Sunday, June 22, 2008
Navman B10 SiRFstarIII GPS receiver review
The Navman B10 is a budget Bluetooth GPS receiver available from Expansys for a low £20. So what sort of performance do you expect to get from something that is dirt cheap? Surprisingly, it performs well. In fact so well I am ready to ditch my XDA Orbit altogether and exclusively use my Nokia E51 and B10 for my navigational purpose.
The B10 contains a high sensitivity 20-channel SiRFstarIII low power chipset, the current commercial darling of GPS receivers. While the SiRFstarIII has since been surpassed by other chipsets, like the MTX used by companies like Holux and Qstarz, the SiRFstarIII is still highly regarded as a reasonable performing general purpose chip that remains highly in use in both budget and high-end receivers. SiRF's ubiquity within the GPS navigation market is unsurpassed.
I had my doubts on ordering the B10 as I had such an awful experience with the XDA Orbit/HTC Artemis, which also uses the SiRFstarIII for its built-in GPS receiver. Fortunately this isn't the case. After unpacking and charging it up, the first test was from home, roughly 2 metres from the window. Using TomTom Mobile, I found that the B10 reported seven good signals from the satellite, were as the XDA Orbit was only capable of locking onto two. During a bad weather day with rain and all.
In real world usage the XDA Orbit will often take minutes to get a fix, even despite having downloaded the latest ephemeris data, and having a clear open sky. I remember being in Arundel a couple of months ago just holding the Orbit up to the heavens in the middle of an empty field, clear skies and all, urging it to get a fix from those blessed American satellites. Often to no avail as I cursed the XDA Orbit and threatened to throw it into a duck filled pond. The B10's TTFF performance however is a vast improvement over the Orbit, with it capable of getting a fix within 40-60 seconds from a cold boot.
Subsequently it took about 15-20 seconds for a warm start and 2-3 seconds for hot fixes, all despite the rather unimpressive weather condition. It was very capable of holding onto the fix even during times when surrounded by vast amount of forestry. Navman reckons that the accuracy of the B10 is within 5 metres, which is good enough, though hardcore Geocachers will likely want to look for something more accurate. Analysing the tracks I made with Memory-Map, I found that part of my recorded track tends to drift between 2-4 metres, and sometimes as far as 6-8 metres, from my real positions. At times, for example when travelling in the tube, the accuracy can decrease to around 10 metres.
Using it with a smartphone is easy. Just turn on the B10, fire up the Bluetooth application, pair it and you are done. In the case of the E51, I did not need to set up anything else. All the mapping applications I had - TomTom Mobile, Nokia Maps 2.0 and ViewRanger 2.5 worked perfectly fine acquiring signals from the B10 after the initial pairing. The only problem I had was with Mobile GMaps, a freeware mapping utility, which failed to see the receiver.
Charging the 850mAh Li-ion battery via USB takes roughly 2 hours and Navman quotes the battery as capable of providing 10 hours of GPS usage, which I think is reasonably enough for a day out trekking. The battery is removable, though I did find battery door nearly impossible to reopen. A car charger and USB cable is included in the package, which I left unopened in the box. Lord knows how many mini USB cables I have acquired in recent years. Still it is very generous of them.
The B10 is very petite (63 x 41 x 17mm, 56g) - not as tiny as Proporta's Freedom thingy, but small enough to dump into your jacket or bag and forget about it. There is even a lanyard loop so you use a lanyard to loop it around your neck. Hard coated plastic makes up the majority of the receiver's body and seems rugged enough to withstand most knocks. The finishing quality is pretty good, giving the receiver an 'expensive' feel. It isn't waterproof so its outdoor capabilities is limited to less extreme and drier activities. Personally this isn't a huge concern to me, but anyone looking for a more rugged receiver would do best to get a dedicated outdoor receiver like the expensive but highly rated Satmap Active 10 or Garmin Edge 705.
Overall the Navman B10 is great and cheap quality GPS receiver for people who requires a new or spare receiver for their GPS-less phones. It works well, and is small enough not to weigh the user down. Highly recommended, especially for less than twenty quid.
Update: Did some more tests today and updated the review a little bit.