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Review: u-Blox 5 USB GPS Stick - New GPS Locator for Microsoft Streets and Trips
Marvin Hlavac

Microsoft Streets & Trips 2009 and also Microsoft MapPoint 2009 will include a new, optional, USB GPS 'Locator' based on new u-Blox 5 technology, Navation GPS 168. Only the Canadian shipments of Streets & Trips will at first include this new u-Blox 5 USB GPS Stick. S&T w/GPS Locator in the USA will, for the time being, include still the USB GPS-500 based on the SiRFstarIII technology. [Edit: The new USB GPS Stick, Navation GPS 168 is now available in USA, too]


As seen on the first picture, this new USB GPS Stick is a very beautifully designed product. It is quite small in comparison to other GPS receivers I have tested. Small size equals convenience, but it also means a compromise in the antenna size. The new u-Blox 5 based receiver is slightly more sensitive to weak GPS satellite signals (by 1 dB) than the good old SiRFstarIII chip, but the antenna of the new USB GPS Stick is most likely a bit smaller. I say "likely", because I don't know it for sure; I would have to break the unit to actually see the internal antenna. Smaller antenna size usually has lower RF gain.


u-Blox 5 USB GPS Stick vs. SiRFstarIII GPS-500


I took both USB GPS receivers for a test drive to downtown Toronto. I went to the area most difficult for GPS receivers. While any GPS unit will usually perform satisfactorily in most places, most GPS units will straggle among tall buildings.

To do the side-by-side comparison, I was running two instances of Streets & Trips, to be able to record two GPS tracks simultaneously. Both GPS receivers were placed on the dashboard, close to each other (a few inches/centimeters apart), close to front window.

As shown on the above screen shot, both receivers struggled among the skyscrapers, as expected. But the new u-Blox unit had a noticeable more difficult time, than the GPS-500. I suspect it is due to the smaller antenna in the new unit.

I'm curious to hear observations and more feedback from other users. Ken and Terry just received their new u-Blox 5 USB GPS Sticks, too, so over the next few days we should be able to share more of our first impressions here in this thread. Stay tuned.
tcassidy
I have installed the u-blox on several computers. The drivers appear to already be present if S&T 2009/ MapPoint 2009 were previously installed. Otherwise I used the Windows Update option and it worked fine.

I prefer the one-piece design of this GPS receiver over the Pharos. The included USB extension cord is quite short at 30" (the Pharos one is ~50") , slightly heavier and with no suction cup. The power indicator is a lighted Microsoft logo that flashes once a second. I think I prefer the blue glow of the Pharos.

I was unable to perform a cold start indoors however it came up quickly once I took it outside. A quick stationary comparison using 2 laptops showed the signal received by each unit was comparable. These receivers are not WAAS aware (not an issue for navigation).

I expect to test it with the UMPC and various mapping programs in the next few weeks.

Terry
Marvin Hlavac
Terry, it's good to know that Windows Update site was able to provide you the driver needed for the u-Blox 5 USB GPS Stick on the PC which had no Streets & Trips 2009 or MapPoint 2009 installed.

I was told Streets and Trips 2009 contained the driver, and I'm assuming the same must be true even for MapPoint 2009.

I very much agree with you that this one-piece design is superior to GPS-500. Several users of GPS-500 have managed to physically damage their unit because of the flimsy design.

I actually like the nice white Microsoft light. The problem I have with it is the flashing of it, as you mentioned. It will be an annoyance to night drivers.

The light is designed to be solid when there is no 3D satellite fix, and to start flashing when 3D fix has been achieved. In my humble opinion this should be reversed: the light should flash when there is no 3D fix, and the light should become solid when 3D fix is present. Drivers at night would not be distracted by a soft white solid light (and a flashing light would alert drivers of bad satellite signal).

A work-around to the flashing (annoying?) light is to cover it with black electrical tape.

Terry, I'm curious to hear from you how the new u-Blox GPS receiver compares to the GPS built into your UMPC.
tcassidy
I am surprised after reading all the hoopla about the u-blox, how little it has improved on the Pharos SirfStar III. I was expecting to see performance in the league of the MTK chip but it may be antenna size, as you say.

