Both the GISTEQ DPL700 (PhotoTrackr Lite) [see at Amazon.com] and GISTEQ CD111 (PhotoTrackr) [see at Amazon.com] GPS loggers come with powerful Windows software that provides a complete photo geocoding experience, from helping you synchronize your camera time, through geocoding of images, to display in Google Earth or on photo websites such as Flickr and SmugMug. The PhotoTrackr software is "trip aware", and a nice feature of displaying a photo slideshow with accompanying map locations.
The software may take some getting used to as it is complex, and it is highly recommended that the guides and help file provided with the GPS be read and followed before getting started.
The GISTEQ units
are not Mac compatible. UPDATE 2008-08-01: Mac software is now available for download from www.gisteq.com ENDUPDATE
Initial testing shows acceptable GPS sensitivity, and quick location fix time. The GISTEQ DPL700 uses the MTK 32-channel (now called 51-channel) chipset and takes one AA battery. The CD111
uses the Nemerix 16-channel chipset and has a rechargeable battery. Additional comparison tests with other GPSes will be forthcoming. Both units have 4MB of memory, but since they are storing the data in binary form rather than as full text files, they can fit 250,000 records (over twice as many as other units I have tested).
UPDATE 2008-08-01: As of June 16, 2008 the CD111 and CD110BT have the same MTK chipset as the DPL700. The main way to tell new versions from old versions is that the external antenna connector has been removed from the new CD111 and CD110BT. ENDUPDATE
The main advantage of the DPL700 or the CD111 over a unit like the Qstarz BT-Q1000 (which also has the MTK chipset) or the Globalsat DG-100 is that the GISTEQ provides the complete photo geocoding solution, whereas the Qstarz and Globalsat units are only GPS loggers, for them you have to add the entire photo geocoding aspect yourself using additional software.
In this review I will mainly focus on the DPL700, although I also have the CD111 for comparison.
The DPL700 is the latest model from GISTEQ, with a form factor almost identical to the Sony GPS-CS1, a cylinder with a carbiner loop built into the top. Like the GPS-CS1, it takes a single AA battery. Interestingly, although it is branded as "PhotoTracker Lite" on the GISTEQ website, it just says PhotoTracker DPL700 on the packaging. I got mine in Canada from Expansys.ca
This is the second model of GPS logger from GISTEQ, the earlier one, also called PhotoTrackr (model CD111 or CD110BT if it has Bluetooth), has a small oblong form-factor similar to the Qstarz BT-Q1000. (I describe the GISTEQ PhotoTrackr CD111 as reminding me of a type 1 phaser.) In addition to the chipsets, the main other differences between the two models are mainly in extra functionality in the original PhotoTrackr: the original has a rechargeable battery (charges over USB), an antenna connector and a rather unusual feature, which is that it reports status (and time if you want) using an audio voice. It will report its status with messages like "Satellite Positioning", which is a good way to freak out people sitting next to you. Also the CD111 has significantly longer battery life - its lithium-ion battery is rated to last 32 hours in continuous use, versus 14 hours for the single AA battery that the DPL700 takes.
Minor note: Although the official spelling is GiSTEQ, I will just use GISTEQ throughout.
Image: The orange/yellow PhotoTrackr Lite with carbiner and USB cable attached on the left, black CD111 PhotoTrackr on the right.
Here's the packaging it comes in:
The idea is that you will hang it on the outside of a bag using the attachment, but personally I always just put the GPS in an inside pocket of my bag. I'm not sure how people will react to you walking around with an orange or white cylinder that has flashing LEDs.
There are numerous subtle differences between the DPL700 and the GPS-CS1:
- The Sony device exposes its files by acting like a USB memory key. The GISTEQ using a USB serial interface that talks to its PhotoTrackr software.
- The USB interface on the bottom of the Sony is nicely covered with a rubberized shield - the GISTEQ USB interface is exposed. If you were e.g. whitewater rafting this might be an issue.
- The Sony shows signal being acquired by the speed at which it flashes its green GPS LED - you have to watch quite closely to tell the difference between "searching for satellites" and "position lock acquired". The GISTEQ has a separate LED that flashes red while signal is being acquired, then switches over to another LED that flashes green, making it much easier to tell when you have acquired a position fix.
- The GISTEQ is slightly smaller and has a tight channel in the top
which I guess is supposed to be for the carabiner. In fact it's a puzzling bit of industrial design, the small tightly angled circular channel on top of the DPL700 is not large enough for the carabiner that is provided, the channel is simply too small.Sony provided a detachable plastic strap connected to a carabiner, but I never trusted the plastic connector. However, the Sony provides a generous loop of plastic at the top of the GPS, so you could connect almost any kind of strap or carabiner. After considerable reflection, I decided that one is expected to use the metal ring in the provided carbiner strap to go through the top of the PhotoTrackr, and "carabiner-enable" it that way (as shown in the image at the top of this posting).
