Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

i-gotU GT-600 GPS data logger review

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

The last time I reviewed a stand alone GPS data logger it was the GlobalSat DG-100, a functional but not very stylish box for recording GPS tracks.

The new i-gotU GT-600 GPS Travel & Sports Logger from Mobile Action (disclosure: they sent it to me for free) has the same SiRF Star III chipset as the DG-100, but it comes in a smaller and more attractive package.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 01

You’ll want a GPS data logger if you want to record your travel and sports tracks (walking, running, cycling, sailing, etc) and tag your photos with their GPS locations. Recording this GPS information will allow you to examine your route on the computer later on, and see exactly where you were when you took your photos.

i-gotU GT-600 hardware

The GPS measures just 46×41.5x14mm and weighs only 37g. It is made of shiny white plastic, and there is a soft plastic case around it (presumably to protect it if you drop it). Here is what the packaging looks like from the front and back.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 02

And this is what is inside the packaging. You get the GPS data logger, a USB cable, a velcro strap, and a mini install CD. If you have Windows 7 you won’t need the CD – you will have to download the software from their website.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 03

Here is a closer look at the sides of the unit. On one side is the cable connection, and on another there is a hole which you could use to attach a wrist strap.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 04

Here is the underside of the unit, the holes in the casing are there for you to feed the velcro strap through.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 05

The velcro strap allows you to attach the GPS unit to your rucksack, bike, boat, etc. Ideally you should have the unit positioned so that the front faces clear sky. Here is the unit strapped to my bike, ready for a cycle around the city.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 06

i-gotU GT-600 in use

There is only one button on the GT-600. Just hold it for a few seconds and a blue LED (under the plastic) will light up. You then need to wait for 30-60 seconds for it to get a lock on the satellites.

How long it takes depends on how many satellites are above visible from your current location, and also on cloud cover. In ideal circumstances it could get a lock in about 30 seconds. The time will also be reduced if it was on in the last few hours as it will still know the positions of some of the satellites. Once it has a lock then both the red and blue lights will start flashing.

Once it starts recording you can do whatever you want; Walk, run, cycle, sail, and it will log your position every 5 seconds. The unit is water resistant so it should be ok to use in the rain.

Remember to check the unit’s flashing lights regularly to make it is still recording. It can be very annoying if you get home and realise that only half your journey was recorded because a thick cloud or other GPS signal blocker stopped the unit from logging your GPS tracks.

The battery lasts about 30 hours if you log every 5 seconds (longer if you increase the logging interval) and is charged by the same USB cable that you use to transfer the GPS data.

The unit can store 262,000 way points (locations) so if it is logging every 5 seconds this will be enough for 363 hours GPS tracks. More than enough for most adventures!

To make the battery and memory go further it has a motion detector built in. If you are still for a while (perhaps you have stopped for lunch for example) it will stop recording. They claim that this will give you an extra 20% logging time.

Holding the button for a few seconds will turn the unit off. Because the button is easy to press I’d recommend that you don’t keep the unit in your back pocket. If you do you may well accidently turn it off when you sit down, or bend over. Either keep it strapped to your rucksack, bike, or clothing using the strap, or be careful to place it so that the button won’t be pressed. I find it works fine when put in the front pocket of my rucksack. The logging might now be quite as accurate as it would be if it had a view of the clear sky, but it is good enough.

To sync your data to your PC you just plug it in via the USB cable and start up the @trip PC software.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 07

i-gotU software

The i-gotU GT-600 GPS data logger comes with three pieces of software.

  • @trip PC – which is the software you’ll want to use if you want to manage your trips and geotag your photos.
  • Sports Analyzer – which shows your GPS tracks in a view that allows you to easily see average speed, calories burned, and when you did each of your activities.
  • Where I am – which simply shows you where you are now on a map.

