Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bad Elf GPS Pro

Anyone that knows me knows I have a bit of a thing about GPS. I have Garmins in my cars, a handheld Garmin for Geocaching, the first Bad Elf GPS for the iPod/iPhone/iPad and this week I received the new Bad Elf GPS Pro. As soon as I saw the announcement for it I knew I was going to order it as soon as it was available. I was able to find it on line at MyGoFlight though it's slated to be available on Amazon in the future. I wanted one ASAP so I ordered it from the first online vendor I found.

One of the things I use my GPS for is geo-tagging photos. Whenever Donna and I go out shooting I'll almost always bring along my GPS tracker to record our track log and then tag the images using RoboGeo. The current tracker has served me well over the years but now that the GPS Pro is out I won't have a need for it (but I'll keep it for a backup just in case). Now that I have the GPS Pro not only can I record a track log but I can also connect up to 5 iDevices to it using Bluetooth. Yes I know the iPhone as GPS built in but there have been times when I would either (1) lose signal which means I also lost GPS capability or (2) running a GPS tracking log application on the iPhone would run the battery down very quickly and if I needed to use the phone it's a little hard to make a call with a dead battery.

The picture below (be01.jpg) shows what you get inside the box.

I have an adapter that allows me to plug the USB cable into a wall outlet so that's what I did to charge mine. The manual states it can take about 4 hours to fully charge the battery and that's what I observed as well. While the device is charging you see the charging indicator on the screen as shown below.

As soon as it finished charging I headed outside along with my iPhone and iPad to give things a try. As soon as the GPS Pro acquired satellite lock I paired it with my iPad. Even though the device has just hit the market there was already a firmware update available so I upgraded. This process took less than a minute so there's no reason NOT to apply the latest firmware updates when they are released.

The pairing process is a little bit different than how I've paired devices in the past. Normally you enter a code on the iPhone/iPad to pair but with the GPS Pro a number is displayed on the device and your iPhone/iPad. When the number is displayed you tap the confirmation button on the iPhone/iPad as well as GPS button (bottom of 3 buttons on left hand side) to pair the two. Once paired you can use the application on the iPhone/iPad to view GPS signal strength, number of sats locked and number available as well as a whole host of other related information.

Using the GPS Pro

There are 3 buttons on the left side of the device. The top one for power, the middle for Bluetooth and the bottom for GPS. Each button performs multiple functions depending on how long it is depressed. The table below summaries how each button functions:

Button Function Summary
ButtonPress for 3 secondsQuick press
PowerTurn device On/OffLCD Backlight On/Off
BluetoothTurn bluetooth On/OffPress multiple times to view Bluetooth related data
GPSTurn GPS Data Logging On/OffPress multiple times to view GPS related data

One feature I have come to really like is the ability to toggle GPS Data Logging On/Off using the iPhone/iPad. Although I've only had the GPS Pro for a couple of days I used the following process to create track logs to test it out. I walked outside and got GPS lock and then put the GPS Pro into the bag that I carry back and forth to work each day. That bag goes on the floor behind my seat. I then launched the GPS app on my iPhone and then with one swipe of a button I started logging data. Yes I could have just held the GPS button down for 3 seconds as outlined above but isn't it much cooler to be able to toggle it on and off remotely? (Okay I admit it I'm a dork but I think that capability is really cool!). Once I got to work I did toggled logging off, again using the iPhone.

Before I talk about the negatives because I have found a couple of things that I don't like I want to state up front that I've been having an active discussion with the support staff from Bad Elf but I won't go into the specific details of our conversations. Suffice it to say they are very interested in receiving feedback and want to know how we, as users of their devices, can make the device work better for our particular use. I have no idea how many other photographers may be considering this device for geo-tagging but that's the main reason why I bought it so I'll limit my discussions to how it can be improved for me as the photographer.

