Whenever I can, I go on backpacking trips that last 3 or more days. I’ve always thought how nice it would be to have a mini audio recorder on the backpack shoulders, with an integrated GPS receiver. Something that would allow me to take (audio) notes without stopping to write, recording the exact position of every note, all in a format that could be managed as quickly as possible on a PC. Back in 2009 I discovered the VGPS-900. It looked almost exactly like what I had in mind, but wanted to know more before buying it, so I sent the following questions to Visiontac:
Is this product really 100% linux compatible? That is, are we sure that the audio files recorded on the SD card are 100% usable on any linux distribution without messing with extra software, special proprietary decoders and what not? Ditto for the file system on the SD card, file names, data format, etc… is there any chance that there would be problems with Linux on that front?
What about the software on the CD? Will all of it work on Linux?
The spec page says a “micro-SD reader is included” but I assume you meant Micro-SD reader, ie an SD-to-USB adapter similar to this. Is that right?
Weight? How much do the recorder and its carrying case weight exactly? I’m not an ultralight backpacking fanatic, but it’s important to know.
Is the carrying case waterproof? Can it be strapped on a backpack shoulder?
Battery duration, boot time: a gadget like this is very useful on a multi-day backpacking trip in the wilderness only if:
it remains usable for the whole trip. Why carry the charger with you, if there won’t be any plug for it anyway?
it’s quick to lock when you power it up. I’d want to use it to take notes/waypoints while I walk, without stopping. If I’m off the grid for 4 days I can’t keep it always on (see above), but if I have to wait several minutes every time before it boots and recalculates the position… it’s much less useful than it could be.
In May 2009, I got this answer from firstname.lastname@example.org:
Dear sir, Thanks for your interest in our product. From your description, the VGPS-900 is the perfect fit for you. Yes it's 100% linux compatible with hardware and software on the CD. It's micro-sd card reader same as you pointed. The logger is very light at 55 grams. The carrying case might add another 5 or 10 grams. You won't feel anything if you put it into you backpack. The carring case is not waterproofable since there is open on the top which you can slide the device in. But it will help a lot during the rain. It comes with a strap so you can attach it to the backpack. The battery could last up to 24 hours in the standard mode. If you do spy mode, it can last up to 1 month. The lock is quite fast with this product. Usually it's under 50 seconds if you do cold start. Please let us know if you have more questions
I immediately thanked them for the prompt answer, but asking for more info on this part: “The battery could last up to 24 hours in the standard mode. If you do spy mode, it can last up to 1 month”. I had already read that on the website, but it still wasn’t clear to me. If I walk 8 hours in a day (quite standard in my hikes). I want to:
log my position/time every 5 minutes or so, so that I can geotag pictures when I’m back home
record voice notes (with associated position) about the path, while I’m walking
So I wrote again to Visiontac:
if I understand correctly, the spy mode is sufficient for point 1 above. Is this correct? If yes, is it possible/easy (see point 2) to go very quickly from spy to standard mode, record a voice note and the position in that moment, then go back to spy mode to continue position logging with the smallest possible impact on the battery? If yes, it _looks_ like this device could last long enough to be useful on a 3/4 days hike, doing continuous recording of position in spy mode during march, plus short voice notes at random intervals, say 15/20 times a day. What do you think? Please let me know if you plan to do a version with replaceable battery (much, much better if AAA, but other sizes could be OK too)
However, I haven’t got any answer yet from Visiontac, so I haven’t bought the VGPS-900 (yet). As far as I can tell from the website, the model on sale now is still the same it was in 2009. The memory card capacity would be enough even on very long hikes, and one could always carry on an extra card, but what would be the point to do it, if the device battery dies when you’re 50 miles away from the closest electrical plug? It’s a pity, because otherwise this object would really be the perfect companion for long distance hikers. So, right now the main reason for me to not buy this device is the fact that you can’t carry a spare battery with you.
The perfect solution would be to use one standard, AAA size battery, because you can find it (rechargeable) cheap even in small mountain village stores, worldwide. And batteries pollute a lot, so the less I use custom/non replaceable ones the better I feel. An alternative, far from perfect but doable solution would be to get the complete voltage/amperage/mechanical specs of the VGPS-900 power connector. With such information it would be possible to figure out how to plug the VGPS-900 into some photovoltaic portable panel or other portable charger.
Toughts, tips and field reports from VGPS-900 owners are most welcome! So are suggestions for alternative solutions, including, if there are no commercial products, DIY kits.