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 Pretec Compact Flash GPS Card Review

15th September 2002

 Review by Dave Burrows

 http://www.pretec.com

  

Introduction

The Pretec Compact Flash GPS Card isn't a new card on the block, but Pretec is a name that is respected across mobile devices and mobile storage solutions so we thought it would be a good idea to see if we could get a review copy.

 

Pretec currently offer the CF GPS Card and the CF GPS LP Card (latter being Low Power Consumption).  We could only get our hands on the normal power consumption card for this review.

 

Although the Pretec card is a CF Type I card it is about 1cm longer than a standard CF card which means the head or antenna in the Pretec extends well past the top of the Pocket PC causing a gap.  We suspect the Pretec was created like this to make sure it gives enough clearance in most laptops, but does make the GPS card look unsightly when coupled with the Pocket PC, and also gives it a weakness if it were to drop from a windscreen mount.  The Pretec card does fit easily into a CF card socket or sleeve, or into a PCMCIA card adapter.

 

Initial Findings and Installation Problems

Before opening the box there's a large white sticker plastered over the box that says "If you experience any problems with the Pretec Installation CD you can download the latest GPSDEMO.EXE & Quick Installation Guide from the following. ftp://coneguest:@ftp.c1tech.com.tw/FAE_Support"   Needless to say I tried the CD, the installation instructions are in PDF format and no paper ones (apart from a couple of screen shots), and these PDF files were corrupted.  The GPS Demo executable to test the card on the Pocket PC was also corrupted.  I tried downloading from the site suggested, but at about 1 byte every 60 seconds on a 4mb internet connection, it kept timing out.  In the end I located a copy of each at the US Pretec.com site.  I'm not entirely sure why they suggest you use c1tech.com.tw, but it certainly didn't work in this case, which might foil the average user!

 

The Pretec comes bundled with AutoRoute 2002/Pocket Streets, Portable Guide (a US mapping program) and also TomTom City Maps.

 

Already having TomTom Navigator software I decided to test the Pretec with my current software work horse, and without having to install any Pretec or third party drivers all I had to do was insert the card, load TomTom Navigator, select the Pretec CF GPS Card and it entered it's acquisition mode, so I probably didn't require the manuals anyway.

 

 

 

 

Pretec CF GPS Card

iPAQ, Pretec CF GPS Card inserted

into a Dual PC Card sleeve and

attached to an Arkon CM656

Multimedia and Windscreen

mount.

 

Pretec CF GPS Card in action

attempting it's first acquisition

 

GPS Testing

In the initial preview I tested the Pretec on my iPAQ 3850 with a Dual PC Card Sleeve on an Arkon CM656 Multimedia mount, but have since switched to a Compact Flash Card Sleeve using an SD card in the iPAQ 3850 as the storage to support the mapping products and this works very well.  One thing Pretec have forgotten about and that's a cradle to let your Pocket PC sit in.  Without this, you will be looking at the extra cost of a cradle mount either windscreen or air vent and this will

 increase the total cost by another 30-50 depending on the mount you buy.

 

Average time to TTFF on a cold start (8+ hours) is approx 33 seconds, the Pretec card does have problems with signal, the built in antenna does not seem quite as powerful as say the Navman GPS 3000 sleeve antenna, and you do find the signal strength fluctuating, sometimes it will be receiving as many satellite fixes as the Navman, and other times it will be 2-3 less.  Because of this, you do lose signal quite quickly when going under light tree cover, but the Pretec has a good re-acquisition time at around 3 seconds, so this really isn't too much of a problem, just a minor nuisance.

 

I've been running both the Navman GPS 3000 sleeve and the Pretec card side by side in the car now for about three weeks, and running various applications on both units to compare them.  In most, I've found voice navigation is slightly off, probably due to the lower satellite fixes on the Pretec with the built in antenna, and this is probably one of the reasons why Pretec are also offering a magnetic antenna as an optional extra for this unit.  They did forget one thing though, and most people would probably want to fix this to the dashboard, and most dashboards are plastic, and there's no double sided sticky tape which is a shame, but you can pick some up at your local stationary store.  The Pretec does come with a belt wallet which is a welcomed edition!

 

I must say that the Pretec has been a dream to use.  I regularly get strange occurrences on the Navman GPS 3000 where it won't acquire a fix, or sometimes has lost fix and won't re-acquire, the Pretec hasn't had any of these problems under testing.

 

Drivers

What drivers am I using ?  I've been using the drivers (1.36) from TomTom, with Navigator and these work perfectly.  I've also used the built in Destinator drivers too, and again had no problems.

 

Cosmetics

The unit has been an utter dream to use, and if it weren't for the cosmetics (the ugly gap between the CF Card and the antenna), and the extra height it adds to the Pocket PC, I would probably retire my trusty Navman for this unit.  This is how much faith I've managed to put in it over the past week's of testing.

