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A few weeks back, the kind folks at TrackStick.com shipped me a unit to review. At first, I was a bit skeptical about such a device… Can that little stick actually log my every movement? When the FedEx guy finally arrived with the package, I couldn’t wait to put this gadget to the test. I have used other GPS devices in the past, so I knew where to set my expectations. If you are thinking you can use a GPS unit inside of buildings, parking garages, or your house, you will be let down. GPS units require clear sight to the sky, but, don’t worry to much, the TrackStick is a logging system, it takes “samples” at default or user set intervals, so if you are driving in the city, or through a tunnel, the TrackStick will continue to log until it finds the signal again — the data will be flagged if it was not locked on a GPS signal.
The TrackStick is 4.10″ long, 1.20″ wide and a little bit over 3/4″ thick. It is pretty basic looking, it has a single button on the side which allows you to turn the unit on or put into different modes. The casing is black, but translucent, allowing you to see the two LED lights which show you what mode the unit is in and if it has a lock on a satellite. It has a carrying strap attached which is nice if you plan on carrying in your hand or hanging it from something. The bottom part of the unit houses a full-size USB 1.1 connector. So when you are ready to download the data, just pop the cover off, plug it directly into your USB port and start downloading.
The most impressive part of the TrackStick is the software. They really thought about everything. The data can be exported in standard HTML, EXCEL, Google Earth KML (both Pushpins and Fly-Thru), and RTF. So what kind of data does the TrackStick log? Well, pretty much everything you need… Date, Time, Latitude, Longitude, Altitude, Status (Speed, Stopped For XX), Course (N,W,S,E), GPS Fix, and Signal Strength. The included software also allows you to change any settings on the TrackStick and monitor the battery level.
I used it for a few weeks and was quite surprised at how well it worked — better than other GPS units I’ve used. Again, I must stress, that GPS is a bit finicky, you must wait for a GPS lock before the unit will begin logging and getting a signal lock is dependent on many variables… sometimes it can take minutes, other times seconds. That’s the nature of GPS technology, not a issue with the TrackStick. However, the TrackStick was better than expected in the amount of time it took to lock.
So, now you are probably thinking this would be a great tool to track your kids or someone… well, yes and no… it would work, but not 100%. They would need to spend most of their time outdoors for it to really work. Where I find the TrackStick useful is for radio control hobbies like car, boats, and airplanes. You can strap the TrackStick on and get speed and altitude recordings. Also, the TrackStick is great for people that are in the service business. If you are a contractor or custom installer and charge per visit, etc. This would be a great tool to have so you can see how many miles you traveled and how many visits you made to a particular area, all easily logged and managed. If you have employees, you can give them a TrackStick, and monitor their route and speed — it even tells you how long they were stopped at an area for. The only real drawbacks with the TrackStick is that this little bugger loves AAA batteries — I went through four while testing over a few weeks.
I think the TrackStick is a very cool gadget — and it works!. At about $300, it’s a bit pricy, but the small TrackStick, the impressive logging software and Google Earth integration make it worth it. It’s very easy to use, but at times I found myself in areas without good line of sight to the sky (downtown Seattle) which made it useless — functioning like every other GPS device I have used. I would like to see the next version Bluetooth capable, so it can “stream” the data to a Pocket PC Phone, then you can also use it as a full GPS unit, making the cost more reasonable. If you have any questions about the unit feel free to comment, for more information about the TrackStick, visit www.TrackStick.com. I will be trying the unit out again next week as I’m traveling to NYC for a business trip… that should make for an impressive Google Earth Fly-Thru!