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Am I the only GIS administrator that hates trimble units and their software?

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I apologize if this is in the incorrect forum, but I need to vent.

Dear Trimble & ESRI,

I have a few rants to make and I'll try to keep it professional, however through years of neglect and ignoring users, it may be increasingly difficult to keep this letter civil.

Sometimes I feel as if I'm the only GIS professional who absolutely abhors Trimble field collection units. Everytime I go to an ESRI user conference or trade-show I always ask the same questions of ESRI and Trimble; namely why is their hardware and software so out-dated and why do they persist in charging extraordinary amounts of inferior hardware. It is 2012 and I expect the following from a mobile device:

Processors and Computing Power

Machines that are being used in a professional capacity SHOULD have professional-grade performance. Currently, the Trimble units I have seen/used contain woefully inadequate hardware specifications for the purpose they are being used for. Currently, RAM is indicated as being acceptable at 256MB. The universal explanation given for this is that the software running on the Trimble units is so efficient that more RAM isn't necessary to make things run smoothly. Internal flash storage is being touted as acceptable at 2GB... yup... 2GB. WTF! Is this 1999??? Am I the only one here who feels this is unacceptable? The single-core processor (TI OMAP 3503) is actually pretty good, however, it isn't utilized AT ALL in the Trimble units. One needs to wonder why a processor capable of good 3D-rendering, 3D-mobile gaming and so much more is wasted in the current flock of Trimble units?

One interesting scenario I had with a colleague involved his Trimble unit and ArcPad running slowly and freezing. It seems he had a rather large amount of data on his unit as well as raster imagery. Obviously it would run slowly and as I explained this to him he said "Well my phone can probably handle it". So we did a test and I put the same data on his phone with a small customized android application that contains the features he would use. He was right... oh was he right. This got me thinking... if I spend a few thousand dollars on field units, shouldn't they be able to load larger amounts of data? Instead of having to create data on a project-by-project basis? Maybe its not practical, but if other technologies that are significantly cheaper can do it?....


For about $1500 you will get this great value!

RAM: 256MB


Processor: TI OMAP 3503

Screen: 480px x 640px

Camera: 5mp

Weight: 2lbs

Compare that everything else and you'll find its a bit embarrassing.


I hate Trimble displays. I hate them. They are terrible in every way. My 4 year-old mp3 player has a better display. The displays are dull and although they say they can be viewed outdoors, it's all relative. On a cloudy day or in to day of course they can be seen, but in a sunny day? Not a chance. The "upgrade" to a 480 x 640 display does absolutely nothing as it is now crap with a larger screen. I am still waiting for Trimble displays to similar to phones or tablets. I want saturated colours and deep blacks for easier viewing. I don't care too much about colour accuracy on a field machine. Of course this means more drain on the battery, but that isn't my problem is it? The technology is there. Phones and tablets use it and can last all day.

The two reasons I was given for the display being the way it was are: weather resistance, and battery life. Seriously??!!!!! I can take my regular Asus laptop to construction sites and field visits and no problems. My nexus 7 has been out in rainy conditions to wetland inventories and fish sampling... never a problem. The bottom line is 99% of field crews aren't going to Antarctica!!! As far a battery life... well, I find that a little hard to believe.


Really?? We need a stylus in 2012?? I mean, it should be an option, but require it? Its like sending crews out with fanny-packs. Users want to option of using their fingers. They want gestures and swypes because thats what they are used to. They should have to reinvent the wheel when coming to work. Its inefficient design.


Trimble units run on old Windows mobile. Remember that old windows mobile phone you used to have and thought it was the bomb until 6 years ago when you evolved with the rest of the human race? I remember it. Those were painful memories. Depending on your flavour, you will either have ArcPad or TerraSync installed with GPS-correct (for differential). ArcPad is just plain god-awful in every way. It is clunky and not user-friendly. It needs to be severely customized to be more efficient (this takes time and man-power) and it suffers from cramming to many things onto a small toolbar on a low-resolution screen. Don't you just love those tiny black arrows indicating there are more options under and icon. Its a challenge just pressing them. TerraSync is actually a little better, but the work involved is just as great as it doesn't support geodatabase domains or check-in, check-out options (these need to be done manually).

I understand the ESRI and microsoft have an agreement in place and that windows mobile is part of that, but installing older windows mobile greatly limits what hardware can be placed in a machine. I for one am happy that ESRI is in the process of phasing out its inclusion of Bing Maps for its products (10.1 is the last ArcGIS release that will include Bing Maps) if it means that they are starting to distance themselves from microsoft a bit. Hopefully this will allow much more flexibility in software and hardware design as well as being able to develop complete field solutions for other platforms.. not solutions that require an internet connection (this is ridiculous as a lot of field work is done in areas with no internet connection).


Even the camera on Trimble units are sub-par. Phones and tablets are using much higher-grade lenses and produce much higher quality images. This isn't a huge deal, but once again and one spends thousands of dollars one should get what they pay for.

Size and Weight

The size and weight of these units are a real turn-off as well. They remind me of portable phones in the late eighties. Remember the one that Gordon Gecko uses in Wall Street?! Yup, thats a Trimble unit now. I know they need to make these things apocalypse-proof, but 2 pounds? Really!!!? Imagine what Steve Jobs would say...

