Nov 17 2008
Upon purchasing the Zoombak GPS tracking device, you will first notice the convenient compact size of the unit which comes complete with an AC wall charger, pouch, car charger and user-guide. What might also catch your eye is the innovative packaging which illustrates Zoombak’s efforts to target specific market segments. Their message, “We offer products designed to meet everyone’s needs”, leaves an overall aesthetically pleasing first impression on the consumer.
Start-Up and Activation:
Upon bringing the unit home, you will need to activate the Zoombak GPS tracking unit before it will be ready to record GPS locations. The initial set-up process requires the user to visit the Zoombak website and click on the “activate” tab to create and activate an account. Activating an account requires an e-mail address for a username, a password for secure login, a four digit pin for SMS based communication with the Zoombak, and the answer to a general security question such as a mother’s maiden name or family pet name. You will also need to provide an alphanumeric name such as Ryan25, Spot04, etc. Once the account is created, the user will then need to disclose credit card information to keep on file for the monthly fee ($14.99) that will be drawn from the user’s credit card every 30 days. Because the unit incorporates cellular technology provided by T-Mobile, a service plan, along with a one year commitment is required under the T-Mobile terms and conditions. If you were to cancel the plan prematurely, a $100.00 termination fee would be applied to your card on file. Activating the unit is a simple, user-friendly procedure. Should you, however, experience difficulty getting an account set-up, Zoombak provides customer service support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as well as a “live-chat” option that is available from 11:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., EST.
Once an account as been set-up and the data plan has been activated, the Zoombak GPS tracking unit must be charged for 24 hours before it can be placed on the vehicle to begin tracking. (PLEASE NOTE: As timing is often essential, customers needing to track immediately out of the box should be wary of this requirement, as initial use of this product will necessitate a certain amount of planning) There is one LED light on the unit that will flash amber when the battery is getting low and will retain a steady amber color when charging. When the unit is charged at capacity, the LED light will illuminate a steady green color which will indicate that the unit is ready for placement. The LED light will then flash green to signify that the unit is on and functioning. If battery life is a concern, Zoombak customers can sign up to receive e-mail or text alerts when the unit’s battery is at 25% capacity and/or when the unit is powered off due to a drained battery. After being charged for 24 hours, the Zoombak was positioned outside with a clear line of sight to acquire its first signal. Unfortunately, the unit failed to communicate with the server, meaning that it was unable to track positions or record data. Since Zoombak provides 24 hour customer care, a phone call was placed into the call center to address the technical issue. Although 24 hour technical support initially sounded wonderful, once dialogue began with the Costa Rican support team, a surprising discovery was made: The Zoombak customer support team was not a technical based support team, meaning it appeared they had pre-scripted dialogue for certain FAQs. The support team sounded as if they read their answers straight from a computer rather than listened to the various questions, making these people seem less than professional. Once it was determined that the Zoombak was defective, the unit had to be exchanged at the local electronics store where it was purchased and the whole process needed to be started over from scratch.
How is the Tracking Data Accessed?
Once the Zoombak is activated and it is determined that the unit is not defective, the first question you may ask is “how is the tracking data accessed?” The Zoombak is not only a web-based application that allows you to access the location of a vehicle from any computer with internet capabilities, but also allows you to receive SMS based notifications (text messages) via cell phone. By texting 96225 and typing “find” in the message area, you can receive the location of the vehicle equipped with the Zoombak in under a minute. This application also allows you to create virtual boundaries or “safety zones”, such as around your house. Whenever the locator enters or leaves that safety zone, you will be alerted via email or SMS text message. The message will say “Your locator has left the safety zone ‘home’ at 3:15 p.m.” Although it is convenient to access the location of a vehicle from any personal computer, via text message, or through the “safety zones”, the Zoombak seems to require a great deal of human maintenance to gather the daily tracking activities. This is due to the Zoombak’s inability to track continuously for more than one hour with 5 minute updates and without human correspondence. Unfortunately, even when the device was being monitored so the continuous tracking feature could be activated after every hour, problems occurred. The two main problems with clicking continuous tracking are 1.) That there may be “an error communicating with device” or, 2.) After a little over 12 straight hours of receiving updates in five minute intervals, the battery will die. The Zoombak can only record approximately 150 times with five minute updates before the battery dies, or five days when not updating at all. Because the unit is so compact in size, there is little room for a sufficient battery supply, thereby creating another inconvenience: having to recharge the unit on a frequent basis. So, if you are an employer whose business calls for five minute updates of daily tracking activities, you will need to charge the unit’s battery approximately every night!
