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Globalsat BR-355 SiRF III GPS receiver review Date 22nd October 2005

Review by Mike Barrett

 

Just over 2 years ago I reviewed the Globalsat BR-305 and was blown away with its performance. Since then GPS technology has moved on a lot and now we have much more sensitive GPS receivers.

 

Sometime ago Globalsat released the well received BT-338 SiRF III bluetooth GPS, they have now followed that up with two SiRF III mouse receivers. This review looks at the BR-355 a GPS mouse receiver with a PS2 connector. I spent a week driving around New England in the USA testing the performance of this new GPS receiver.

 

The Globalsat BR-355 including PDA interface cable retails at £76.38 including VAT. Thanks to EasyDevices for providing the review sample.

 

Quick Navigation

Overview

What's in the box

Specifications

Compatibility

Review

Conclusion

Resources

Overview

The BR-355 is a GPS mouse style receiver constructed around the SiRFstar III GPS chipset. This is the latest and most sensitive of the GPS chipsets designed specifically for pulling in the weakest signals to provide the most accurate position with the available data.

 

I have been testing it using an iPAQ connector and my trusty old HP 4700 PDA. Over the period of a month or so I was only able to use it for reasonably short journeys, so I looked forward to using it as my primary navigation system for a week long trip to New England.

 

In this extensive test the GPS was put through some of the toughest conditions that it could ever go through. How did it perform? Read on and find out...

The Globalsat BR-355 GPS

What's in the box

The Globalsat BR-355 comes without any connectors other than the PS2 connector. Therefore you will need a PS2 adapter suited to your PDA.

 

There is also a CD with some utilities on it to diagnose any problems you may have with your setup.

 

Globalsat provide a wide range of adapter cables for PDAs. These provide power to the GPS and the PDA simultaneously, they also send the data from the GPS to the PDA as well.

 

You will also need some type of mount to position your PDA in the car. This is not supplied as part of the package, but the retailer that you purchase the GPS from should have a good selection of mounts and holders to choose from.

Globalsat BR-355 GPS

 

Manufacturers Specifications

The following specifications have been taken from the Globalsat website:

 

Features:
1. SiRF Star III High Performance GPS chipset
2. High sensitivity (Tracking Sensitivity: -159 dBm)
3. Extremely fast TTFF (Time To First Fix) at low signal level
4. Support NMEA 0183 data protocol
5. Built-in SuperCap to reserve system data for rapid satellite acquisition
6. Built-in patch antenna.
7. Super-cohesive magnetic for mounting on the car
8. RS232 interface connection port.
9. Waterproof and non-slip on the bottom.
10. LED indicator for GPS fix or not fix.
       LED OFF: Receiver switch off
       LED ON: No fix, signal searching
       LED Flashing: Position fixed
11. WAAS ENGOS is supported.
Specification:
Chipset: SiRF Star III
Frequency: L1, 1575.42 MHz
C/A code: 1.023 MHz chip rate
Channels: 20 channel all-in-view tracking
Sensitivity: -159 dBm
Accuracy Position: 10 meters, 2D RMS
5 meters, 2D RMS, WAAS enabled
Velocity: 0.1 m/s
Time: 1us synchronized to GPS time
Datum
Default: WGS-84Acquisition
Time
Reacquisition: 0.1 sec., average
Hot start: 1 sec., average
Warm start: 38 sec., average
Cold start: 42 sec., average
Dynamic Conditions
Altitude: 18,000 meters (60,000 feet) max
Velocity: 515 meters /second (1000 knots) max
Acceleration: Less than 4g
Jerk: 20m/sec 3
Power
Main power input: 4.5V ~ 6.5V DC input
Power consumption: 80mA
Protocol Electrical level: TTL level,
Output voltage level: 0V~2.85V
Baud rate: 4,800 bps
Output message: NMEA 0183 GGA, GSA, GSV, RMC, VTG, GLL
Physical Characteristics
Dimension: 53mm diameter, 19.2mm height
Cable length: 1.5 meters
Operating temperature: -40C to +85C

 

Compatibility

The Globalsat BR-355 is a GPS receiver with a standard PS2 connector. There are many different PDA connectors, and these can be catered for using special adapter cables that provide both power to the PDA and data from the GPS.

 

I used an HP iPAQ 4700 adapter cable set for this review. Consult your local Globalsat supplier for a complete list of the current compatible devices.

 

The Globalsat BR-355 review

There isn't too much to say about the Globalsat BR-355 GPS. It is a stylishly designed, shaped like a flying saucer. It has that futuristic look to it that just says "I am the latest and greatest..."

 

Strangely Globalsat have no visible branding on the GPS receiver. It just has the letters GPS on it. Indeed there is no Globalsat name on the device at all.

 

Hidden underneath the receiver is a magnet which is strong enough to keep the GPS receiver in place no matter how hard the car turns. This can be used outside the car if required as the cable is long enough for the receiver to be placed on the car roof. Mine actually sits firmly on a small metal speaker housing on the dash. Checkout the picture of Henry the hedgehog below...

 

As with all mouse receivers it needs to be powered to work. The power comes from the cigarette lighter adapter, and not through the PDA. So don't expect to be able to use the GPS outside the vehicle.

 

The GPS receiver has a single red LED on it. This provides visual feedback regarding the status of the GPS fix. If the LED is not lit then there is no power reaching the receiver. If the LED is solid red then there is no fix. Finally if the LED is flashing red then the GPS has a fix and is ready for position reporting.

 

Globalsat have done a good job with the selection of the LED. It is not so bright that it is distracting at night time, but it is bright enough to be seen in the strongest sunlight.