I’ve mainly been using @trip PC. After importing the GPS tracks you have the option to create a ‘trip’. A trip can consist of one or more GPS tracks along with the associated photos. If you have synced multiple tracks you can go back and create new trips for the other tracks later on without having to sync again.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 09

You can choose which photos you want to include in the trip. When you’ve chosen them the software can add GPS location information into the image.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 10

After creating the trip you’ll get something a bit like this. It shows you the route you took, and the locations of all your photos. You can ‘play’ the trip and watch a moving icon go along your route. The photos you took will pop up as the icon reaches them.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 12

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 13

You can customise the look of your trip. The view above is the basic view, and the one below is a sporty view which shows a graph of your speed and a few sporty facts about your trip such as total distance, and average speed.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 14

The @trip PC software is easy and quick to use for viewing your tracks and tagging your photos. The main thing it lacks is an sensible way to delete rogue way points (sometime you’ll want to manually clean up your tracks a bit). You can get a list of all way points, but when you have thousands of them it can take several minutes to find the one you want. The software should ideally let you select one or more way points by clicking on them to allow speedy moving or deletion.

In the version of the software I used (2010.06.09) there were some UI annoyances, and other problem such as slow syncing, and unreliable communication with the hardware – on my Windows 7 machine if you have done a sync, you can’t delete the data on the device unless you unplug and replug the device back in – you get a ‘Failed to clear log data. (Error=4)’. But you can work around all these issues.

If you are only interested in sports tracking and aren’t going to geotag any photos you can use the Sports Analyzer software instead. This is a simpler interface which just shows you your tracks along with speed, distance, calories burned etc.

sports analyzer

i-gotU GT-600 advanced configuration

Using the @trip PC software there are some advanced options you can configure. You can set the GPS unit to only record at certain times of the day. And you can set how frequently the unit logs your position.

i gotu gt 600 advanced options

Sharing your trip

If you don’t just want to keep your trip to yourself you can share it with just a few clicks. The @trip PC software can upload your tracks and photos to the @trip server. You have the option of uploading the photos to the @trip server (it will shrink the photos for you), flickr, or Picasa.

Your free @trip account only give you 100mb of space on the @trip server so I’d recommend creating a free Picasa account to your save your @trip account space for the GPS tracks. A Picasa account will give you 1024mb of photo space. Or if you already have a paid flickr account then that will be best as you can store unlimited photos there.

Here is the @trip interface showing some trips that I uploaded (one public, one private).

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 17

Once uploaded to the @trip server you can view the trip in a flat Google Maps view, or by using a 3D Google Earth view – this will be great if you are recording your mountaineering, or hand gliding adventure.

i gotu gt 600 gps data logger 19

Rather than just looking at a static image of my @trip account your can have a look at the real thing showing a trip I made to Naoshima Island in Japan.

There is an option on the @trip server that allows you to embed a trip in your blog, such as I have done below.

Overall verdict of the i-gotU GT-600

This is a good GPS data logger with a long battery life, and large memory. The unit is small, easy to use, and has worked reliably during my two weeks of testing. The software makes it very simple to view your trips on your PC, geotag your photos, and share them all on the internet. I’m just hoping they release a software update to sort out the minor problems and bugs that I found.

Where to buy

If you are in the UK the GT-600 is available from this seller on Amazon, but last time I checked it was slightly cheaper from Maplin.

For more comprehensive information on where to buy the GT-600 around the world see Mobile Action’s – Where To Buy page.

Update: 15th September 2010 – @trip PC suite not loading issue

I started having a problem where @trip PC suite would not load (at all). But Sports Analyzer still loaded. I tracked it down to a corrupt sub folder in this resource directory – C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Mobile Action\atrip\Resource. If you are having this same problem and want to try to track down which folder is corrupt.

  1. Backup the whole resource folder (C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Mobile Action\atrip\Resource) so you can restore it later.
  2. Rename one of the sub folders in this directory and try restarting @trip PC. The corrupt one will probably be one of the ones you’ve edited most recently.
  3. Repeat until you find the corrupt one. You have found the corrupt one when @trip PC starts. However you’ll now see that in @trip PC all the trips belonging to the resource directories that you renamed have disappeared.
  4. Exit @trip PC.
  5. Now restore the whole resource folder from your backup, and then delete the corrupt sub folder.
  6. Restart @trip PC and you should have all your trips back (minus the corrupt one). You’ll have to recreate the corrupt trip if you want it back.