- The GISTEQ DPL700 uses the MTK 32-channel (now called 51-channel) chipset. The Sony uses a 12-channel chipset (presumably SIRFstarII). What this means in practice is that the GiSTEQ should be much better at acquiring a good signal in challenging locations like skyscraper city downtowns.
Here are the units together (Sony is white, GiSTEQ is orange):
I have tried both the Sony and the PhotoTrackr attached with a carabiner to a belt loop, but I find it fairly annoying as it bangs against your leg as you walk, YMMV.
Both models of the PhotoTrackr share the same software and drivers. The software is the most elaborate I have seen for a GPS logger, it is like a space-shuttle cockpit compared to the very simple software that comes with the Sony.
Image: GISTEQ PhotoTrackr Program
It is designed to walk you end-to-end through the photo geocoding process - no extra software is required. It uses Windows .NET 2.0, which may add some extra installs and updates to the basic software installation process. The software is also called PhotoTrackr, so I will refer to it as the "PhotoTrackr Program". The current version of the PhotoTrackr Program is 2.1, it is available for download from the GISTEQ website (version 2.0 came with this unit). The software requires an activation code, which is provided on the envelope of the mini-CD that comes with the unit.
To get started, as with every other GPS logger except the Sony, you have to install a custom serial-to-USB driver.
The serial port aspect may cause some confusion, as it requires the use of COM ports, but the software was good at just finding the device on the right COM port.
The initial program complexity may I think prove a bit intimidating for the casual user. For example, the very first step presented by the software is to sign up for a Google Maps API key. While it does automatically get the API key once it is generated, the process may be a bit mysterious to new users. If you generate the key incorrectly (wrong website), the maps functionality in the software won't work. You must generate the key for http://maps.gisteq.com for it to work inside the program. That means of course your maps display is up-to-date, as it is pulling the map down live over the Internet. It is a fully embedded Google Maps page within the application, showing a line for the track, as well as any waypoints you set (you can set a waypoint by briefly pressing the power button, the first LED will flash orange briefly to indicate a waypoint.)
SIDEBAR: You can regenerate a key within the software, but it's rather a rather roundabout process - go to Trip Records, right click on a record, select Export Google Map Webpage, enter the correct URL, and click "Get My Key" (NOTE: This is a bit of a hack, as this function is intended for you to generate keys for your own website.) You can also just go to http://code.google.com/apis/maps/signup.html to get a key. You may have to exit and re-start the software before an updated key works (in Logger Settings->Software - Google Map API Key). END SIDEBAR
There is also no way to access the help file within the application itself, you have to know to go and open the separately-provided help file.
There is also an error in the Lite setup documentation which says to wait for a red light for an initial fix in step 2, perhaps due to the fact that on the GISTEQ PhotoTrackr original, a light flashes RED when you have a GPS satellite fix, while on this model, the GISTEQ PhotoTrackr DPL700 "lite", a light flashes GREEN when you have a fix.
The next step you are supposed to follow within the software is to sync your camera with the GPS (UTC time). I gather it wants to talk to the GPS to get this time in order to get an exact match (I'm not sure why, when accurate time can be obtained over the Internet). It is great that they included this step, because a lot of people find the time issue confusing (GPS works on near-UTC time, it doesn't matter what timezone you're in, the GPS is always set to UTC). However the time it proposed for my camera is not UTC, it's my local time. I don't see how this is going to work if one crosses timezones during a trip. You have to set your camera manually, it won't send the time to the camera somehow, it just shows you the time to set.
SIDEBAR: I know this can be a confusing issue for some. GPS time is zone-less, the GPS has a single fixed universal time worldwide. It's close to, but a few seconds different from, universal time (UTC). (See my posting about time for more details.) So at a very basic level, a GPS logger without any additional software can't synchronize with a particular timezone, as the GPS has no concept of timezones. In order to avoid this issue, I typically set my camera to GPS time. GiSTEQ has chosen to set your camera to your local timezone instead, which I believe will cause problems if you travel and take photos in many different timezones. END SIDEBAR
The next powerful-but-confusing element is that GISTEQ has the concept of multiple users for a single GPS. The user has to be switched on the computer, there is no way to do so on the device itself. I can see this is conceptually useful for a family sharing a GPS to be able to keep separate sets of tracks, but it adds an extra layer - there are already test users configured, so you have to set up your own users before you can start recording tracks - if you just turned the device on without setting up the users, I don't know what account your position will show up as. I think the users are purely identified by number - it doesn't seem to have a multiple device concept. This doesn't work very well for me, where I have one user (me) but two GISTEQ devices.
