Review: Super Trackstick

Our blogging buddy Mitch over at Sensory Metrics pointed out a cool device a few months ago, and I picked one up, full of hopes that it would solve my Geotagging needs.

Super Trackstick

The Trackstick devices are GPS receivers that simply save positions and times in RAM, then you plug ‘em into your PC to extract the locations as a GPX file, suitable for use with Google Earth or a bunch of other programs.

What I wanted:

  • A device I could simply leave in my camera bag for weeks or months at a time. It would save it’s location at all times.
  • When I would download the photos from my camera, I’d add an extra step – run some magic software that would parse through the locations and times, and embed geotags into my photo’s EXIF lat, long, country, city fields. Ideally it would work with Aperture and my Mac.

Caveat:

The Trackstick’s primary market is not photographers, and they clearly state they don’t work with Macs…

What I got:

  • The Trackstick is well built. A nice solid design, well made and nice materials.
  • It’s bigger than I thought it would be – 3cm x  11cm.
  • It came with a belt clip, and a magnet attachment for sticking it on cars, I suppose.
  • It comes with decent software – it was a bit finicky to install on both my XP and Vista machines, but it reads the locations out of the unit, has OK links to Google Earth, and exports GPX files OK.
  • The unit has a switch on the side to turn it on and off, and a single LED that reports its status.
  • Nice feature – motion detector! It detects motion – so it can go to sleep when the unit is still, and only wake up to detect motion. I was really hoping this feature would be useful for my use – leaving the unit in my camera bag and having it start tracking only when I move it.

What’s Great:

  • The unit worked right out of the box. Picked up its location, and started recording readings right away.
  • The software works great with Google Earth – you can plot points, animate things, zoom in to view your track over time, and use the timeline feature to follow along on your trips.
  • The unit is solid. I kinda busted the power switch when I was hacking around with it, but that’s totally my fault…
  • Support is great. I got great support at both www.trackstick.com and www.trackstick.ca

What sucks:

  •  Battery life just isn’t working out for me. It’s lasting only a day or two – much less than the advertised “over a month” of travel histories. I’ve written to the Canadian and US dealers, and they both report the same thing. Once the device is inside, and can’t get a fix – you better turn it off, or you’ll drain the battery quickly. I guess the motion detector is not working the way it should.
  • The unit comes with tons of “INSTALL THE SOFTWARE BEFORE PLUGGING INTO USB PORT” warnings. Stickers on the device etc. This is generally an indication that there’s something fishy going on – they’ve clearly had a lot of support calls about this. The software installation was not smooth on my XP or my Vista machines. I had to re-install a few times to get it to work.
  • The software is adequate, not great. The various options are not explained. It would be nice to have some built-in settings I could use like “Optimize for long life” or “Optimize for rapid movement”, etc. It is not obvious how to use the software, but with some minimal clicking around and playing, you get what you need.
  • The unit is not supported on a Mac. Just for fun, I plugged it in. The red light came on, it was detected by the Mac, but nothing happened, and the device then appeared to lock up. It would have been SO NICE if it just appeared as a USB drive with a single, read-only GPX file that I could download. I have to download the file on a PC, then email it to my Mac. Rats.

My workflow:

  • Stick new batteries in. Every day.
  • Put the device in an outside pocket on my camera bag.
  • Go out and shoot for the day.
  • Plug the device into my PC.
  • Export the data as a GPX file.
  • Email it to my Mac.
  • Run GPSPhotoLinker to geotag the photos before they are imported into Aperture!!! You could also use HoudahGeo, but it seems to have fewer features.
  • And, finally import the photos into Aperture.

So, it’s finicky, but it does the job, and my photos are geo-tagged!

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17 responses to “Review: Super Trackstick”

  1. Pierre Bernard says :

    I am a bit surprised by your statement as to the feature set of HoudahGeo. Which feature do you feel is missing?

    From my point of view HoudahGeo is the most complete geocoding software available for the Mac. It supports automatic (track log), waypoint, manual and map geocoding. It exports to EXIF/IPTC, Google Earth and Flick.

  2. Atom says :

    I concur with your observations. However have you experienced a total loss of data once the batteries run out in the unit? I lost our last 2 2+ hour expeditions completely because of this. Very annoying.

  3. mike says :

    Can not get trackstick drivers t install. Main program installs okay, but USB drivers will not install. Am very PC literate and HAVE followed directions exactely – HELP.

  4. Max says :

    Hi, just read your review, i was wondering if you’d found any newer GPS data receivers that actually have very long battery life? Any luck??

  5. Greg says :

    I too have found the battery life to be very poor

  6. John Hirons says :

    I agree with your observations, I however don’t rate the build quality/reliability – the first one of these I tried was extremely unreliable and would lock up when subjected to minimal use i.e. it would pack up after carrying it around in my pocket for a few minutes. The replacement I received works but the molding of the case is really very shoddy and may allow the ingress of water where the end cap slides on. A colleague bought one around the same time as me, but on his device the power switch wouldn’t move, rendering it useless, he too had to get a replacement. We are both disappointed with our purchases, firstly for the build quality issues previously described but also for the poor GPS sensitivity and short battery life.

  7. EU Super Trackstick Dealer says :

    Hi there,

    I noticed that some of you are not totally satisfied about your purchase.