An extra bit of info if you are digging deeper: A list of the sub folders is stored in C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Mobile Action\atrip\Resource\RESOURCE_INFO.INI. When you successfully manage to load @trip PC again it will delete the entries for the folders that you renamed. You need to restore from your backup (point 5 above) so @trip PC knows about the non-corrupt sub folders that you renamed.

Fitting an ADSL faceplate to your BT line box

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

I’m going to talk about how to fit an NTE5 compatible ADSL filtered faceplate to your BT master socket. This will allow you to plug your broadband modem router directly into the BT master line box, rather than having to use an ADSL micro filter.

bt master socket with adsl microfilter

Broadband reliability problems

I’ve previously written about some of my broadband problem in my post about understanding signal to noise ratios, and my post about finding the best WiFi channel with Vistumbler.

These didn’t solve my problems so I decided to buy an ADSL faceplate which fits directly onto the BT master socket. By removing the need for a separate ADSL micro filter the theory is that the broadband signal quality will be improved.

Buying a new NTE5 ADSL faceplate

I ordered the ADSL faceplate from this link on Amazon, and a few days later it arrived. This is what is in the package:

adsl faceplate package contents

  • The NTE5 compatible ADSL faceplate.
  • 2 screws.
  • 2 cable ties.
  • An instruction leaflet from BT explaining how to fit the faceplate, and how to re-wire any telephone extension cabling you have.
  • A piece of paper with some supplementary information.

Here is a close up of the rear of the ADSL faceplate. You can see the plug that will go into the BT test socket on the left, and the connector for any extension cabling is the blue section in the middle.

nte5 adsl faceplate back rear

Fitting the ADSL faceplate

The first thing I had to do was to get the bottom plate off the BT line box. As a previous resident had painted the line box I had to use a Stanley knife to cut the paint. I then used a small screw driver to remove the two screws.

stanley knife screwdriver

This photo shows the bottom plate partially removed from the line box. I don’t have any extension telephone wiring, but if you do it will be attached to this bottom plate, so you’ll have to take care when pulling the bottom plate out.

bt master socket removing bottom plate

Plugging in the NTE5 ADSL faceplate filter is very simple. You can see how the plug on the new faceplate lines up with the test socket in the BT line box.

bt master socket and adsl faceplate

After it is plugged in, your master socket will look like this with a connection for your phone, and a separate connection for the ADSL cable. This ADSL faceplate is designed to be the correct size so it blends in with the BT line box.

bt master socket with adsl faceplate

There is a minor problem with the supplied screws. They need to be longer than the original ones as the new faceplate adds width to the BT line box. But the new screws have a thread size that is completely different to the original screws. You can screw them in, but that will damage the original thread of the line box meaning you won’t be able to properly put the original screws back in if you wanted to go back to using the original faceplate. For this reason I’ve not screwed the new faceplate in yet.

original vs new screws for adsl faceplate

ADSL faceplate review

I’ve been using this ADSL faceplate filter for over a week now. I was impressed with the speed of delivery after ordering from Amazon. It was very easy to install, but I think they should supply screws that match the thread size from the original BT line box.

Before installing the faceplate my signal to noise ratio was an average of 8.6dB / 27dB (downstream / upstream). After installing the faceplate the signal to noise ratio was still an average of 8.6dB / 27dB. So it made no difference to the signal to noise ratio. I therefore think that my low downstream signal to noise ratio is not related to my original faceplate or my original ADSL filter.

However I do believe that it has reduced the frequency of dropped internet connections. I can’t give any definite measurements to support this, but I do feel like I’m resetting my modem router less often now.

