Archive for the 'Passive GPS Tracking' Category

Feb 11 2019

Telespial Builds Improvements into Trackstick Model

Telespial Systems makes some big claims in advertising for its Trackstick Mini, a passive tracking device that was introduced to the market last year. Among them, the southern California company boasts that the compact GPS unit has seven times better sensitivity than any of its other tracking systems and that it’s the longest-running vehicle tracker on the market.

In fact, the Trackstick Mini represents a complete overhaul over Telespial’s three other passive devices – the Trackstick II, the Trackstick Pro and the Super Trackstick. Set beside its predecessor, the Super Trackstick, this new device is certainly different in size, shape and color. Putting appearance aside, the other features of the Trackstick Mini begged for a road test.

1.  Passive GPS Technology Overview:

Those new to GPS tracking technology quickly learn that there are two types of GPS vehicle tracking devices: passive and active. Both acquire GPS signal in the same manner. The difference is in how that data is handled and viewed/read.

All GPS systems are receivers.  They capture signals from satellites and calculate the unit’s location with a mathematical formula called triangulation.

If the user wants to see that location information immediately (real time), a method must be used to transmit it “live” to a computer server. A modem and cellular data technology are usually the solution. This system involves additional monthly fees.

Passive vehicle tracking systems have no additional fees, because the location data is stored in the device’s internal memory. The user later retrieves the device and downloads the data onto a PC for viewing.

Most consumers initially prefer a real-time solution. But the monthly fees – and often an annual contract – could be financially burdensome. Passive devices work equally well and are cost-effective. They also can store significantly more data than real-time units.

2. Manufacturer Claims and Model Specs:

Two important qualities in GPS tracking devices are always debated: power and signal acquisition. Usually, to get a consistently good signal, GPS devices need a clear shot at the sky. That is the case with GPS navigation devices.

Passive devices like the Trackstick Mini must prove themselves worthy in less-than-ideal conditions. Covert installation is sometimes necessary. The Telespial pitchman addresses this on the company website. The Trackstick Mini has a 360° internal antenna, so, the company says; it doesn’t need to have its face to the sky.

The Trackstick Mini operates on an internal lithium?ion battery that is recharged through a computer’s USB port. The thin design of the unit and the black color are appropriate for covert placement. As an added layer of environmental protection, the Trackstick Mini includes a soft rubber sleeve that surrounds the recording device. The magnetic clip permits quick mounting on metal components. Another improvement includes a significant gain in sensitivity as identified by the manufacturer. The Trackstick Mini is supported by Trackstick Manager software. The same is being used on the company’s other passive models.


  • 5-second sampling rate
  • Motion sensor/vibration detector
  • On/off switch
  • Built?in USB port
  • Magnetic mounting surface

New features include:

  • Sleek, water?resistant housing
  • Soft rubber boot surrounding the enclosure as added protection from the elements
  • Significant gain in sensitivity (Seven times, according to the manufacturer’s website)
  • Lithium?ion rechargeable battery

3. The Test

The Trackstick Mini was fully charged and then placed deep under the driver’s seat of an ordinary four-door sedan. Our test involved moving it every two days to a new location in the vehicle until the unit ran out of power, all the while checking for proper signal acquisition. The accuracy and consistency of readings would be analyzed upon data download.

The placement rotation was as follows: Under the seat, under the vehicle on the frame, inside the glove compartment, in the trunk near the rear window and inside the rear bumper.

It is important to note that, when the Trackstick Mini’s battery is depleted, it simply stops operating. No data already in memory is lost (non-volatile).

Figure 1 below shows the location of the LED light on the Trackstick Mini.

Insert image of Trackstick Mini here with the arrow pointing to green light (it’s the image on the right of the page).

The Telespial Trackstick Mini uses the same LED, located on the lower right corner of the device, for battery and GPS status. The flashing GPS status is also an indication of each recorded position. There is no way to identify the battery status of the Trackstick Mini when not plugged into a PC. The LED will flash green once every 5 seconds when locked onto a GPS signal. When the battery expires, the unit simply shuts down.

The test car was driven about 40 miles per day, for about two hours daily of wheels-in-motion recording time. After two days, the device was moved to the next position in the cycle. In every placement position, the Trackstick Mini light indicated that it had a good, continuous GPS lock. That meant it was performing well in not-the-best-of circumstances.

