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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Geomate Jr. > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto
Reviewed by Jamie DeBenedetto
Reviewer's Information Back to contents
Product Information Back to contents
Description of Product
The Apisphere Geomate.jr is a kid sized, hand held geocache companion that uses GPS technology to guide the user to pre-programmed geocaches. Since it's marketed to children there are only three buttons and the display screen uses simple icons to communicate information. There is also a big lanyard loop and a lanyard so the unit can be worn around the user's neck. The battery compartment, located on the back, employs a slide off cover. On the left side is a small covered port where the Update Kit plugs in. As soon as the Geomate.jr is turned on, the screen offers a cheery "Hello" to the user and then says it's searching for a signal. Once the satellites are located the main geocaching page comes up. This shows the user six different bits of info. about the cache. In the center of the screen is a circle, outside the circle is the directional arrow, showing the most direct route to the cache. On the inside of the circle is the satellite icon, indicating the strength of the GPS signal, the distance to the cache in miles/feet and the order of the cache relative to the Geomate.jr. The first cache location shown is the closest but the user can also scroll through 19 others that are nearby. The upper left corner of the screen shows the "find difficulty" of the cache using a magnifying glass icon and stars numbering 1-5, 5 being the most difficult. The upper right corner tells the user about the terrain difficulty using a little mountain picture and 1- 5 stars, 5 being the most difficult as before. In the bottom left is a group of four boxes, smallest to largest. This tells the user the size of the cache. On the bottom middle is a character of a hiker, which indicates this is the main geocaching page. There are three other pages, the GC page, which lists the geocache code for each of the twenty caches, the Navigation page, which gives the compass reading and other location info., and the "Found Log", which lists the caches already found.
The two main navigation buttons on the front are easily distinguished by their size difference and by the little signs above and on them. The larger button has an arrow on it and a picture of a home over it. This button is used to scroll through the information on each page and to activate the "return to HOME" option. The smaller button is labeled with a page or paper looking symbol and moves the user through the four display screens as well as marks the cache as found. The buttons can also be used together to set the "HOME" position mentioned above. There is another icon of a flag positioned between the buttons to remind the user of the "HOME" option and how to set it.
Arrival Condition and Informational Material Back to contents
The Geomate.jr I received is in perfect condition and arrived with everything needed to turn it on and start searching for caches right away. Batteries aren't normally included, however. It came in the original packaging with the lanyard and a Quick Start Guide (QSG). The QSG, like the display screens, is very simple to read and uses several child- friendly pictures to explain how to use the device. I found the unit to be very intuitive to use but I ran through all the information with my sons so we'd all be starting off on the right foot. They picked it up very quickly.
Expectations and First Impressions
The manufacturer's catch line for the geomate. jr is, "the anytime, anywhere, work out-of-the-box family-friendly geocacher." This was my expectation and so far it has been met. I purposely did not open the device when it arrived so my sons could help me with start-up right from the beginning. My 7 yr old son, AJ, opened the packaging, opened the battery compartment (almost completely by himself) and then my 5 yr old, put in the batteries and closed the compartment. AJ then turned it on and I gave them a 10 minute rundown of the buttons and the meaning of the screen icons using the Quick Start Guide as reference. We were all surprised to see several caches within a few miles of our home but we chose to drive to a local mountain park area in which to wander about for our first trial. The boys had the device on and were zooming down a wash bearing down on the first cache in just a few minutes.
First impressions are good at this point. We used it twice already to find three caches with relative ease. My boys are already bugging me to go out again for more "hunting" so I guess I'll have a lot to report on in my Field Report.
Field Test October 2009 thru January 2010 Back to contents
All geocaching trips during the field testing phase took place in either urban settings or in a few desert mountain preserves within 20 miles (32 km) of my home in Phoenix, Arizona. Elevations ranged from 1,500 ft (450 m) up to 2,100 ft (640 m). Weather was either nice and sunny or on two occasions stormy with light sprinkles. Temperatures fell somewhere between 60 and 85 F (16 and 29C).
As of Jan 1st, 2010 we've gone on nineteen searches using the Apisphere Geomate.jr, logging fifteen as found. The four elusive ones we had to assume were either moved or placed under Palo Verde trees so gnarly we couldn't possible reach them without pruning shears and a dog bite suit. The unit is a little banged up on the outside but still working perfectly. The batteries have been changed twice. Once in late Oct. after the set the manufacture sent us expired and then again in Dec. after I forgot to turn the unit off. Bad mom!
Our experience with Geomate.jr has been nothing less than a joy. Because of this little gadget we've explored side trails and hill tops otherwise overlooked on past outings. We've also found several right in our neighborhood, which was surprising to me as I hadn't realized how many folks placed urban caches about town. My older son AJ, who's seven, has taken the lead with the unit most of the time. He's more patient than his younger brother and I think enjoys being our leader. The simplicity of the device allows him to do everything start to finish and that adds to the fun. Not to mention when successful we find a little container full of surprises, what kid doesn't love that?
Each of the little icons is completely easy to understand and remember. We've not had any problems deciphering the data it shows. Also the buttons are simplistic, in fact, my son who clearly has a better memory than his mother, has had to remind me how to log our "HOME" more than once. So he gets it. In fact, the device is so kid-friendly we brought a friend of my son's along on one of our trips and after a five minute lesson on how to use it he was off leading us like a pro toward the nearest cache.
