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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Geomate Jr. > Test Report by David Wilkes

Test series by David Wilkes

Apisphere geomate.jr

Initial Report - Oct 9 '09
Field Report - Jan 5 '10
Long Term Report - Feb 16 '10

Tester Information

Name: David Wilkes
E-Mail: amatbrewer@yahoo.net
Age: 42
Location: Yakima Washington USA
Gender: M
Height: 5'11" (1.80 m)
Weight: 197 lb (89.40 kg)

Biography:

I started backpacking in 1995 when I moved to Washington State. Since then, I have backpacked in all seasons and conditions. I am currently getting into condition to summit some of the higher peaks in Washington, Oregon, and California. I prefer trips on rugged trails with plenty of elevation gain. While I continuously strive to lighten my load, comfort and safety are most important to me. My current pack is around 30 lbs (14 kg), not including consumables.

Product Information

Manufacturer:

Apisphere Inc

Year of Manufacture:

2009

Manufacturer’s Website:

www.mygeomate.com

MSRP:

Not listed on manufacturer's web site
Measured Weight: 3.3 oz / 92 g
Measured Dimensions: 5" X 2" X  1" / 13 cm X  5 cm X  2.5 cm

Product image front and Side
Images courtesy of Apisphere Inc

Product Description:

The geomate.jr is a GPS specifically designed for kids to use for Geocaching. The unit is designed to be simple to use (only 3 buttons), kid friendly colors (yellow and blue), and sized to fit into small hands. It arrives loaded with around 250,000 ‘traditional’ caches (all in the US). I was surprised to note that the cache nearest our home has only been active a few months but was already loaded in the device! There is an optional update kit (arrived separately) which can be used to update the geocaches.

Initial Report

Grace using geomate.jr for the first time
For those unfamiliar with Geocaching I will explain the basics. There are many types of geocaches but the ‘traditional’ type (the only ones the geomate.jr uses) is a container of some sort containing at the least some sort of log. These can be as small as a pill container (with a rolled up strip of paper as a log) or as big as a bucket. Geocachers sign up on www.geocaching.com (basic membership is free). Once enrolled they can use the site to locate a geocache in their area. The key piece of information for a cache is the Latitude and Longitude of the cache, but there is also a description of the cache (some are more useful than others) as well as other information. The cacher then uses the lat/lon to locate the area the cache is hidden and then looks for it (some are very well hidden while some can be quite obvious). The difficulty to find the cache and the terrain are each given a 1-5 star rating with 1 being easy and 5 being difficult. When the cache is found the cacher signs the log, returns the cache to the place/condition it was discovered and returns home, to log their find on www.geocaching.com. Often geocaches include small trinkets that cachers use to trade (take something & leave something, preferably of equal or greater value).


NOTE: The above describes only the most basic information about Geocaching. I invite anyone who is interested to visit www.geocaching.com, or look Geocaching up on the internet or at their local library (I believe there is even a “Geocaching for Dummies” book available).

Part identification
When the geomate.jr arrived I gave the entire package to my 12 year old daughter (and future gear tester) Susan. While she had no trouble figuring out how to attach the lanyard to the device, she was stumped by where to put the batteries. She looked at the included instruction booklet (“Quick Start Guide”) but there were no instructions on changing the battery. I showed her how to open the back panel and she was able to figure out the rest by herself. Immediately after installing the batteries she turned the device on and was greeted by a cheery “Hello” followed by a message to “find clear sky”. We went out into the yard and within 1 min the device got its first GPS fix. On the way out the door she commented “this is a friendly GPS”.  At this point she was excited but it was not clear to her what to do next. She pressed the buttons a few times, figured out how to mark our house as the “Home” location (press and hold the ‘home’ button for a few seconds), and finally announced she needed to read the instructions. We went inside and she spent a few minutes skimming over the Quick Start Guide and she had a basic idea of what most of the icons and characters were for, but still not sure how to locate the first cache. Having used a standard GPS to locate caches, she assumed that she needed to look the caches up on the internet and somehow enter them into the device. I explained that they were already loaded and showed her how to cycle through the closest 20 caches (the unit automatically selects the 20 closest ‘Traditional’ caches). She then chose the first cache.

The device uses a GPS fix to calculate the distance and bearing between the device and the selected geocache (or “home”). Since the device does not have a build in compass it is necessary to be moving in order to get a heading indication. The distance to the cache is listed in miles until the device is within 0.5 mi of the cache, when it measures the distance in feet. When the device has a GPS lock, it is indicated by a clear and easy to recognize symbol of a satellite with lines below it. When it does not have a lock this is also easy to recognize, and after a short time the device will display the message “find clear sky”. The direction to the cache is indicate by an arrow pointing in the direction of the cache (but only when the device is in motion since as noted above the device does not have a compass and relies on the motion of travel to determine its heading).Screen Image

After Susan and I were comfortable that we had figured out the basic operation of the device I decided to let my 8 year old (Grace) give it a try. I turned the unit on, selected the closest cache (0.8 mi from my house), handed it to Grace and asked her to guide us to the cache. Within a few seconds I realized I needed to set some ground rules. The first being; “no walking into the street while staring down at the geomate.jr”! Grace had no trouble identifying that the arrows were pointing her to the cache, but I did have to remind her a few times that the direction indicator only works when moving. She was able to direct us to within about 30’ of the cache (we then spent the next 10 min searching the area before Susan located it). After we signed the log and exchanged some goodies, I showed Grace how to select the “Home” location and asked her to lead us home (since we have walked to this park many times she had no trouble finding the way home using our normal route).

