Designed to get youth away from their video games and into the great outdoors, the Geomate.jr is like the Easy-Bake Oven of handheld GPS devices. It is a simple handheld device that distills the GPS experience down to its core function, telling you where to go, and adds a fun goal for youth to focus upon: geocaching.
Geocaching is sort of a game of hide-and-seek, in which participants hide containers (caches) or tiny logbooks (microcaches) around the world and make the GPS coordinates of the caches known so that others may find them, usually on the Internet at sites such as Geocaching.com.
The Geomate.jr takes the hassle of logging onto the Internet to download cache data out of the equation by preloading over 250,000 North American cache points for out-of-the-box geocaching.
The Geomate.jr's design is very child-friendly, with bright green and blue colors and a size that fits easily into small hands thanks to its narrow-waisted design.
The interface is simple. At the top of the device, there is a power button. At front-and-center is a small, monochromatic LCD display. The screen is easily viewable, even in direct sunlight, but is not backlit in any way. You'll want to stick to daytime cache hunting.
Below the screen are a large home button and a slightly smaller page button that control the device's functions.
At the bottom of the device is a soft, rubber loop for attaching the Geomate.jr to a carabiner or the included lanyard. On the back is a sliding door that covers the two AAA batteries that power the unit. Expected battery life is about 12 hours.
As a device that's designed to be used outdoors, the Geomate.jr's bright coloring also aids in locating the device if it is dropped. Splashproof and shock-resistant design also means that the Geomate.jr can take a few bumps and scrapes without breaking.
Underneath the kid-friendly exterior, you'll find the same high-sensitivity SiRFstarIII GPS chip that powers many high-end GPS devices.
Simply turn the device on and wait for a GPS lock. Once the Geomate.jr determines where it is in the world, it displays a pointer and a distance on the LCD screen telling how far away and in which direction the nearest geocache is. Additionally, cache size, search difficulty, and terrain difficulty information are all represented by icons.
Users can cycle through nearby caches using the large Next button below the screen and view more information, such as geocache codemark or current GPS position, by clicking the Page button. When a cache is found, mark it as such by holding the Page button to prevent the Geomate.jr from pointing you to it again.
Before setting out into the wilderness, users should press and hold the Next and Page buttons for a few seconds to set a Home marker. If you get lost, simply chose the Home marker by holding the Next button and the Geomate.jr will lead you back to where you started.
The Geomate.jr is not a navigation device, at least not in the conventional sense. It won't give you turn-by-turn directions to the cache; it merely points in the right direction and leaves the finding to the user.
We decided to test the Geomate.jr by finding a few caches in downtown Oakland, Calif. The terrain of our testing area was a combination of dense urban environments and more open city parks. Satellite reception was spotty around tall buildings, so city geocachers should expect slightly longer-than-average satellite-lock times and a bit of inaccuracy in the device's positioning.
The Geomate.jr lacks a built-in compass and, like most portable GPS devices of its ilk, the Geomate.jr relies on motion to determine heading. On foot, that means that you have to walk a bit before the device can figure out which way you're going, which sometimes translates into quite a bit of walking around in circles when you're very near to the cache.
Overall, however, we were pleased with the Geomate.jr's performance. Given a clear sky, the Geomate.jr led us more or less straight to three of the four caches that we sought. Of course, the device didn't lead us right to the cache, because finding the cleverly hidden caches is more than half of the fun. (The fourth cache we sought was a high-difficulty microcache, so our missing it can't really be blamed on the device.)
The Geomate.jr has a very limited feature set. Essentially, it points in the direction of any of its preloaded cache points. We like the simplistic, yet rugged, design and the no-setup, out-of-the-box usage. We penalized the score slightly for its lack of an internal compass, which we feel every low-speed GPS device should have, but the Geomate.jr still ended up rating quite high.
If users find all of the caches in their areas, an update kit (purchased separately) allows the database to be refreshed. Cache points are added and removed all of the time.
Advanced geocachers will want to look at a more full-featured handheld GPS device from Lowrance or Garmin, and will want to bring a smartphone for on-the-go access to their geocaching Web sites of choice.
However, with its easy-to-use interface, the Geomate.jr gives children, moms, and other first-time cache hunters a low-cost entry point into the world of geocaching.