It was arguably the recreational GPS that brought sat-nav technology to the mass market, many moons ago. First, yachtsmen saw the appeal of being able to pinpoint their position precisely on a chart, then hikers and outdoors enthusiasts wanted in on the act. But despite the commodity status that GPS technology has now achieved, there’s still not an incredibly wide choice of products for hikers and bikers.
Garmin and Magellan have dominated the market for years, and apart from the odd novelty act, there simply haven’t been that many others in the mix. Satmap, a small UK startup, is aiming to remedy that situation, however, with its Active 10 – the most innovative handheld GPS device I’ve come across in years.
If you’re a hiker or mountain biker, you’ll know that if you take nothing else out on the trail with you, you take an Ordnance Survey map and a compass. These wedges of folded paper describe the paths, roads, boundaries and physical features of the British countryside in incredible detail and that, like a road atlas for a driver, makes them indispensible.
But using them with most outdoor GPS devices is a pain. You have to first read off your grid coordinates from the device and then use those to work out your position on paper. The Satmap Active 10 takes these maps, digitises them, and makes them available on the screen of a rugged PDA. And, just like an in-car sat-nav, the Active 10 displays your position live on a 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 OS map so you know exactly where you are, instantly. If you’ve ever been lost on a hillside in the fading light, you’ll know how valuable this can be.
Of course other devices, from the likes of Garmin and Magellan, do offer topographic mapping on their devices, but they’re cut down maps; the Active 10’s maps appear exactly as they do in paper format, and the familiarity this brings makes it incredibly easy to use.
It’s not all about the maps, however, because the Active 10 is a pretty impressive piece of kit in itself. It’s built around a fairly bog-standard 240 x 320 resolution colour LCD screen, like many a modern PDA phone, but elsewhere it’s anything but stock. The chassis is constructed from tough, rugged-feeling plastic. The screen is protected by a thick, clear and replaceable covering. The buttons have been made large enough to be operated while using gloves. And the whole thing is weather-proof with all slots, ports and compartments sealed with rubber flaps. It’s not quite on a par with Nomad’s industrial-strength PDAs, but it does mean you can use the device in a downpour or carry it in a soaking wet pocket without worrying whether it’ll work or not when you need it most.