Carlson Survyor+ with SurvCE

Data collectors have evolved into much more than just electronic field books. They still record and store our field data, but they also provide a variety of computing, drawing, and communication tools like never before. They are, without a doubt, critical to our daily workflow and one of the most important purchasing decisions we make.

The Carlson Surveyor is a rugged, handheld data collector running on the Windows Mobile 6.1 Classic platform. It is available in two models: the Surveyor and the Surveyor+. The main differences are processor speed and memory. The Surveyor has a 520Mhz Intel XScale PXA270 processor with 64MB RAM and 512MB of storage, whereas the Surveyor+ has the 624MHz Intel XScale PXA270 processor with 128MB RAM, 1GB of storage. The Surveyor+ also adds a Micro SD memory card slot and WiFi capability.  

I was provided with a Surveyor+ loaded with Carlson’s Surv-CE software for this review. When I leave off the + here, I’m talking about features they both have. I’ll explore SurvCE at the end of this article.


This is not a small, compact box. It is a full-size piece of hardware that feels solid in your hands but isn’t bulky or cumbersome (Figure 1). As for first impressions, this thing is a Cadillac of data collectors. Designed to withstand a five-foot drop onto concrete, the Surveyor+ is water and dust resistant to IP67 standards to protect your survey data and your investment. 

The body is made from magnesium and has rubber bumpers on the top and bottom. The top bumper has a place to store a stylus (this small feature is worth noting because, if you’re like me, you never have one when you need it). 

Carlson’s website has videos that show extreme abuse and water tests performed with the Surveyor. I especially enjoyed the abuse test video when the Surveyor was thrown from the top of a building onto an asphalt parking lot, run over by a truck, then tied to the bumper and dragged down a road. That’s pretty tough, in my book.

Power is provided by a 3900mAH lithium-Ion battery rated at 8-10 hours per charge. Inside the battery compartment, the Surveyor has contacts for a second battery (Figure 2). This is a great feature to have if your application requires extra-long battery life. The two batteries can also be hot swapped.

The Surveyor provides a full keyboard with separate alpha and numeric keys large enough to use even when you’re wearing gloves. This is one of my favorite features; I’ve always preferred a full keyboard over the on-screen keyboards. The screen is a 3.5” diagonal, color, touchscreen display, with an LCD backlight. The touchscreen can be disabled from the keyboard if needed. 

Speakers are located below the bottom corners of the screen, and a microphone is below the center of the screen. To see how that would work, I recorded an audio note. Playback was a little noisy due to wind blowing in the microphone while recording, but it got the job done. This could be a handy way for field crews to note specific comments while on job sites.

Ports are located across the top of the Surveyor (Figure 3). Two types of USB ports are provided: a full-size and a mini-B size  The full-size USB port makes file transfer with a thumb drive quick and easy and is also a great way to connect to your PC. Bluetooth is provided with the Surveyor, and connecting to my PC was very smooth. I used Bluetooth to connect to my Sokkia 530R total station as well as the two 9-pin com ports using a cable. I had no problems using the Surveyor with my total station when connected by Bluetooth or com ports and noticed no difference in speed or performance. 

WiFi is included with the Surveyor+, and connecting to my router was no different than connecting to a PC. I used the Surveyor to look up property in the county tax records, find a plat reference, and access the plat image. Pretty cool!


Carlson’s data-collection software package, SurvCE version 2.54, was included with the Surveyor+. I’ve been using SurvCE for a while, so I was already familiar with it. Even if you have never used SurvCE, its menus and commands are organized in an intuitive, easy-to-follow manner. I’ve trained several field surveyors to use SurvCE, and they all learned to use it quickly.  
I tested the Surveyor+ using my Sokkia 530R manual total station and my Topcon GTS-825A robotic total station. It performed well with both. 

The Surveyor+ will also work with RTK GPS and network rover receivers. Optional expansion modules are available including GPS and cell modems.

In addition to providing the data collecting and cogo tools we all expect from a field device, SurvCE includes many of the CAD drafting tools we use in the office (Figure 4). It allows you to edit and process raw data files, create points and line work, and even stake from the line work.  

My favorite feature of Carlson Software is their Field to Finish routine. I’ve been using it for several years in the office. It allows me to create my own list of field codes and associate each code with a variety of drafting options that generate a drawing that is usually over 50% complete before I leave the job site. As you survey, the drawing is generated in real time using your point descriptions. This allows you to review the drawing at any time to see if an error was made and also to see any gaps in your data. The drawing file can be downloaded with the coordinate file and the raw data file. Even if you do not have Field to Finish on your office PC, you can benefit from the line work created by SurvCE. (See the “Picks and Clicks” column in this issue and September’s for tips on using Field to Finish).

The Carlson Surveyor+ is a solidly constructed device designed for years of reliable service. I have enjoyed using it and highly recommend taking one for a test drive.

About the Author

  • J. Craig Brewer, PLS
    J. Craig Brewer, PLS
    J. Craig Brewer, PLS is owner of Brewer Land Surveying in Savannah, Georgia. He has over 15 years of experience and is a licensed professional surveyor in Georgia and South Carolina.

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