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VITO ActiveTrace for Pocket PC Review
Posted on 27-Jan-2006 10:51 by Darryl Burling | Tags Filed under: Reviews

Vito Technology is one of those Pocket PC software companies that have a really great range of software – everything from GPS Navigation software through to games and utilities. Their range of GPS software is one of the richest on the market and from this heritage they have released a compelling application aimed at anyone interested in getting fit.

178310 VITO ActiveTrace is an application designed to be used with a GPS for recording tracks and assessing speed, distance and altitude information. It is aimed specifically at athletes, although statistics junkies who want to see how fast they are walking or how far it is from work to the train station would also find it useful for recording this information.

ActiveTrace has a great set of features including:
  • Record the path taken on a trip
  • Record altitude, speed and acceleration
  • Automated position updates via SMS
  • Playback of recorded tracks
  • Analysis of altitude and speed at any given part of the trip

    This last feature allows you to select a position on the track you’ve previously completed and see your speed and altitude at that particular part of the course. This is illustrated in the following three screen shots. Notice the red dotted lines in the screen shots – the lines correlate to the same stage in the track (as can be seen by the time at the bottom left of the screen).

    This makes it easy to select a location on the track and switch to the speed graph to see how your speed was at that section compared to the rest of the track – similarly with the altitude.

    Starting out
    When you start off on the trip you need to prepare the bits and pieces you will be using, i.e. get everything working together. There is nothing more annoying than running off and finding after two kilometres that you haven’t recorded your progress.

    I tested ActiveTrace using an iMate K-Jam Pocket PC Phone and a Pharos GPS receiver (the one that comes with Microsoft Street and Trips) with a Bluetooth sled (i.e. a Bluetooth GPS) and ActiveTrace installed and running from the storage card.

    My preparation with this equipment is essentially as follows:
    1.Turn on Bluetooth on the Pocket PC & turn on the GPS (if necessary)
    2.Get a fix on the GPS (make sure you are out in the open)
    3.Start ActiveTrace and do a scan for the GPS (you need to do this every time – one of my pet peeves – ActiveTrace should remember your settings and just work)
    4.Wait for the number of satellites to appear in the top right corner of the main screen, and the altitude and other indicators to activate.
    5.Create a trip
    6.Select the new trip and tap Menu->Resume to start recording
    7.Go running

    If this process seems simple to you – don’t be fooled. It can take 15 minutes to get everything going properly – depending on factors such as the number of satellites, how well your brain is working (early mornings are not a good time to do this), etc...

    I also found it very easy to forget to do step 6 and on a couple of occasions took off without starting the trip (which I found particularly frustrating) – perhaps Vito could add an option to auto start the trip when it is created?

    Once you set off, you can normally leave the devices to look after themselves, however, it is worth checking the Pocket PC a couple of minutes after leaving to ensure that everything is still functional. The image below demonstrates what happened to me more than once – note the long straight line ending in a sharpish left hand turn – this line should be closely parallel to the line above it and demonstrates a lack of data recorded between the start location and when I checked the system about 350 meters down the road.

    I found the recording of trips to be a little temperamental – due to either poor satellite coverage or for some odd reason ActiveTrace not recording properly – this is normally detectable during step 4 of the setup process. If step 4 doesn’t happen in a timely manner (again maybe a couple of minutes) a run through of steps 1-3 are normally necessary which adds quite dramatically to the time required to set up the system.

    When you are on your trip ActiveTrace will automatically turn off the screen to save power. You can move the directional pad to wake it up, and check your current speed, progress or track while you are on your trip.

    Analysing your progress
    The screenshot below is ActiveTrace’s main screen. The top right corner tells us how many satellites the device is currently tracking from, the green arrow indicates the trip currently being recorded, while the rest of the screen seems fairly self explanatory.

    The first time you look at your track you’ll find that the default scale on the track is quite high. This is another area I think Vito could do a little work to make the application a little more user friendly. The first and default scale of the map is 250km per square – or a map of 1000x1000 kilometres. At that scale you are a little arrow on the screen and you need to zoom in seven times to get to a scale of 1 kilometre per square (which is roughly where it starts to get useful – depending on your activity and distance covered).

    This process is quite painful – each zoom consists of two taps or three button presses (softkey, up, enter). On top of that each zoom is quite slow – often each zoom would often take five to fifteen seconds, depending on whether you’d been working in the track in that session or not. On top of this – the screen turn off timer seems to keep going regardless of your taps which means the screen will turn itself off occasionally while you are waiting for the zoom to happen.

    Perhaps a better alternative would be for a cascading menu with a zoom and then a scale that you can select in one tap (i.e. Action -> Zoom -> 250m) – and have the map maintain the start or current location as the centre of the map.

    These things only make the map frustrating to work with, not impossible to use – although I would advise against trying to use the map while running. The information the map gives you when you get to an appropriate zoom level is useful and generally only takes a couple of seconds to retrieve.

    The statistics speed gives you a number of statistics that can be helpful for assessing your performance on that particular trip. Information such as the number and angle of the slopes and lifts (downhill and uphill respectively), average and total speed, distance covered, calories burnt and total and moving time.

    The speed and altitude graphs use a line over the course to display your speed consistency along with your lows and highs.

    Keep in touch
    If you like exercising with friends, but not always keep running together, the appliction provides an SMS interface. This will send a SMS to another Pocket PC with your current position, on a user-defined schedule.

    I did find a couple of things that struck me as odd. The calorie count is inconsistent with the way other applications calculate calories during exercise. For example, a run in ActiveTrace might determine that you’ve burnt 328.5 calories; other applications (in this case MySportTraining) might calculate that you’ve burnt 627 calories for the same trip. Which one is right I don’t know, but my instinct is to trust the figure in MySportTraining given its long and reliable record.

    I also found the occasional time where ActiveTrace would shut itself down. This seems to happen when there is no GPS connected and the application turns off the screen and then the device switches off (as it should when it is idle) and you switch the device back on.

    Finally, I also found that while a track might appear to record properly the application had the propensity to require to rebuild the track when the application restarted which normally meant losing the last few hundred metres (or more) of the trip you last did.

    This application will probably appeal to geeks (like me) who happen to already have a GPS receiver and a Pocket PC and want to put it to more use for managing personal training performance. If you are a serious athlete, I would suspect that you might find more benefit and less hassle in purchasing a Heart Rate Monitor that comes with a GPS unit as these have come down in price considerably in the last two years and in many cases may actually be cheaper than purchasing a Bluetooth GPS to go with your Pocket PC.

    Having said all this, I like this application, and think that it has great potential but think that some of these issues might challenge the perseverance of the average user. However, Vito is a company who make some fantastic products and are leaders in Pocket PC navigation software, so I would fully expect that these issues would be ironed out in the near future.

    Subject to the things I’ve noted above, if you want to get more out of your Pocket PC experience or require more motivation to go out and get fit – the kind of geek motivation that some of us love – then this application will make a welcome addition to your geek arsenal.

  • Good data recording and reporting
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Will appeal for geeks wanting motivation to get fit

  • A little buggy for the average user
  • Somewhat cumbersome as a solution

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