*Note* I recently put all field staff on a workout regiment (cross-training) so they don't get tired hefting their portable computing device out into the field...


There is always a damper put on field visits with clients or associates whenever someone pulls a Trimble unit out. Usually this has to do with inevitable delays, software hang-ups, poor knowledge of what the unit can handle (not necessarily Trimble or ESRI's fault). Staff shouldn't need to be trained for an hour before going out into the field to collect data. In fact most of our staff prefer to use tablets, ultrabooks or smartphones now to collect data. Most field crews aren't surveyors and don't need absolutely precise locational information and prefer speed and ease of use. For the last 4 years I've made complaints at the ESRI user conference about this and haven't had much luck or support from the ESRI faithful. Don't get me wrong, I actually love a lot of ESRI products. They are powerful and can do a lot once you've learned how to use them, but that's the problem. Staff should be able to pick one up and INSTINCTIVELY have a rough idea of how things work (thats good design). Instead they need training sessions and manuals.

So far I've managed to convince my employer not to purchase any more trimbles and go with phones and tablets. Its the best decision we've ever made. Custom applications need to be created, but they are far easier to use in the long run and users don't really need any training. ArcPad is really for GIS professionals that need to have more advanced features out in the field, however many places can't afford to have GIS people doing field work (they are in the office), so the collection falls to field staff.


A GIS Professional Who Will NEVER willingly purchase another trimble unit or arcpad license until you've evolved.

Edited by group5e
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never really into a field surveying and survey tool, but I have a experience with Topcon RTK, and damn, really hard to use :angry:

lack of manual, and no user friendly, <_<

those 35000 dollar worth device should be easy to use :huh: , or maybe just my stupidity :lol::D

btw, great thought group5e :rolleyes:

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Its not that I'm opposed to developing our own tools using API's, its just paying so much for something and not having strong out-of-the-box functionality is flat-out wrong. Then installing the poor product into an out-dated piece of hardware is beyond wrong.

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so far, most of my experiences favors in trimble hardwares-ESRIs softwares and i go out in the field sometimes to make a survey. But when my mentor asked me what to purchase for the next project? I recommend the other brand of course, ESRI is excluded. I don't like TBC. I hate it. The juno SC hangs up when so much data inputs. The camera itself is way up behind. poor megapixel. NETR9? expensive and does only one function.

Good thoughts group5e. I thought I'm the only who felt the agony before.

(Not active in the field anymore)

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I have remarked the same remark, while comparing the specs and the prices of Rugged mobiles used for surveying, this mobiles need to be very advanced in computing level.

this need has brought me the idea, why not use an Galaxy SII or any hi end phone, make it rugged with some accessories, develop a very powerful app, for GPS it could be connected through Bluetooth. these devices containing Dual core or Quad core device could be very efficient at a lot of field operations in no time and at the field. this solutions could be cheaper than those medieval rugged mobiles.

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Well said Group5e !

Yes, there are scope where standard survey tools should develop there skills. I've had few experience with Magellan, Trimble, Garmin windows gps machines and learned that all of them had there upsides and downsides. I've also had a chance to know the latest Sokkia Total Station.

Survey tool has always been expensive. I don't blame the manufacturers. When we pay for a device, we are actually buying multiple things, such as- the hardware, the os that runs it (ie. Microsoft ;) ), license of other softwares (ie. GNSS), the satellite transmission etc. It is noticeable that the satellites that runs on Google map are not abundant in remote areas, but GPS tools perform everywhere. This also give away the fact behind the thin battery life. Besides they must assure it'll protect the data from any kind of heavy usage and harsh environment.

Survey tools and cell phones are not same. Both have their own functions, power management system and are different from inside. The A-GPS is the poorest satellite based technology which can guide you the inside a city but cannot give you a pinpoint locations in most the regions of the world. The recent GLONASS technology will give an essence of accuracy, not compared to any dedicated gps device.

Survey devices now-a-days assure point-and-shoot data collection where the bullet must hit the target. If it's navigation, meteorology, geo-exploration, geotagging-smilies and entertainment, you'll need to turn on the little green man. If it's engineering, aeronautics, military, resource management and scientific exploration then use something worthy.

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The funny thing is a Trimble unit is NOT a survey tool according Trimble itself. Its a portable GIS and mapping handheld. In order to make it a survey unit, you would need to purchase the "ghostbuster" backpack. Anyhow, I know they're agreement with Microsoft greatly limits development and that Windows Mobile limits the hardware they use. I've put QGIS for Android on my tablet to give it a test and see if its a viable GIS solution for field work (although right now I doubt it as it seems to be very buggy).

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The term 'survey' stands for quantitative data collection. It'll still be 'surveying' no matter its 'backpacked' Trimble or 'QGIS-ed' android, isn't it ! :)

Yes you are correct about the exact definition, but not in the practical usage and everyday usage of the term. Our company does not employ a surveyor as that is specific to another line of work, however we have field crews that do "biological surveys".

Its the level of precision that is significantly different as well as the equipment used (i.e. trimble control units and gnss systems as opposed to a handheld mapping unit that has 1-5m or even sub-meter accuracy). When I mean it is not a survey tool, I mean to say it is not a surveyors tool on its own (i.e. land surveyor identifying precise angles, distances and points). Sorry for the confusion (our company is an environmental-based firm and we have to be careful about using the term "survey").

Edited by group5e
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