Thursday, November 1, 2007

GPS freedom with the Freedom mini-GPS


By James Booth

When GPS comes to mind, most of us think of an electronic navigation device with a screen and buttons that can be mounted to the dash or windshield of our vehicle. Basically, something like the Garmin and Delphi units previously covered. Some may even be familiar with the mouse-sized USB GPS receivers that can be paired to a laptop. Not so anymore though. Now, GPS is as close as your keychain.

With the Freedom mini-GPS keychain in Figure A, Proporta has released the smallest, self-powered, self-contained GPS receiver this writer has ever seen.


Proporta's Freedom mini-GPS keychain. (click for larger image)

The size of a remote key-fob, the Freedom mini-GPS is a SiRF Star III, twenty-channel "All In View" tracking, NMEA compliant GPS receiver. Communicating via Bluetooth, the Freedom mini will work with any Bluetooth-enabled PDA, smartphone, Blackberry, UMPC (Ultra-Mobile Personal Computer) such as the OQO and Samsung Q1, as well as PCs.

Typical of most Bluetooth devices, the Freedom mini-GPS has a range of roughly thirty feet. It's powered by a 450mAh lithium polymer battery offering in the neighborhood of nine hours of operation. If idle, the device will go into low-power mode to save energy. Although the Freedom mini has a mini-USB port, which is used for charging at home or in the car, its communication is still done entirely via Bluetooth.

The Freedom mini doesn't come with any mapping or navigation software, but is designed to work with any GPS-compliant software available on your platform of choice. Nor is there any onboard memory for recording routes traveled. But again, there is software for your device that will do this for you.

How is it?

At just 30 grams, or one ounce, Proporta's Freedom mini-GPS keychain is currently the smallest self-contained, self-powered GPS receiver on the market. And because it's the size of a key-fob, there's no problem with always taking it along. You always have your keys, right?

If it's so small, how well can it trap a signal, you ask? Very well. Impressively well, in fact.

You'd think something that small would need to be right up on the dash for an unobstructed signal. Nothing could be further from the truth. It works perfectly well hanging from the keychain while your key is in the ignition. It works while in your pocket, your purse, or your briefcase. It even works inside the house.

The larger GPS devices I've previously tested couldn't do that. Heck, they were doing good to acquire a satellite lock just standing in the yard. Their reception was poor to the point that I wondered if an external antenna was going to be necessary.