In Review: The Earthmate GPS PN-20 by DeLorme.

January 1, 2008
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A mapping quality GPS receiver, navigation device and fully functional GIS software package for the navigating surveyor.

Delorme’s Earthmate GPS PN-20.


DeLorme

Two DeLorme Drive
P.O. Box 298
Yarmouth, ME 04096

online:
www.delorme.com

Suggested Price List:
Delorme GPS PN-20: $399.95; Earthmate GPS PN-20 with Topo USA 7.0 National & Power Travel Kit Bundle: $409.95; Earthmate GPS PN-20 with Topo USA 7.0 & 1-GB SD Card & Reader Bundle: $409.95; XMap 5.2 Professional with USA Topographic Data 2007 & PN-20 GPS: $649.90; XMap 5.2 GIS Editor with USA Topographic Data 2007 & PN-20 GPS: $1,199.90.

Surveyors, as well as “civilians,” have been making good use of handheld GPS devices for reconnaissance, search and navigation tasks for years. The technology may no longer seem to be advancing by leaps and bounds, but it does continue to improve.

The new Earthmate GPS PN-20 by DeLorme is a terrific example. The PN-20 is primarily a consumer-grade GPS product, but for those who do a lot of navigating between points, it has a lot of innovative features.

Point tracking with the PN-20.

An All-in-One Handheld

The PN-20 is advertised as an “All-in-One” GPS mapping solution. That is probably not much of an overstatement. On balance, this product could be the most versatile of all the consumer-grade GPS products currently on the market. That is because it is available in an impressive variety of custom packages with a stunning array of attachments and add-ons starting at $399.95. Out of the box, the PN-20 has one of the more comprehensive “Getting Started” audio/visual documentation packages I have seen.

The Earthmate GPS PN-20 is a fine example of product evolution as well. DeLorme offered earlier versions of the Earthmate GPS receiver, including the still available LN-20 model that has been around for several years. The LN-20 was designed to plug into the USB port of most standard laptop devices and interface with DeLorme products like Topo USA or Street Atlas. But the LN-20 also works quite effectively with other GIS products such as ArcPad and ArcGIS on those platforms. The PN-20 does all that and much more.

The older LN-20 doesn’t have a built-in display. It is a basic GPS receiver that requires it to be connected to another device to display its position solutions. The new PN-20 offers users all that functionality as well as all of the standard features you would expect from a handheld receiver. You can use it in your vehicle in either the stand-alone mode or connected to a laptop.

The PN-20 has a high quality display. The user can easily view map features and imagery uploads in a wide range of lighting conditions. I tested it in dawn and dusk conditions all the way to the snowy slopes of Mount Rainier, Wash., in bright sunlight. The display was always clear and easy to read.

The unit operates on either its rechargeable Li-ion battery, or two AA standard or rechargeable batteries for 11 to 14 hours.

Image Tagger

Accuracy

The Earthmate PN-20 is a WAAS-enabled receiver. It approaches the submeter level, but 2 meters is about what you can expect with four satellites available. DeLorme makes no claim about post processing, and the software marketed with the PN-20 has no post-processing component available.

The Image Tagger

The Image Tagger is a very useful tool that comes standard in PN-20 bundles. Many users need or desire to take digital photos of topographical features they are mapping. Many survey crews are required to take images of survey monuments today. Other users just want to record a location of the spot a photo is taken. The Image Tagger gets it done.

Topo USA export screen showing PC and receiver files.

Topo USA

Four of the six PN-20 bundles DeLorme offers include the Topo USA mapping software. While Topo USA does not have the robust GIS functionality of XMap 5.2, it is loaded with useful map data and some drawing capability. It is also easier to both load and use. Besides all of the data that comes with the product, it is equipped with a “Net Link,” which allows the user to get additional data and product updates from the DeLorme Web site. In addition to linking map and feature data, users can access links for travel planning, such as obtaining regional road and weather conditions, in advance. Topo USA is also available as a stand-alone product and links with a variety of other handheld receivers as well as the PN-20.

XMap screen.

XMap 5.2

XMap 5.2 is a fully functional GIS tool. The upper toolbar contains most of the familiar icons GIS users see in similar products. But it is the bottom toolbar that makes XMap a snap to work with. The product is advertised to work with a wide variety of industry standard files. I was able to import ESRI Shape files and Autodesk .DWG files on the first attempt without a single benediction. Users can also import Excel tables into XMap.

XMap has both drawing and editing tools. It has advanced features like database access with check-out/check-in routines. It also has features you won’t find in most GIS or mapping packages. The phone feature connects to any synchronizable telephone database, and allows the user to search a location on a map based on a telephone number. Telephone data is available from DeLorme for users who don’t typically utilize this type of data.

XMap is an advanced product. Most of its features are easy to use and very similar if not identical to the more basic Topo USA product. The big difference is the database access capability. The software comes with several standard database interfaces including ESRI ArcSDE.

XMap screen showing 2D and 3D views and import Shape file dialog box.

Exporting

Exporting from either XMap or Topo USA to the PN-20 is painless. All of the bundles have fast USB interfaces. In addition, the PN-20 uses an SD RAM card for data storage. The user can upload using the USB connection or transfer data directly to the SD RAM card using simple select, click and transfer sequences.

The PN-20 has a stand-alone audible tone for waypoints in navigation mode. But when linked to a laptop, it has an interesting if not delightful voice-enabled navigation package. Unlike the dedicated navigation assistance GPS units that are preset, XMap requires the user to create his own routes. The software has a voice recognition package that allows the user to interact with the software to allow “hands-free” operation while driving. “Text to Speech” is the trademark system voice recognition package that enables the user to create his own navigation vocabulary package.

I was able to upload some “foreign” waypoints collected with other units by first adding them as a GIS layer and then navigate to them and receive the audible “beep” on arrival.

XMap screen showing query of control point Shape file.

The Total Package

The Earthmate GPS PN-20 is truly an exciting new product. Together with XMap 5.2, it is about as close to the “total package” for a GIS entry-level product as I have seen. For less than $1,200 a user can get a mapping quality GPS receiver, a navigation device and a fully functional GIS software package.

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