Android Tablet w/ GPS Capability - Analysis Paralysis!

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DRAGON64

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I'm looking at adding a tracking system to a project or two, and since I now own an iPhone, the T3 system I want to use is in limbo till I find an android solution. I have been researching tablets, and seems most all suffer from the same issues of cheap and unreliable, and black screens and low resolution etc etc etc. Would anyone mind recommending a not to expensive tablet that I can use for GPS tracking of my rockets that are equiped with the T3 tracker from MissileWorks?
 

mikec

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I'd look at the Lenovo Tab M8 if I wanted something just for this use (disclaimer, no personal experience.)
 

DRAGON64

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Reviewing the Lenovo now... what was deciding factor to recommend this tablet?
 

mikec

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Cheap, known manufacturer, fairly small, has GPS.

The Amazon Fire line is another possibility but I'm not sure how compatible those are with generic Android and there's a bit too much integration with Amazon for my taste.

I've got an Asus but I wouldn't recommend it. All of the cheap tablets are pretty meh -- I'd probably get a Samsung for general use.
 

mikec

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Yeah, OK, the Samsung Tab A 8 is cheaper than I thought and not a bad choice.
 

Buckeye

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A tablet is pretty big (for me) to be carrying around in the field to track the rocket. An Android phone (cell service not required) is obviously smaller. Dunno if it would be cheaper than the tablet. Either way, the Android apps are fussy and need practice and TLC. @mikec is fixing up RocketTrack, which is much appreciated! 👍

If you are using the device as a ground station, then I suggest to ditch the Android device completely and Bluetooth to a proper computer, instead. Then you can use a terminal emulator, VisualGPS, or some such to log and plot the incoming NMEA strings.
 

cerving

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If you don't care about having cellular data access you can pick up an older unactivated Android phone for a song. All you need for most of the apps is a good GPS and WiFi so you can download a navigation app. Some of the apps will let you preload maps too, so you don't need Internet access at the field to display your map.
 

DRAGON64

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I am not sure about how to go about purchasing a deactivated android phone, I suppose ebay is an option (?)
 

Greg Furtman

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Stay away from a Amazon Fire. They are cheaply made and you can only use apps from Amazon. I have a Fire 7 and I like it for reading but with anything else it is a PITA. I hate the browser but I'm stuck with it as there are no other browsers available for it.

I've had very good luck with ASUS Android tablets.
 

heada

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Stay away from a Amazon Fire. They are cheaply made and you can only use apps from Amazon. I have a Fire 7 and I like it for reading but with anything else it is a PITA. I hate the browser but I'm stuck with it as there are no other browsers available for it.

I've had very good luck with ASUS Android tablets.
I have a Fire10 HD. There are steps available online that you can follow that will add the Google Play Store and then you can install any Android app. I agree that they're cheaply made but no more cheaply than my old Samsung Galaxy Tab7.

I wouldn't recommend an Amazon Fire tablet for this though. They are too restricted with the custom version of Android. Anyone with an older Samsung Galaxy phone that has been wiped would work. Call up the local Cell companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.) and ask if you can buy a used, wiped Samsung Galaxy S7Active. Those are waterproof and run Android 8 which should support nearly all the apps in the Play store and should be less than $50
 

Greg Furtman

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I wouldn't recommend an Amazon Fire tablet for this though. They are too restricted with the custom version of Android. Anyone with an older Samsung Galaxy phone that has been wiped would work. Call up the local Cell companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.) and ask if you can buy a used, wiped Samsung Galaxy S7Active. Those are waterproof and run Android 8 which should support nearly all the apps in the Play store and should be less than $50
@heada I have a Samsung Galaxy S7 that is still my my main phone. It still works well and it has everything I need so I have never upgraded to a newer model. In fact I have a spare I picked up for free just in case anything happens to mine.
 

DRAGON64

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Tablet or phone, what should the minimum storage be? 32gb?
 

heada

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The Android OS will need between 5GB and 10GB. After that, its whatever apps you load and what data they need. Google Earth is using 518MB on my phone now. Google Maps is using 223MB. If you get a device that supports microSD, then adding storage is dirt cheap and easy. If not, then 32GB would be my minimum.
 

mikec

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Keep in mind that used phones may have degraded batteries or other problems. That said, I bought my current phone used and it's OK so far. I expect the lack of software updates will become an issue before the hardware fails.
 