 

Technically the BR-355 GPS receiver has the latest SiRFstarIII chipset integrated into the electronics. This has been proven in tests to be the best and most sensitive GPS chipset available to date. It can pull in a GPS satellite fix in some pretty adverse conditions, and is so much more advanced than the SiRFstarII chipsets as my testing proved.

 

As with most GPS receivers available today the BR-355 supports WAAS or SBAS. This gives additional accuracy if you have sight of one of these Differential satellites.

 

The in use

As mentioned above I had been using the Globalsat BR-355 GPS for a few weeks but only managed to do some short tests. I really needed to put it through its paces and give it a thorough and extensive test. I needed urban canyons, tunnels, leafy overhangs, double deck bridges and all sorts of adverse testing environments. I found all of this and more on a trip to Boston USA.

 

In fact it turned out to be one of the toughest tests imaginable. After flying across the Atlantic and picking up the hire car the first thing I always do is start the GPS while I am packing the cases into the car. As we got a convertible there was even less room in the trunk (sorry boot) than usual. By the time our luggage was packed away the BR-355 had a strong satellite fix.

 

Next thing was locating our hotel. I was using TomTom Navigator software with the complete USA Maps, and had already marked the hotel so was able to select it and start driving. After 2 minutes I hit my first little problem. Boston is approaching the end of a project called the "Big Dig" this re-routes and submerges the main motorway passing through the city. Well GPS doesn't work underground as we all know but fortunately TomTom indicated which turn to take next.

 

There were a few breaks in the tunnels where there was a view of the sky for a couple of hundred yards. This was more than enough for the BR-355 to re-acquire a fix, update my position and for the navigation application to issue the next instruction. I thought that I would have had serious problems navigating underground, but the sensitivity of the GPS and the programming in TomTom made it reasonably painless. In fact it was mapping errors that caused more issues than signal reception.

 

Driving around Downtown Boston was a breeze. There was one occasion in the pouring rain, in a partially covered road, surrounded by skyscrapers where the position was reported in a parallel road, but that was soon corrected, and could have been caused by a map error as much as weak signals. Though it was probably a combination of both.

 

Leaving Boston we did a 6 day tour of New England in the rain. Of course we managed to pick the worst year for leaf colour and weather possible. We were in the USA for 8 days and it rained for 7 of them. As we left Boston we drove on the lower deck of a double level bridge. This was my first experience of this type of bridge and GPS. Not surprisingly the BR-355 had a good signal throughout the 2 miles or so of the bridge. That was not true for my TomTom GO 700 which lost the fix soon after entering the bridge, and didn't get it back until we came out into the open again. This really highlighted the difference between SiRFII and SiRFIII.

 

Driving through the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont was a breeze, there were no reception problems even when driving through "tree tunnels" in the rain.

 

Our next problems came on the last day when we visited Salem. I parked in a multistory car park. Now normally you would not expect the GPS to work in one of these car parks, but amazingly the Globalsat BR-355 managed to grab a fix most of the time driving round the car park. Obviously some electronic witchcraft going on here.

 

One of the problems that can be evident with GPS which I have seen on some SiRFIII receivers is that if the receiver is left powered, but there is no view of the sky then when the GPS can see signals again it doesn't get a fix. This did not occur with the BR-355 each night we were in Boston the car was parked in an underground garage and always had a quick fix as soon as it came out into the city streets again. This was not so with a couple of other SiRF III GPS devices we were testing.

 

In fact the only problem I have encountered is a human error when Mrs Barrett knocked the power connector out of the 4 way adapter, and I didn't realise it. It took me a while to work out what had happened as the other equipment plugged into the adapter was still working.

 

Back home I have my PDA mounted on the dash using a Brodit Mount. This provides a solid platform for my navigation system. The GPS itself is firmly attached to a metal speaker cover by it's magnetic base. This is of course protected by Henry the Hedgehog.

 

The BR-355 is a WAAS receiver capable of providing more accurate position information to your navigation software. Although the supplied diagnostic application has a checkbox to enable WAAS it doesn't seem to actually do it. The only way I have been able to enable WAAS on other devices is by using SiRF Demo, and you need to connect to a PC to to that.

Globalsat br-355 GPS

Testing the BR-355 under a covered bridge

 

We visited Maptech to get some of the latest Topo Maps

 

Long and wet: The roads of Vermont

Henry with Globalsat BR-355

Henry the hedgehog guarding the GPS

Globalsat BR-355 with Brodit Mount

The BR-355 in action using Maptech 1:250,000 Topo maps of the Boston area.

Conclusions

Once again I find myself trying to find fault in a device that seems to be just about perfect. The Globalsat BR-355 ticks all the boxes for me. Other than receiving a GPS signal where GPS cannot reach there is little that can be done to improve it.

 

I enthused about the original BR-305 but the new BR-355 seems to have moved up another level.

 

If you want a GPS mouse receiver it will be difficult to find one that is better then the Globalsat BR-355. I am so taken with this receiver that I am going to permanently wire it into my Toyota Supra as the primary navigation system.

 

The only drawback with the BR-355, which is shared by all the mouse GPS devices, is that it is transferable between vehicles, but it not portable. This means that you can take it on holiday in your rental car, but cannot use it when hiking.

 

I would like to see the diagnostic software improved this should allow you to configure the GPS, and to view diagnostics in both NMEA and SiRF modes. The current application doesn't seem to have been improved since 2003.

 

Pros

  • Incredible sensitivity
  • TTFF fast
  • Stylish
  • Reliable

Cons

  • Lacking SiRF configuration utility for the PDA

 

Review equipment provided by EasyDevices.co.uk

References

Manufacturers Website www.globalsat.com.tw www.globalsat.co.uk
Suppliers Website www.easydevices.co.uk
Pocket GPS Contributor

Mike Barrett

 

 

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