Since the assignment of users appears to be local-software-based, rather than stored on the device, there are lots of scenarios to consider: in a typical desktop + laptop one, both installations of the PhotoTrackr Program will have to have the same users assigned to the same "Driver IDs". In the case of a complete software reinstall, you will have to rebuilt the user table (hopefully you kept records of it).
The interface starts you off in "Photo Management" mode, which is a complete photo trip interface.
When you select "Add Images" you get a standard Windows browser, then it will go immediately to "Add GPS Info to Photos", then various stages of processing as it geocodes the images, then a map with photos indicated (by placemarks unfortunately, not by thumbnails).
Image: Screenshot of adding images, with map of already-processed information in the background
It doesn't read rotation information, although in version 2.1 of the Program it now allows you to rotate photos. Even after you rotate the photo, it doesn't update the live placemark display with the rotated image.
A very nice feature is that the map is indeed live - if you move a placemark, it will ask if you want to update the location information for the photo. This is very useful when the GPS data got the photo close, but not exactly in the location where the photo was taken.
Another feature is the slideshow, which displays the images and their descriptions along with a synchronized map - a great "photo tour".
It is also a single click to export the track and photos to Google Earth. Rotated images are displayed rotated, although with an incorrect aspect ratio. It does not, however, generate a time-based track, which would be a good option or new feature.
You can upload photos from within the software to your choice of geocoded-photo-aware services (Flickr, locr, Picasa Web Album and SmugMug), and it understands how to authorise itself to e.g. Flickr.
For Flickr it wants to select an Album, "no album" doesn't appear to be a choice. Also there is no way to set any tags.
The geocoded location is of course uploaded and read by Flickr. Once upload is complete it offers the option to automatically start your web browser, open to your Flickr photos page (it won't open on the specific photo, if you've only uploaded one).
Here's the image I uploaded (I added the tags within Flickr after the upload).
Overall PhotoTrackr is a very impressive system, providing a combination of hardware and software specifically designed for photo geocoding.
UPDATE 2007-12-19: The more I work with the GiSTEQ software and hardware, the more impressed I am. When you select Trip Records->Download Trip Record it will give you an interface to connect to a COM port (it tries to select the correct one) and then download the entire contents of the logger. There is no way to do a partial download. It will suggest you delete all the files after the download is complete. I believe one of the main reasons it wants you to clear the logger is that it doesn't de-duplicate the resulting downloaded tracks - it will keep creating duplicate Trip Records every time you download the same data.
It does separate the "trips" very well though, it breaks them into sections of continuous logging, so e.g. if you took one track in the morning, then switched off the device, and then took a second track in the afternoon, it will display them as two separate trips. It's actually even better than that, because both the DPL700 and CD111 have motion sensors, so if you're just standing still (or the logger is motionless, anyway) no data are recorded. This is a really nice feature for people like me who forget to turn their loggers off when e.g. sitting at a cafe for lunch. GISTEQ calls this "Smart Power Management with built-in vibration sensor".
Once you have downloaded the tracks, it brings up a very nice trip playback interface - you can select a track and it will play back position and speed, showing a green dot moving on a Google Map. Very cool. You can also select a particular data point and it will display the date, time, position and speed.
When you switch back to the Photo Management interface, this functionality is still available through the Trip Records section in the lower right of the display. As well, right-clicking on a trip in this interface brings up a menu with various options, including exporting to NMEA, GPX, or Google Earth, as well as exporting an entire Google Map webpage.
I compared tracks from four different units:
- CD111 - yellow track - logging every 15s
- DPL700 - white track - logging every 15s
- Qstarz BT-Q1000 - magenta track - logging every 10s
- Sony GPS-CS1 - orange track - logging every 15s
The results are about what you would expect. The Q1000 and DPL700 have very good and similar tracks, which is not surprising since they have the same chipset. I would say for this trip, the Q1000 was very slightly better. The CD111 does fairly well. The Sony, with the least-sensitive chipset, has the most problems.
As you can see, as soon as I go between or even near high buildings they all start to lose their fix. (I'm in a bus going down the streets, so it should be a smooth line going up the right side of the street, then a sharp turn 90 degrees, then another sharp turn 90 degrees and continuing up straight). I've put this image in the Creative Commons so you should be able to download it if you want a closer look. I will be doing further comparisons with more tracks at a future date. END UPDATE
UPDATE 2008-01-14: Until there is Mac compatibility for the DPL700, Mac users may want to check out the AMOD AGL3080. END UPDATE
Addendum: I want to thank Semsons.com for exceptional customer service in re-shipping a CD111 that UPS had failed to deliver. Semsons truly is committed to customer satisfaction, something that is all too rare in this day and age.