I have only two bones to pick with regard to the Geomate.jr and its features. First, the wait time while it attempts to link up with the satellites is sometimes a little long. Children in particular can be impatient at times with technology and on more than one occasion it's taken so long for the unit to give us the cache info my sons have handed it off to me and taken off to explore until I call. In the manufacturer's defense Apisphere does offer a little message to the user when the gadget turns on and I'm certain this helps the kids to understand the device is working and will be ready shortly. Geomate.jr greets the user with a big HELLO and then tells us GPS SRCH, after that if it has trouble finding the satellites it will offer the advice to FIND CLEAR SKY. Unfortunately, we've been given this message even when we've been standing in the middle of open desert without a tree or structure anywhere close.
Second, I would really like to see a light added to the Geomate.jr. I know geocaching is typically a day thing, however, since winter hit, we've started out on a few treks after school and before all was said and done it was nearly dark. Under normal circumstances I have a headlight with me at all times while hiking but that's not necessarily the case with kids. I commend Apisphere for including the "HOME" feature so in the event a child using the device gets a little turned around they can find their way back, however, following those directions is next to impossible in low light so without screen illumination that feature is useless.
As I mentioned above, the gadget is a little roughed up, mainly from the kids scraping it on the ground when they have bent down to gather the cache out of its hiding place and while unpacking the goodies. The top edge where the start button is located and the screen have had the most nicks so far. (The picture below and to the left shows how far down the unit hangs on my son AJ's torso.) Not sure what a solution would be for this other than perhaps a shorter lanyard, however, I can see the benefit to the longer one in that it allows the holder to view the devise a little farther from their body. I'll report on how well it's holding up in my last report, which will be posted in a couple of months.
Pros and Cons Thus Far Back to contents
Aspects I'm please with…
Aspects I think could use more thought…
Collective Use and Field Conditions Back to contents
With the onset of winter and shorter days we've slowed a bit in our geocaching zeal and thus the Apisphere Geomate.jr was only used three times more over this last month and half of testing. Adding that to our previous nineteen searches we have a grand total of twenty-two. All caches were found in either desert mountain preserves or in urban locations within 20 miles (32 km) of my home in Phoenix, Arizona. Elevations for the majority of the outings fell between 1,500 ft (450 m) and 2,100 ft (640 m) with both nice and sunny weather or stormy with light sprinkles. Temperatures fell somewhere between 60 and 85 F (16 and 29C).
Long Term Conclusions Back to contents
Geomate.jr is hanging tough. As I mentioned above we've only added a few more cache finding adventures recently but I feel we've really put this little device to the test. It's been dropped, knocked about while the boys searched among boulders, scrapped on the dirt, sand, rocks and metal drainage tubes and still it's working and leading us to "treasure". The buttons are all in good shape and while the screen has a few scratches, it's not unreadable or damaged in anyway.
Before hitting the trail for our final few outings I hooked up the Update Kit, which was mailed to me as part of the test back in Dec. 2009. The Update Kit is a USB cord that connects the Geomate.jr to a PC so the latest geocache locations can be uploaded into the device. This is a free service Apisphere offers through their website. Setting up and completing the download of revised cache info was pretty easy, although it took me a bit longer than the average user because I run Firefox on my PC. Apparently, Firefox users have a few extra steps in the process before the program will allow the Geomate.jr software. I'm not super computer savvy but I was able to follow the special instructions given on the website with good results. Once the software is downloaded the update was as straightforward as plugging the USB cord into my computer and into the device then running the update. Excellent!
I've been really impressed with the simplicity of this device. My older son had not used the unit for about a month and as such was not sure if he remembered how to set the "home" or the "cache found" features. He asked me but I decided it would be a better assessment to see if he could work it out on his own based on the icons shown on the device. After just a few moments of thinking and trying an option or two he had it all sorted. That's definitely a credit to the kid-friendliness of the Geomate.jr.
On our last geocaching hunt I wanted to give my boys a chance to pick the cache and then lead us to it without any help from me whatsoever. Again my son AJ, who's 7, took the lead in this, guiding us from the very beginning, which came about 2 miles from the trailhead, to the finish. After turning it on and getting the satellites to chat with the device he scrolled through the nearest caches and picked one. We found the trailhead, parked, and started hiking toward it. For fun and to see if he truly grasped the Geomate.jr's layout, I asked him questions about the size of the cache, the distance it might be up the hill we were heading toward, the distance from our current position, etc. He was able to answer everyone easily, meaning not only does he understand all the info the unit gives; he's able to convey it to the group too. This made me feel very confident the boys could use this device by themselves to not only look for the caches but to also get back to camp or their starting point if they ever needed to do so without adult help.
Final Thoughts Back to contents
Kudos to Apisphere for a neat little device. From what my sons and I have experienced over the last four months you have absolutely covered your claims that the Geomate.jr is "the anytime, anywhere, work out-of-the-box family-friendly geocacher." It is indeed! We found ourselves bringing the device along not only on hikes but also while driving through town just to see if there happened to be any urban caches nearby. The kids were able to put the batteries in and get it up and running within a few minutes of package opening. The exception was waiting for the satellites to get on board but a little patience was all that was needed there. The simplistic nature of the icons, buttons, and directional arrow made it possible for even my younger son, who's 5, to follow the guidance of the unit and lead the way to the cache vicinity. That's certainly family friendly. In the end not having a background light on the screen and the long lanyard were the only items I'd consider "problematic". Fairly trivial as they were, nonetheless, I'd love to see these features given a little more thought.
My sincere appreciation
goes to Apisphere and Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to be part of this
test series. It gave me another wonderful excuse to play outside with my kids.
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