I've been getting more comfortable recently using my iPhone for navigation (see 10 Navigation Apps and Smartphone Hits for more information on how to make that happen), but wanted to move up to its big brother, the iPad mini. On this front, I quickly ran aground. I have the wi-fi only version, which has a great screen size but no GPS. So it quickly becomes a babysitter for the kids.

Bad Elf GPS

Testing underway, using my iPad with the Bad Elf GPS.



I don’t want to throw down another $500-plus on a 3G device, and up until recently there has not been a GPS option for Apple devices with a Lightning Connector. But there's good news for people with iPads like mine: Bad Elf has recently added a new receiver (the 1008 model) to their lineup, and it works with the Lightning Connector.

No, Bad Elf is not a remake of a Will Ferrell movie—it's a company that builds cool hardware add-ons for Apple devices. So I tested this new receiver, along with their external Bluetooth model (2200), to see how each stacked up in the real world.

Setting Up the Bad Elf 2200 and 1008


The good news is that both devices do exactly what they say on the packaging, and they’re really easy to use. I just plugged in the receiver or connected over Bluetooth, downloaded their app to my iPad (note: do this before you leave home!) and voila—I was able to start using them within minutes. The app not only manages the device configuration, starts and stops the data logging, and provides a view on GPS status, but it also enables you to download the GPX or KML tracks afterwards.

I then took both devices on a couple of short trips. They seemed to take around the same time to lock onto satellites: 30 seconds or so the first time, but less than 10 seconds when re-connected. The GPS positioning was also very accurate.

How Much Power?


Power consumption is key for me, as recharging electronics aboard a sailboat can be a pain. I did notice the battery drained down fairly quickly from 100% to 80% over one and a half hours of continuous use, so in practice I’d connect only periodically unless it was plugged in.

The 2200 Bluetooth version does draw more power, but to minimize this, you can change the frequency of the data logging from a tenth of a second up to one minute depending on your needs.

Bad Elf GPS

The Bad Elf 1008 (left, plugged into iPhone), my iPad mini, and the Bad Elf 2200 Bluetooth receiver.



While the 1008 model is insanely cool, I do worry about dropping it over to side (especially with gloves on), losing it, or damaging it. So I particularly liked the ability to put the 2200 in my pocket, where I didn’t have to worry about it. And with the data logging option I could review and share performance later.

Pros & Cons


The pros of the Bad Elf 1008 (about $100) are

  1. Simple and easy to use

  2. Small and lightweight

  3. Uses both GPS and GLONASS (Russian) satellites to reduce lock time


Cons:

  1. Tough to fit into a waterproof case

  2. It could get damaged in the marine environment (and felt a bit flimsy)

  3. Easy to lose


The pros of the Bad Elf 2200 (about $150) are

  1. Long battery life

  2. Can track route and speed even when not connected to your iPad (which could prove useful for racing or sharing routes later, by downloading to your Navigation app)

  3. Tough and water-resistant

  4. Can be used with multiple devices

  5. Can be zipped away in your pocket


Cons:

  1. Yet another device to charge

  2. Bluetooth draws additional power from your iPad when they’re paired


Would I buy the 1008 model? Definitely. As a backup for your primary GPS it’s a great solution. However, if you plan to use your iPad as your primary navigation device, the 2200 would be a better choice. The robust casing, the ability to leave it powered on, and not having to worry about the attachment, outweigh the advantages of the 1008.

For those looking to protect your iPad too, check out our two reviews of the LifeProof iPad case:

And here are a few additional ways to use your iPad can for navigation:

For more information, visit Bad Elf.

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