Something I noticed while reading the instructions is that the device does not give you the cache description or the optional HINT that is available on the Geocaching web site. While these are not necessary, there have been a few caches where I was unable to locate it until I referred to this information. It will be interesting to see how this affects our caching.

 Upon locating our first cache we then needed to log our find on the web site. However we found the text used to display the geocach identification to be very difficult to read.

At the time of writing this the optional update kit has not arrived. I am surprised that this is considered an Optional accessory. New caches are constantly being created and old ones are removed or sometimes temporarily taken out of service. While it is true that I will probably not find all of the caches that are preloaded into the unit in my lifetime. Most of my caching is limited to my home area and the few states I normally travel to, so it is likely that as time goes by more and more of the caches would be deactivated and therefore I may end up looking for caches that simply are not there (or have been removed due to danger or being on private land).

One feature I really like is that it automatically locates the 20 nearest caches. I have attempted to do some Geocaching while traveling, but sometimes find it difficult to locate the caches near my location (need to know the local Zip code, or get a lat/lon and enter it on the web site). Once located the caches must be down loaded and entered into my GPS. With the geomate.jr I should be able to simply turn it on and go.

Quick Start Guide

Likes:
  • Simple display
  • Minimal buttons
  • Easy to understand graphics/icons
  • Caches preloaded (no need to locate and load them)
  • Automatically locates 20 nearest caches
  • Shows cache Difficulty & Terrain rating
Dislikes:
  • Does not show cache descriptions or hints
  • Text indicating cache identification can be difficult to read
  • No compass so direction indicator only works while in motion
  • Update cable sold separately

Field Report

Jan 5, 2010
Geocaching at sunset
Before I go into the Field Report I want to start by saying that we really like the geomate.jr. While I will outline a few limitations and point out a few tradeoffs made in order to keep the operation simple and price low, I believe these are right in line with the intended use and the target consumers.

I have lost count of exactly how many times we have gone out with the geomate.jr. We have used it for caches around our home 4-5 times, we took it with us to the central California Coast for a wedding (we got some great pictures so these are the ones I have included in this report), we have taken it with us on two family snowshoeing trips (more about that below), and I have taken it with me on two business trips.
Sue and her cousin
I am finding some aspects of geocaching with the geomate.jr. to be a bit more challenging then using a standard GPS. Not having maps, cache name, description, and hints can make locating some caches a bit more difficult. For example, we went out looking for one cache and ended up driving back and forth looking for a way to get to the area only to find there are no direct routes. I referred to some maps and realized we had to park on the opposite side of the lake in a strip mall parking lot and then walk around the lake to get to the cache. There was no direct way to get from the nearest roads to the cache. This has happened to a lesser extent with a few other caches. Often the cache name provides a clue about the location of the cache or what to look for. This is even truer for the cache description. Some caches are quite easy to locate with only the information provided by the geomate.jr., but some have been quite difficult (I have resorted to using my phone to obtain the additional information in order to find a few caches). The flip side to this is that one of the fun parts of geocaching can be the challenge of finding a difficult cache. In that light, the minimal information provided by the geomate can be considered an advantage! It all depends on the objective [find lots caches quick and easy, or be challenged].
Sue helping Grace
The limited information provided by the geomate.jr. is offset by its ease of use and ability to store an enormous number of caches. Being able to simply turn the device and automatically have the location of the 20 nearest caches is a huge benefit for kids who may have difficulties in obtaining the caches from the website and then programming them into the device. And to be honest this is an advantage for me as well. I have more than once found myself with some time that I could use to go geocaching while traveling, only to have difficulties in locating the local caches on the geocaching website.

In my initial report I commented upon the fact that the update kit was considered an option, and I had not received it yet. One of the first caches I took my kids to find was a cache I knew about near my office. Upon arriving in the area we discovered that the cache was not loaded in the geomate.jr. and we had no way to add it. I still think the update kit should be a standard part of the basic configuration.
I have since received the update kit, and immediately gave it to Susan telling her to read the instructions and see how it goes. She found the instructions easy to understand and the website quite simple to navigate. She had some difficulty initially; it turns out installing the update is not fully compatible with our default web browser (Firefox). She showed me the messages she was receiving and after I told her to use Internet Explorer she had no further issues. I believe there is a work around for Firefox.
Too cute
As mentioned in the Initial Report, Grace and Susan have been using the geomate.jr. Susan being a seasoned geocacher has had absolutely no problem using it, and Grace has had no trouble using its basic functions. However the ‘rule’ I mentioned in the Initial Report still holds true: Giving an 8 year old something like this requires constant supervision. Even after numerous warnings she continues to walk with her head down looking at nothing but the screen of the geomate.jr., completely oblivious to more ‘trivial’ details such as moving vehicles and dangerous obstacles.