DRAGON64

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The Google Nexus 9 comes up in reviews as a good stand alone GPS enabled unit... so it can track itself etc. But how do these devices track other transmitters like the T3? I will call MissileWorks later today to get some feedback and guidance.
 

Nytrunner

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The Google Nexus 9 comes up in reviews as a good stand alone GPS enabled unit... so it can track itself etc. But how do these devices track other transmitters like the T3? I will call MissileWorks later today to get some feedback and guidance.
T3 receiver has an onboard Bluetooth module.
-Pair your tablet/phone with the T3
-Make sure tablet/phone GPS is turned on
-Open tracker app of your choice (rocket locator, blueGPS, etc...)
 

DRAGON64

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T3 receiver has an onboard Bluetooth module.
-Pair your tablet/phone with the T3
-Make sure tablet/phone GPS is turned on
-Open tracker app of your choice (rocket locator, blueGPS, etc...)
Thanks for that info, I appreciate it. Here is what I ultimately ended up choosing; as originally recommended, the Lenovo Tab M8. This 8" tablet has GPS, AGPS, GLONASS and Beidou. Somehow some way I will be able to use GPS.
 

ksaves2

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All right, That tablet should work for you just fine. If you decide to do live mapping, it will work for you.
If you decide to get a cell data sim for it to be able to access data out in the field, it can download maps on the fly.
If you decide to use GPS Rocket Locator by pairing your receiver via bluetooth you’ll be good to go plus...... You can download the map sets over wi-fi at various levels of resolution/definition of your favorite flying sites and save on data fees from the cell provider. If you have cell service and you have your maps preloaded, as long as data is on you’ll be able to download a map level that you’ve might have missed.
Heck I used GPS Rocket Locator without any maps in a WiFi only Nexus 7 very early on and had a successful recovery just by getting the two position points to come together!
Some years ago, there were some Chinese tablets coming out with dual boot capability Android/Windows AND had a GPS chipset in them. There was a cell chipset in them for data too but not compatible with U.S. service. I was only going to download maps via wi-fi so if cell data didn’t work I was O.K. with that. I can use an Android program and when done, boot to Windows and use Windows tracking programs and or the myriad of rocket programs out there. The GPS chipsets are visible both on the Windows and Android sides.
Only problem now is........... American electronics firms were pi$$ed at the prospect of dual boot tablets as it meant one only needed to buy ONE DEVICE! Bastids! One can’t find dual boot units anymore. I did find a couple out there currently but NO onboard GPS.
Now to be practical. Make sure you can plug in an outboard battery to your tablet as you are going to be using a lot of juice with GPS on, bluetooth on, maybe cellular net turned on and the screen at full brightness to see.
Also, see if you can get a matte plastic screen protector. You don’t want a shiny screen as you won’t be able to see it in sunlight. Even then, go around to Walmart and look in the school supplies section as some of the shipping boxes they sell product in turn out to be the right size to put your tablet, battery and maybe your receiver. Once the products usually notebook paper is sold, I ask them if I may take the empty box. They’re more than happy to let you take the shipping box as they just throw them in the trash or recycle. I do both types of tracking 900Mhz and Ham Radio APRS. I wear my Eggfinder LCD on a neckstrap though with APRS my 70cm/2m HT may go in the box too. Cut a thumb hole so you can hold the box in one hand. Reinforce the flaps with either/and epoxy and duct tape. You get something that looks like this:

IMG_0023.jpeg

Oh, paint the inside of the box with flat black paint for further ease of viewing. Sometimes it’s easier to face the sun rather than have sunlight come in over your shoulder and washout the screen. You will have to develop a navigators brain in order to be able to interpret what’s on the screen no matter which way you are facing so you can tell which way to go. I learned dead reckoning navigation in the early 70’s as a teen when I flew airplanes. Didn’t matter which way I was holding a sectional chart I could steer the airplane wherever I needed to go. Early on, I did have to have the map course line facing the direction of travel which meant the map was turned in odd directions in my lap. An instructor encouraged me to hold the map in one position and do the transposition in my brain. I learned it eventually. It’s a knack but old habits die hard and lets me have fun with live map tracking.
If you just want a bearing arrow that’s ok but you will be able to dabble with GPS Rocket Locator with a live map if you want. Kurt Savegnago KC9LDH
 
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DRAGON64

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Awesome post Kurt, thanks a million... I have spent the last bunch of hours trying to decide if I selected correct, as with any device on Amazon, there are some pretty scary reviews written on this product. But then again, every tablet I looked at, they all seemed to have the same negative issues; screen dead, battery dead, won'y take a charge, dead right out of the box, bought new, received used etc etc etc ad nauseum. Your write up has given me mostly peace of mind on product selection, now it is up to Amazon (and the seller) to supply what I order.
 