In terms of appearance it does look better with the new ADSL faceplate as opposed to having my original BT faceplate with the ADSL microfilter sticking out of it.

bt master socket with adsl faceplate and cables

Do I recommend it? Yes – but it isn’t essential. I don’t think it will perform miracles, but it may improve the quality of your connection, and it will make your BT line box look more modern, tidy, and up to date.

You can buy this ADSL faceplate direct from Amazon.

Samsung N140 netbook real world review

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I’m going to review it based my real world experiences of using it.

The Samsung N140 comes in a fairly compact box. If you are used to buying standard sized laptops then you’ll notice the difference in size and weight of the box straight away.

samsung n140 box

Inside the box is the N140 itself. At the time I bought mine there was a black version and a white version. I went for the black one. The exterior is made of shiny black plastic that soon accumulates smudge marks. When closed you can see the silver trim that goes round the N140. The silver trim is one of the few physical differences between the N140 and the N110.

I got the Windows XP version. If you buy it now then you’ll probably have to buy it with Windows 7. The N140 specs are fairly standard for a netbook. It has 1gb of RAM, 160gb hard drive, a 10-inch screen, and an Intel Atom N270 CPU. The big plus over many similar netbooks is its claimed 9-hour battery life for WinXP (7.5 hours for Windows 7).

samsung n140 netbook closed

Also in the box are the battery, mains adaptor, a DVD, some basic manuals, and a soft zip-up case.

samsung n140 box contents

To get up and running you’ll need to plug the battery in, plug the mains charger in, and then turn it on using the slide switch on the front. The battery does bulge out of the bottom of the case but I have actually found the shape makes the netbook easier to hold when carrying it around, especially when it is in its case.

Setting up the Samsung N140 takes about an hour, as the initialisation process requires multiple reboots. You’ll have to decide how you want to split the 160gb hard disk space between the c: and d: drives (which requires a reboot). I went for a 51gb c: drive and a 91gb d: drive.

It needs another reboot to create a backup image of the initial OS contents onto the hard drive in case a full restore is needed. And I seem to recall that there were a few more reboots that were needed before the N140 was finally ready to use.

When it was finally ready to go I spent another hour or so installing my usual anti-virus and security software (Avast, Spyware Blaster, Rapport).

Samsung N140 Keyboard

I’m used to touch typing on a full sized keyboard and have had no problems touch typing on the N140 keyboard that is 90% of the size of a full keyboard. It is a much larger and more comfortable keyboard than others found in similar sized netbooks.

My only criticisms of the keyboard are that:

  1. The right hand shift key is in the wrong place. It is too far to the right of the keyboard so I find I keep on pressing the ‘\’ instead of shift.
  2. The Home and End keys aren’t dedicated keys. You need to press the function key to use them. I use the Home and End keys all the time so I do find this a bit annoying.

samsung n140 netbook open

Samsung N140 Screen

The screen resolution is 1024×600, the standard for a netbook. The image is sharp and the screen brightness is reasonable – the image doesn’t go as bright as my Sony Vaio but it is good enough for general use and usable outdoors.

One advantage the N140 has over the N110 is that the screen is matte rather than glossy. This vastly reduces the reflections you get in the screen and makes it easier to use the N140 outside.

If you are used to a desktop monitor then you may find the 600-pixel height to be a bit cramped. You may find it useful to turn off the Windows taskbar or learn how to make your applications go full screen. For example Internet Explorer and Firefox can be made full screen by pressing F11 – which makes browsing the web much more pleasant.

The one problem with the screen is that its angle of backward tilt is limited. The angle is fine if you are using the N140 at a desk. However if you are sitting in a chair with the N140 on your lap – as you might well do with a lightweight netbook – then you might find that the screen doesn’t go as far back as you’d like.

samsung n140 screen tilt angle

Battery life

The area where the N140 stands out is its battery life. It has a claimed battery life of 9 hours and I find that when I use it for real (using several applications, WiFi, and with the screen brightness turned up) it certainly lasts at least 6 to 7 hours. If you were to reduce the screen brightness and turn on the power saving mode then I’m sure you’ll get more usage time out of the battery.

