View from Oban Bothy

View from Oban Bothy
Showing posts with label Kit review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kit review. Show all posts

Saturday, 9 August 2014

1st August 2014, SatMap GPS review.


 SatMap Active 10

imageFrom the current SatMap website
Up until recently I’ve used an old Garmin GPS for confirming my location. It was simple, had no frills and worked absolutely fine. Newer types of GPS are just so much more powerful and provide all manner of bells & whistles – often too many to make use of!
In December last year I was encouraged to take advantage of a special deal for members of the LDWA by SatMap, offering their SatMap Active 10, along with full UK mapping at 1:50k, 1:25k and 1:10k, all for £350. The deal included a two Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries, a set of Lithium (non-rechargeable) cells, and a voucher offering a substantial discount off Ordnance Survey mapping.
£350 is a lot of money – but when compared to the competition this appeared to be a good deal. One attraction of the SatMap was the large LCD screen – a relatively large area could be displayed on the screen.
imageThe LDWA SatMap offer: I was expecting all to be hunky-dory.
The SatMap Active 10 arrived very well packaged and it really looked the business. To say I was excited was an understatement! Other than a ‘Quick Start’ type leaflet, no other documentation was provided – not even on CD. I downloaded the manual off the internet and printed it off the 90 odd pages.
Mapping is supplied on two SD cards, one covering the entire South of the UK, t’other was the North.
The advertised spec of this device is seriously impressive: a sensitive receiver, good battery life, easy to use, large colour LCD display, excellent map coverage, etc. I was itching to get out with my new toy and try it in the real outdoors.
I’m still awaiting hunky-dory. Read on:

Issue No1: Failure after 3 hours

Timperley appeared on the South card and before long I was playing outside and having great fun tracking my short walks around the garden….until the display failed. This failure occurred after about 3 hours of use. Failures happen and although I was very disappointed I was quite philosophical about it. I phoned SatMap the following morning and they very promptly sent me a returns label to get the GPS back to them. A couple of days later a brand new GPS arrived and I was a happy bunny once again.
All things considered I felt that SatMap had provided a good service: my unit had failed and after returning it to them they had replaced it promptly and without fuss.
A couple of weeks later I went off to the Lake District for a day’s walking and took the SatMap with me – putting the ‘North’ SD card card in before leaving home. Of course I took my paper map with me – I would NEVER go out without map and compass….apart from anything else their batteries never run out!

Issue No2: SD Card Mapping faulty

I parked the car in Kentmere and headed out to walk the Kentmere Round. I switched on the SatMap to record my route and waited for the maps to appear. Then I waited a bit more. Nothing happened. I messed about but couldn’t bring the maps up, whatever I did. This wasn’t surprising – the ‘North’ SD card was anything but. In fact it was another ‘South’ card.
Another call to SatMap. They asked me to return the SD card and they would re-programme it for me. I did this and within a few days I had the re-programmed card. All was well once again.
SatMap programme the SD cards themselves under licence from OS – they’d programmed  / labelled the card incorrectly. Poor Quality Control, that sort of thing shouldn’t happen – certainly not when you pay this sort of money.
Timperley is very close to the northern boundary of the ‘South’ SD card – and a lot of my walking is in the Peak District and Pennines. Because of the position of the boundary I found I was having to swap SD cards in the field, not a good thing to have to do in poor weather…..or good weather for that matter, it’s VERY easy to drop a tiny SD card and to lose it in the undergrowth. So….

Issue No3: Unusable Discount Voucher

 

SatMap advertise a ‘Central’ UK SD card, again with 1:50k, 1:25k and 1:10k mapping. The coverage of this card would be ideal for me. It covered (from memory) almost as far as the Scottish border to the north, and almost as far south as South Wales. This would dramatically reduce the faffing about with swapping cards whilst out on walks.
I decided to take advantage of the discount voucher from SatMap to buy the Central card. I called SatMap, my discount voucher in hand, but was told that the voucher couldn’t be used to buy that map. WHY?? No sensible answer was forthcoming.
Why on earth offer a discount and then refuse to honour it? I was seriously not impressed.
To their credit, SatMap offered to reprogramme the ‘North’ SD card so that it’s southern boundary was level with the southern border of the Peak District. SatMap told me that there was sufficient space on the SD card to do this, – this made the situation better but not as good as I would have liked. This reprogramming was done at no extra charge. This was okay but not really what I wanted.

Issue No4: Poor battery life and other battery problems

 

The SatMap 10 is a powerful bit of kit – and the processing power gave the batteries quite a hammering, The 16 – 24 hours of battery life advertised was never achieved, anything from 6 – 14 hours was nearer the mark. Not really good enough.
A couple of other problems in the battery & charging department, really down to poor design:
1) The battery is charged via a USB connector. When the charger is connected it turns on the SatMap. However, disconnecting the charger from the SatMap DOESN’T switch it off. On more than a couple of occasions I’ve charged the battery the day before a walk and discovered the next morning that the batteries are flat. I’d disconnected the charger, forgotten the unit was switched on (after all, I’d not switched it on, the charger had!) and after a night sitting on the kitchen table the batteries were once again flat.
2) The battery connector used really isn’t man enough for the job. It’s the type of connector used for inter-PCB connections, designed for a very limited number of connection / disconnection cycles. This is a weak point in the hardware design and the connector WILL fail if used beyond it’s design limit – I’m guessing at 50 cycles max.

