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Pharos GPS Unit
by Robert Sanborn 

After traveling what seems like a good part of the country with friends and their GPS (Global Positioning System) units, I decided need to try one myself. The good news was that they had several units to use during our travels and after looking over their shoulders for many miles and through many changes, decided that I really didn’t care that much for the units they were using and for many reasons, one being the mapping software that each was using, found them all to be not really up to what I was looking for. So to that end, I started to do some research on my own and look even further especially during the latest Comdex computer show in Las Vegas.  

What I settled on was the Pharos units and having decided also to get a new Bluetooth capable notebook and PDA, decided on the PT300 Unit. You can see it at www.pharosgps.com.  This is the GPS Navigator kit that includes Bluetooth, the Compact Flash (CF) adapter, and the power accessory kit. I was impressed when I opened the box. Everything inside is inside a very nice nylon carrying bag with a lot of pockets and compartments and you will need them, as the kit is a bit overwhelming with all the parts you will need. Now I brought this upon myself because I wanted a GPS system that was flexible.  You really get a lot. First is the GPS receiver unit. The iGPS-360 is one of the better type units to get because it is flexible. You can connect it to a Bluetooth station or a CF adapter in my case to use with either types of systems and in this package you get both. My package also came with the PXT02 spare battery spare battery and charger kit for the Bluetooth docking station. The battery is rated for 6 hours of continuous use so if you are traveling for any length of time, the spare battery will be handy to have and if you are traveling, it also comes with a car adapter that plugs into a splitter type of unit that allows you to charge both the Bluetooth docking station and your PDA at the same time but you had better check the voltage requirements of your PDA first. My Casio happens to be a 5 volt 2 amp device while the PDA sends out 4.2 volts and 300ma.  

Also included in the package is a three foot CF extension cable. If you need to use the CF Adapter with your PDA or want to use it with your notebook, the three foot cable goes between the CF adapter and the GPS unit to allow you to sit the GPS unit on your dashboard. Three other things in the package (besides the software), are a handy nylon belt pack for the GPS, a vent mounted assembly kit for your PDA to keep it handy, and a friction pad that glues to your dashboard to sit the GPS unit on and keep it from sliding around on. 

Installing the package is very straightforward. When you open the CD package, you will find it comes with three map CDs and an installation disc. It also comes with a compact and very usable Users Manual and installation guide that steps you through what you need to install. When you put in the Install CD, it gives you an immediate menu of things to install but I would recommend using the guide in the booklet. You need to make sure your Pocket PC is synchronized with your desktop system first so that any loose ends are taken care of. As mine connects documents and my Outlook files I waited until they were done before starting the CD install. The Ostia Navigation software is first installed to both systems and sailed through just fine. You then install the MapFinder software and again, take the defaults and it installed without a hitch. The selection of the maps you will use with the software is a bit more confusing but you can just point to a spot on the map, and tell it to download into your desktop computer and the Pocket PC by right clicking. At this point, you might just double check your Pocket PC to make sure you have enough space available. Nice thing about the software is it will allow you to extract the maps to any device you have available on your computer. 

My first use of this product will be with an older Casio Cassiopeia Pocket PC that I have had for a while and since it only has a Compact Flash socket, I need to free up memory and use the CF slot for the GPS unit. Once done with that, installing the software on the Desktop system and Casio sailed through just fine. The next snag I ran into was getting the Casio to recognize the GPS properly. When you bring up the Wizard, you have the option of telling it what kind of GPS you are using (I selected the Compact Flash because it was plugged into the CF Slot), and tell it what kind of Pocket PC and I selected Casio. The first time, it froze the system and I had to hit the reset button on the back of the Casio. Back through the process and it looked like it worked just fine but what the Ostia User manual fails to tell you is that you need to look for the red happy face on the row of icons and enable the GPS. A quick call to Pharos and they told me about it. Now, if I had been reading the other paper manual that came with the iGPS unit, I would have seen the instruction under the section talking about creating the route. The next snag I ran into which ended up prompting another call to Pharos was that once the happy face turned Yellow which tells us that the PDA is now talking to the GPS unit, it refused to find any satellites. I even went out on a couple of very cold days holding my PDA against an open sky back ground and it still did not want to tell me where it was. In my tinkering to figure out why it would not connect, the battery finally died (I was out there a while in the cold), and it lost track of which port it was on. A tip from Pharos tells me to reboot the Pocket PC without the Card in, reset the com ports addressed, and then insert the card. She also told me I would probably have the best results if I used that really slick 3 foot extension cord and so with that, I setup the Pocket PC again and low and behold, it was able to connect with a number of satellites. It looks like having the GPS unit itself away from the computer helps as well. From there, I am able to see how well it connected to the various satellites, pin my own current location on the earth via Longitude and Latitude, and altitude and finally plan my own trips.  

At this point, I plugged in the cable again, started up my Casio and prepared for my first trip. Set the Casio into the holder, the GPS on the Dash, fired it up and it worked just great. Put in my address in the Map Finder part of Ostia, and it soon had a signal and prompted me for the turns and directions and took me right where I wanted to go. One of the things Pharos mentions and I agree on is that if you will have your Pocket PC active for any length of time during a trip, you might want to plug it into a power source and use the DC Charging adapter that comes with the kit. I continued to use the Pharos GPS system on my Casio for several more trips and so far have been very pleased with it. In each case, it could find the location I was looking for on its map and did a very good job of finding the address and pointing me to it. A couple of odd things occurred that I suspect is normal. One is that when traveling on a road that is shared, for example, a highway merges with another and is part of it for a distance; it can get confused as to which road you are on and may tell you that you are off course. The other is that when I got very close to an address in a cul de sac, again, it told me I was off course but by then I was nearly on top of the house I was going to. This happened twice to me. Other times, it simply announces you have arrived at your destination. 

