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Trimble Outdoors package review 23rd May 2008

Review by Lutz Bendlin

 

Overview
In January this year we met Sonia Bovio and Rich Rudow of Trimble at the annual CES in Las Vegas (yes, I know, it's been a long time since then but I was kept busy by other projects and a cross country move).

 

When you hear the name Trimble the association "granddaddy" comes up immediately - mostly in a positive way since Trimble have been one of the first companies to ever "do" GPS (they have been in the business since 28 years !).

 

But they were also very specialised and expensive, and did not offer consumer products. This has now changed with Trimble Outdoors, a company part that is targeting the active outdoorsy consumers.

 

Sonia and Rich demonstrated their program suite for the Blackberry operating system, consisting of:

  • Trimble AllSport GPS™ fitness training and performance tracking applications
  • Trimble Geocache Navigator™ application for geocaching
  • Trimble Outdoors Silver/Gold/Platinum off-road GPS navigation applications integrated with the
    Trimble Adventure Planner™ mapping, trip planning and sharing PC software

(as well as two combo packs not shown here)

 

I was able to test these components on a loaned Blackberry Curve (pictured to the right) but the package will also run on all other Blackberries that either feature an integrated GPS receiver or have Bluetooth to connect to an external BT GPS. It will also run on the just announced BlackBerry Bold (the one with the 480x320 screen).

 

Given the type of programs we are testing here you will want to think about some form of protection for your device, a plastic bag or a proper Otterbox case, to shield the BlackBerry from the external (rain) and internal (sweat) weather.

 

There were also some discussions about supporting other platforms like Windows Mobile but I haven't heard of any firm dates for that. Since the software is written in Java (J2ME) it should theoretically also run on Jave runtime engines in Pocket PCs. (Geocache Navigator is available for Symbian based phones - free!)

 

(Trimble Outdoors also supports Sprint and Nextel phones, but these platforms are dying out and we won't look at them here)

 

Installation and update of the program can be done over the air, but some BlackBerrys may already come preloaded (mine did).

 

Quick Navigation

Overview

AllSport GPS

Geocache Navigator

Trimble Outdoors

Conclusions

Resources

 

Trimble AllSport GPS Platinum


With Allsport GPS you can:
• Measure distance, time, speed and calories burned
• Record route maps and speed and elevation profiles
• Store statistics in a weekly log
• Automatically upload data to the web for analysis
• Download routes, sessions or maps to your phone
• Race against yourself or others


With the (free) Allsport GPS web application you can:
• Analyse your performance with maps and graphs
• See your training history at a glance on a calendar
• Find activities shared by other users
• Download routes from other users
• View your workouts in Google Earth
• Wirelessly receive data from a GPS phone, or import data from Garmin or Magellan GPS, or enter data manually

 

I tested the program for walking and cycling but you can use it for pretty much any sport you are doing that does not require split second accuracy.

 

Like most consumer products the GPS in the BlackBerry has an update rate of once per second. So you won't want to use it for recording racing cycle laps or similar.

 

Having said this it does work very nicely for the targeted activities. We discussed usability quite a bit when Sonia presented the program, and Trimble have spent a lot of thought on that aspect. The main emphasis of the program is that you should not actually need to use it during your exercise.

 

The only thing that is required is not to forget to press the OK button to start the recording. After that you can put the BlackBerry back into the (protective) case and focus completely on your sport.

 

Once done with your activity you retrieve the device, select "Stop" and let the device automatically upload the completed track to the AllSport website (That is, if you allowed that to happen).

 

Of course you can also mess around with the data during and after the exercise. You can see the track that you have created (either bare or with a street or aerial map overlay), you can see a speed and altitude profile, and you can get other activity related details.

 

The AllsportGPS website itself is pretty straightforward.

 

 

You would normally log in with your cell phone number and a PIN, and then you can list your uploaded activities and routes.

 

Selecting each of the activities will show a Google map as well as the elevation and speed profiles - just like on the BlackBerry. If you want to brag to your friends about it you can share the activity. But sometimes it is better to keep one's activities to oneself.

 

 

You can also prepare new routes, or upload data from external (Garmin) GPS receivers.

 

And finally, you will see a total count of your activities over a selectable amount of time. Sample screenshots are shown below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trimble Geocache Navigator

 

With the Trimble Geocache Navigator application on your GPS-enabled phone you can:
• Connect wirelessly to the world's largest cache database at Geocaching.com
• Select caches to hunt using Quick Search based on your GPS coordinates or using an advanced mode with several search options: Near Address, Near Intersection, In Zip, By Cache Code, and Near Location
• View cache locations on a topographic, street or aerial map
• Navigate to caches using a digital compass or a unique radar-like display on your phone
• Read cache descriptions, hints and other users' logs from your phone to help you find caches
• Mark caches wirelessly from your phone as lost or found

 

Geocaching is not so new any more, but there are still people who haven't done it yet - including me. It is one of these occupations that make you think "why on earth?" until you have tried it the first time.

