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Garmin is best known for its Nuvi GPS navigators, which show motorists where they are, where they're trying to go, and how to get there. With the launch of the GTU 10 GPS locator, Garmin is trying something different: showing you the location of something or someone else.
The GTU 10 achieves this feat in much the same way that location services like Google's Latitude do: by combining a GPS receiver with a cellular data connection. Essentially, the GTU 10 is just the cellular data antenna and GPS antenna of a smartphone without the screen, processor, operating system, and inputs. Simply attach the GTU 10 to whatever you want tracked, be it a backpack, a child's clothing, or a pet's collar, and you'll be able to track its location with Garmin's Web-based service.
The GTU 10 hardware is simple by design. The unit measures 3 inches long by 1.25 inches wide and is 0.75 inch deep at its thickest point. The only physical control is a waterproof rubber power button. Just below the power button are a single Mini-USB port beneath a rubber flap and an LED power indicator that glows red while charging and flashes green momentarily when the power button is held to indicate that it's been successfully powered on or off.
The small size makes it easy to attach to items to be tracked. The GTU 10 ships with a small fabric zippered pouch that can be attached to things via a hook and loop strap.
After unboxing and charging the GTU 10 by connecting it to a computer with the included USB cable, you're instructed to visit my.garmin.com, download the Garmin Connect USB drivers, and register the device online.
Once it's set up, you can adjust the GTU 10's power usage settings and notification settings. The GTU 10's power settings are tied directly to its location reporting frequency. There are four levels to choose from. On the heavy setting it reports location every 30 seconds and reduces the battery life to from 20 to 24 hours. The balanced setting reduces the reporting frequency to once every 5 minutes for a battery life of 3 to 10 days. Moderate checks location every 15 minutes and extends the battery life to anywhere between 5 days and 4 weeks. The last setting, On Demand, only reports its location when asked, so battery life will vary depending on how much checking you do.
With a feature called geofences you can set virtual boundaries on a map that the GTU 10 will look for, for example the block around a home or an office. When the GTU enters or exits one of these geofences, it can send an e-mail or SMS notification to one or more e-mail addresses or phone numbers. You can also get notifications when the GTU 10's battery is low or the unit is powered off.
Most importantly, my.garmin.com lets you track the location of the GTU 10 on an interactive map that can be zoomed and panned. You can register multiple GTU 10 units and track them all with a single account, viewing them on the same map.
Additionally, you can use the Garmin Tracker application for Android and iOS devices to replicate nearly every function of the my.garmin.com Web site on the go, including map-based tracking of any GTU units associated with a MyGarmin account; tracking the location history; adjusting, adding, and removing geofences; and adjusting power usage settings. The app has one feature that the Web site does not: the ability to navigate to the location of a tracked GTU 10 unit using the Google Maps engine.
About the only function that the Tracker app can't replicate is registering new devices and making changes to the Garmin Tracking subscription service. Every GTU 10 ships with a one-year Garmin Tracking subscription as part of its $199.99 MSRP, which gives access to up to the last 10 points of daily tracking history. After the first year, users can opt to renew the service for $49.99 annually. Those wanting more than just the last 10 location points can upgrade for $4.99 per month to a Deluxe Tracking plan that gives access to complete seven-day location history for the GTU being tracked. Deluxe Tracking requires a Standard plan to operate, as it adds features rather than replacing them. You can set either plan to autorenew or simply go month to month with no obligation to renew.
We tested the GTU 10 with the help of Garmin's own Tracker app for Android. We registered the GTU with the identifier "My Backpack" and attached it to a strap on a backpack. Hitting the streets on foot, we periodically checked our location using the app. During the portion of our testing that took place in downtown San Francisco's fairly densely populated area with streets lined by taller buildings, we had a hard time getting an accurate lock on the GTU 10's location. When the location was reported in these situations at all, it was off by a block or so, but more often we were met with this message: "We are unable to locate My Backpack - GTU 10 (could be low on battery power, out of coverage area, or indoors). See map for last known location."
Like most GPS devices, the GTU 10 was clearly having difficulty because of the buildings lining the streets, so we hopped into a car and headed to a more suburban area to give the device a better shot at attaining a clear satellite lock. Along the way, we periodically checked the location and saw that the GTU was able to track the location of our moving car--however, our 15-minute update interval was far from real time. Doing some testing in suburban areas in the East Bay Area outside of San Francisco, we were able to more frequently locate the GTU 10 on the app's map with acceptable accuracy. More importantly, we were consistently getting notifications when we entered or exited the geofences that we'd placed.
Most of our testing was done in the Balanced setting, which promised a 3 to 10 day battery life, but we found that our battery required daily recharging. This is likely due to our heavy use of the Tracker app for checking the GTU 10's location, but we were surprised to see the battery life come in so much lower than the estimated amount.
Getting your money's worth out of the Garmin GTU 10 depends on being aware of what the device can do well. As with any GPS device, the GTU's accuracy suffers without a clear view of the sky, so don't expect to be able to track it through urban canyons, inside buildings, or down tunnels. Its reporting also requires that it be in range of a cellular data network (AT&T's GSM network to be exact), so don't expect to use the GTU 10 in the middle of the desert or out at sea. And because the GTU 10 reports at preset intervals rather than in real time, don't expect to track a moving vehicle down a highway as you might see in the movies. A car can go a long way in 15 minutes.
So, what can you expect the GTU 10 to do for its $199 entry price and $49 yearly cost? The geofences function is where the GTU earns its keep and is great for those who want to know if, for example, a family pet leaves the yard or a young child leaves the neighborhood or a teen driver arrives at work, school, or a friend's house. As a tool for finding the lost item, pet, or person after it, he, or she leaves the geofence, the GTU can also be very useful, but depending on the update intervals set and geography of the area in which the GTU is lost, it may only get you in the ballpark of what you're looking for.