Trackstick is a GPS on a USB stick designed for unobstrusive tracking. The small non-descript unit comes with direct support for Google Earth (Windows only). It has no display, it just quietly tracks where it has gone. The idea is you could put this in a car, or something you want to track, and later download its track by simply sticking it in the USB port. I’m glad to say, the makers of Trackstick recently sent me a Trackstick to review and it not only operates well as a GPS, but its Google Earth interface works smoothly.
I ran some tests by driving around the Raleigh area. I also had a Garmin 60Cx with me to compare the tracks. The Trackstick defaults to a slow update rate (once per minute) which didn’t leave a detailed track, but you can use the software to change the setting to update once per second. With the latter setting, the Trackstick was quite close to the Garmin for broadscale applications like driving. In this example Google Earth file , I drove between three shopping plazas in Cary, North Carolina. If you select “Path” in the Places pane and “Tools->Play Tour” you can follow the track. The folder has information on the speed of travel, direction, and the amount of time stopped at each location.
The Trackstick’s Google Earth support is done well. The download program allows you to filter the recorded results and just display the portions of the track of interest. The unit is about one fourth the size of my Garmin handheld. One possible use would be to keep an eye on where your teenage kids have been taking the car. The unit is available from distributors for a retail price of $250.
The Trackstick is a small non-descript plastic case. You pop off one end to expose the USB stick. The current version requires a small screwdriver to open the battery case, a new version will have a snap-open case. It uses two AAA batteries. A small recessed button is used to set the modes or turn the unit on/off. A embossed logo is used to show the user which way to face the Trackstick as it must face “up” to see the satellites and get a signal.
Since the Trackstick is so small, the antenna has limited receptivity compared to the more expensive Garmin 60Cx. It needs a clear view of the skies to record accurately, so placement is important. I don’t believe the unit is water proof, although it is an enclosed plastic container and I imagine it is at least water resistant. But, a protected location would be best. Putting a sticky velcro attachment might be best if its to be placed on a car dash, otherwise it would slide around.
After you get the unit, it is recommended to get the latest software off the web site. The new Fast Track mode is set by using the software’s “Device Properties”. It allows you to adjust the speed of recorded track points, and download the tracks after they have been recorded. You can filter according to day and time and view in a number of mapping programs or Google Earth. You can also output to a CSV spreadhseet file. For Google Earth, not only are all the points marked with placemarks and information on speed, heading, location, and altitude; but also they provide a “Path” which allows you to smoothly follow the track in Google Earth.
Conclusion: You can find lower cost GPS units which could also leave a track (for example, Garmin Forerunner <$100), but they won’t be in such an unobtrusive package. Garmin units already come with software to support Google Earth, but the output doesn’t directly contain the same details. The Trackstick company looks to be improving the product, and they are advertising a new product called the Trackstick Pro on their web site. I think the Trackstick has a niche market, and I like the Google Earth support.