For viewing the tracking data online, the Zoombak uses Microsoft’s Virtual Earth as its mapping engine. The user can view the tracking history over a plain street map, aerial view (satellite image), or the bird’s eye view. (satellite image) The bird’s eye view feature especially affords a great comprehensive view of the area where the Zoombak is located, and while the satellite picture is not “real-time” it does give the viewer a more intimate feel of the surroundings of the Zoombak’s location. The bird’s eye view, however, only projects a 45 degree angle of a satellite image of a location and does not permit the viewer to zoom in and zoom out for different viewing perspectives. For some consumers, this is not a high priority, though others may find it limiting. And although the aesthetic bird’s eye viewing feature is detailed, the mapping software does not allow you to access an informative daily or weekly activity report in a text version. Basically, if you’re looking for a detailed written tracking history for tracking mileage or business trips, this mapping software will not suffice.
Beginning to Track
After carefully following the set-up instructions for the second time, the unit was again activated and ready to begin tracking. The unit’s petite design, 2.87” x 1.69” x 0.82” (L x W x H), led us to believe that there would be flexibility in its placement; however, the owners’ manual suggested that the optimum placement would be either on the front dashboard or in the glove box, offering no other alternatives for positioning. The owner’s manual recommended these locations because the GPS unit must have a direct line of sight to the sky in order for it to acquire a signal. But because the Zoombak has no mounting capabilities, the unit can only be placed in the cab of the vehicle. The Zoombak may therefore be a helpful tool for parents who want to monitor their teen’s driving activities, but it would have no application for law enforcement agencies that relied on GPS tracking units for criminal investigations. The unit’s GPS acquisition and accuracy were then tested in both recommended positions along with an additional location: under the passenger seat.
On The Front Dashboard:
The front or rear dashboard is the most recommended option for placement, as the Zoombak is provided a clear and direct line of sight to the sky, resulting in the lowest GPS acquisition time and increased accuracy. The Zoombak was able to accurately acquire a GPS signal within 10 seconds of its placement, locating the exact parking space where the vehicle was situated. The accuracy with this placement was great; however, if an individual wanted to be covert about the placement, this would notbe a viable option. Anyone behind the wheel or in the passenger seat would easily notice a foreign device with a blinking green light on the front dashboard!
In the Glove Box
The glove box is the second location Zoombak’s owner’s manual suggested for placement. From inside the glove box, the Zoombak acquired a signal within 15 seconds, and was accurate within ten to twenty feet. This is because GPS signals can penetrate matter composed of plastic, glass, rubber, fiber-glass, cloth material, and just about anything else with the exception of concrete and metal. It should be noted, however, that although recommended by Zoombak, placement in this location of the vehicle raises some customer concerns, mainly about concealment and the desire to be covert. Since many customers use devices of this type for tracking teenage drivers, it makes sense that they would want to mount the unit in an area that is not visible and not accessible. Positioning the Zoombak directly in the glove box makes it easy for a sixteen year-old to remove it, thereby eliminating all evidence of his or her whereabouts. And since Zoombak offers few other placement options, we must ask the question: is this an effective tracking tool, especially for concerned parents of teenage drivers, employers with company vehicles, etc.?
Under the Passenger Seat
Note: Zoombak recommends placing its device on either the front dashboard or in the glove box. When the unit is purchased at the Zoombak website, you will receive an InstallCard that entitles you to have the Zoombak hardwired to your car’s battery by a local professional at the negotiated price of $59.99 if you wanted to have the unit securely positioned in a different location other than the recommended. Although, the Zoombak owner’s manual does not specify placement under the front or passenger seat as an effective location, the test was performed there as well. Surprisingly, the unit acquired a GPS signal within a reasonable timeframe (25 + seconds), and the accuracy was relatively good (+/- 22 ft).
