I finally succumbed to the idea of using a mobile phone for APRS. It arrived today. The phone is an HTC Touch Pro Windows Mobile phone. It isn't the latest model, but it's one that I knew would run the APRS software I wanted, APRSISCE by KJ4ERJ, and I got it for a very good price from Expansys. Though not visible in the photograph, it's one that has a real (if small) QWERTY keyboard that slides out from the back. So apart from APRS it will also be useful sending and receiving email and surfing the web when I am out.
Unfortunately my phone company 3 UK's account servers were down today so I was unable to log in and add unlimited internet to my package. I had to do it over the phone. This worked out rather well, as because I have had my account for more than 18 months and have not taken advantage of a free upgrade phone they gave me the internet add-on for free. So I have all the minutes and texts I could ever use, plus "unlimited" internet, for £15 a month, which I think is quite a good deal.
Unfortunately I don't think the internet package will start until 15th January (I had a bit of difficulty understanding the Indian gentleman who took my call) so I won't be able to use the internet (and the APRS software) out and about until then. But the phone can use wi-fi so I was able to install the software and get it running from inside the shack.
I was very impressed with the performance of the phone's GPS, which picked up signals from several satellites from inside the shack. APRS text messaging works really well - faster than ordinary mobile phone text messaging in fact. It is also faster and more reliable than APRS text messaging over amateur radio, which always seemed a bit hit and miss.
I do feel a bit of a cheat doing APRS this way, but the functionality is just so much better using the phone. The map display of the APRSISCE software is far more useful than the display of the VX-8E, and the compact self contained phone is much more convenient than using a portable GPS linked to an APRS tracker and separate radio.
Since the mobile network will relay my position reports to the internet I can be tracked and receive messages anywhere, not just when in range of an APRS digipeater or gateway. I no longer need to run a (cough, unattended) Internet gateway in order to connect myself to the APRS network. And that simplifies things in the shack a good deal. I have already released the FT-817ND from 2m duty and returned to using the K3 and transverter. So it's smiles all round.
If you have APRS capability feel free to send a text message to G4ILO-12.