Eleven days after the test started, the Trackstick Mini stopped tracking due to a lack of power. Roughly calculated, our test resulted in about 25, perhaps 30 hours of driving/recording on a battery charge, which is far less than the 80 hours the manufacturer advertises.

It was time to download the data and find out how well the Trackstick Mini worked.

4. Download and Review of Data:

The Telespial Trackstick Manager is a menu-driven software program that is used to extract and display the GPS tracking data on a PC. Interface is via the USB port. It is important to point out once again that the Trackstick Mini recharges its lithium-ion battery while downloading data at the USB port.

Place Figure 2 here showing software and numbers

The Trackstick Manager software is user-friendly. Once the data is downloaded, the user can select from the dates recorded as shown in Figure 2, item 1. The end date for our test period was the date the Trackstick Mini’s battery expired. Viewing the graphic portion of the data is accomplished by creating a Google Earth® file, also known as a KMZ, Figure 2, item 2. The recorded latitude/longitude positions are recreated and displayed onto the Google Earth® map with a path connected between each of these positions. The stops on Google Earth® are identified with red dots, but they are not identified individually. However, you can place the mouse over these dots and the details will appear for the corresponding stop. Figure 2, item 3 shows the sequential positions recorded throughout the recording period. Each of these positions includes a link to Google Maps® allowing the user to identify a graphic reference to each recorded point (geo-tagging). At the bottom of the list is a breakdown of the number of positions recorded, hours traveled, and miles traveled. The user can isolate dates and times to modify the breakdown and make it the subject of a daily summary report.

The Trackstick Mini’s data display was adequate without being misleading. But the travel replay on Google Earth® was at times choppy and wavered from designated roads. We have seen similar GPS tracking products on the market that have more mapping and viewing options in their software.

Insert Figure 5 here; use the photo/screenshot on the LEFT only

5. Results:

  • Battery Life: In our experiment, the test car was driven about two hours a day (39 miles), and the Trackstick Mini gave us 11 days of recording on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery. The user is the ultimate judge, but 11 days hardly seems enough to give the unit the title “the longest-running vehicle tracker on the market.” The lithium-ion battery seems to be a convenience, but that is lost when the need arises for a hot?swap solution. A drained battery in the Trackstick Mini means that the entire device must be charged for an hour or two prior to returning to service. The system doesn’t have a secondary power option. We feel this would be a major drawback for law enforcement and/or private detectives that require rapid turnaround. The Trackstick  Mini has a motion sensor/vibration detector to conserve battery life. That seemed to have performed very well in our test.
  • Signal Acquisition: A quality GPS tracking device quickly acquires a GPS signal, even when it is located in a compromising position on the vehicle. In this test, the Trackstick Mini performed better than its own company predecessors, so it does have a more powerful receiver and the 360° antenna apparently does work. On a larger scale, acquisition could be considered average and not as good as we’ve seen from other products in the market. The sampling rate of five seconds is also adequate, but it could be more frequent for a smoother trip flow.
  • Accuracy : The accuracy of the Trackstick Mini’s readings was acceptable, but we’ve seen other products on the market that performed much better. With the Trackstick Mini, many times the graphic replay of travel activities showed the vehicle drifting off the road (Figure 5). That’s usually the result of poor signal acquisition, poor placement of the device in the vehicle, and data interpretation.
  • Software: The software package performed quite well. It is menu-driven and user-friendly. But its viewing options are limited. There are other products currently being sold that have more of a variety in trip recaps.
  • Device Design: The Trackstick Mini’s physical design is quite attractive and functional. It’s unobtrusive and easily portable. The USB connection has a protective cap. The magnetic mount is adequate. The rubber case or boot is a good idea, because it would provide an extra level of protection from weather and being knocked around. The dual purpose GPS signal/battery indicator light is not practical. A second, low-battery light would have been helpful.

6. Conclusion:

If looking for a passive vehicle tracking device that can be easily and cleverly hidden, the Trackstick Mini is a good contender. The software and the hardware itself are easy to operate. Due to an improved receiver and antenna, this product does seem to perform better in both GPS signal acquisition and data accuracy than predecessors from Telespial Systems. But competitors in the field have a better track record. Superior power is advertised, but in our test, the product did not deliver to that high level.


  • Improved signal acquisition
  • User-friendly software
  • Weatherproof rubber boot


  • No low battery light
  • Battery requires at least 2 hours to recharge
  • Limited data viewing options
  • Data often shows vehicle drifting off road


Ratings based on a 5-point scale for each feature.

