Add GPS to Your MacBook Using Bluetooth Devices

Location-aware devices are becoming common across Apple’s (s aapl) lineup, except when it comes to MacBooks. But adding GPS to a MacBook is as easy as pairing with a Bluetooth mouse. When shopping for an external GPS device for a Mac, are two main things you want to consider: the ability to live track GPS info on your computer using a Bluetooth receiver, and what software is available to analyze that data for each device. The three GPS Bluetooth receivers compared below all have data tracking capabilities and work well with Macs:

*Items highlighted in green represent the best options for each category.

Columbus V-900Columbus V900 – While not from a very well know manufacture, the V900 has been one of my favorite GPS devices. It is available on Amazon (s amzn) for around $105.  While it is the most expensive of the three, it also has the most features. Besides being able to remove the microSD memory card, this device will also let you record and tag a voice memo at an exact location.  The included software used to read and access the data on the device, called Time Album, is Java-based and will run just fine on the Mac.  While it will charge with a miniUSB able, you will need to carry around a microSD card reader in order to import the log data on your Mac.

QStarz BT-Q100XTQStarz BT-Q1000XT – QStarz manufactures several different GPS receivers worth looking into for your particular needs.  I have been using one of their Travel series and it has served me well.  The Q1000XT is every bit as versatile as the V900 when used solely as a GPS receiver.  It currently lists for $99 on Amazon.  The major downside with QStarz is that the included software used to access the stored data requires a unique USB driver that is Windows (s msft) only. There is however a third party utility, BT747 that will work with the QStarz.  But you will have to install the CP210x USB to UART Bridge VCP Drivers from Silicon Labs in order to get it to work properly.

USGlobalSat BT-335USGlobalSat BT-335 – As reputable as QStarz, USGlobalSat is a well known and reputable brand among GPS receivers.  The BT-335 is their latest Bluetooth receiver that is also a Data Logger.  At just $69 on Amazon, it is the cheapest of the three.  The one thing I did not like about the BT-335 is that it does not charge via mini USB and therefore requires you to travel with a dedicated charger specific to the device.  There is, however, a native Mac version of the Global Sync utility which makes accessing the data straight forward.  The only other downside is that it is the bulkiest of the three to carry around.

Once paired with your Mac, most GPS aware applications will automatically detect the GPS receiver.  For instance, in Google Earth, from the Tools menu select the GPS menu item.  On the Realtime tab check the “Automatically follow the path” and click the Start button.  Google Earth (s goog) will create a “Temporary Place” in your places that will update the map with your coordinates.

Google Earth GPS ImportAll three devices are excellent data loggers and Bluetooth receivers.  While pairing via Bluetooth works identically on the Mac for all three, the same cannot be said of the connectivity and access to the data captured by each device’s logging capabilities.  Any one will work just fine with your Mac, but having access to all three, I tend to opt for the Columbus V900 most often.

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