Chris Drage finds his way around with the Satmap Active 10 Plus GPS Receiver
When deciding on which GPS receiver to purchase for education use I looked at a range of products which, although seemingly offering price advantages and esoteric features, did not represent the best practical features overall. Then I discovered the Satmap Active 10 Plus (£310 from www.outdoorworld.co.uk).
This is a complete GPS bundle that gives you the hardware, software and route-planning facilities, purpose-built for the great outdoors. What’s more it’s made by a small British company who work with search-and-rescue groups around the country and have a keen understanding of what is required to successfully navigate off-road in British weather conditions!
The Active 10 Plus lends itself to innovative and enquiry based learning opportunities. There are many possibilities and they can be adapted to a school’s and individual student's needs. Here are just a few applications:
- Students could find, display, analyse and manipulate geographic data through navigation and geocaching or perhaps measuring angles and distances and getting students exploring triangulation and direction with the Active 10 on the school grounds (ICT/maths).
- Planning, collecting and recording information about the local community to later analyse and share field work results online (community awareness project).
- Naturally it lends itself to geography field studies – planning, exploring field trips and environment (longitude/latitude, distance, profile), mapping out the school grounds, local area or region. Work with coordinate systems, develop map reading skills, understand profiles and geographical evolution. Using an Active 10 Plus students can begin to understand the importance of map reading and orienteering and developed a firm grasp of grid references. It also proves an excellent addition to the Ordnance Survey ‘free map’ scheme. During bad weather and poor visibility the Active 10 Plus proves an absolute item of safety equipment.
- For history record urban development and how it affects your environment. Research historic buildings and sites. It is a great tool to familiarise students with their local region.
- For environmental studie you can organise projects and long-term studies such as wildlife and river surveys and soil erosion, and you can transect comparisons.
- Biology and history scavenger hunts: investigate plant populations, rock formations and historic sites.
An interesting case study showing how learning was brought to life at Fowey Community College can be found at http://www.satmap.com/education/.
The Satmap Active 10 Plus has a waterproof and shockproof toughened casing (130mm L x 75mm W x 30mm D) with all-weather capability. It offers interchangeable case-backs allowing various power options: AA alkaline or Lithium Polymer rechargeable batteries. It weighs 256gms (including 3 AA batteries). It utilises a 3.5-inch, backlit LCD colour screen for use during the day or night. And the ARM 9 processor and 128Mb Ram memory at the heart of the system ensure a snappy response. Charging is achieved via 240v mains supply, 12v DC vehicle cigarette lighter socket or dual-function USB 2.0 port through which data can also be transferred via a PC.
Add-ons increase the usefulness
The Active 10 Plus has some of the most advanced navigation technology available incorporating: an electronic compass, direction indicator, map orientation and on-board route planning. To enhance its versatility there’s also a range of optional add-ons including: bicycle and car mounts, slimline rechargeable battery pack and replaceable screen covers. Although the Active 10 Plus uses the Microsoft CE operating system, this is largely irrelevant to the user: what is more important is the range of pre-loaded ‘base’ maps: UK OS MiniScale 1:1 million; 1:250k (raster) UK road mapping and a World Map 1:5 million scale so you can get to work immediately.
The package includes a standard carry case, detachable lanyard, USB cable, three Energiser lithium batteries, a lithium polymer battery, wall charger with multi-country adapters and vouchers for 1/3 off the price of 60km² site-centred map (worth £35) and Route Planner and Share Forum (worth £79.99). A Quick User Guide and 57-page online manual complete the package.
The unit has an SD card slot to allow access to Satmap's growing range of UK (Ordnance Survey) and International maps on plug-and-play, pre-programmed SD cards. Central to the functionality of Active 10 Plus’s navigational features are the maps. With dozens of map titles, covering the whole of Great Britain at 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scales, the country has been divided up into logical regions, so you no more having to discover which OS map number you require: simply buy the map of the area in interest. Currently the range of scales and areas includes:
- National Parks (1:25k and 1:50k)
- National Trails (1:25k and 1:50k)
- Regions (1:50k)
- Counties (1:25k or 1:50k)
- International maps
However, I had a specific map requirement beyond this range: I wanted to have a dual-scale map (1:50k /1:25k) of southern England. Fortunately, there is a custom map service available from Satmap giving anyone the chance to create your own unique map. Having my dual-scale SD map meant I was able to zoom out to get a larger overall picture of an area and then zoom into the most detailed view available. This process is so transparent (and nippy!) that I became unaware of the transition between the different scaled maps – which is exactly how it should be.