 

From now on I will be running at least two Pocket GPS units permanently in car, which will give me added testing abilities of comparing GPS maps and software.

 

You'll see from the photo below the extra size the Pretec GPS adds to the Pocket PC compared to the new TomTom Navigator GPS receiver.  If you have the space and also want to be able to take it with you walking or even use it in a laptop then the Pretec CF GPS Receiver is probably for you.  Most of the new GPS Receivers hitting the market are now external square block receivers which really isn't a portable solution. 

 

One thing also to note is that Pretec have just brought out a newer CF GPS Card that I mentioned at the beginning of the review called the Pretec LP (LP stands for Low Power Consumption).  In the testing I didn't find the Pretec drain any more power than any regular GPS Receiver.  Most GPS Receivers are heavy on the Pocket PC battery, and are best powered from constant car battery power, so the LP version could be a good move forward in technology.

 

Casio E125 with Pretec CF GPS Receiver and an iPAQ 3850 with TomTom Navigator

 

Pretec Antenna

For the past two weeks I've been spending quality time testing the Pretec extra add-on Pretec Antenna for the Pretec GPS Card, and I must say I'm impressed. 

 

The antenna itself is a small square block of a couple of inches in length/width and is attached to a 16ft cable which allows you to put this antenna virtually anywhere in the car!  The signal strength I have been receiving on the Pretec CF GPS Card has increased by around 2 sats since using the external antenna, and it's only sitting on the dashboard and not on the exterior of the car in any way.  This actually brings the Pretec card on par now with the Navman GPS 3000 in terms of signal strength and in most cases it excels the Navman for signal strength and reliability. 

 

You do however still lose signal sometimes going through heavy tree coverage, but in most cases I've found the Navman losing signal strength before the Pretec, and as the Navman has a slower re-acquisition time of around 5-7 mins whilst driving, the Pretec also excelled with it's 3 sec re-acquisition time providing unparalleled driving ability allowing me to concentrate more on the road than on the Pocket PC.

 

If Pretec had taken the initiative to include the external antenna and also a cheap to moderate universal windscreen mount and cradle, then I would have no problem in recommending this unit to our readers.  Because of this, it does lose marks somewhat.  If you have a universal mount then it really is a good GPS setup and as you can see will fit easily into most universal mounts.

 

The only thing I dislike about the antenna is the plug on the end of the antenna lead that plugs into a socket on the side of the Pretec card, is a push in one, which is great for quick access, but it's quite hard to pull out, and sometimes is difficult to unplug the cable from the GPS card due to having nothing to grip onto except for the lead.  This suggests to me that wear and tear could set in over a period of time with daily use of plugging in and unplugging the antenna, but the antenna cost won't break the bankat around 30.

 

Pretec Compact Flash GPS Card comes bundled with AutoRoute 2002 (for residents in Europe) or Street and Trips 2002 (for residents in US) and Portable Guide.

 

Technical Details

 

Features:

  • CompactFlash form factor, CFA Compliant

  • OEM product development is fully supported

  • Twelve parallel satellite tracking channels for fast acquisition and reacquisition

  • Support for true NMEA-0183 v2.2 data protocol

  • Enhanced algorithms provide superior navigation performance in urban canyon and foliage environments.

  • Maximum navigation accuracy achievable with the Standard Positioning Service (SPS)

  • Enhanced TIFF upon power-up when in a keep-alive power condition before start-up

  • Meets rigid shock and vibration requirements

  • Automatic altitude hold mode from three-dimensional to two-dimensional navigation

  • Automatic cold start acquisition process

  • Built-in Antenna

  • Power saving mode with trickle power

  • LED indication for navigation update

  • Data retention with Li-Ion battery inside

  • Reversed straight MMCX subminiature, snap-on, coaxial RF jack receptacle

Dimensions:

  • CompactFlash Type I (Main Body):  36.4mm(L) x 42.8mm(W) x 3.3mm(H)

  • Type I card plus Extender:  85.2mm(L) x 42.8mm(W) x 15.78mm(H)

Reacquisition:

  • Hot Start: 8 sec, average

  • Warm Start: 45 sec, average

  • Cold Start: 60sec, average

Protocols:

  • SiRF binary serial I/O messages or NMEA-0183 serial I/O messages

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I thought I'd never see

and that's an iPAQ with a Dual PC

Card Sleeve hanging from a car

Windscreen!  This is a heavy setup! 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

Manufacturers Website

http://www.pretec.com

Pocket GPS Reviewer

Dave Burrows

Pocket GPS Reviewer Website

Dave Burrows.com

Rating

 

Durability

Windscreen Suction Mount Strength

Not Supplied

Air Vent Mount Strength

Not Supplied

Car Power Cable Quality

Not Supplied

Overall Rating 80%

How did we achieve these ratings ?

Review Ratings

 

Comments ?

Have any comments about this review ?  Post them here.

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