Under the Vehicle
The Zoombak does not have any mounting capabilities in this location. Therefore, the unit cannot be installed or mounted to the frame of the vehicle.
In a highly competitive marketplace flooded with GPS tracking devices, the Zoombak falls short in some crucial areas when it comes to special features. First of all, the unit does not have the ability to track the speed of the vehicle. For example, if you are a parent who is concerned about the reckless driving habits of your teen, this device would not have the appropriate application for you. Yes, the unit would allow you to know your son or daughter’s whereabouts when the unit is “pinged”, but if he or she is driving 94mph on the interstate, you would have no way of accessing this potentially life-threatening information.
The continuous tracking feature allows you to obtain updates every five minutes for one hour. A clock icon counts down the seconds until the hour has passed, recording every position of the unit for the allotted time. However, once the countdown has ended and the data is transferred to the historical tracking section, it can take up to four hours before the data can be viewed! In a business or even personal situation, this could prove counterproductive. Say you needed to immediately confront your employee or teen about his driving history. Count on approximately four hours before being able to access this data again!. In addition, the Zoombak does not record GPS coordinates such as longitude and latitude positions; moreover, only a range of addresses can be accurately pinpointed from the exact location to up to 110 yards. For a current GPS tracking device, this falls surprisingly short of competing tracking devices providing 6 to 8 ft. accuracy.
When the testing process began, we were very excited about putting the Zoombak GPS tracking device into action. The packaging was appealing, the unit was compact, and the cost was very reasonable at $ 199.00. Activating the Zoombak online, setting up an account, and providing billing information for the monthly fees seemed to be a simple and straightforward procedure. Then, when the first unit was found to be defective, the customer service representatives failed to answer basic questions, and the battery life did not allow the unit to stay in the field for more than a couple of days before needing recharging–our excitement quickly turned to frustration and disappointment.
The continuous tracking feature was helpful and accurate; it was a constant struggle, however, for the device to maintain a sufficient battery life. With the continuous tracking feature running consistently, the device would only operate for approximately 12 hours before it lost power. Also, after the continuous tracking feature ended, the data could take up to four hours before it was saved in the historical tracking section.
The Microsoft Virtual Earth mapping system was easy to operate. While the road mapping was a very basic and rather colorless form of mapping, the aerial and bird’s eye view mapping were incredible! Microsoft did an excellent job of putting the mapping application together. Yet although, the bird’s eye view showed a detailed satellite image that is more than impressive, Zoombak failed to provide additional mapping tools such as activity or text reports to give the user a written account of the vehicle tracking history for important applications such as mileage tracking.
Pros vs. Cons: Summary of Zoombak Review:
- Compact size for easy mounting
- Attractive packaging
- User-friendly start-up and activation features
- Tracking data easily accessed
- Continuous tracking feature
- Water-resistant exterior
- Microsoft virtual earth satellite mapping
- Reasonable monthly fee (only $14.99)
- Customer Service Support Center operates 24/7
- “Live Chat” option available daily 11AM – 8PM EST
- Initial 24 hour battery charge prior to activation
- Inadequate customer support team
- Inability to track continuously for more than one hour w/5 minute updates
- Requires re-charging on a frequent basis due to little room for a sufficient battery supply
- Restricted placement options make it difficult to conceal the unit
- Lacks vehicle speed tracking capabilities
- Does not record GPS coordinates such as latitude and longitude positions
- Mapping capabilities do not include additional tools such as activity and text reports
The Bottom Line:
From shelf appeal to activation, the Zoombak gives a great first impression. However, once the device is set up and ready to begin tracking, the inadequate engineering quickly diminishes the initial expectations. The bottom line is, when you purchase one of the least expensive GPS tracking systems on the market, you ultimately get what you pay for.
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