British Columbia recently enacted a law requiring all drivers to use a hands free device for talking on the phone while driving. At the time there was a big rush for bluetooth devices and I decided that if I was going to buy one it should have a GPS attached to it.
I ended up getting the Garmin 765T for around $250. I’d love to say that I did hours of research to pick out the best device, but honestly it was on sale at Costco which also meant that I could return it easily if I didn’t like it. So far it’s worked reasonably well. The bluetooth speakerphone isn’t as clear as the dedicated Parrot bluetooth unit that we installed in my wife’s car, but then her system cost $400 installed and doesn’t do GPS.
The idea of using GPS for travel may be a little controverisal as it changes the whole dynamic of “getting there”. After all, pulling out the paper map, plotting your own course, and getting a little lost on the way can be a big part of the fun. And of course there are all of the stories of GPS use gone comically and horribly wrong.
Even if you are a fan of using a paper map, GPS may be a useful tool to recover with if you get very very lost. You should consider always carrying a paper map as well as your GPS just in case the GPS stops working. I think getting lost may be a strong possibility when driving around Tuscany, even though my wife is a usually great navigator.
I’m also looking forward to geotagging. I can geotag my photos by synchronizing the clock on my cameras with the GPS device. The GPS will track where I’ve been and I can use some free software to cross reference the time of my photos to the GPS trace and add the co-ordinates to the jpegs. I think some cameras may be able to communicate directly with a GPS unit via a USB connection, but neither my Canon T1i or S90 are capable of it.
In addition to helping me to geotag my photos, the Garmin 765T will also allow me to do sort of a reverse geotag. I can upload a geotagged photo to my device and it will actually lead me to where the photo was taken. I’m planning to check Flickr and Google for a few must see sights to test out that feature.
The first step to set up my GPS for the Italy trip was to purchase the European map set. My Canadian purchased unit came with North American maps only. I could understand why the device might not have every map in the world pre-installed, but I assumed that the map data would be free to download. I was wrong. I was $150 wrong. I struggled with this for a quite awhile. If it were under $50 it would have been a no brainer. In the end I decided that having the maps should make geotagging easier. I’m guessing that they aren’t strictly required as the GPS would still record my co-ordinates trace without a detailed map, but having the maps will mean that I can be sure that the coordinates are accurate and it will make it easier to do the reverse geotagging.
I’m looking forward to testing this gadget out in the field but there are a couple of things that I’m worried about.
First off is the fact that there is no way to turn off the screen while leaving the unit on. This will be a major drain on the battery if I decide to leave the unit on for geotagging. The battery is rated for between 3 to 7 hours depending on configuration. I’ve never seen a device live up to the rated battery life. We’ll see how long it lasts with bluetooth turned off and the screen set to minimum brightness.
The second concern that I have is the fact that I’ve read that Garmin units only save timestamp information in their “active log”. Saved logs can’t be used to geotag, but from what I understand the active log does hold a lot of data. I’m still doing some research on this but I think that getting some hands on experience will be best. I’m planning to do some test geotagging prior to my trip and I’ll write a separate how-to post soon.
Update 18 April 2010: Part 1 of the geotagging how-to is up! http://averagetraveller.com/how-to-geotag-photos-with-easygps-part-1/585/
Update 29 April 2010: Further testing to make sure that my Italy maps were installed properly, as well as seeing how far the Nuvi will go for donuts!