Battery Life:                 3

Acquisition Time:        4

Accuracy:                      3

Software:                      3.5

Device Design:              4

Overall Rating, Trackstick Mini:

3.5 of a possible 5 stars

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Feb 04 2015

GPS Tracking Key 2 Product Review

Tracking Key 2 Takes Passive Market To New Level

GPS Tracking Key 2

Recently our editors at GPS Tracking Review were informed about by a Southern California GPS provider by the name of Tracking System Direct that one of the most popular data loggers of all-time was getting a makeover. They sent us the in the product and after anxiously awaiting for the device to arrive, we tested the tracker known as GPS Tracking Key 2. But before we talk about this new data logger let us first give you a little information on its predecessor.

The original GPS Tracking Key debuted on the market nearly a decade ago and continued to be successful due to its simplicity: a small tracker that recorded historical driving activity and could then provide that information by simple USB download to a computer. In fact, our GPS Tracking Review editors did a write-up on the tracking device in 2008. Although the device was great it had a handful of flaws that our team was able to identify but overall the unit was great for vehicle tracking. Fast forward to today and many of the shortcomings of this GPS data logger have not only been addressed but have been improved quite impressively upon our examination. So let’s get right into the GPS Tracking Key 2 review!

Online Software

Mac Compatible GPS Tracker

The biggest complaint our team had back in 2008 during the original Tracking Key review was that the tracking system required a CD of software that needed to be downloaded to personal computer before the tracking data could be reviewed. The problem we had was not transferring the data from device to computer but rather that the system did NOT support Mac operating systems. This is what impressed us most out the gate about the new GPS Tracking Key 2: the device can work with personal computers or Apple computing systems that have USB ports! However, it did not stop there because GPS Tracking Key 2 also provided a new online software that utilized Google Maps in a new and different way to provide a more user-friendly method of viewing the data. LandAirSea, the online software provider, even offers cloud storage options for those who want to keep tracking data secure for long periods of time. This option is also great for people who were worried that the tracking data on their computer could be found by an employee or cheating spouse.


What is cool about GPS Tracking Key 2 is that the engineers kept the sleek and simple design the same as the original version. The USB drive on the device makes it easy to plug the device into a computer to access historical tracking data and the surface magnetic mount is awesome for covertly placing the GPS tracker on belly of a target car. The device still does not make any noises which is fantastic for those engaged in covert tracking applications, and the simple low-battery LED light can be covered with something as crude as a piece of electrical tape if the user wants to also have the illuminated lights blacked out. The only thing we still dislike is that the car tracking device does not come included with a small screwdriver to access the battery door compartment. The tiny screws are a little pain and it is not that easy finding a small screwdriver. A back clip similar to that of the GPS Tracking Key Pro would be a much better design. However, we will say that when our GPS tracking experts asked the manufacturer about this they stated that design was to enhance water protection capabilities. Therefore, it does serve a functional purpose.

GPS Tracking Data

GPS Tracking Key 2 provided a wealth of data from addresses arrived, addresses the motorist departed, speed driven, max speed, mileage and more. The information provided by the micro tracker is more than enough to help a business determine if a driver is misusing company vehicles, falsifying time sheets or doing side work. Not to mention, for consumer applications such as teen driving safety so parents can make certain their kids are not driving too fast or going to places they should not be going. The data can also be saved to a personal computer or through the online web-server via cloud storage on a secure off-site system. This is very helpful for people who do not want GPS tracking applications on their desktop or for government agencies wanting a secure place to house sensitive GPS data related to an investigation.

GPS Tracking Key 2

Overall Conclusion

This is a great device considering the cost of $169.00 where it can be purchased online. The device may not provide live GPS tracking data and the tiny screwdriver needed to open the battery door compartment are certainly small drawbacks but the advantages significantly outweigh that. We love the online software and are pretty certain this is the only GPS data logger on the market that offers such services online review of personal tracking data, secure cloud storage of GPS tracking data and a solution that works with both PC and Mac systems. Overall we would recommend this device to anyone looking to track a vehicle who does not want to pay monthly fees for a real-time device. Great unit. Great support (which is available at no cost 24/7 for the life of the product). And great tracker! This is why we give the tracker a total rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

4.5 stars

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Feb 15 2010

GPS Tracking Key Pro Earns Top Ratings for Passive GPS Tracking

An aversion to the high cost of new technology and a fear that it is just too complicated are no longer good excuses for being without a GPS tracking device. LandAirSea Systems, an industry leader and trusted name in vehicle tracking, has introduced a no monthly fee GPS tracker that couldn’t be simpler. The palm-sized Tracking Key Pro® boasts a sleek, uncomplicated design and it has user-friendly software to match.

