this tracker over the past several weeks. There are only a few drawbacks worth mentioning:

* There’s a moderate delay between turning the device on and when it locks onto a satellite. For example, the run map I included above started and finished at the same spot, but the GPS track didn’t pick up for a good half-mile or more. If you give yourself a 3 or 4 minute cushion, you should be fine.

* Since there’s no display, you can’t access data until you get home and plug the device into your computer. On the plus side, this prevents the dreaded “run around the parking lot a couple of times so I can round up to the next tenth-mile” syndrome when you’re staring at the numbers in real time.

* The synchronization of times between GPS device and your personal camera is tricky. For example, in this same screen grab from our bike ride, notice that the photo was taken at the top of the climb, but the tracer location on the profile map at lower right shows the geotag as about a quarter-mile down the other side.

(enlarge, then look at profile line - should be at top of hill)

The GT120 gets its time stamp from the satellites, but since there’s no display on it, you just have to estimate what time to put in your camera. You’ll probably be off by a couple of minutes on your first guess. There's an adjustment button on the @trip screen to dial in the precision of the camera with the GPS tracker, so this glitch is fairly easy to fix.

* In narrow canyons or under heavy tree cover, the signal doesn’t track real precisely, but I’d say it has the same degree of error as a wrist-mounted GPS in similar circumstances.

GPS devices don’t come any simpler than this. The i-gotU GT120 is a very convenient, easily portable, ridiculously easy to use GPS tracker, and a more affordable option than most standard GPS units. It is available from Amazon.com for $69.95, and similarly priced on other websites.

See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you'd like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com


Rick Gaston 8/23/09, 9:01 PM  

That's a pretty neat device and as you say, simple to use. Does it work on a Mac?

Donald 8/23/09, 9:14 PM  

Rick: the system requirements on the webpage specify PC, and I don't see any mention of Mac, so maybe not. I'll ask my contact person and get back with you.

Anne 8/24/09, 11:50 AM  

This sounds perfect for people like me who can't afford anything that starts with the word Garmin right now :-). Thanks for the review and confirming it's a good deal.

Rainmaker 8/25/09, 10:25 PM  

Good writeup! I've been playing with my review unit as well, still working on getting the full hang of it, but you've set a high bar for reviews. :)

bigRahn 8/26/09, 6:49 PM  

I've had one of these for a while, and it's a fun toy.
However, I've had problems with it shutting off and I don't realize it because there's no interface.
Just something to be aware of.

Pete 9/5/09, 7:13 PM  

I also received one of these to review. For a runner, one additional thing you can do is export the .GPX file of your run from @trip and then import this file in a more traditional run-tracking program like Sportracks. That opens a lot more options for data analysis and run tracking.

GPS reviews 9/9/09, 6:19 AM  
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