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Nexian HandyGPS Visor Module
Author: Tom Solinap
Date Posted: June 20th, 2001


In today's world of technology, it seems that everyone and their mom has a PDA, portable MP3 player, cell phone, laptop, or GPS device. It's getting so that you can't walk down the street without seeing someone with a PDA or MP3 player. If you don't keep up with current technology, you'll be left behind real fast. PDAs especially have been growing in popularity within the past year or so, and Handspring's Visor series has taken center stage with their infinitely expandable Springboard slot. In continuation of SystemLogic's coverage of Springboard modules, I take a look at the HandyGPS from Nexian. If you're not familiar with it, GPS stands for Global Positioning System. GPS uses satellites to pinpoint your location anywhere on earth. GPS devices are in use in navigation systems on planes, boats, and even cars. There are pretty much countless applications out there for GPS devices. Personal GPS devices have been popular with those that are into wilderness exploring, hiking, or mountain climbing. The HandyGPS from Nexian basically puts all these features into a Springboard module. It even has a map program that makes the HandyGPS useful when not in the wilderness. With a price tag of $149.99, it isn't cheap but it does have many features. The features of the HandyGPS along with the Visor combine for functionality that you can't get with just any GPS device. For the average consumer, a personal GPS device may seem a bit extravagant, but hell, I'm not your average consumer. I love my gadgets, and I just can't get enough of them. So let's see if this little gadget is worth it to you.


Nexian HandyGPS
Price and Availability $149.99; Available Now
Dimensions 2.1" x 2.9" x 1.3"
GPS Receiver Type All-in-one 12 channel L1 C/A Receiver & Antenna
Protocol Navicom ASCII Interface Protocol (default)
Datum WGS-84
Accuracy 25 Meters
Included Software UbiGo Mapping Software
Other Features
  • 2 AAA battery operation with maximum 4 hour life
  • Power saving mode
  • Average 45/180 second warm/cold start TTFF
  • Flash ROM Upgradeable integrated software

As you can see, this module is pretty feature filled. Although the module is rather large for my own tastes, it's only about the same size as the Visor modem. It adds a little extra weight, but it's still amazing how they packed so many features into this small a package. The software that's included gives you real-time feedback of incoming GPS information like latitude, longitude, altitude, speed, heading, and atomic time. As if that weren't enough, UbiGo mapping software is also included to add features like landmark tagging, street search, and POI (points of interest) locator. But wait that's not all, other things you can do include:

  • Pinpoint your exact coordinates (longitude, latitude, and altitude).
  • Use the search function to find unfamiliar street names and locations.
  • Locate points of interests like shopping malls, police, schools, etc.
  • Check your speed, heading, and elevation.
  • Verify directions before embarking on a trip.
  • Record memos on map snapshots and save them in files.
  • Record several trip paths.
  • Customize your own map with markers, linking them to personal notes and descriptions.

This sounds all well and good right? Well in theory everything pretty much works as advertised, but in real life conditions it might not always be smooth sailing. As we all know, what is advertised isn't always what's really delivered. In the case of the HandyGPS, it's a pretty solid performing product except for a few minor things. Let's see what happens during installation.


When the HandyGPS arrived on my doorstep I quickly opened it and proceeded to install the little gadget. Over-all the installation process was pretty simple and easy. However, there were a few minor annoyances that I ran into. The first little snag was the battery door. It was a little hard to open at first. Actually it was very hard to open. After a few minutes of struggling, I finally managed to pry it open. The good thing is that after that first struggle, it's easy to open. Not terribly bad, but it was a bit of a hassle the first time. Now that the batteries are installed, let's see how this thing works.

The process of setting up the GPS module is fairly simple, but make sure you follow the directions carefully. The included instructions were specific and pretty much walked you through satellite acquisition process. It takes a few minutes to get everything set up the first time, and you have to be within view of the open sky for everything to work. Basically you hold the Visor steady while the GPS device communicates with the satellites. It can seem like a long time, but you won't have to do it often. After you connect to at least 4 satellites, you're pretty much ready to use your GPS. Every time you turn the unit off or go in doors, you'll have to connect to the satellites again the next time you want to use the module. Fortunately, the subsequent loading doesn't take as long as the first time.


Once everything is set up, you can use the various software features. You have access to the general GPS info, like your coordinates, altitude, speed, atomic time, etc. The mapping software is not included in the module itself. You have to download and install it separately along with the various maps you want. UbiGo has fairly decent maps of the US on their site. You must create an account in order to have access to these maps. You get one year free access, after which it's $9.99 a year for new maps. I found that it was rather tedious having to load each map, which is usually a small area. If you are traveling far, you'll have to load the maps for your entire route. If only they have a larger map that could be loaded. It's still a far cry from having directions given to you directly, but it'll help if you do get lost.