Greg Furtman

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Thanks for that info, I appreciate it. Here is what I ultimately ended up choosing; as originally recommended, the Lenovo Tab M8. This 8" tablet has GPS, AGPS, GLONASS and Beidou. Somehow some way I will be able to use GPS.
I've owned Lenovo ThinkPads for many years and they have been rock solid. Lenovo in my opinion makes some of the best electronics out there. I read the specs on the Tab M8 and I think you'll be satisfied.
 

ksaves2

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Ahhhhh, ya gotta remember, it’s the people that get the unfortunate defective stuff that gripe the loudest.
As long as a fair number report good use, I think one is good to go. I just returned a Samsung tablet as it wouldn’t work with my data sim. I returned it, in two days and I had no hassle with them. I dorked my Nexus 7 2013 LTE. A connector plug for a cable that goes over the battery cracked and the teeny tiny contacts were finally wrecked permanently. It served me well and I used it for a fair amount of tracking and testing. My Wifi only 2013 still is working beautifully. I have a Chinese Chuwi tablet on order they say is for the American cell standards and should work universally here. The Samsung was AT&T specific but “would not” use my Freedompop sim were I have 19Gb of data banked for use. That unit was returned. The Nexus 2013 LTE worked fine with the data sim. I hope the Chinese Chuwi tablet makes it here. I saw the next day after I ordered it, it was sold out. I need a modestly sized data tablet now as that old Nexus 7 2013 was the only one I had!:rolleyes: Oh one other thing. Practice, practice, practice. I’ve had connections slip on B/T modules and make sure everything pairs up and works before you go to a launch. If you see someone using a B/T tracker before you want to use yours. Walk away out of B/T range with your devices and get ‘em paired without any outside interference. I got into trouble when trying to test two different receiver systems/software on one 900 Mhz tracker. I wanted to see which one “looked” better. Had B/T pairing he!! and just went with one receiver. If I separated the receivers out of B/T range while pairing I could have pulled it off. If you have one tracker and one receiver, you’ll be ok. Kurt
 

ksaves2

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You’re right on that one Greg. With the Samsung tablet I just tried to purchase, I assumed since my provider used AT&T towers the data sim with my off-beat service provider would be compatible. It wasn’t, so be it and I was able to easily return it for refund. It otherwise had the options I needed.

The two dual boot Chinese tablets I bought about 4 or 5 years ago, one a Cube i6 and the other a no-name 10.75 inch tablet I figured up front the cell chipsets might not be U.S. compatible. It wasn’t the deal breaker for me because as long as I could download map sets over Wi-Fi in advance, I was cool with it. It’s nice to be able to use some Android apps and boot to Windows and use the rocket apps I have there. It makes for light traveling. The really BAD thing is the U.S. equipment distributors put the kibosh on that concept before it could get established here. Too bad, I had a taste of what it could’a been and really like it. You better believe I’m being very careful with the batteries on those two units! I‘ve found a couple of dual boots out there but no GPS so would not be good to work with on the Windows side. WinBlows 7 had a hard time dealing with more than one B/T device when I tried to play with it. Trying to pair a B/T GPS to it and then a B/T NMEA tracker was a no-go with me. Couldn’t get it to work.
Don’t know how 10 does with multiple B/T peripherals. I just got a 10 tower for my 26 year old autistic spectrum son to play his non-violent games on so I guess I’ll get a taste of 10. Local computer shop built it and it really smokes the resolution on video. Am very happy with it. All the best. Kurt Savegnago
 

Greg Furtman

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You’re right on that one Greg. With the Samsung tablet I just tried to purchase, I assumed since my provider used AT&T towers the data sim with my off-beat service provider would be compatible. It wasn’t, so be it and I was able to easily return it for refund. It otherwise had the options I needed.

