GPS Review: Geomate.jr
Geocaching less than a year, our family is still what most serious geocachers would consider novices. It’s not that we’re lazy, we just have young kids and prefer the “Level 1″ caches in both difficulty and terrain. For now, we stick to easy finds and larger containers full of plastic bugs, shiny rocks, and the occasional temporary tattoo.
Until recently, our total investment in geocaching has been the $9.99 Groundspeak Geocaching iPhone application. For the most part, AT&T cell overage has been reliable and a combination of geo-stealth and the “cloverleaf” search technique (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Geocaching, Second Edition, Page 87) has given us 32 finds. The ability to log entries, drop trackables, upload photos, and search for geocaches on-the-fly is my idea of Twenty-First Century real-time geocaching.
Determined to be an expert on the sport, I decided to hide a cache of my own. So, I coughed up another $30 and upgraded to the premium membership on Geocaching.com, ordered some “official” materials, and set out in the cold and the snow with iPhone compass in hand.
Sparing everyone two-days worth of hindsight and frostbite, I learned this valuable lesson: While the iPhone is fine for finding easy caches, it’s an unreliable method of recording accurate coordinates if you’re hiding a cache of your own. I needed an entry-level GPS—something easy-to-use, durable enough to be dropped by kids, and at a low price point. We started with the Geomate.jr by Geocache GPS (currently retailing for $69.95 on L.L. Bean.com).
When the package arrived, I felt new sense of confidence at this promise from the product packaging, “So simple that even an adult can use it.” Yes! Designed to be used without any pre-configuration, data entry, or internet connection, you literally insert two AAA batteries, push the power button, and throw it out the front door into the snow (or, in a warmer climate, stand outside and watch the unit collect satellite data).
With a renewed sense of purpose and better self-confidence, I set out to re-hide four geocaches. Not only did I have more accurate results with the Geomate.jr, I was better able to determine nearby geocaches (standing in the same location, the iPhone determined the nearest geocache to be 472 feet away while the Geomate.jr honed that number in to 213 feet). Overall, I was able to find existing geocaches within 6 feet, where I typically average anywhere between 40 and 150 feet on the iPhone (even in thick deciduous coverage with hibernating critters all around).
Pre-loaded with 250,000 geocaches, the Geomate.jr is unable to display multi-caches and unlisted caches (new ones like mine). In one instance, I hid a new container only to later find it was within 400 feet of an existing multi-cache not detected in the field. However, according to the user manual, raw coordinates can be entered into the Geomate.jr (this function not personally tested by yours truly). That said, an update kit is available ($24.95 on L.L.Bean.com) for the Geomate.jr; offering you the ability to upload the unit with new geocaches and remove inactive ones on geocaching.com. At the push of a button on the front panel, you can also digitally record finds without the need to schlep a notebook and pencil into the woods.
Personally, I’m looking forward to combining the accuracy of the Geomate.jr and the convenience of the Groundspeak Geocaching iPhone application for an enhanced geocaching experience. And at a combined grand total of $109.94, I’ve managed to spend less than the cost of an advanced GPS device. Some day we’ll hike deeper into the mountains, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.