Within the first 6 weeks of receiving the geomate.jr. I have had to replace the batteries 3 times. Each time I have found that the unit would not turn on so I pulled the batteries and reinstalled them, and while the unit would then turn on, it would indicate that the batteries were low. In one case I installed fresh batteries; we used the device for a total of about 30 min and turned it off. About 2 weeks later we went out geocaching only to find that the batteries were dead. I e-mailed customer service on Sunday and received offer to replace the unit the following day. After accepting their offer and providing them shipping information, they said I should have it by Friday but just in case it did not arrive before the holiday weekend, that I was welcome to hang on to my unit until the new one arrived. I was quite impressed! I don’t recall the last time a company offered to send an advance replacement without some sort of guarantee (such as a credit card). I received the replacement within a week, and so far it has worked perfectly.

In addition to the advertised uses of the geomate.jr. we have discovered an additional use for the devices “Home” feature. We have started taking the geomate.jr. with us when we go snowshoeing as a way to be sure we can find our way back to the trailhead. We simply mark the trailhead as our “Home” location and at any time can get information on the distance and direction to it from wherever we may be. Since the geomate.jr. is so much simpler and lighter than my other GPS it is a nice way to shed some weight from our gear without sacrificing safety.
after the wedding
Summary
My kids and I just love the geomate.jr. While the low price and ease of use involved some trade offs, I think the device is a great idea and perfect for kids. I highly recommend this for both casual and hard-core geocachers, but especially for anyone interested in a new outdoor activity with kids, or even an adult wanting a very low cost way of getting started geocaching.

On a side note, my hope is that the manufacturer is working on a geomate Sr…i.e. The geomate.jr. with a few added features like a better display & mapping and built-in Wi-Fi. Essentially, an entry level GPS unit with the caches already loaded and user interface focused on geocaching. The Wi-Fi would allow on-the-fly updating of caching logs/posts as well as getting the most recent caches. I would be first in line to purchase it.

Long Term Report

Long Term Report  - Feb 16  2010Sue using geomate.jr
Usage
Snowshoeing  - Two snowshoeing trips in the Eastern Cascade Mountains where I used it to mark the trailhead.
Day hike/Geocaching – Umptanum Creek, Yakima, Washington
Family Geocaching – Yakima River Canyon, Washington

Since having my original geomate.jr replaced, I have not had to change the batteries once. Therefore, whatever the problem was with the one I originally got, it is not an issue with this one.
I intend to continue to take the geomate.jr on day hikes when I don’t need the full functionality of my GPS. I have not needed it but having the distance and direction to the trailhead if I need it, is comforting should I get lost.
I took the geomate.jr on one of my day hikes and along the way checked to see if there happened to be any geocaches, and there were actually two (I only hit one due to being short on time)! Having the caches available wherever I may go is by far my favorite feature of this device.
I found an area with a couple of caches in close proximity on my way home from a hike and decided to hit a few of them with the family before going to a Superbowl party. The first was a micro-cache (like the name implies a very small cache container) and being short on time we gave up looking after a while. We moved on to a second cache, and I let Susan navigate, but we could not locate it. After a bit of confused searching I discovered she had confused the bearing with the distance…oops. Turns out we had past it and so went on to a third. For this one I let Grace lead the way. The geomate.jr took us into an area of dense brush and thorns. After a bit of fruitless searching we gave up. After returning home I looked up this cache and after reading some of the logs from others who found it, I believe the geomate.jr had us looking in the wrong area.  Unfortunately I have not had time to go back and try these again.
The kids and I have dropped the geomate.jr on hard ground a few times and it has been haphazardly tossed into at least 3 different backpacks along with assorted gear (some of it hard) and I can only see minor blemishes as a result of the rough handling. I find kids and trail usage to be some of the most abusive things when it comes to electronic products, and this appears to be built tough enough for the job.

Summary
I don’t really have much to add to my previous likes and dislikes of the product. We really like it and highly recommend it to anyone interested in geocaching (with or without kids). I do however think there is one additional feature that would greatly improve the product and that is the ability to mark a location (e.g. potential new cache site) and retrieve the Lat/Lon from the device. This would round out its usage for not only locating existing caches, but in creating new ones as well.
The geomate.jr has become a standard item for our Geocaching, and will continue to accompany me on many of my day hikes.

This concludes my Report. I would like to thank the folks at Apisphere Inc and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test fine this product.

 



Read more reviews of Geomate Jr. gear
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