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    Bad Elf GPS for Lightning Connector brings precise location to devices without GPS

    Steve Sande, @stevensande
    November 26, 2013
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    Although many of us have become accustomed to using our iOS devices to figure out where we are and where we're going, there are still iOS devices that don't have assisted GPS built-in. In fact, if you have a Wi-Fi version of Apple's newest iPads (Air, mini with Retina display) or an iPod touch, there's no built-in global positioning receiver. However, there's hope for you if you want to take your Wi-Fi iPad geocaching, use navigation apps in a car, airplane or on a bike, or set up a telescope far from cellular systems.

    Bad Elf has released the GPS for Lightning Connector, a US$129.99 Lightning dongle that brings accurate positioning to your favorite non-cellular iOS device. How accurate? It can locate your position on the globe to within 8 feet (2.5 meters) without the aid of nearby cell towers. If you happen to be in a fighter plane and want to use your Wi-Fi iPad mini for navigation, no problems -- the Bad Elf receiver can work up to 66,000 feet (20,000 meters) altitude and up to 1,000 miles per hour (1,600 kph).

    The receiver is a 66-channel GPS and GLONASS receiver that provides your device with latitude, longitude, altitude, speed, your GPS track, and more. It comes with a USB to micro-USB cable that can be used for pass-through charging of your iOS device, and a detachable keychain lanyard. Bad Elf also throws in a free upgrade to CoPilot Premium navigation software.

    When you plug the Bad Elf GPS dongle into your device, it immediately asks if you wish to install the companion software -- that's an app called Bad Elf GPS. Once loaded, the app immediately fires up the dongle, shows that the device is connected, and then displays your current GPS status. There are buttons for upgrading the firmware, configuring the device, or getting more info about the receiver. The default app displays location and track information, an overall map showing your location on the Earth's surface (not zoomable) with latitude and longitude displayed, and an all-sky map showing the GPS and GLONASS satellites that you're currently locked onto. A detailed map, which uses Apple's Maps engine, shows your current position on a street, satellite imagery, or hybrid map.

    Pilots will be happy to know that the device supports SBAS (satellite-based augmentation systems), in particular the FAA's WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) and the European Space Agency's EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service).

    I found the Bad Elf GPS receiver to be quite useful and accurate even with Wi-Fi shut off (Apple devices use Wi-Fi positioning services to estimate your device's location if you're on a network) and surprisingly enough, useful indoors. Accuracy did improve once I was outside with the device and receiver, but was within 11 - 20 feet when I was inside a building.

    As you would probably expect, the receiver doesn't work with all navigation-based apps, but the list of compatible apps is large and growing. I had fun loading the iPhone-only Geocaching app ($9.99) onto my iPad mini, watching it activate the Bad Elf receiver and leading me to some nearby caches. And guess what? The iPad mini is a pretty decent machine for geocaching. I just downloaded the cache information and some map info from Open Street Maps into an offline list in the app, and I was able to find my way to the cache very quickly.

    Conclusion

    The Bad Elf GPS for Lightning Connector and its sibling device for 30-pin Dock Connector are perfect or any user who may have a Wi-Fi-only iOS device, but needs access to accurate geolocation information.

    Pros

    • Extremely lightweight (.3 ounce/8.5 grams)
    • Determines location from both GPS and GLONASS satellites
    • Works with a number of existing navigation, outdoors, and pilot-related apps
    • Reasonably priced for a GPS/GLONASS accessory designed specifically for Apple devices
    • Device worked flawlessly in testing

    Cons

    • None

    Who is it for?

    • Want geolocation features on your iOS device but don't want the cost and bother of a monthly cellular bill? The Bad Elf GPS for Lightning Connector is perfect for you.
    All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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