You have several options in putting in your destination addresses. One is simply to start entering in the address and through its auto completion feature; you can easily pick your town and or county and get your destination. While doing that, you need to remember that sometimes you have to enter an address in a bit differently than you would write it. For instance, to put in 400 East Main Street, you would start with the 400, then put in Main, and then pick whether it is east or west. Same with streets that have something like a North Drive or a South Drive. Once use to it, it is pretty easy to enter and get your destination set. Another option is to pick an address from the address book on your Pocket PC and I found this to work quite well though you have to tell it whether you are using a business or home address. If you do this, again, it may have a difficult time identifying the address based on how you wrote it. 

I also have a suspicion about the compact flash connection on my Casio as the system has locked up on me a number of times forcing me to hit the reset button.  When this has happened mostly is when the unit looses power and shuts down. Sometimes, it comes back up just where I left off, and sometimes, when I tell it to activate the GPS, it locks up. Again, for road trips, you really should use an external power supply for the pocket pc. One very good reason for that is you don’t have to spend any time after you get your routing setup to worry about whether the PDA will loose power or not and can just concentrate on the driving. Besides, it comes with the package so use it and after I did use it on external power for a couple of trips, it worked just fine. One other thing I liked about the mapping software is that once the route is set, you can then zoom in on the map to give you a comfortable viewing angle to better track the streets and roads you pass as you go. For my Casio, when I want to change maps, I need to uninstall the current one and load a new one only because I use the CF slot for the GPS and so must use internal memory for the maps. If you are PDA has either Bluetooth built in or dual memory slots, you can then have a lot more options for storing information on your unit. In that case, the easiest way to transfer maps between host and PDA would be to use the memory cards and a memory card reader on your computer to make it a quicker process and this is what I did on my iPAQ, With it, I used the Bluetooth to connect to the GPS and the memory slots for maps. 

The iPAQ that I got from HP was the 2210 series and with most Pocket PCs of this type, you have to install everything from scratch. So, I installed the Pharos software on it after connecting it to the computer and setting up Active Sync and the software, like it did on the Casio, installed just fine with no problems at all. The only snags I ran into were setting up the Bluetooth on the iPAQ. While doing it on the Pharos end was pretty easy, I just unplugged the GPS from the CF Adapter I used for the Casio and plugged it into the Bluetooth holder and then hit the power button on it. The snag was on the port settings on the iPAQ. While the GPS was just sitting on the dashboard, the iPAQ kept on loosing connection with it and so it seems over and over, I would have to tell it to connect. Once connected, my red happy face never found the signal. So digging deeper in the material I got, it tells me I need to be sure the serial ports are set right for the GPS and when you get deep enough into the Bluetooth settings on the iPAQ, you find where it sets the ports. It was a guessing game as it says it used port 5 for incoming and port 8 for outgoing communications. I ended up trying both in the software before the GPS happy face finally turned green. Once it did, I took off on another trip and it stayed connected the whole time and very well led me to my destination.  One of the snags I found with the Bluetooth is that if you don’t turn it off on the iPAQ, it can run down the main battery.  

During all this, I ended up reading most of the manuals and you really should because there can be some minor things that will catch you like not finding the right instructions for the happy face. On a more amusing note and in the category of where else am I going to put it, or in other words, really cover your can, the booklet that comes with the unit says not to place the unit in direct sunlight for a long period of time nor near a heating unit.  They also say do not put it on a surface that vibrates. I guess I will just have to take my chances with it on the dashboard of the car. 

Things to quibble about with the software would be the fact you need to load a map before you can tell it where to go. I would kind of hope, once you load a map, it becomes the default. On the Casio, it works ok because the program actually stays in memory all the time running while on the iPAQ, you can close programs. If you do, you must first reload the map.  

My final test with the unit was to plug the CF adapter into the GPS receiver, and then with a PC Card adapter, plugged the CF unit into my notebook computer. Since the notebook was running Windows98, I needed to tell it the GPS was just a “serial port”. With the help of a quick email from Pharos, I got it up and running using Microsoft’s Streets and Trips and was able to follow a journey around town just fine. Streets doesn’t do that good a job using the GPS but it was enough to show me that the Pharos unit is usable on all of my devices. 

I have really enjoyed using the Pharos GPS system both in the Bluetooth system and connected through the CF Adapter. The Bluetooth, once configured, seems to work very well and it is a great feature not having to worry about the cord between the GPS and the Pocket PC. Get a good extended battery for the Pocket PC and you won’t have to worry about the car power adapter either. In fact, anyone in the car can take the PC and check directions, the map, and do other work while connected to the Bluetooth system. The maps are very easy to understand and depending on how much storage you have on your Pocket PC, can download quite a few to it. Finally, one other neat feature was that as I was traveling, I set the distance shown on them map at 1500 feet. When it got close to my intersection to turn, it dropped it down to 200 feet so you can easily see all the features at that intersection especially if there are other streets nearby. With Bluetooth, I simply put the GPS unit out of the way and with its soft rubber feet, it stays where you put it. As easy as it was to use, I think the next Pocket PC you look for should be Bluetooth enabled and this Pharos unit is highly recommended despite the higher price of under $400. It has really made traveling around much easier when heading to locations I am not familiar with.


Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com


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