Review by Dave Burrows
Reviewing GPS products can sometime be quite a chore. Not all products live up to their name or your expectations, or even to the basic concept of Global Positioning Systems, but when you get products that are not only the top of their class, but go beyond the top of the class, it's a real pleasure to review them!
SysOnChip are quite a relatively new company, formed in 1998 in Korea, they have brought several GPS products to market, one being their SysOnChip GPS CF Plus which we are reviewing here. When you first take a look at this magnificent GPS Receiver, first glances brings to mind a small form factor, and a stylish GPS (not bulky like many). Wait but it even has an antenna ? This is unusual for Compact Flash GPS Cards.
The CF Plus GPS Receiver sports the smallest size for complete mobility and contains a 12 channel all-in-view satellite receiver with low power consumption SiRF IIe/LP chipset.
The SysOnChip CF Plus comes with a quick reference manual in the box. You can purchase a CF to PCMCIA adaptor as an optional accessory if you need to use this in a PCMCIA sleeve or on a laptop or tablet PC. The CF Plus does not come with any external patch antenna, but again you can purchase one as an optional extra, but I'll let you into a little secret! This card, does not need one! It can stand on it's own two feet quite well without the external patch antenna! In-fact, it's blown me away on several occasions, and not only that, it's blown away my perception of where GPS should be in products today. Although the CF Plus does not require an external patch antenna, if you have a heat reflective windscreen, you may want to look at purchasing this as an extra.
The SysOnChip CF Plus is thin, actually, let me retract that comment. It's wafer thin compared with other Compact Flash GPS Receivers on the market today!
I've never seen a GPS card this thin before. SysOnChip have also managed to attach an antenna to this slim card, and not only that, they even offer an external antenna socket which can be seen in the photo above on the left hand side of the CF Plus GPS card.
Many Compact Flash GPS cards look ugly and bulky (I'm not going to name any other companies here), but they just do. The SysOnChip CF GPS Plus Receiver is really what I would have thought technology and design could provide, and it's good to see a company out there taking design seriously and to the next level. The SysOnChip CF Plus really is wafer thin. You will not find many receivers as slim as this!
The form factor of this GPS Receiver is great. The antenna is perfectly positioned and on the top right you have the power on/fix light.
If you'll remember the Emtac Bluetooth GPS Receiver was quite controversial when it hit the market because it had such superb sensitivity that you could use it in your glove box in the car, or even take it inside the house 15ft away from a window and still get an excellent 3D fix with it. Well, I'm not too sure how to put it, but the SysOnChip GPS Receiver now knocks the Emtac BT GPS down to second place! Hopefully that's whet you're appetite a little! As most of you know who follow Pocket GPS on a regular basis, we always back up our facts, and we'll put our money where our mouth is. Testing the SysOnChip CF Plus next to a Emtac/Socket BT GPS, inside, 15ft from a window, the Emtac/Socket BT GPS had a 5 sat fix. Pretty impressive! The SysOnChip CF Plus had a 6 sat fix! Mike is a firm believer that the Emtac BT GPS is one of the better GPS receivers on the market today and I totally agree with him there, but Mike was also surprised how good the SysOnChip CF Plus Receiver was at receiving a strong signal. I have put the SysOnChip CF Plus through several weeks of lengthy and thorough tests, and I must say I really do like this, and it's made me start to think more about Compact Flash GPS Receivers! If you have a CF GPS you will know that many will lose fixes in-car, especially through foliage, I never lost one fix with the SysOnChip CF Plus. Bearing in mind that the receiver does not really have a clear view of the sky being attached to a vent mount, it had no problems whatsoever performing in bringing in a signal to plot where I was on a map without the external patch antenna. TTFF's were very respectable too.
The SysOnChip Compact Flash Plus Antenna comprises of a standard patch antenna which has a magnetic base for attaching to the bodywork of a car.
The antenna also comes with a suction cup foot which is attached to the antenna's cable and allows movement of the suction cup along the cable. This is here to allow you to suction the cable and patch antenna to the windscreen if you're using it inside the car to get optimal GPS signals. This then stops the patch antenna sliding around the dashboard.
With several meters of cable, the end of the antenna terminates in a MMCX connector allowing you to use this both with the SysOnChip CF Plus GPS Receiver, and also many other Compact Flash GPS Receivers.
The optional antenna is not a requirement unless you receive low GPS signals in your vehicle, in which case you may want to use a patch antenna or a re-radiating antenna.
I carried out some extensive battery tests and found that using the CF Plus plugged into a HP iPAQ 2210, set on 50% brightness level and CF Plus enabled and receiving satellite signals, I could run the iPAQ 2210 for around 3 hours dropping my battery power down to a near critical level of 9%. This was with Bluetooth turned off, sound muted and a 512mb SD card inserted into the SD slot.
SiRF Star IIe/LP
||12 Channel parallel satellite tracking
|Hot Time To First Fix (TTFF)
||< 8 seconds
|Warm Time To First Fix (TTFF)
||< 38 seconds
|Cold Time To First Fix (TTFF)
||< 45 seconds
||One built-in basic antenna and an optional external antenna
||NMEA 0183 (GGA, GSA, GSV, RMC, VTG)
||Compact Flash (CF) Type I (Compatible in CF Type II Slots)
||3.3v DC, Low Power Consumption with SiRF Star IIe/LP chipset
||every 1 second
| Operating Temperature
||-10C to 50C
| Maximum Altitude
| Maximum Speed
I have always liked Compact Flash GPS Receivers, but most of them are unsightly and bulky and this is what turns most people away from purchasing these. It's good to see SysOnChip have changed this, and I think a lot of people are going to want to purchase this GPS Receiver. If it's not just down to it's form factor, or size, it's down to how well it brings in GPS signals. At worst this is certainly on par with the Emtac/Socket Bluetooth GPS Receiver. SysOnChip make a number of GPS Receivers for the Pocket PC, we hopefully will be reviewing these over the next few months.
ADDENDUM TO REVIEW - PLEASE NOTE
Since the writing of this review, several people have experienced what they woudl describe as bad lag. Although I cannot confirm any, because nobody has sent me any screenshots or log files from TomTom Navigator 2, I have contacted SysOnChip and they say that an early batch of the cards did have a beta firmware which did experience lag, and this had been fixed in their main production run. Unfortunately these appear to have got out onto eBay and have been purchased. The card we reviewed had a serial number starting with 030626**** and I have had confirmation from others who have purchased the card with serial numbers starting with 0308 have also experienced no problems. As many of you know who follow the website on a daily basis, we wouldn't sell people a dummy, the SysOnChip CF Plus has become my own personal choice of CF GPS which I'm using on a near daily basis when I'm not listening to MP3's being played by my MicroDrive.
If you would like to read more about SiRF XTrac and see the benefits and pitfalls, please read the XTrac Or No XTrac article.