More GPS tracking adventures

Last month I wrote about the GPS Snitch, a portable device you can carry around or place in a vehicle then track through the Web via its GPS and cellular connectivity. Here are two more services and devices that do similar things.

The scoop: beta service, by FindWhere, free.

What it is: Currently in beta, the service lets you track friends who download the BuddyFinder application to their GPS-enabled cell phones (currently supported: Nokia 6110, N82 and N95; HTC P3300, TYTN II; Mio A701; Samsung i780, Blackjack II; Motorola Q9; and BlackBerry 8300 and 8800 series). Through the Web site, you can then see where your friends are located, and you can do some basic route tracking for your own account (assuming that you’ve got the BuddyFinder application on your own phone).

Why it’s cool: It’s a free way to find out where family members or friends are through their cell phones, instead of giving them another device or secretly installing something in their car.

Some caveats: The Web site is clunky and basic, and the Web application used to do the tracking needs some improvements. For example, the application tends to refresh the person’s location at either a super-high or super-low zoom level. Also, there’s not really much else to do on the site other than find out where your friend is. There’s no route tracking of friends, including things like speed data. Also, the BuddyFinder application on the mobile phone is really basic; it would have been nice to use one phone to track the other one (the only way you can do that is by using the phone’s mobile Web browser to head back to the site, which isn’t optimal).

Grade: 2.5 stars (out of five).

The scoop: DriveOK device, about $240, plus monthly service, which ranges depending on how often tracking points are recorded.

What it is: This in-vehicle device is aimed at small businesses that want to conduct fleet tracking (or paranoid parents). The device can be tracked through the company’s Web site, with tracking points registered every 10, 20 or 30 minutes depending on level of service ordered (tracking every 10 minutes costs $10 per month, while tracking every 30 minutes costs only $6 per month). If you needed to track even more often, the company suggests its VehiclePath device, with tracking available every 1, 2 or 5 minutes.

Why it’s cool: The service also provides speed alerts, which can send a text message to a cell phone or e-mail that alerts users when the device goes beyond a certain speed (good for tracking speeding teens). Geo-fencing can be set up that sends alerts when the device goes either in or out of a designated area (use for theft prevention, or to verify that a teens have gone to school and when they arrived and left). Because the device is powered by the car, you don’t have to worry about dead batteries, like some other units that provide GPS tracking.

Some caveats: The device requires some in-car installation, such as opening panels on your dashboard and connecting power through the car’s OBD port or hard-wiring it like an after-market car stereo system. Consumers may not want to rip open their car dashboard panels in order to connect the GPS antenna and power outlets; in testing, I messed up during the OBD cable installation and accidentally short-circuited my first unit (power connections on the instructions were not clearly written).

Grade: 3.5 stars

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