The battery is great as you can go out for a day with the N140 without needing the power supply. You can work on it for several hours, and whereas a standard laptop would be running out of juice, the N140 reports that its battery still has plenty left in it.

Weight and size

The weight is reported as being 1.33kg with the battery. Its size is standard for a netbook. I can easily slip it into my rucksack and still have plenty of room left for whatever else I want to carry. The weight is low enough so you can carry it around all day. I’ve even gone hill walking with it on my back!

Other features

The N140 has a built in webcam, microphone, and speakers, which makes this a great device to use with Skype. A headphone and a microphone socket are on the side should you need them.

There are three USB ports, two on the right side and one on the left. Also on the left side is a VGA output and network port.

WiFi and bluetooth are built into the model that I have and I’ve found the WiFi to be very reliable. The button to disable the WiFi and Bluetooth (for airplane usage) is a soft key rather than being a dedicated switch so you’d need to turn the N140 on in order to disable them.

At the front is an SD card slot and finally on the right is a Kensington security slot.

The trackpad is a reasonable size for a netbook like this and is perfectly usable.

I tend to use a wireless mouse myself as I’m not a fan of trackpads – I’ve bought a Trust wireless mini mouse with a micro sized receiver which takes up one of the USB ports. The receiver is small enough that I can put the N140 into its case without having to remove the receiver.

The power supply is compact and works on multiple voltages. I’ve had no problems using it on both 240v UK power supplies and 100v power supplies abroad.

Samsung N140 real world usage

After having used the Samsung N140 regularly for two months here are my findings on how it copes with the kind of computing tasks I do. Please note that I’m basing my findings on an N140 that has been upgraded to 2gb of RAM rather than the 1gb that mine shipped with. In the background I have Avast anti-virus and Spybot Search and Destroy running all the time.

  • Word processing – I’m regularly editing documents using Word 97 with no problems. Currently I’m writing this blog entry and have Firefox and ACDSee running in the background as well. OpenOffice runs fine as well but is slower than Word.
  • Internet – No problems with multi-tabbed browsing in Firefox, Internet Explorer or Chrome. When I’m browsing I’ll often have the Thunderbird email client, a word processor such as Word 97, and the FileZilla FTP client in the background at the same time.
  • Photo editing – ACDSee and PaintShop Pro 5 can happily be running at the same time when I’m editing my photos.
  • iTunes – Syncing with my iPod Touch and downloading new songs or applications from the iTunes store is fast enough, even if I have other apps in the background.
  • Syncing photos from my camera – Syncing photos from my camera is speedy.
  • Videos – Ripping a DVD (using an external DVD drive) at 50% compression takes about 90-120 minutes for a 90 minute film. The VideoLAN player is capable of playing the resulting film on the N140. I’d suggest you: 1) Enable the ‘Increase the priority of the process’ option by going to Tools->Preferences, clicking ‘All’ in the ‘Show settings’ option, and then going to ‘Advanced’. 2) Put the N140 on fast mode. 3) Video is one area where the N140 can’t cope well if multi-tasking with other applications. If you are doing video ripping, or playing then I’d recommend you close down your other applications.

Conclusion

In conclusion the Samsung N140 is a great machine for computing when away from home or if you are happy to have a smaller screen.

The battery life is amongst the best available right now. The combination of screen, keyboard, and good CPU power (for a netbook) make this a very useful device.

I’d recommend upgrading the RAM to 2gb if you intend to run multiple programs at the same time.

I’ve had mine for two months now and when away from home have no regrets about leaving my main laptop behind.


Overheating noisy laptop problem

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Recently my laptop fan has been staying on longer and longer. It was making the laptop sound like a plane almost constantly. As well as the noise my laptop has been getting very hot. And it has been experiencing sudden shutdowns. I could be typing something and then it would shut off with no warning.