The two dual boot Chinese tablets I bought about 4 or 5 years ago, one a Cube i6 and the other a no-name 10.75 inch tablet I figured up front the cell chipsets might not be U.S. compatible. It wasn’t the deal breaker for me because as long as I could download map sets over Wi-Fi in advance, I was cool with it. It’s nice to be able to use some Android apps and boot to Windows and use the rocket apps I have there. It makes for light traveling. The really BAD thing is the U.S. equipment distributors put the kibosh on that concept before it could get established here. Too bad, I had a taste of what it could’a been and really like it. You better believe I’m being very careful with the batteries on those two units! I‘ve found a couple of dual boots out there but no GPS so would not be good to work with on the Windows side. WinBlows 7 had a hard time dealing with more than one B/T device when I tried to play with it. Trying to pair a B/T GPS to it and then a B/T NMEA tracker was a no-go with me. Couldn’t get it to work.
Don’t know how 10 does with multiple B/T peripherals. I just got a 10 tower for my 26 year old autistic spectrum son to play his non-violent games on so I guess I’ll get a taste of 10. Local computer shop built it and it really smokes the resolution on video. Am very happy with it. All the best. Kurt Savegnago
@ksaves2 I remember those Chinese dual boot tablets. I never bought one but wish I had. Too bad they aren't available any more. The best of two worlds.
 

ksaves2

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@ksaves2 And a lot of the bad reviewers didn't research their purchase or have no clue as to how to use it.
@ksaves2 I remember those Chinese dual boot tablets. I never bought one but wish I had. Too bad they aren't available any more. The best of two worlds.
The problem was trying to get one with an onboard GPS. That was the issue. My 10.75 inch tablet was defective and cost me $50.00 to send it back to China. They were cool about it and sent me another one.
Still works good. I wished the equipment importers would go for it as the Chinese would manufacture whatever the demand is. A dual boot tablet with an onboard GPS and the ability to connect to the U.S. cell service would be awesome! Some of the initial offerings gave a glimpse as to what could be. Cripes, I can run tracking programs from either side, Windows or Android, plus run Rocksim or Open Rocket if I have to fine tune an ejection charge onsite! Just gotta make sure I’m in the shade though to be able to see the screen! All this on one device. Can’t see the screens in direct sunlight. That’s where the boxes with flat black painted interiors I show above to act as a sun shield help immensely. I learned everything the hard way. Listen to my mistakes and one will have a better experience. :)

When I do APRS Ham tracking in the 70cm/420-450Mhz Ham band a’ la Beeline GPS a long time ago (2006 -07), I used to use a laptop with an outboard terminal node controller so I could monitor a flight in realtime with Xastir on a Linux laptop. A REAL pain in the rear. Needless to say, I‘d get to fly one or two rockets at a launch with trackers (as it took a lot of diddling to setup the receiving tracking station) but there was another fellow who was a Ham radio guy who flew Beeline APRS trackers too. Had to get a table and use a cardboard shipping box that came from a 27” T.V. to shade the laptop as one can’t see the screen in the sunlight. I found out the hard way I couldn’t see the screen on the laptop otherwise. I didn’t lose that launch though as my backup was a Kenwood D72A with a one wire connection to a Garmin 60Cs (or CsX) hand held mapping GPS that does realtime mapping flight monitoring although the GPS doesn’t display all the interesting data that Xastir shows. Xastir would show breadcrumb tracks plus speed and altitude with every breadcrumb that the Garmin didn’t display. The Garmin only shows the position/track on the map which is fine for recovery purposes. One thing that was neat with the Kenwood/Garmin combo is the D72A could be set to show the GPS transmitted altitude which is above mean sea level. The map showed the rocket‘s positions and one can read the GPS transmitted altitude off in real time on the Kenwood. I would call out the bearing and the altitude. If the flier told me what they had the altimeter(s) main event set to, I could call out, “main event now!” and if it was within viewing range we could see it. If not within viewing range, with a successful main chute deployment out of eyesight range I could readily tell the event was nominal as the transmitted altitude descent would slow immensely once the main chute came out.