Once you've got UbiGo loaded and the maps you want, you can begin playing around with it. Switching from GPS mode to map mode is easy but can be a bit annoying because every time you do, a confirmation dialog always pops up. With the mapping software, you can zoom in on your current position, mark certain areas and even add memos to the marked points. If the map data has it, you can search for points of interest or specific street names. UbiGo allows you to change the way the lines on the map are displayed depending on whether the road is an interstate or just a regular highway etc. The software has some neat functions but it will take getting used to setting everything up. The learning curve is definitely higher than your normal Springboard module.

Being restricted to open sky kind of takes away from some of the applications of this module. At first I thought I'd be able to use it during car rides, however, that wasn't the case. A warning comes up when you first start the HandyGPS about the dangers of using the device while driving, so it wasn't intended for that. However, using it before or stopping in the middle of a trip is the more practical thing to do, instead of holding it out the window the whole time. I didn't get a chance to test the device in any sort of dense foliage, so I'm not sure how well it'll work in a forest type setting. In regular conditions, it works fairly well, but be sure to use the power saving mode or else you'll eat up batteries quickly.

The HandyGPS software itself also has some useful functions. It has a navigation feature that lets you record your travels. You can record, save, and playback your route. This is useful if you want to just how did you get to where you are now. It makes it easy to backtrack if you're hiking in the woods or something. You can also create way points and select various routes using the way points. It's a great way to navigate your way through anywhere. Unfortunately, you can't use your waypoints from the HandyGPS application in the UbiGo mapping software. One other little problem I came across is that in order to access the menus, you have to tap on the Visor Platinum's menu button instead of tapping on the title bar. Tapping on the title bar brings up a dialog asking if you want to cold start. It gets annoying after you do it a few times and especially if you cold start by accident. I hope Nexian does something to fix this in it's software upgrades.


So now that everything works, what kinds of applications can the HandyGPS be used for? Well, if you're even thinking about getting a GPS module, then you probably already have a use in mind. However, let's just discuss some uses that you might not have thought of. Although I'm not much of a wilderness person, I do occasionally go out on excursions whenever I go back to my country, the Philippines. This module would be very useful when hiking in the forests over there. The built in compass and navigation recorder can help backtrack your steps so you don't get lost or run around in circles. The same goes for boating or snorkeling. I'm a big fan of the water, and usually we take a small boat and go out to the open sea for some free diving. Having this module along would be reassuring to the group that we'll be able to track our movement and even record places where we find good coral. It's really hard to get back to the same spot if we find a nice patch of coral. With the HandyGPS, recording our coordinates would be a snap and getting back to that same spot would be trivial. Ok, so we know it's good in the wild, but you're not going to be out in the bush forever. You can still use the HandyGPS for planning road trips to make sure you're going the right way, or to find nearby points of interests. That is provided you have the correct map loaded. You can also plot a route to work, or routes to different places depending on the way points you set. The built in compass function keeps things in perspective so you don't get disoriented in your travels. As for other uses, you can always impress your friends by having them blind fold you, and dropping you off in some strange neighborhood and managing to find your way back home. :) There are numerous possibilities.


Despite a few minor flaws, the HandyGPS is a solid product. It has a truck load of features to make it more than just any ordinary GPS device. The device is as accurate as advertised, maybe even more accurate. The price tag of $149.99 is good for what you get, especially considering the higher price of the competition. You pretty much have a portable navigation system at your fingertips. You'll never get lost in the woods again, or fail to find that old camping spot you always come back to. The UbiGo mapping software has some good helpful functions. You can search for points of interests, streets, and even record your travels. The HandyGPS software allows you to create way points, record your navigation, and create routes. It's a great addition to your Visor if you do a lot of hiking or traveling. It's definitely an affordable add-on.


A few things that I found lacking was the mapping software, the little annoyances in the GUI, the hard to open battery door, and a few other minor gripes. They could have made it more user friendly and added more functions to it. If you want to take advantage of all the features, you pretty much have to spend some time learning each of them. This isn't a toy, and you have to know what you're doing. The maps could have also been better consolidated instead of broken up. it would be much easier when loading. Not to mention that all your maps could easily take up half your Visor's memory. Although it's not really that big, I think they could have made it a bit smaller. Also if the power saving function is not enabled, the HandyGPS can really eat up your batteries rather quickly. The first time satellite acquisition was a bit long, so it would have been nice if they found a way to shorten it a bit. The restriction that the module had to be in open sky is expected, but I wish I could at least use it in a car. That's about it for cons that I could think of. Nothing else really bothered me.


Like I said before, the HandyGPS is a solid performer, although it does have it's flaws. I would have liked to be able to use it in the car without holding it out the window. I think the mapping software could have been more intuitive or user friendly. Most of the flaws are minor usability type things, but usability is an important aspect of any product. Over-all though, the HandyGPS does what it was advertised to do and that is give Visor users the power of GPS in the palm of their hand. GPS devices might not be for everyone, but those who are interested will definitely appreciate what this module can do. I'm a gadget freak myself, and this gadget is definitely a good addition to anyone's collection. The only other GPS module for the Visor out there is the Geode, which I have heard good things about but never really tried. So, if you're in the market for a GPS module, the HandyGPS is worth a look.

Rating: 7.5/10 SystemLogistics

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