If this sounds familiar to you, then like me you probably have an overheating laptop. The sudden shutdowns prevent the laptop heating to dangerous levels.

The most common reason for an overheating laptop is a blocked heat sink. I decided to open the back of mine up to see if the heat sinks were blocked.

laptop fan

After removing the back I was able to see the two fans. Each of them looked dusty but there wasn’t a critical amount of dust in there.

I then removed the fan cover and the cause of the overheating became apparent. The heatsink was completely blocked with dust. This makes it very hard for the fan to blow the heat out of the laptop, leading to it getting hotter and hotter.

blocked heatsink

Some people clean heatsinks with a can of compressed air or a small vacuum cleaner attachment. I didn’t have either so I got a paint brush to brush the dust away.

blocked heatsink

A few minutes later and this is the result.

blocked heatsink - now cleared

The air vents in the heat sink are clear! After turning my laptop back on I was amazed at how quiet it was. I’d forgotten what it was like to use it without the fans constantly spinning around.

GlobalSat DG-100 vs Nokia LD-3W GPS module review

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

For over two months now I’ve been the owner of two different GPS devices, and I’ve had plenty of time to thoroughly use them whilst on my London Underground tube walking project, so I thought it was about time I reviewed them.

Both are headless GPS units – in other words neither have a display. And both are based on the SiRFstar III chipset. This chipset features a 20 channel receiver, meaning that in theory it can lock onto 20 satellites at once. In reality you are unlikely to be in view of more than 10 satellites at any time.

One of the devices is the GlobalSat DG-100 GPS data logger, the other is the Nokia LD-3W bluetooth GPS module.

Nokia LD-3W GPS Module

Nokia LD-3W GPS Module

The first device I bought was the Nokia LD-3W. This is a very small unit, not much larger than a thick keyring. It is one button to turn the device on / off, and a socket to allow it to be charged. On its own this device is completely useless. To use it you need some bluetooth hardware and software to connect to it. I had bought it to use with my Nokia N80 smart phone . Nokia provide some really good free software that can connect to these kind of bluetooth GPS units.

Sports Tracker is an application for Nokia Series 60 (S60) based phones. It is produced by the Nokia Research Center. It will record your GPS tracks as you walk, drive, run or cycle. It has features to store your tracks and if you are into doing laps on a circuit it can keep track of your performance when you exercise. Stored tracks can be exported to your PC for analysis as GPX and KML. Your KML tracks can easily be overlayed onto Google Maps imagery so you can see where you have been. One cool feature is that as you are travelling you can see the track as a line on your phone display (but without a map underneath). You can also see statistics such as your speed, and you can see graphs of the data.

Nokia Sports Tracker S60 application - Track view Nokia Sports Tracker S60 application - Speed vs Distance graph

Nokia Maps is a free application that allows you to browse maps of many of the world’s countries. All the maps are free. They can downloaded on the fly if you have a fast data connection on your phone. This can be very slow so I’d recommend that you use the Nokia map downloader application to put whatever maps you want onto your phone’s memory card. The maps are fairly basic but this is a very useful tool if you are lost. Nokia Maps connects easily via bluetooth to the LD-3W.

Once the GPS signal has been acquired the LD-3W is good at keeping track of it. I’ve found that the unit can keep track of a good signal when the unit is in my rucksack, a car, train and even sometimes indoors. The big problem (which also affects the GlobalSat DG-100) is that it can take a while to acquire the initial signal when you first turn it on. If you try to acquire the signal whilst on the move then it can take ages – I’ve walked around for 10-20 minutes with the GPS units and not got any signal. I’ve found that to get the initial signal you really need to be stationary. What I now do is to place the unit on my window sill for a few minutes before I go out. This trick works well for both units. With the LD-3W you’ll need your bluetooth device nearby to initiate the GPS search.

In the box of the Nokia LD-3W is the GPS module and a car charger. Unfortunately there is no mains charger. It charges using the Nokia mini phone charger. Fortunately this is the same charger that came with my Nokia N80 so I was able to use that.