 

For those two of you who haven't yet heard of it - Geocaching is the sport of finding and hiding things stashed away in caches that you need to locate by coordinates and more or less helpful clues without being watched by muggles (non-Geocachers).

 

Trimble's GeoCache Navigator makes the "trying it out" part very easy. The Quick Cache option allows you to spontaneously search for a cache near you. You will be surprised just how many of them are out there.

 

Data is fetched from the geocaching.com website (so be aware of the connection charges).

 

Conveniently the program will then show you the distance and general direction to the cache. If you get closer you can use the Radar view for the final approach. Alternatively you can download and display a road or terrain map.

 

If you cannot find the cache immediately you can then consult the Details page for hints.

 

Be sure to learn about the geocaching etiquette before you attempt to locate your first one. If you take stuff out of the cache you need to put something else back in.

 

And as already mentioned do not get caught by the so called muggles - those are people who come by and ask "What are you doing here?" and who may interfere with your putting the cache back.

 

Once at the cache site you can record your success story (if you found the cache) or bring the sobering fact to the world and dog that the cache is no longer there (ie it "has been lost").

 

After you have mastered the beginner steps you can then use the many other functions of the Geocache Navigator to search for a multitude of weird and weirder cache variations.

 

Ever wondered what a Project APE cache is? Well, according to Geocaching.com, "In 2001, twelve geocaches were placed in conjunction with 20th Century Fox to support the movie Planet of the Apes. Each cache represented a fictional story in which scientists revealed an Alternative Primate Evolution. These caches were made using specially marked ammo containers. Each cache had an original prop from the movie. Only a few Project A.P.E. caches exist today."

 

It is interesting to see such a "fun" application on a supposedly business device. On the other hand it does make perfect sense - to give the Crackberries something else to do, and force them to actually confront nature every now and then can just be a good thing.

 

As I said before I am not an expert in Geocaching, but I think the Trimble Geocache Navigator covers pretty much all the required functionality to exercise that hobby, and then some.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trimble Outdoors

 

With the Trimble Outdoors application on your GPS phone you can:
• Download maps to your phone
• Navigate using GPS waypoints and digital compass
• Track your routes and create breadcrumb trails
• Create trip journals with location- tagged text, audio, picture and video(*) notes
• Upload your trip journals wirelessly to the web to share with friends and family or view in Google Earth

 

 

Of all the tested packages the Outdoors function was the least exciting for me. Maybe that is a question of how expectations are managed.

 

Don't get me wrong, the program has all the required features that you would expect from an outdoors package.

 

You get a GPS navigator and journaling tool for hiking, backpacking, fishing, hunting, off-road driving and other outdoor activities.

On the TrimbleOutdoors.com web site you can plan trips online and then move that information to the BlackBerry. The trip journals can then be re-uploaded to the site and can be shared online or viewed with Google Earth.

 

But the way this is all implemented leaves me wanting. Map management is cumbersome. Not just that you have to load each map individually (and manually - which is maybe a good thing if you don't have a flat rate data tariff), you also have to select each map type and resolution manually.

 

As you can see the map tile names are also everything but helpful. The aerial maps are of poor quality and seem to be a few decades old. Street maps are relatively current, though.

 

You can create waypoints and routes directly on the device (again, in a rather painful way), and then let the BlackBerry guide you to the waypoints with a digital compass.

 

(*) Contrary to the marketing blurb video capture is not yet supported on the BlackBerry. All you get is the option to record audio notes and to snap stills (if your BlackBerry has a camera, of course).

 

sample aerial map

 

map names

 

relatively current street map

 

same area, aerial map

 

 

 

 


Conclusions

Despite the fact that the Trimble Outdoors package feels a bit pieced together it nevertheless provides a nearly all encompassing suite of functions for the outdoorsy Crackberry. The features of the programs are well thought through, with ease of use having highest priority. The graphical representation comes along as slightly last century but this is largely due to the overall limitations of the BlackBerry operating system and the J2ME programming interface.

 

Pricing is based on a subscription. Each package component costs 40 USD per year, or 6 USD per month (if you want to test them out). If you are using the Trimble Outdoors web site a lot to upload and manage tracks and to download maps then you will need to add the data plan costs to that.

 

Right now the Trimble Outdoor package seems to be the best option if you are a BlackBerry addict and are in need of activity tracking software. It may also help couch potatoes to get out and live healthier. I found the GeoCache Navigator to be the most interesting catalyst for that.

 


 

References

Manufacturers Website www.trimbleoutdoors.com
Pocket GPS Contributor

Lutz Bendlin

 

 

Comments ?

Have any comments about this review ? Post them here.


Miscellaneous screenshots

Here are a few more pictures for each component that didn't fit into the article flow. A short AVI video of the AllSport application is here

 


adding a waypoint as a science project

 

 


Anyone seriously still using NAD27?

 

 




map names are far from useful







too many choices...



... and too many wait cycles ...



for this?









note the A and S for Aerial and Street map






 


Oops, this is a Google Map ...


 


this is a Trimble aerial map


















 


map loading not catching up with route


















































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