GPS and location-based services aren't always about driving from Point A to Point B. There are plenty of other uses for GPS, from geocaching to hiking, and now a company called Trimble Outdoors is trying to bring that experience to your cell phone. Working in conjunction with Sprint Nextel, the Trimble GPS Pack brings a suite of three applications that lets fitness freaks, geocachers, and outdoor enthusiasts use their compatible cell phone as a navigation device. It's certainly not for everyone, but for its target audience, the programs are quite useful and work well. The Trimble GPS Pack is available on a select number of Sprint Nextel phones (you can check for your phone's compatibility here and costs $6.99 per month.
The Trimble GPS Pack consists of three applications: AllSport GPS, Geocache Navigator, and Trimble Outdoors. AllSport GPS is a program aimed at fitness fanatics, specifically runners, walkers, bikers (road and mountain), skiers, and snowboarders, who want to record their workouts and improve their performance using their phones. It tracks your route, records your distance, time, and pace, and calculates burned calories. You can even view recent sessions and a weekly log from your handset. Alternatively, there's a Web component where you can download your recorded activity and send it over Google Maps and Google Earth, and the site will post your elevation and speed profiles. In addition, there's an option to send new routes to your phone or you can share your workout with others, such as training partners.
Trimble Outdoors is a navigation program for outdoor enthusiasts. With it, you can get maps of your location and track your movements like a breadcrumb trail with the ability to mark waypoints along the way. You also have access to a digital compass that will display your coordinates, speed, and heading. And like AllSport GPS, Trimble Outdoors has a Web site where users can log in and plan future trips and send routes directly to their cell phones. Once you've completed an outing, you can view it on Google Earth or add photographs, video, or audio notes to your trip summary, and share them online with friends.
Finally, we have Geocache Navigator. As its name would suggest, it's an application for geocachers (for the uninitiated, geocaching is like a national treasure hunt of sorts where you use GPS devices to hide and find containers or caches) and connects you to the worldwide geocache database, where you can search for caches around your area. You can also search by specific address, intersection, ZIP code, or cache code. Once you have selected a cache, the program will display a compass on your cell phone and give you the distance to the spot, coordinates, heading, cache description, and other useful information.
I tested the Trimble GPS Pack on the Sanyo SCP-7050 using Sprint service in San Francisco. I had AllSport GPS track my steps as I walked around the city, and from a cold start, it took just under a minute to get a fix on our location. As one would expect, I got the best and most accurate results when I was actually holding the phone in my hand with a clear view of the sky. Now, I'm not really in the habit of holding my phone while walking and it got to be annoying, so I put in my coat pocket. For the most part, the phone and program were still able to collect data, but there were a few occasions when the GPS signal dropped and the recording stopped, and we had to restart the whole thing. I'm also a runner, and I never bring my phone with me, since it's my chance to get away from everything. I would be more inclined to use a wearable GPS device like the Garmin Forerunner than my cell phone and Trimble. That said, I see plenty of people at the gym with their cell phones (please don't even get me started on this topic), so it's a viable solution. And definitely even more so with other activities (e.g., snowboarding, biking) where you'll probably want to carry a cell phone in case of emergencies.
After going on my walk, I logged onto the AllSport Web site and the transfer of information was completely seamless. It was cool to follow my footsteps, although if I were to believe everything I saw, I walk really crooked. I transposed my route onto Google Maps and Google Earth, and it had me walking through buildings, which I'm pretty sure I didn't, so something's going on there. Still, AllSport is very handy and a good fitness tool. I was also able to send routes to the Sanyo 7050 with no problem.
The Geocache Navigator was a neat application to try out. I'm new to the geocache scene, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was fun hunting for treasure. (And who knew there were so many caches near the CNET downtown offices?) I didn't get to take full advantage of Trimble Outdoors due to time constraints. Once again, sending routes to the cell phone was easy. I just logged onto the Trimble Outdoors Web site and chose a hiking trip near San Francisco, and the next time I fired up the application on the Sanyo, the trip automatically downloaded to the mobile. Although I have yet to make the actual hike, the digital compass was able to give me my coordinates and heading as I walked around the city.