The box claims that the Nokia LD-W3 has up to 22 hours of operating time and I have no reason to doubt this. The problem is that you won’t be able to use the GPS module for this amount of time with a Nokia phone. Connecting to the GPS module by bluetooth burns the phone battery at a very fast rate. If you use it continuously you will probably get up to three hours of usage before your phone battery is used up. The GPS unit will keep going after this but it is useless without something to connect to it.

GlobalSat DG-100 GPS Data Logger

GlobalSat DG-100 GPS Data Logger

The GlobalSat DG-100 data logger is the second GPS device that I bought. I bought it when I realised that the N80 + LD-3W combination didn’t have enough battery power (the battery problem is with the N80) to be able to record a whole day’s walking route.

The DG-100 is a standalone data logger. When you turn it on it starts recording your positions. When you turn it off it stops. It doesn’t need to connect to any other device to be used. When you’ve done you days walking, running or driving you can connect it to your PC via its built in USB plug. You can then save the tracks in a variety of formats such as GPX and KML.

The supplied software is a bit weird but fortunately someone has written a better piece of software called DGManager that you can use to sync your tracks. DGManager will also allow you to GPS tag any photos that you have taken along your way. Below is an example of a track recorded with the DG-100 and then exported as KML using DGManager. The tracks from the Nokia LD-3W would look the same.


View Larger Map

The unit can be configured to record points at different intervals. It can store up to three different recording settings, which can be selected using a switch on the side. It can store a lot of tracks. The unit claims up to 60,000 waypoints which at the default recording setting of once point every 15 seconds would mean that it could store 250 hours of tracks.

The battery life is up to 30 hours. The unit charges via the USB port. It comes with two rechargeable AA batteries. This is good as it means that you can carry a spare set of standard AA batteries with you if the unit were ever to run out of power whilst you are on the move.

It is hard to find real fault with the DG-100. It is not the most amazing looking piece of kit but that doesn’t matter. The supplied software isn’t great but that doesn’t matter either as someone decided to write their own software – DGManager. It does its job and it does it well. You turn it on and once it has acquired the GPS signal you can leave it and go for a walk, cycle, etc. When you come back your tracks are ready for you on the device. If it has a good signal (i.e. on a clear day) you can even put it in a front pocket or a rucksack and it should still be able to keep the signal – but if you do this I do recommend you check it regularly to make sure it is still tracking.

Conclusion

As I’ve reviewed two different devices and you’d expect me to tell you which is best. The problem is that they both serve different purposes.

If you want a GPS module to allow you to look at maps on your Nokia phone then the Nokia LD-3W is a well suited. If you want to be able to record your tracks as you explore then go for the GlobalSat DG-100.

Sony Cyber-shot W80 digital camera review

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

I’ve been using the Sony Cyber-shot for over two months now, long enough to know what’s good and bad about it.

It is a 7.2 megapixel camera featuring 3 times optical zoom. It has a slightly higher spec than the Sony W55. The extras it has over the W55 are optical stabilisation technology and a microphone. It was about £30 more expensive than the W55 at £140 but I needed a camera with a microphone as I wanted to take some basic videos as well as taking photos.

Sony Cybershot W80 digital camera front

The internal memory is so small that it is not even worth bothering with so you’ll need to budget for a memory stick pro duo card. I got a 4gb card for less that £15 from Amazon’s marketplace.

Before using the camera you’ll need to charge the battery. It charges from an external charger rather than internally which means that if you are travelling you will have to take an extra bit of kit with you. The battery life is very good. I’ve gone out on many a day, taken around 150 photos and some video and the battery still has plenty left in it. Sony say it can take over 300 photos on a single charge.

The quality of the photos are really good for a camera in this price range. You can see reduced sized photos that I’ve taken with this camera at http://www.londonphotoproject.co.uk/blog/. These are all taken with the ‘auto’ setting. There are a variety of different settings for taking photos at night, in snow, at the beach and more. You can also adjust many of the parameters such as ISO, EV and focusing. I haven’t experimented with these as ‘auto’ seems to get the settings right.