The Tracking Key Pro® was introduced to market in 2009 as LandAirSea’s next generation passive GPS tracker and an improved version of the company’s top-selling Tracking Key.

1. Overview:

All GPS tracking systems receive or capture GPS signals. If they are real-time devices, they employ a method for transmitting the data to a server so it can be viewed over the Internet. Cellular data technology is the most cost-effective method. However, in today’s tough economy, consumers and businesses are under pressure to cut costs. Even a reasonable real-time tracking solution can become a financial burden. A passive GPS tracking device such as the Tracking Key Pro® is a logical solution to this dilemma.

Passive GPS tracking systems – also known as data loggers – are appropriately named because they record location data and store it in internal memory. Users have the flexibility – whenever it is convenient for them – to download the information to a computer via the USB port. There are no monthly fees as are associated with real-time units. Furthermore, a passive GPS tracker can store a significant amount of data that is simply not available on a real-time unit.

What piqued our interest was LandAirSea’s claims that their Tracking Key Pro® had superior power and signal capture and that it performed well with unconventional (clear view of the sky) placement. Sounds like a challenge.

2. Manufacturer’s Introduction and Specifications

LandAirSea Systems, based in Woodstock, IL, has been manufacturing and marketing GPS tracking products since 1994. That’s a rather long time in this booming market. The company’s suite of GPS tracking solutions includes the Tracking Key and Tracking Key Pro®, both passive units, and a real-time device called the Victoria. The manufacturer intends to introduce two additional real-time devices to the market in 2010.

The Tracking Key Pro® is essentially a Tracking Key with some significant upgrades. They include an on/off power switch and a battery compartment that has an easy-access door with a latch, instead of tiny screws.  But the biggest change in this model is an extended battery life. It runs on two AA batteries, as opposed to the two AAAs in the original Tracking Key. Store-bought alkaline or lithiums provide the power.

Users that are upgrading from the Tracking Key to the Tracking Key Pro® will be happy to know that both units utilize the same Past Track software. The conversion to a new GPS tracking product should be convenient and smooth.

Tracking Key Pro® Features:

  • Power: two AA batteries (will last about a month, with average driving)
  • Magnetic mount
  • Second-by-second sampling
  • Water resistant
  • Motion sensor
  • Flash memory holds up to 100 hours of travel activity

New features:

  • 12V external power option
  • On/off switch
  • Easy-access battery door
  • Recessed USB port
  • Rounded-edge, sleek design

3. The Test:

We fitted the Tracking Key Pro® with two standard AA batteries, and tested the device in various covert positions in an everyday four-door sedan. Our challenge: Just how good will GPS reception be when the Tracking Key Pro® is placed in compromised locations? Every two days, the unit was moved to a new location in the following cycle: under the driver’s seat, under the vehicle on the frame, in the glove box, in the trunk near the passenger window, and inside the rear bumper. Miles traveled per day averaged 39, about the same as a domestic vehicle in regular use. The cycle continued until the batteries ran out.

(*Note: One-hundred hours of travel data is stored in memory. When the batteries die, the Tracking Key Pro® shuts down, but the data already recorded is unaffected.)

In Figure 1 below, the arrow shows where the battery and GPS status lights are located. The Tracking Key Pro® has one LED light to show that it is locked on a GPS signal, and another LED light to indicate battery power. The GPS signal light will flash every second when it is locked onto a signal. The battery indicator light glows solid green when power is adequate and it will turn red when it is time to change the batteries.

The test started Nov. 25, 2009 with fully-charged batteries. The first position was deep under the driver’s seat, mounted upside down (antenna side down). Every two days the Tracking Key Pro® was moved to a new location. The Tracking Key Pro®’s GPS lock light indicated good and continuous reception in each installed location.

LandAirSea claims the Tracking Key Pro® will track continuously for four weeks. Remarkably, it operated flawlessly for 35 days. The red, low-battery indicator light did not illuminate until Dec. 29, 2009. The unit ceased working the following day.

With the data collected, it was time to check the quality of signal acquisition, accuracy of readings and the software interface.