Also the Garmins are designed to be used in direct sunlight whereas other devices might not be so usable. I‘ve monitored a rocket on the Linux laptop with Xastir and navigated to the recovery site using the D72A/Garmin 60 Cs(x) to do the recovery. A 60Cs or 60CsX work with this combo and can be purchased used online now. Open source maps I believe are still available. Of course, I could have nixed the laptop receiving station and just used the D72A/Garmin combo to get the rocket back. Things I learned about watching a rocket in realtime flight is that they do screwy things in winds aloft with sight unseen flights. They end up 180 degrees opposite to where the crowd/people are looking to see the main chute event due to the winds aloft. Everyone is looking in the expected direction based on ground wind but the rocket did different at high altitude and was coming down 180 degrees from expected. Other times, the rocket was coming down on a way different bearing the flier was looking or it was so far away the main chute/rocket couldn’t be seen. I also saw a rocket in a wide spiral descent at altitude that was not able to be seen from the ground due to the high altitude achieved. One occasion I was able to shout out that the rocket cleared a road and landed in an adjacent field safely. Everyone was getting spastic that the rocket landed in a well travelled road but it was quite obvious on the map it didn’t. Really neat to monitor flight track in realtime but of course takes planning/software and setup to be able to do so.

For simple APRS Ham band tracking to get a rocket back one can‘t beat a Beeline APRS Ham band tracker.
One wire to a Kenwood D72A to a Garmin 60Cs or CsX and one has a direct realtime mapping monitoring and tracking of a flight. Yes one doesn’t have the ability to save data well but it works every time to find a rocket and doesn’t require diddling with software, bluetooth and the like. Just have to have a Technician Ham radio license and a D72A to do it. Plus there are some 2 meter (better range) Ham trackers out there that will put out 1 watt of Rf that are possible to use for rocketry. (AP510/AV5RT and others). Only thing one has to be careful with is to make sure the high output Rf doesn’t screw up their recovery electronics. I‘ve seen a 2 watt, 150Mhz, Garmin dog tracker destroy a 12 inch diameter, 16 foot tall project by jamming the two onboard altimeters. Flier, (not me) didn’t do a ground test before flying. One big mother lawn dart that could have been avoided by using different deployment electronics or separating the tracker from the ebay.

Nonetheless, I’ve worked with the 900Mhz stuff and if one just wants a bearing arrow and distance it works well for 98% of the fliers. I was able to hack the Eggfinders to work with APRSIS-32 so I had a map to see where the rocket went. I’m a picture type of guy. The nice thing about a realtime map is one sees instantly a trend position of their rocket. If the thing ends up a long distance away, a breadcrumb track shows the drift trend instantly when the rocket is getting lower and may eventually lose signal when it goes out of range. Yeah an arrow will help point the way but I have to tell you it’s peace of mind if you know nearly exactly where your rocket went. Do I have to get my butt out there as the rocket is close to or maybe landed on a road? Guys out west who launch on the playa don’t have to worry about it. They do have to worry about the fact that the ground range of their trackers is way less as the salts of the playa suck up Rf like a sponge. Their ground footprint is way less than it could be in like plain soil. Makes it important to be able to receive that last known position. Us Midwesterners have to worry about buildings, trees, wires and roads. A photo map and realtime tracking can be a big help for the proverbial peace of mind. Kurt Savegnago
 
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ksaves2

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Oh, one other thing. They say that Yagi antennas aren’t good for in flight tracking of 900Mhz stuff due to the antenna beamwidth being too narrow to be able to accurately point at a speeding rocket. Be that as it may, once a rocket is on the ground and generally stationary or maybe blowing with the wind, a 900Mhz Yagi antenna DOES increase the ground footprint of a 900Mhz tracker. It makes sense as one knows the general bearing of the downed, nearly stationary rocket and can hold a Yagi antenna in that direction.

I proved this to myself on three sight unseen flights using 900Mhz EggFinders. I disconnected the omni antenna from the receiver after it was obvious the rockets had landed and connected up my multi-element 900Mhz Yagi. I then walked in the direction of the recovery site and when I just started to receive a decipherable position on the receiver, I disconnected the Yagi and screwed on the simple omni-directional antenna. What happened? The signal was lost. Plug in the Yagi and the positions were received again.

Now this may be moot because if one is generally proceeding in the general direction of the downed rocket, they’ll eventually get within the ground footprint of the tracker and be able to find the rocket. A Yagi will give one that peace of mind sooner in the recovery phase. Plus when I bought my Yagis, they were cheap. Kurt
 
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