The various settings are adjusted with a wheel. I have a slight critisism here, it is very easy for the wheel to get turned without you knowing if you keep the camera in your pocket. It would be good if the wheel could be locked in place.

Sony Cyber-shot W80 digital camera back

It performs well when taking photos at night or in low levels of light, the flash is powerful and adjusts to the light level correctly.

It is not just the quality of photos that matters, the speed at which the camera becomes ready to take photos after being switched on and after taking a photo has been taken is important. This camera is fast at turning on and the turnaround time between taking each photo (shutter lag) is very good too.

I mentioned that one of the reasons for me buying this camera was its video features. If you set the video to ‘fine’ then it will record video at 30fps. The microphone makes a difference as videos with sound are much more engaging than those without sound.

Good points

  1. High quality photos. See some of my day photos and night photos taken with this camera.
  2. Low shutter lag
  3. Video capabilities with microphone

Bad points

  1. External battery charger
  2. Easy to move settings wheel without meaning to when camera is in your pocket.

Overall rating

This camera isn’t perfect but for its price I’m definitely glad I bought it. You can buy it from Amazon here. I’d give it 9/10.

Update January 2011: I wrote this review nearly three years ago, but the Sony W80 is still the camera I use every day. All the photos up to this date on reviewmylife were taken with the W80. I am thinking of getting a better camera at some point in the next year. I’ll again get a compact camera, but perhaps with higher end features. i.e. better zoom, better night photo support, better optical stabilisation. I’ll probably get a Sony again, and if/when I do I’ll review it here.

iPod dissection

Friday, August 10th, 2007

After my first iPod died – a 4th generation 20gb one – I decided to have some fun and see what was in there. There are instructions elsewhere on the web telling you how to dissasemble and put your iPod back together (for battery replacement), but I’m not interested in saving it.

The iPod will die!

Safety first – if you are going to be forcing components open then you should wear protective goggles. Particuarly when opening the hard drive. I found that the actual platter shattered into very sharp pieces.

First up, how to get into the thing. When you look at it you can see that it is a pretty tightly sealed package. There is almost no gap between the white plastic on the front and the silver metal on the back. Using a very thin flat head screw driver to force it open is the way to go. I found that the area at the bottom of the iPod seemed the place to start.

 

Once opened it looks like this. You can see the hard drive dominating the area on the left.

I wanted to get into the hard drive so I pulled it out and removed the protective blue plastic from the outside. The picture on the right is the hard drive to circuit board connector.

  

There are wierd screws in a five point star shape. However you don’t need to remove these to get inside. Just use a screw driver to force the package open. The hard drives internal circuit board was fastened with more five point star screws. I managed to undo some of them but I gave up on the last one and just ripped the circuit board out.

  

I still wasn’t able to see the hard drive platter. This was obviously sealed inside the other two pieces of metal. These were fastened tightly using those five point start screws. To open it I adoped a brute force method.

Warning: You really should be warning safety goggles at this point! Shards of the hard disk platter may fly out!

I inserted a large flat head screwdriver by each of the screws and turned it sharply to force each of the corners open. The result is on the right.

You can see the actual hard disk platter. It is amazingly reflective. Just like a mirror. You can see on the right of the platter where a few pieces broke off when I inserted the screw driver. These pieces are very sharp which is why you need the safety glasses.

 

Not that I had destroyed the hard drive I moved back to the remains of the iPod. I removed the battery.

 

Next to be removed was the display. I found that after it was disconnected various lines would occasionally flash accross the display.

The click wheel mechanics are visible on the left. In the centre I’ve removed the metal cover.

  

There’s not much left now. Left in the case is the headphone connector and on/off switch.

 

Finally all the bits laid out. There are a lot of pieces in iPod. You’ve got to admire those Apple engineers for managing to fit it all in.