4. Download and Review of Data

LandAirSea’s Past Track Software is used to download and display the GPS tracking data. The tracking system and the PC interface via the USB port. The Tracking Key Pro® can also acquire power from the PC port.

The menu-driven, Past Track software is user friendly and all the data is identified by the date it was recorded. Past Track shows in great detail where a vehicle has driven. The data collected includes speed, direction, time, location and length of every stop.

There are three options for the presentation of tracking data:  digital street image, satellite maps via Google Earth® and a text activity report. The software has a great emphasis on the graphic formats.

The animated digital street map option is illustrated in Figure 3. From the screen, users can click to choose Google Earth® (Figure 3, item 1); the daily text report (Figure 3, item 2), and animated controls of the vehicle (Figure 3, item 3) as it moves along its path.  A panel of instruments (Figure 3, item 4) changes as the vehicle progresses on the map. The playback is very smooth because the Tracking Key Pro® takes a reading every second. The path can be manipulated to show different colors at different speeds, so the user can focus on incidents of excessive speeding.

Figure 3

For Google Earth®, click on the icon in the toolbar. The KMZ file is created and the program automatically launches. Navigate the Google Earth® sidebar for all the details on the vehicle’s path and stops. You can also choose a new path color in Google Earth® rather than the default setting.

See Figure 4 for an example of the daily activity report.

Figure 4

On the left side of the report is a summary of the day’s activities (Figure 4, item 1) including total miles driven, total driving time, start and ending addresses, and top speed of the day. Below the summary, the user will find a breakdown of every stop (Figure 4, items 2 and 3) including time and address of departure (acquisition point), time en route, time and address of new location, and the miles between the stops. For further information, click on the address and you’ll switch to a satellite view on Google Maps®. The text report gives an easy-to-read review of any day’s events.

The vehicle being tracked must pause for a preset number of minutes in order to quality as a “stop”. That parameter can be changed in Past Track. For instance, the user can lower the “stop” threshold from 10 minutes to 5 minutes, then immediately rerun the report and see the extra stops that were not there previously.

The accuracy of readings from the Tracking Key Pro® was impressive. As shown in Figure 5, the path of the vehicle was fluid and consistent.

Figure 5

5. The Results

  • Battery Life: The Tracking Key Pro® recorded a full 35 days without fail. When the batteries are drained, they can quickly be replaced with two fresh AA alkaline or lithiums and then the tracking system can immediately be put back to work. This quick swap quality will be appreciated by police and private detectives.  Alkaline batteries were tested. LandAirSea claims a 50 percent increase in recording time (minimum) when lithium batteries are used. A 12V power option is available as an alternative to batteries.
  • Signal Acquisition: The Tracking Key Pro® quickly captured GPS signal regardless of its placement in the test vehicle. It acquired signal in positions other tested vehicle tracking devices did not.
  • Accuracy: A vehicle tracking device’s accuracy is of utmost importance. The quality will vary, depending on how the device is engineered, and where it is placed in the vehicle. The performance of the Tracking Key Pro® was remarkable. It acquired a position update every second and, as shown in Figure 5, the animated replay follows the road and is smooth and unbroken.
  • Software: The menu-driven Past Track software is easy to navigate and offers the variety of data presentation in three formats: animated street map, Google Earth® satellite image and text report. In each, travel activities are broken down by day. The Past Track software has the ability to maintain version updates. The Past Track software is good on all Windows operating systems, but it not Mac compatible.
  • Device Design: The Tracking Key Pro® has a sleek design in an inconspicuous black housing. The device is small, easily portable and the strong magnet offers a variety of placement options.

6. Conclusion

The LandAirSea Tracking Key Pro® is an excellent solution for covert vehicle tracking. At each level of testing the Tracking Key Pro® performed as advertised. Its battery life, sensitivity and price are hard to beat. The Past Track software is easily navigated. Users who have questions about the operation of this device will find the LandAirSea technical support team both accessible and experienced.


  • 35 days tracking on a battery charge (with average driving)
  • Good signal acquisition in many covert positions
  • GPS readings every second
  • User friendly software


  • Past Track software not compatible with Mac operating systems
  • Unit is water-resistant, but not waterproof.


LandAirSea Tracking Key Pro®

Battery Life:              5 stars

Acquisition Time:     5 stars

Accuracy:                   5 stars

Software:                   4 stars

Device Design:          4 stars

Overall (Of a possible 5 stars:)

LandAirSea Tracking Key Pro®

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