Review: GPS Log Book
- — 23 September, 2012 22:00
|Name||Automatic in-car trip recorder: GPS Log Book|
|At a glance:||Logs all trips without user input,Plugs into car cigarette lighter socket,Works as a USB smartphone charger,Reporting accessible through website|
|Summary:||Takes the tedium out of claiming vehicle tax and mileage.|
|RRP:||$129 (incl. first year's online service, then $29/year)|
The GPS Log Book is an Australian-developed product that makes it laughably easy to claim mileage expenses from your company, or as a tax-deductible expense for the self-employed.
If you’ve ever tried to claim mileage for your personal vehicle before, you’ll know that it’s not as simple as guessing how far you drove – or even keeping a detailed log of all your business trips. In fact, you need to keep a detailed log of all your trips – business and personal – for at least three months out of the year. This is a requirement of the IRD, which can’t be skirted unless you’re a fan of tax fraud (we’re not).
Enter the GPS Log Book – a nifty combination of unbelievably simple hardware and a slick piece of cloud-based software.
Let’s start with the hardware. It’s a tiny device that plugs into your car’s power/cigarette lighter socket, about the same size as the car-chargers you get for phones and GPS systems. Only, the GPS Log Book device is itself a tiny GPS. There’s no screen, no buttons, just a single multi-coloured LED status indicator. You plug it in, the light goes from red to green once it’s found satellites (it takes no more than 30 seconds, less than most GPS systems I’ve tried), and it starts recording your trips – simple as that.
Want to charge your phone, but you’ve only got one power socket in your car? A 1000mA USB output on the GPS Log Book allows you to charge most smartphones, along with many other USB-powered gadgets.
The second part of the GPS Log Book is the cloud-based software. You get a year’s subscription included with your $129 purchase, and after that it’s $29/year for continued access. Without the cloud service, the hardware is essentially just an expensive car-charger, so you do need to keep subscribing if you intend to use it. However, if you’re not going to save at least $29/year through your expense or tax claims, it’s probably not worth claiming mileage in the first place.
You upload data from your in-car device to the cloud service, using a small piece of downloadable software for PC or Mac. All the software does is send the data from your device to the web (which takes just a few seconds) and update your device with the latest ‘GPS assist’ data which shortens the satellite-acquisition time when you start up the car.
Once your trip data has been uploaded, you log into the GPS Log Book website and classify your trips. This just means assigning ‘zones’ on a map (Google Maps, for familiarity) to the start and end points of your journeys. Zones represent a single place, such as ‘work’, ‘home’ or ‘client A’, but can be assigned a larger radius or outline – say, the streets you commonly park in outside your workplace.
A zone can be marked as either ‘business’ or ‘personal’, which lets the GPS Log Book make assumptions about your trips. For example, a trip from business-to-business is automatically called a ‘business’ trip, whereas from personal-to-personal, or personal-to-business are considered ‘personal’ trips. You can change the type of any trip with a single click, regardless of the end zones.
Once you’ve defined a zone, you don’t have to do so again – so after the first few times, all your regular destinations will be automatically identified by the GPS Log Book and you’ll only have to create zones for totally new destinations (e.g. a new client, or a restaurant you haven’t visited before).
From the website, you an export reports for workplace expense claims, IRD-compliant logbooks for tax-exemption claims, or even raw data in .CSV format for your own analysis or accounting system.
The whole process is so painless, the website so well-designed, the cost so low, and the time investment so minimal, that the GPS Log Book cannot possibly score less than a PC World Platinum award.
We’ve been told to watch out for upcoming versions with live tracking and automatic trip upload over 3G: we’ll have to see what the costs are like, and whether future products offer the same beautiful simplicity, but our hopes are high. In the mean time, we thoroughly recommend the GPS Log Book to anyone that uses their personal vehicle for work journeys. If claiming back mileage is a pain, or so difficult that you don’t bother at all, consider this our prescribed pain-relief.