At 70 per cent brightness the screen is bright enough for use on most days, while at 100 per cent the OS mapping is easy to see even in bright sunlight. The large keys and joy stick are simple to use, even with gloves on, and once you are familiar with the six primary screens – Main Menu, GPS Status, GPS Map, Planning, Compass and Trip Log – using the device becomes intuitive. Things are where you expect them to be and both the keys and joystick are positive and straightforward – you can even select left-handed operation if you need to reverse the position of the commands. Quite simply, the Satmap is genuinely intuitive to use.
During my evaluation the Active 10 Plus proved amazingly accurate partly due to the fact that I tested it on the south coast where the device picked up the European EGNOS GPS enhancement system which brought the accuracy down to just 2 metres. Once the GPS picked up sufficient numbers of satellites (typically seven or more), you're presented with a red dot showing exactly where you are on the map. You can use it pretty much like a normal map complete with its electronic compass or opt to follow a pre-planned route. Anyone familiar with OS maps will find the modus operandi reassuringly familiar. The battery seemed to stay well charged for hours on end. The only item which looked even remotely likely to fail was the USB /power/audio jack cover. This rather fragile rubber cap certainly needs to be beefed up in future models.
Undoubtedly, the jewel in the Active 10 Plus crown for most experienced GPS users, is the built-in route planner. It couldn’t be more straightforward. You pan and zoom the map and click/enter where you wish to add another point on your proposed route. After that you just start walking - no PC’s needed as you can see on the map where you are placing the route points. If you want to download or create routes on the PC beforehand, you can transfer them to the Active 10 Plus using the SatSYNC software from Satmap (free download). The format used is the international GPS gpx.file format, which means that files created in Quo2 etc or downloaded from sites like Geocaching.com can be uploaded from your PC direct to the Active 10 Plus.
Although the screen cover on the Active 10 Plus is made of tough polycarbonate, in the event of it being damaged it is removable so that a replacement can be fitted. You never have to put up with the display being compromised by scratches. Spare packs contain three spare screen covers (£17.01+VAT).
On your bike
The Active 10 Bicycle Mounting kit (£29.99) permits the Active 10 Plus to be fitted to bikes for every sport, from mountain biking to cycle touring. It is comprises of a handlebar mount and a new rear cover plate that has the bike mounting fitting moulded directly on to it, allowing the GPS receiver to be fitted on to the mount without the need for a cradle. The Active 10 Vehicle Mount (£19.99) has been designed for using the Active 10 Plus in motor vehicles and is suitable for any motoring (on or off road) where a digital topographical map is preferred over the more common raster mapping. It is a robust unit with a strong vacuum-type suction cup for glass fitting and can be adjusted and rotated at three different points for maximum visibility and comfort.
A new Slimline Power Bundle (£39.99) includes a smaller Lithium Polymer rechargeable battery comes with a slimmer profile battery back which makes the Active 10 smaller and lighter- perfect for those who take shorter routes and prefer rechargeable batteries. In use it provides six to eight hours in Advanced Power Saving mode. The Slimline Power Bundle includes wall charger, USB cable and car charger.
No, the Satmap Active 10 Plus is not the cheapest GPS receiver on the market. However, it’s accurate and easy to use so that even the most technophobic walkers should have few problems switching the unit on and using it straight away to plan and follow routes. Its intuitive operation, OS mapping and rugged construction make it totally suited to outdoor education users and geography departments. Highly recommended.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 4
The Satmap Active 10 Plus GPS Receiver
Handheld robust GPS device, £310
Satmap Systems Ltd, 4 Fountain House, Cleeve Road, Leatherhead, Surrey, KT22 7LX
Tel: 0845 873 0101
Fax: 0845 873 0104