Friday, 14 August 2009

Airo A25 GPS PDA

RRP Approx £600 + software

My first review on my new blog! Woop! I will be reviewing the Airo A25 PDA. The unit itself is a palm top computer which has been ruggedized to protect it against the elements. It is waterproof, dustproof, temperature resistant, humidity proof and drop proof. What this basically means is that this unit can take anything the mountains can throw at it. But let’s take a look at those protective features (because for £600 let’s face it this needs to be something special!) The unit is completely submersible in water, and completely dust proof. So basically you could throw it in the sea then bury it in sand and it would still function 100%. It can withstand up to 95% humidity for 48 hours, and can withstand a 1.5 metre drop onto concrete. . . 26 times before showing any damage that effected its function. The reason this unit is built like a tank is that it has been designed to meet US military standards for “in the field” gear, and is used by a number of military units.

So with that boring load out the way you are probably wondering “how does this help me in the mountains?”. The unit is equipped with a high power GPS antenna so it is able to pinpoint your location very accurately and very quickly. But what truly sets this unit apart from other GPS sets is that Memory Map Navigator software can be installed on the unit. Combined with the GPS receiver this means that the unit can pinpoint your location on an OS 1:25000 map to within 50cm! Is this just another company making a wild statement that the gear doesn’t actually back up? I took to the mountains to find out. In order to test the units bold claims about accuracy I headed to “the horns” of Snowdon. Armed with a map and compass I accurately used a compass bearing and pacing to locate 18 small features including ring contours, finger contours and stream junctions. Now bearing in mind some of these features were as low as 4 metres the handset needed to be spot on in identifying them. The handset accurately identified all of the features I looked for. In addition it functioned perfectly in the driving rain through into the night.

Another feature which makes this unit truly excellent is that you can exchange data between the handset and your computer. This means you can plan routes on you laptop and upload them, or download your route for a day and check how far you went and where you went. The unit really comes into its own for instructors who work with DofE groups for example. The unit can have groups routes uploaded to it, meaning you can plan you day to meet up and supervise the group.

The A25 is also armed with a number of different bits of software that can help the user be in the field for extended periods. The unit can function as a phone when you insert a SIM card. It can also connect to the internet to receive email via outlook express or any web based mail system such as hotmail, although this is based on a GPRS internet system which is not overly quick so downloading attachments could take a while. The unit also has word, excel, powerpoint and several other programs which allow the user to write and review documents.

All in all the advantages of this unit are obvious, but what about the drawbacks?

The battery life of the unit when using the GPS all day can be as low as 12 hours. This is not ideal if you plan multiday trips and want to rely on it. Personally I use this unit to confirm my location and then switch it off if I plan on using it for days at a time. The one advantage is it does come with a car charger which can quickly charge the unit from a cigarette lighter.

The stylus used to navigate the unit is quite fiddly with gloves on, and typing cannot be done without the stylus. The unit is touch screen and can be operated with hands, but this is not ideal for people with big hands like me!

Accessing the back of the unit to get the memory card or SIM card can only be done by means of a tiny screwdriver. This is a pain if the unit freezes up (only happened to me once) and you need to remove the battery.

All in all what you have to ask yourself is what are you looking for from your GPS. If you are looking for a GPS that locates you on an OS map, that’s tough enough for the outdoors your options are quite limited. The A25 represents a small computer which functions as both a PDA a GPS and a phone. The other option is the Satmap Active 10, a cheaper unit that functions in much the same way, it does not have memory map but its own OS 1:25k maps. It claims to be weather proof and is substantially cheaper that the A25 (at £379). But in my opinion the A25 represents the ultimate tool for DofE workers and people who use memory map as their primary mapping software. The unit is robust, east to use, and has a wide variety of features.

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