Facebook Pixel Columbus V-900 GPS Voice Photo Data Logger Review

Columbus V-900 GPS Voice Photo Data Logger Review

In this review Peter Carey gives a breakdown of the Columbus V-900 GPS Data Logger and his impressions based on real world testing.

IMG_8841 Light as a feather and slimmer than most cell phones, the Columbus V-900 GPS Data Logger touts a plethora of features in a complete package.  The unit is tiny for a GPS receiver by any standard and packs the following highlights:

  • Voice tagging capabilities!
  • Expandable micro-SD card slot (comes with 1GB card)
  • Bluetooth Connectivity for mobile devices
  • Long Duration 24 hour internal battery in logging mode
  • Over speed alarm
  • Java based tagging program works on MAC, PC and Linux

And more!  With a 2GB card, the unit can record up to 2.5 million track points.  It comes with software to geocode photos as well as create Google kzm and klm files to share your experience.  Let’s jump right into a real world test case with this exciting, dinky unit.

When this unit arrived I was a bit excited.  At this point in time, this is the only GPS Photo Data Logger that also has the ability to record voice memos and then later pinpoint them on a map.  The packaging is about the size of three DVD cases stacked on top of each other and the standard unit comes with:

  • Columbus V-900
  • 1 GB micro-SD card
  • Micro to mini to regular Secure Digital card adapter
  • Software CD
  • 12V car adapter
  • Power Cable (standard USB B on one end and mini-USB on the other)
  • Instruction manual
  • Protective Sleeve
  • Lanyard

The battery was charged and the unit was ready to go when I opened the package.  All I had to do was insert the supplied 1 GB micro-SD card.  The power button is found on the top of the unit and remains flush to prevent accidental activation.  Holding the button for three seconds brings the Columbus to life with a happy chirp.  Ok, maybe it’s just a chirp, but it sounded kinda happy.  The unit has three LED indicators on the front as shown in the photo at the top of this post.  Writing, Satellite and Bluetooth.  Holding the power button again will turn off the unit, with the chirp.

The Writing LED stays on and orange while the unit is in logging mode.  The light blinks whenever a track point is written to storage, every second.  Columbus2The Satellite LED will stay on a solid green while the unit attempts to acquire a GPS signal and then flashes green to show it has locked on and is working.  The Bluetooth LED flashes blue while it tries to acquire a Bluetooth signal.  If no signal is acquired within 15 minutes, this light turns off.  If a match is made, either with a laptop, PDA smartphone or the like, the light stays solid.

The voice record button is located on the right side of the unit as shown in the picture.  To activate a voice recording, the button needs to be held down.  After about one second a chirp will be heard indicating recording has started.  A microphone is located on the top of the unit and while quality is not stellar, it works well.  Release the button and a double chirp follows indicating all is well.  It should be noted, as far as I can tell, the voice recording itself is not tagged with GPS information.  If that statement is proven false, I’ll remove it.  As far as I can tell, the tagging gets done when the supplied tagging program is run.  Sample Voice Recording

Charging is accomplished via a mini-USB data port in the bottom of the unit.  This port only functions to charge the unit (with supplied cable) and doesn’t not work for data transfer, which is accomplished with the supplied SD card adapter and your own card reader.  The power port could use a cover as I can imagine it becomingColumbus1 very clogged if taken on a long trip.  An AC adapter is optional and I found an iPod wall unit with the Columbus charge cable works just fine.  The unit’s power light turns red when the battery is low and while charging, returning to green when the battery is full.

After the initial learning curve was mastered, I headed out around town to give the unit a test.  While the instruction manual states a satellite lock in approximately 35 seconds from a cold start, it took about 3 minutes the first time the Columbus was turned on inside my truck.  Other on/off acquisition times after the initial start up were within the stated 35 seconds.  Otherwise the unit worked as advertised, staying on and tracking well for the whole 30 minute trip.  New track logs can be created with the device running by holding down the waypoint button for a second which is answered by, you guessed it, a chirp.  This is useful for chopping up a trip into individual segments.  Back at home I ejected the micro-SD card, placed it in the supplied adapters and then into my computer.

The Columbus comes with a program called Time Album, which is Java based, for tagging voice files and photos and exporting them to kmz and kml files.  A kml file will only contain the track and waypoints with pointers back to the voice and photo files, while the kmz file will embed the voice and data files as a package for sharing either in email or online.  The program also has the ability to offset the tagging as most cameras are not synced perfectly with a PC.  It can also link together multiple track logs with a simple highlight and click of the Link button.  The Options button allows for adjusting some of the export functions, such as track interval (an amount of meters or seconds so the maps doesn’t get too crowded) as well as the size of photos in the kmz files.

Columbus3 The Columbus’ accuracy is extremely close.  Looking at photos marked and actual locations, the difference is on the order of 20′ and that could be because of a slight difference in time stamps.  It would be very handy for most any trip that doesn’t require the accuracy of true surveying equipment.  The trip I took was mostly free of tall trees (i.e. not in the forest) with the unit sitting on the arm rest inside my truck.

Some information on file sizes as I myself was curious how much space the voice tags would require.  Files are saved as WAV files and a ten second recording used 63KB on the card.  A 30 minute track log with a point recorded every second used 168KB.  The track log was made using the professional mode, which records more data than the regular mode, so even more points can be recorded in regular mode.  With a 2GB card, the unit should record around 5000 hours of data.

The unit has a suggested retail price of $140 but can be found cheaper on the internet.  For my money, the Columbus V-900 GPS Data Logger delivers as promised.  While I personally won’t be using all of the features (it also has a Spy Mode, GPS program for Windows CE and the Bluetooth connection can be used with a PDA as previously mentioned) the voice recording is very handy and worth the additional cost, in my mind.  My only gripe is the unit only presents information in metric units.  I know, I know, just do the math, and I do.  But I’d like the option to switch to miles.

Buy the Columbus V-900 GPS Data Logger at Amazon.

Disclaimer: The author was provided with a complimentary item for the purpose of this review.

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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