If there's a weakness with the GPS Pro it has to be with how track logs are retrieved from the device. At least I think so. The track log is recorded and saved on the GPS Pro and when you want to save it to your iPhone/iPad you transfer it from the GPS Pro to the iPhone/iPad. The device transfers the log file in two formats, GPX and KML. For my purposes the GPX file is all I need so the KML file is a waste of storage space. I will admit that I know very little about the Bluetooth protocol so it may be possible some of the issues are related to the protocol itself and not a knock against the device. I timed the transfer and a log that I created on my drive home from work (approximately 35 minutes worth of logging) took 1:45 to transfer. Almost 2 minutes. I know that may not sound like a really long time but when you consider that sometimes I've had my previous GPS tracking device recording for over 8 hours I can only imagine how long it would take. Since I haven't recorded a big log file let's, for the hell of it, estimate how long it would take. For 35 minutes of logging it takes 105 seconds to transfer so that works out to 3 seconds per minute. 105 seconds / 35 = 3. That means 60 minutes should take approximately 180 seconds (3 minutes) to download. Therefore 8 hours of logging x 3 minutes per hour should equal about 24 minutes to transfer the log from the GPS Pro to the iPhone/iPad. I did some additional testing by creating an hour long track log and it was downloaded in a little less than 3 minutes so my estimates are pretty close.

Transferring a log file.

My other complaint is how you get the log from your iPhone/iPad to your computer. Currently you have to email the log file to yourself. Remember I said the device downloads logs in two formats (GPX and KML). When you email the logs the email that is created includes both log files as an attachment. The good news is though is that you can edit the email and delete the attachment if you desire. That way you send less data with your email which can be an important consideration if you have a data plan that is not unlimited, which I do have.

I'm adding this information a few days later. I started working on the is post as soon as I got the GPS Pro but hadn't gotten around to posting it. In my testing of the device I have found two issues that I have reported the the GPS Pro support staff which are being investigated. The first is sometimes the logs fail to transfer between the GPS Pro and my iPhone 4. I have found that if I restart the iPhone and tranfer the log before doing anything else with the phone the transfer usually works. The odd thing is there doesn't seem to be a pattern to the problem. Sometimes they transfer and sometimes they don't :(. I have had no problems transferring the logs from the device to my 3rd generation iPad. The second issue is a major one for me and currently prevents me from actually using the device for geo-tagging photos :(. For some reason the date on logs (both GPX and KML format) have date values that are wrong. What I'm seeing is that instead of a date showing up as "2012-08-09" it is showing up as "0220-08-09". Until this issue is fixed and a firmware update made available I won't be able to use the device for geo-tagging. It's still great having GPS capability on my iPad but I could have had that using the original Bad Elf GPS device. I'm certain these issues will be resolved quickly and I can use the device they way I want to use it. I will be posting updates as I work through the issues with the support team.


  1. thanks for the review, i just ordered one myself ;-)

    1. Congrats! Make sure you download the iPhone app if you haven't already. There's also an update coming out soon for the iPhone app so be watching for that as well. If you have any questions about it once you get it let me know.

  2. Zack

    Do you think this device will be good as a GPS receiver for an ipod touch for geocaching? The specs show good accuracy, and 10Hz refresh rate which suggests it will be as good as any Handheld gps for geocaching.

    I just can not get myself to spend $300+ on a handheld gps for geocaching with a 2.5" lcd, when I have a new ipod with 4" display, and it can do so much more. I just need a really goog gps signal for it.

    your comments appreciated.

    1. I am not Zack but I do own a Bad Elf GPS Pro. My daughters and I have used it to Geocache with great success. Each of us had either an iPod touch or iPad, we pair them all to the same Bad Elf GPS Pro with no problem and off we go. It is much more fun then the three of us (or 4 if my wife joins us) gathered around one small screen seeing where we are, need to be and want to go. I also use the Bad Elf GPS Pro on my 16' boat and when I travel abroad (to cut down on data roaming charges with my iPhone). It is great. I have had no issues so far.

  3. Hi, can you charge it with car power and using the GPS bluetooth function at the same time?