    I would like to reply on your comments:

    To Atom:

    I’m sorry to disagree Atom but the data can’t get lost when the batteries are drained.
    It’s just the same principal as your MP3 player isn’t missing songs after the batteries are empty

    To Mike:

    Mike, It’s very important to install the Trackstick Manager first, before connecting the Trackstick to your PC. You must admit that this is mentioned very often … The Trackstick is even sealed with a sticker pointing it out. However, just go to “Your Computer – right mouse click, choose properties, choose device management and uninstall the device with a question mark assigned to”. Just start over from scratch now.

    To Max & Greg:

    I can assure you that the SUPER Trackstick has the longest battery life of all the GPS loggers I’ve seen. HOWEVER, you’re partially right as well. The device is market in a wrong way. Commercials state that the device can record locations during weeks while actually it can only record for 24hours (or 30hours with Lithium batteries). But keep in mind that the Super Trackstick has a build-in motion detection and the batteries are only consumed when there is motion. So if you put the Super Trackstick in car that drives for 1hour each day, indeed the Trackstick will stay alive for weeks. However if you take it on a bike trip and drive 8hours each day, you’ll need to replace the batteries more often.

    To John Hirons;

    I can assure you it happens seldom that a Trackstick needs to be replaced. We received like 0.5% faulty items. I’m sorry to hear that your friend had a bad one but these things happen …
    The GPS sensitivity depends on the power mode you have used. If you want the most accurate results, put the Trackstick in Full Power mode.

    I hope this helps?

    If you have any other remarques feel free to contact me.

    Best regards,
    Kris V.

  8. TC says :

    I purchased the Super Trackstick several weeks ago and have had fantastic results. The sofware installed very easily, and is super easy to understand. Right out of the box the device worked perfectly and got excellent battery life! I read some mixed reviews and find some of the negetive ones hard to believe. I did follow the directions and cautions to install the programs FIRST, then plug in the unit afterwards. Maybe this is some of the problems people are having. Mine works great and just saved me years of wasting my life on a fool! Excellent product!!!!

  9. Donna Williamson Ohl says :

    Another review says the trackstickII and supertrackstick both make an audible noise at all times. Can someone who knows more about it confirm or deny this?

  10. Mark says :

    Just purchased one here in NZ, setup was easy, software is easy to understand and use. The only issue I have is that the locations it says I was at, car was parked for about one hour, and during that time it thought I was moving around and some moves was .7km in difference. also when on the move noticed that at times is way of the mark of where I actually was.

    Don’t know if it’s a setting I’m missing since I’ve only had it for 3 days so far.

  11. john says :

    I bought one and followed the instructions. I set it to power save. The route it drew was pretty close to the road I was on, but sometimes had me driving across a lake or through the woods. What annoyed me is it never went to sleep. It sat for five hours one day out in the open and kept logging positions. So it used 9% of memory which means it’s good for only two days plus a few hours. I need at least a week. I returned the item (Bluewater Security Professionals) and they quickly sent a new unit. The replacement also seems unable to go to sleep. Bottom line is the unit will run out of memory in just over two days.

  12. Sarah C says :

    Well, not such a positive experience here (in Europe).

    The device doesn’t respond to anything but my USB-port where I receive the message that no data has been recorded. This after a week in Power ON modus in the car with no metal blocking it. I bought brand new Recyko batteries for the purpose.

    It’s also very hard to get the track manager to see the device on the PC. I have to play around with the batteries a bit and if I’m lucky the red light will go on and the trackstick manager will read the device. If there’s any reading to do at all, that is.

    There’s a serious LED-problem in the one I got: it’s either solid red (with fully charged batteries…?) or there’s no LED flashing (also with fully charged batteries and yes, power still ON). Result: no data recorded.

    I conducted a second test, presuming reception from within the car must have been too hard, I clipped the device on top of a bike and cycled for about two hours through the city. No LED was flashing (fully charged batteries) and upon arrival, again no data appeared to be recorded.

    Upon plugging in batteries it does go red for a few seconds and after that the LED goes off and remains off.

    I’m going to return the device and prefer to receive my money back.
    I can hardly believe government agencies, police, intelligence, and homeland security personnel actually use this device (as the website promotes), with all that negative press and my experience added to that.

    I would not recommend it. Good quality should show from the beginning.

  13. trackstick user says :

    I am having a problem too right now. after 4 months use. suddenly no data. not recording anything at all. red or green light is working fine. however, not recording anything at all. very very sad.

    • jamie says :

      Same here only had mine 6 weeks now and its F@#$ed only works 1 out of ten times. Havt tried 4 different computers and no go. The only thing it does is work on rec gps live but i did not but it for that. Have email them lots of times and no email back not fu@#en happy at $380 aus dollars

  14. John says :

    Purchased the TrackStick Mini in Nov 2010. First time I used it, it was missing records, hour or more at at time. Then it failed for days at a time. Contacted Trackstick cust service after first failure. Their response was to tell me to change a setting that didnt appear in my unit / software interface. I advised them and even sent a screen capture to show them. They responded with the same one line suggestion. Then they told me that the unit isnt MilGrade equip and I should have purchased a Marine or commercial grade devices out there and asked if I ever had a cell phone drop a call!! When I told them Ive never missed 3 whole days of cell calls they told me they sell units to the military and DHS. Wait, I thought they werent MilGrade?..which is it now?…..If you want a GPS tracking device, look elsewhere.

  15. Paul says :

    My super trackstick has also failed. After several Emails they will not tell me what the warranty period is. Buy at you own risk.

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