Issue No5: VERY slow acquiring satellites and computing position

 

Speed…or lack of speed. My SatMap is very slow in acquiring satellite signals and computing position. It can take up to 25minutes to discover where you are unless the GPS has an absolutely unobstructed view of the sky and is kept stationary.
My Garmin Etrex20 on the other hand is very quick. Today I did a side-by-side test in my back garden: SatMap vs Garmin. The Garmin won, hands down.
Results:
SatMap 10 Plus: 18mins 21secs
Garmin Etrex 20: 1min 14 secs

Issue 6: Insensitive receiver

 

…and this could well be related to the previous problem. The sensitivity of MY SatMap when compared to other identical devices is clearly well down. On a walk with Alan R earlier this year, Alan’s Satmap took not much more than 3 minutes to compute position. Mine took 14 minutes.
I borrowed a SatMap 10 Plus from a friend to do some more controlled comparisons. The results more or less confirmed that my SatMap device (the one on the right) was a poor performer:

SatMap
This initial test was carried out with both receivers on my kitchen table adjacent to a window, not an ideal position to check a satellite receiver’s performance. The photograph above was taken exactly 4 minutes after both devices were switched on together.
The GPS on the left had received data from 7 satellites and had computed it’s position.
The GPS on the right (mine) had detected only one satellite in that time. It took a further 12 minutes (total 16 minutes) for it to compute it’s position, and that was only receiving 5 satellites.
Similar differences in performance were obtained when the same test was carried out in my back garden with an unobstructed view of the sky.
SatMap explained that this difference in performance could be down to the SD card maps – cards with more data slow the device down. My SD cards had 1:10k, 1:25k and 1:50k OS maps for the South of UK, the other device had 1:50k OS for all of UK. I swapped the cards and although there was an improvement in the performance of my SatMap device it wasn’t overly significant.
In May this year I headed off to Scotland for pre-TGO Challenge trip and the actual TGO Challenge itself. I travelled around Glasgow, Fort William, Oban, the Isle of Mull, Kyle of Lochalsh, Plockton, and then to my Challenge start point of Torridon.
I’ve mentioned before that I ALWAYS carry paper maps and a compass, a good job too. 

Issue 7: Map tiles missing from SD Card

 

Out for a bit of a walk around Oban, I switched my SatMap on. I really couldn’t believe that SD card (North) didn’t have Oban on it. I went inland 10 or so miles, same result. In fact there was a huge area of the west coast of Scotland where the 1:10k, 1:25k and 1:50k OS mapping was missing from the card – certainly up as far as Torridon.
Messages on the LDWA discussion forum show that this isn’t an unknown problem.
I contacted SatMap who apologised once again and promised to programme another card that would be thoroughly checked and sent out within a couple of days. As I was moving around and had little idea of where I was going to be from one day to the next, this wasn’t much use so I asked for the SD card to be sent to my home.
A member of their mapping team confirmed that the new SD card had been prepared and ‘thoroughly tested’ a few days later.
Bear in mind that this was the first week of May.
Last week (the first week of August) the card still hadn’t arrived. To be fair to SatMap, I hadn’t chased them – although I really would have expected them to have sent it when they said they would.
I chased them and it was quite clear that a new card hadn’t been prepared when they said it had – they asked me to return the faulty SD card so they could re-programme it.
Two days ago the repaired card arrived – and it seems to be fine. It would take an age to check the coverage is as it should be, it’s a matter of scrolling through the entire area from the north of Scotland down to the Peak District using 1:10k, 1:25k and 1:50k OS. This is simply not practical so I have to trust that SatMap have done the job properly this time.
Other problems I’ve had are relatively minor, but annoying: the LCD screen lacks clarity and is difficult to view in bright sunlight, the manual is poor, I found that the device isn’t particularly intuitive to use – it’s quite complex, the battery cover looks flimsy and likely to fail….
Whilst on this year’s TGO Challenge I spoke to two other SatMap owners – both are looking to sell them. That says a lot.
Another owner, a Challenger, isn’t overly happy with his SatMap. He finds it over-complex and finds it difficult to use. He uses a Garmin Etrex instead. 
On the other hand I know two very satisfied SatMap Active 10 owners.
Amazon have an interesting range of reviews here. It’s clear that a majority of owners are happy with their purchases but well over 30% report significant problems.

Conclusion

On paper the SatMap Active 10 Plus is a superb bit of kit, however the build quality, reliability and general performance are all poor. customer service was initially good although as time went on I felt it was poor.
Once it became clear that I wasn’t able to rely on the SatMap I put my hand in my pocket (again!) and bought the Garmin Etrex 20. If you check around t’interweb it’s possible to buy mapping at sensible prices – take a look at TalkyToaster for example.
The Garmin performs, is reliable and has excellent battery life. I’m afraid the SatMap Active 10 Plus simply isn’t a patch on the Garmin in these departments. I can’t comment on Garmin’s customer service, I haven’t had cause to contact them.
To counter it’s shortcomings the SatMap has a much larger display (and of course mine has 1:10k, 1:25k and 1:50k mapping) than the Etrex 20, and zooming and panning around the map display are both quicker and more responsive on the SatMap.
I feel I’ve made an expensive mistake in buying the SatMap Active 10 Plus – I wish I’d have bought the Etrex20 in the first place. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I would be very interested to receive comments on this review. So please, comment away!