Published on December 12th, 2013 | by EJC1
Six Handy GPS Trackers
If you work in hostile environments it is vital that somebody knows where you are. Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking devices are handy pieces of kit for journalists in the field. They let people know your location almost instantly with the press of a button, don’t have to be expensive and can be downloaded, worn and carried on your person, in bags or in vehicles.
INSI has reviewed six GPS trackers, which may be of interest to freelancers and staffers operating in dangerous locations. This review does not constitute an endorsement of any of the products.
GPS trackers should be easy to use. Look out for intuitive interfaces and maps so people monitoring them can see where you are. Look out for the length of the battery life – a GPS tracker is no use if it runs out of power.
Remember that tracking devices carry significant risks to privacy, so be sure that you can activate and deactivate your device, while ensuring that it can’t be activated or deactivated unintentionally. They can and may be tracked by the security forces in many countries. Before use, ensure you are aware of the counter threats to you and your story.
Remember that GPS trackers only work with a clear view of the sky (so will not work in buildings).
A GPS tracker is not a substitute for a thorough risk assessment and must be backed up by robust contingency planning for all eventualities.
Be aware that posting your location on Twitter or Facebook may compromise your safety, that of your colleagues and your sources and local fixers.
Track 24 SoloMate Lite
Last year Track24 Solo launched a free app for Android phones, which allows users to send their status and GPS location via email, text and Facebook, if they wish. Each update includes a message (i.e. ‘I am OK,’ or ‘I need HELP’), coordinates and a link to the device’s location on a map.
Pros: The app is free and can easily be downloaded to an Android phone. It is a simple design and easy to get your message and location across.
Cons: It relies on the battery power of the smartphone, which drains quickly. Consider carrying back up power supplies in order to keep your phone topped up, as electrical supplies can sometimes be difficult to find. The app relies on mobile networks, which are inconsistent in some parts of the world.
You can download the SoloMate Lite app here.
Quicksafe HelpME GPS Panic Alarm
(£159.98; SIM card not included) (UK)
This small and lightweight alarm pendant (it weighs just 40g) can be worn around the neck and sends SMS text alerts of your exact location to contacts of your choice. It also allows 2 way communication, so if activated a contacted person can verify the risk. When the SOS panic button is pressed and held for three seconds, the device will automatically send a ‘Help Me’ text message to one of your contacts. The device will then automatically call up to three stored numbers until the call is answered. A SIM card is not included.
Pros: Discreet, small and lightweight; can be worn around the neck. It is simple to set up and use, with just one SOS button and two speed dial buttons.
Cons: SIM card not included and UK Orange and 3 Network SIM cards are not compatible. It operates on mobile networks, which are inconsistent in some parts of the world.
Find out more here.
StrayStar GPS Tracker Watch
(£139.99; free SIM card) (UK)
This 3-in-1 wristband is a GPS tracker, phone and watch. The device features an SOS button, two way calling and a function where it texts your coordinates to a contact of your choice. It can also be tracked online. When the SOS button on the side of the watch is pressed a text message with the coordinates of the tracker is sent to a pre-programmed number. In this mode, the watch will also call a set of up to four numbers in turn until somebody answers. The inbuilt speaker and microphone also means the watch can be used as a mini mobile phone which can call up to two pre- programmed numbers. A free GiffGaff SIM card with £5 credit is included with the watch.
Pros: It is cheap to use. The StrayStar GPS Tracker watch comes with its own pay and go SIM card (although you can use your own SIM card if you wish) – text messages with Google Maps links cost 6p each. An optional function where the tracker uploads its location to a monitoring website every few minutes costs 20p per day.
Cons: It operates on mobile networks, which are inconsistent in some parts of the world. The battery life lasts up to 36 hours on standby and up to 17 hours when it is GPS activated, meaning that it needs charging every night. It is not waterproof.
Find out more here.
Laipac S-911 Bracelet Locator
($359.00, $384.45 service plan) (Canada)
The Laipac S-911 Bracelet Locator is a wearable GPS tracker, mobile phone and digital watch, which features real-time tracking, two way communication and tamper detection. In an emergency, push the SOS button to dial a predetermined number and communicate via the inbuilt speaker and microphone. It also sends emergency text messages, emails and notifications to preselected contacts. When the bracelet sends out an alert, it goes into real-time tracking mode where it automatically sends out signals via text and email with the coordinates of the bracelet. A G-shock motion sensor can detect whether the device has experienced a heavy impact like a car crash or a fall. An inbuilt data logger, which records speed, position and way points works even when there is no mobile coverage available.
Pros: It uses assisted GPS (AGPS) technology, meaning it works both indoors and outdoors. If the wearer enters an area where mobile coverage is lost, the device will store the locations travelled and transmit them once mobile coverage is regained. It is water resistant.
Cons: It works on mobile networks, which are inconsistent in some parts of the world. It is an expensive piece of kit.
Find out more here.
SPOT Connect Personal Tracker
($169.99; Basic service plan $99.99) (USA)
SPOT‘s latest offering, SPOT Connect, pairs with your smartphone via Bluetooth to convert it into a satellite communicator. This means that even when no mobile networks are available your phone will be able to function on a satellite network. If you download the free app for Apple iOS or Android you can send short messages to your contacts via text or email, and update Facebook and Twitter, if you wish – as well as ‘Check in’, ‘Track’, ‘Help’, and emergency signals. SPOT Connect can also be used independently from your phone and has two functions, ‘Power’ and ‘SOS’.
In a life-threatening situation you can send your GPS location to the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Centre (IERCC). The IERCC will then alert appropriate response teams worldwide – for instance, 1-1-2 responders in Europe and 9-1-1 responders in North America. However, be aware that responders are not available in many countries.
Pros: Satellite networks offer far greater coverage than mobile networks. The device has a longer battery life than a phone (when it is not connected to a phone, it will last 11 days on Standby mode and five days on SOS mode).
Cons: SPOT Connect uses the Globalstar satellite network, which doesn’t cover parts of South America, Africa, Russia and Asia. A map of the Globalstar network coverage is here. GPS systems need a view of the sky to work properly so will not be accurate indoors. Responders are not available in all countries.
Find out more here.
DeLorme inReach SE
($299.95; Safety Plan $9.95) (USA)
The brand new DeLorme inReach SE is a two-way satellite communications device, meaning it can be used to send and receive messages independently of your phone.
You can update your Facebook and Twitter accounts, if you wish, and send emails and texts from almost anywhere in the world thanks to the global coverage offered by the Iridium satellite network. A remote real-time follow me/find me tracking system can keep chosen contacts up to date with where you are.
The standalone device has a colour screen and virtual keyboard, which works independently of your phone but you can also pair it with with Apple iOS or Android to make messaging more convenient. Downloading the Earthmate app gives you access to topographic maps and North American NOAA maps to help with navigation.
When the SOS button is activated the GEOS IERCC will track your device and notify emergency responders in the area, unless you are in an area where there are none. You can communicate with emergency responders, describing the situation so proper resources can be deployed, and unlike SPOT Connect the emergency responders can communicate with you as well.
Pros: The built in touch screen means you do not need a second device to communicate, and two-way communication is a bonus. The Iridium satellite network provides global coverage.
Cons: It is an expensive piece of kit. GPS systems need a view of the sky to work properly so it will not be accurate indoors. Be aware that emergency responders are not available in many countries.
Find out more here.
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