Most people with a smartphone or PDA are looking for ways to make their device more useful, and turning it into a navigation tool is one of the best ones. But for this to work as well as possible, you have to have access to the Global Positioning System.
That’s where the Freedom Keychain GPS Receiver comes in. This handy accessory brings GPS support to just about any device with Bluetooth.
Of course, there are plenty of other gadgets that do this same thing, but this one — available from Proporta for $130 — offers something few of its competitors do: a convenient size. As its name suggests, it’s small enough that you can add it to your keychain to be sure you always have it with you.
Update: Proporta has stopped offering this accessory, but it is still available from the Brighthand Store for $90.
I’ve been carrying a Freedom Keychain GPS Receiver around with me for a month or so, and I generally found it to be very accurate. That’s not surprising, as the SiRF Star III hardware at its heart is the current "gold standard".
There was only one place where I ran into problems, and it’s the one that’s the bane of all GPS receivers: in a city. The urban canyons of a big metropolis play havoc with the accuracy of these gizmos. When I was walking down the street in San Francisco, my location was jumping around a four block area like a frog on a hot stove.
But unless you frequently move around downtown, you’re not going to run into this problem. The receiver works fine in most situations, like hanging from my steering column (or sitting in my pocket) when I’m driving around in the suburbs.
Hardware Not Software
An important thing to keep in mind if you’re considering buying the Freedom Keychain GPS Receiver is that it doesn’t come with navigation software. You will have to get this separately.
Fortunately, there is an excellent free alternative for most people: the versions of Google Maps for Palm OS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry.
I’m not going to do a full review of this application here, but I will say that it works well with the Freedom GPS, and provides both location and navigation services. The downsides: no automatic rerouting when you get off the suggested track, no voice directions, and you have to have a constant connection to the Internet for it to work. But all-in-all, it’s a great application for the price: $0.
UPDATE: To use a GPS receiver with the Palm OS version of Google Maps, you’ll need a free application called Where Am I?
This gizmo is rated for ten hours of battery life on a single charge, and I think that’s reasonable. In the weeks I’ve used one, with infrequent re-charging, the only time I’ve ever completely drained the battery was by accidentally leaving it on in my pocket overnight.
And if you do manage to run it dry, the Freedom Keychain GPS Receiver comes with a car charger, so you won’t be left in the lurch on a long trip. As a bonus, if you have a smartphone that’s charged through its mini-USB port, you can recharge your phone with this same cigarette adapter.
For in-door charging, you hook the receiver up to your PC’s USB port.
To connect to this accessory, your mobile device is going to need the short-range wireless networking standard Bluetooth. Fortunately, you’d have to work a bit to find a recent handheld, smartphone, or UMPC without this.
Bluetooth brings two advantages. One of these is that it enables this one gizmo to work with a wide variety of portable computers. I’ve connected it to half a dozen different models, from an HTC Touch to a Sony Vaio, without a problem.
The other advantage is that all that’s necessary for the Freedom GPS Receiver to communicate with your mobile device is for the two to be within 20 or 30 feet of each other. This means you can be holding your smartphone in your hand with the receiver sitting up on the dashboard.
If you’re looking to turn your smartphone, PDA, or even laptop into a navigation tool, then the Freedom Keychain GPS Receiver is a good option.
It’s very small, accurate, and convenient, and the price isn’t bad.