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Reviews

Columbus V-900 Multifunction GPS Data Logger

By Legacy December 15, 2008, 12:11 am

I've reviewed several Bluetooth GPS devices here at pocketnow.com over the last year. Though each device has its own unique features, I've recently been introduced to a GPS device that takes some significant steps to distinguish itself from the rest of the field. Read on to learn more about the Columbus V-900.

WHAT'S HOT

Key features:

  • Simultaneous navigation and data logging

  • microSD card for storage

  • Geotagging software

  • Voice note recording

  • Audible and visual feedback

SETUP

Setting up the Columbus V-900 follows the normal procedure for pairing a Bluetooth device and mapping a serial port from the device to a COM port on a mobile phone or computer.

POCKETNOW VIDEO OF THE DAY

Using the included Time Album software requires installing a Java runtime on your computer (which makes the software compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms). Other included trial software runs a typical Windows installer package for setup.

PRODUCT FEATURES

The Columbus V-900 packs a number of useful features into a well-designed and attractive package.

The V-900 includes the GPS device, car charger, USB cable, carrying case, lanyard, a wall charger, and software CD. Some resellers may also include a microSD card. Charging the GPS can be done by plugging it into the wall charger. Alternatively, you can plug into a computer's USB port, or the USB cable can be plugged into the car adapter for charging while on the road. When fully charged, the power indicator LED will change from red (charging) to green (fully charged).

The car charger provides a standard USB jack, making it convenient for charging not only the V-900, but any device that recharges through a USB port.

Along the bottom of the device is a microSD card slot. If you want the GPS to log your travels, you can insert a microSD card and a record of your position will be recorded to a CSV file. A new file is started each time you turn on the device. If you insert or remove the card when the device is powered on, the device will emit a series of beeps to let you know the card has been recognized or it is no longer available.

Pressing the power button on the top of the device (top, left in the photo) for two seconds will turn on the GPS. If you're trying to do this while driving, the GPS conveniently emits two quick beeps to let you know it's turned on. (A long single beep is used to indicate the device has been turned off.)

Once the device is turned on, it will acquire a GPS signal in roughly 40 seconds for a cold start or 1 second for a hot start. The satellite icon will remain on during acquisition and flash when a signal has been acquired.

If present, the device will immediately begin logging your position to the microSD memory card. The top indicator, which is a pen icon, glows orange when the device is logging data. Pressing the point-of-interest (POI) button (with the flag icon) will log your current location to the memory card and the device will beep to confirm your position has been recorded. When reviewing your travel, any recorded locations can be highlighted on your path.

The Bluetooth icon will flash when it's ready to be connected to a mobile phone or laptop computer. Once a connection has been established, the icon will remain blue. When software running on your phone or computer begins to pull GPS information from the V-900, the device will emit two ascending beeps to let you know the connection is active. When your software disconnects from the device, two descending beeps will emit from the device.

Though it may seem like a trivial feature, the audible feedback conveniently allows you to focus your eyes on your phone (or even better — on the road) without the need to check back with the device to see its status. This means it can be placed in a vehicle anywhere within earshot even if you can't see it. If you leave the device plugged into a power outlet in your car, its auto-on/off feature will put the device to sleep and manage its Bluetooth connection appropriately so it's always ready for you to use.

In addition to using the position button to log your current position, you can also press and hold the voice note button to record audio to the microSD card. Releasing the button stops recording and a WAV file is saved to the memory card. A microphone on the top of the device records the audio. Again, a convenient beep lets you know the audio was recorded. When reviewing your travel log, voice notes will appear with a special tag, so you can review comments that might be associated with a particular place you were visiting.

Transferring information from the microSD card to another device is done by removing the card and inserting it into the other device. The included Time Album software can then be used to read the logged data and voice notes.

Time Album also allows you to configure your V-900's data logging rate, speed alerts, etc. Setting a speed alert will cause the V-900 to begin beeping when its travel speed exceeds the alert setting. The spy mode timer will force the V-900 to quietly sleep until the specified timer interval elapses. When the device automatically wakes up, it will acquire a GPS signal, log tracking information for eight seconds, and go back to sleep. Running in spy mode, the V-900 battery can run for up to 30 days.

Time Album will save the device configuration settings to a text file. The device is configured by copying the configuration file to the microSD card and inserting it into the GPS. Importing photos into Time Album allows you to geotag your photos using the current tracking data that's loaded into Time Album.

Tracks can also be exported in KMZ format and later imported into Google Earth.

Provided software also includes Opanda IExif and a trial version of Opanda PowerExif Professional. These applications allow you to directly edit the EXIF data in image files. (The EXIF data contains information such as the device used to capture the image and the GPS location information that indicates where the image was captured.)

Trial versions of Visual GPS for Windows XP and Windows Mobile are also included on the CD. These tools allow you to monitor GPS information in its raw format, providing real-time latitude and longitude information, etc.

HELP SUPPORT

Columbus does have a website, but there does not appear to be an English language version. Fortunately, the manual provided with the device is thorough and explains how to use the device well.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Most Bluetooth GPS devices are typically used with a laptop or mobile phone, but it is possible to make use of the V-900 without a portable device and you don't really even need a Bluetooth-capable device. You could simply use this device to log position information for later use geotagging photos, or as a very basic voice recorder. You could also use the speed limit warning feature without the need for another mobile device. However, most users will probably use this device with a Bluetooth-capable laptop or mobile phone.

The Time Album application requires a Java runtime environment and roughly 1 MB of disk space. Opanda IExif requires 3.7 MB of disk space and the trial version of PowerExif requires 3.6 MB of disk space. Visual GPS requires 6.5 MB of disk space.

BUGS AND WISHES

After using the microSD card for data logging, the V-900 has made me aware of a number of additional features that could be added to a mobile GPS device.

The Columbus V-900 supports the Bluetooth Serial Port Profile for transferring GPS location information. However, if the device also supported the Bluetooth File Transfer Profile, you could use the microSD card for generic data storage as well. This would allow you to update the configuration using your mobile phone or you could pull data log information from the V-900 to a laptop or mobile phone without the need to remove the microSD card.

Similarly, the USB connection only charges the GPS. I would like to see the V-900 recognized by Windows as a USB Mass Storage Device when a microSD card is present and assign it a drive letter. Again, this would allow me to leave the microSD card in the GPS, but still download the data log and voice notes from the device.

Using a configuration file on the microSD card seems a novel way to configure the device. Direct communication with the device through a USB connection or automatically creating the configuration file through one of the two means mentioned above would be much simpler.

The voice note feature is a unique addition to a Bluetooth GPS device. It works well, but it does require you to speak clearly and directly into the microphone. I believe recording quality could be improved with a better microphone.

PURCHASING

The Columbus V-900 can be purchased through online resellers, such as Amazon.com, for $99.95.

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