I will definitely compare it to the Sirf III in the UMPC, a much larger antenna (I think) but with limited placement.

terry
Terry
MisterMoonlight
Oups!

Of what i am seeing, i am happy to have the old Pharos 500 unit and not the new one

Thanks
Marvin
jhinman
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin Hlavac
I very much agree with you that this one-piece design is superior to GPS-500. Several users of GPS-500 have managed to physically damage their unit because of the flimsy design.
I must be the only one who likes the pharos design. I like the ability to use it USB with my laptop or stick it in the bluetooth sled and use it with my handheld. I will admit I don't like the cable and USB dongle as much as just using the cable that came with the my i360 (it had just stopped working or I would have just purchased the software only version of S&T) but the old i360 cable work fine with the i500.
tcassidy
It is great that the device is flexible. However, with the pricing of Bluetooth or dual units so competitive these days, that approach is not as appealing as it used to be.

Terry
jhinman
Quote:
Originally Posted by tcassidy
It is great that the device is flexible. However, with the pricing of Bluetooth or dual units so competitive these days, that approach is not as appealing as it used to be.

Terry
Just looked up some dual units and I can see your point. But the i500 can also do Compact flash so ... all right I am reaching on that one. Anywayes no one is forcing me to get the new u-Blox reciver so I will only get the Software verision this year and stick with my i500.
tcassidy
CF Card- I'm still using a Socket Bluetooth cf card in my Toshiba E800PDA. The Drakar Bluetooth stack is a dinosaur but the card does not extend past the top of the slot and it works fine with GPS (not much else though).

terry
tcassidy
Quote:
Originally Posted by jhinman
Just looked up some dual units and I can see your point. But the i500 can also do Compact flash so ... all right I am reaching on that one. Anywayes no one is forcing me to get the new u-Blox reciver so I will only get the Software verision this year and stick with my i500.
That's a good approach. The Pharos 500 is a competent unit. Unless you purchased the product in Canada, you would get the same unit anyway.

Terry
Marvin Hlavac

Quote:
Originally Posted by jhinman
I must be the only one who likes the pharos design. I like the ability to use it USB with my laptop or stick it in the bluetooth sled and use it with my handheld.
jhinman, even the new u-Blox 5 receiver will have a Bluetooth dock available for purchase. I never heard of Navation, I don't know who is behind this company, and judging by what I see at their website the company's only product line is this new USB GPS Stick and related accessories.

The website still seems under construction as I'm writing this, but do check it out. Here's the URL: www.navationtech.com
jhinman
Quote:
Originally Posted by tcassidy
That's a good approach. The Pharos 500 is a competent unit. Unless you purchased the product in Canada, you would get the same unit anyway.

Terry
I am in Edmonton, so I would get the new one.
jhinman
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin Hlavac
jhinman, even the new u-Blox 5 receiver will have a Bluetooth dock available for purchase. I never heard of Navation, I don't know who is behind this company, and judging by what I see at their website the company's only product line is this new USB GPS Stick and related accessories.

The website still seems under construction as I'm writing this, but do check it out. Here's the URL: www.navationtech.com
OK, good to know. I wonder how much the Bluetooth 200 dock with RF antenna increase the senstivity to weak signals?
Marvin Hlavac
jhinman, I sent your question via e-mail to support [@] navationtech [.] com, which at the moment is the only available contact information at the website. Interestingly, my mail has been returned to me undeliverable from microsoft.com.

But my guess is that the reference to the RF antenna is about the Bluetooth antenna, not another (higher gain) GPS antenna. But don't take my word for it, and I don't know the difference between the two docks, Bluetooth 100 and Bluetooth 200.
Ken in Regina
Here's a link to my first impressions of the u-Blox 5 in contrast to the other four receivers I have.

I put it in the Hardware section because it was a test of the receivers, not the software. And I didn't use S&T or Mappoint for the testing. Both of them are fine for what they do, but neither one of them provides any useful information for receiver performance testing. I just ran each of them with each of the receivers to make sure they would be able to navigate with them.

...ken...
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