Reviews: Other

Arkon Powered GPS Mount

     The idea of having a GPS is always one I have always liked. Being that I have a terrible time finding my way around new places in my car, having a GPS probably would have made me appear at a lot more meetings on time instead of walking in 10 minutes late. I never wanted a standalone GPS unit because what was the fun of that. I am a PDA guy, it needs to be connected to my device. There were some CF cards and then Bluetooth receivers, but for some reason they did not seem right. My buddy Matt over at thePDAmart told me about a new GPS unit Arkon was releasing, and it caught my eye. I have been a fan of Arkon since the days of my iPAQ H3600. Matt told me about the Arkon Powered GPS Mount. The mount is a great idea for users that want to primarily use their GPS in their car. Unlike a CF, SD, or Bluetooth GPS which would still require you to buy and additional mount for using your device in the car, the Arkon Powered GPS unit is an all-in-one device that puts all the features you need and more into one unit.
     The GPS mount is modeled after Arkon's line of Powered PDA Mounts. It is of almost identical style but has a distinct difference, a GPS antenna. On the back of the mount is a GPS antenna that folds flat against the mount for storage, and can be angled and rotated for ease of use. The GPS unit inside the mounts cradle is a Sirf XTrac v.2.0. The GPS mount has only one mounting option. In other products (specifically Arkon's line of Universal mounts), Arkon offers a variety of mounting solutions. Personally I like something that keeps my device out of plain view, but for a GPS mount, I do understand the importance of having it in the window for line of site with the satellites. I never thought a windshield mount would work particularly well. Granted, it can work for things like a pad of paper, but a PDA? I do not really want to trust a suction cup to hold a mount, GPS, and my PDA. Well, Arkon proved me wrong. I am the converted. Mounting to the windshield is fine (as long as you do not get in an accident of course). The large suction cup holds the mount and device easily, and there is a lock to secure it to the windshield. The device cradle itself detaches from the mounting arm. This allows you to leave the mount arm attached to the windshield and remove the cradle (which includes the GPS unit).
     The mounting arm attaches to the device cradle over an embedded speaker. While the device I used to test the mount (the Dell Axim X5) has a speaker on the front, I actually found it is not really a good idea to use it in the car. It does not sound good on full blast. Other devices, like the Axim X3, have their speaker on the back where the sound would go straight into the mounts cradle. For these two reasons, Arkon included the speaker on the back of the GPS. On the top of the cradle is an input for the speaker. Using a small cable included by Arkon, you can connect your device to the mounts speaker. On the left side of the unit is a volume control. I have found it is so much easier to use the volume control, especially while driving, than try and turn down the sound on my device.
     Arkon has two systems for making sure that your device stays in the cradle. The first is two pegs on the bottom of the cradles face. These can slide closer or further apart depending on the style of device and the size of the serial connection. These pegs are just a resting place for the device. What really holds it in place are the two arms on either side of the device. The padded arms extend fully by the press of a button on the right side of the mounts cradle. Once the device is in the cradle, all you have to do is press the arms together until the device is securely held. To get your device out, press the button on the side of the mounts cradle and the arms re-extend, allowing the device to be removed. At first I did not realize that there was a button to open the arms. I actually almost broken the pulling them out so I could fit my device in. With the arms, you almost do not need the pegs as it can secure the device to the mount by itself.
     The bottom of the cradle has two USB ports. One is for data and the other is for powering an accessory. Each cradle comes with a serial cable for connecting the sync/serial port of your device to the GPS mount. This cable is used to transfer data and power the device. With the Axim X5, the charging light does not show as active, but the device is receiving power when it is on (you can tell if you have different brightness settings). The USB accessory port is for the connection of another 5V unit for charging. The USB port doesn't have any data related connections, but if you had another USB device you wanted to charge or power, you could use it. (I have not found a need for it yet). To power your device and the accessory, as well as the GPS unit, a lighter socket cable connects to the bottom of the cradle. The cable is wound so it can stretch to reach the lighter.
     Arkon decided to include a way to connect existing GPS units to the cradle. A phone line style connection on the top of the cradle can connect to another GPS and on the left side of the cradle is a power connection for charting a Bluetooth GPS unit. For this review, I did not test this part of the GPS mount as it is not pertinent to being able to use the included GPS.
     There can not possibly be anymore features in the product right? Wrong. The last feature is one that is a relatively new in the PDA market. The mount can flip and support landscape mode.  As more applications support landscape more, this becomes more important.  You do not have to try and mount the unit on a side window; you can simply turn the cradle while attached to the front cradle. But when you flip the cradle, the GPS antenna is pointing the wrong way. Arkon built the antenna on a swivel, so you can spin it to point toward the sky.
     I have used this mount almost every time I have gotten in my car since receiving it.  Like most GPS units, it takes a couple seconds to find your initially lactation, but I have had no problems with it keeping a connection as long as there is line of site.  In my area (Tacoma, WA) I usually am able to see six or seven satellites, and it usually figures out my location within a couple blocks of starting my journey.
     There are two things I would like to see from this product. First, I hope the would expand the user manual. It is a little brief and I think that many users could use a little more information about using the mount, specifically information about what COM port the mount connects through (this may vary). Second, I would like to see just the USB to device cables sold. One big selling point for me of this mount is that it can be used with many devices.  I tried to use a miniSync connector to link the GPS and my device, and while the device can be powered by it, it did not receive the data.  Matt from "thePDAmart" assures me they will be available in the future, but I am always a big fan of allowing users to upgrade.
     In the past I have enjoyed Geo Caching with friends, and would like to be able to do that with this GPS.  Because of the PDA connection, I could mark the expected location and do it that way, but it is to bad that the PDA couldn't also power the mount if there was no 12V connection.  If that were to happen, I would say this device really has it all...but it is pretty damn good as it is now. 
     The Arkon Powered GPS Mount has to be my favorite option for combing GPS and PDA's in the car. It supports a strong method for mounting the PDA in the car, and a solid built-in GPS receiver. Arkon has built in features that are required for a good in-car system, like the speaker and volume control (promoting safety), as well as the USB to serial connection. Another great thing about the GPS mount is that it doesn't break the bank. The list price for the mount is $150 (consider a similar mount without the GPS is $60), but through Matt at "thePDAmart", the Powered GPS Mount is only $140. At the time of this writing, the Arkon mount supports HP iPAQ H2200, H3800, H3900, H4100, H4300, and H5500 devices, all Dell Axim devices, and Asus 600 series devices. The Arkon Powered GPS Mount is a great addition to my car and my Pocket PC usage. I plug my Pocket PC into it almost every time I get in my car and have not gotten lost since I began using it!

Dave's Score - 9.0
This means, this product is about as close to "the best" as you can get.  This product embodies quality in its design and application, and is something I would use.  Though you still should consider it for yourself, most would probably be happy with this product even if they were unable to try it prior to purchase.

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