How to connect handheld GPS and laptop for navigating?
October 16, 2004 9:47 PM   Subscribe

Using a laptop and a GPS to navigate.

I just bought my first laptop. I already own a handheld GPS, but I'd rather get one that plugs right into the USB port. I was wondering if anybody had some experience with these and could point me to a decent receiver, and more importantly, to a good software package to navigate.
posted by Hildago to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
The better USB GPS receivers act like serial ports, streaming NMEA over an emulated serial line. You may also be able to get either an RS232 or USB cable for your existing handheld device, depending on how fancy it is.

Navigation software is harder. If you're using windows, you can choose from Topo, which is what I use primarily, Street Atlas, which I used several versions back, and Streets & Trips, which I found a little too limiting but extremely easy to use.

On the Mac, there seems to be only Route66, and my copy is still in the mail. There's a trial version, but I haven't tried it either.

Apart from these applications, everything else out there seems to be incapable of routing although there are some pretty decent free and shareware options. There's tons of software that'll just give you a dot on a moving map, but in terms of helping you get from place A to place B, they're mostly useless.

Unless you're actually talking about "navigation", in the nautical sense, in which case you need a decent charting application. I don't know enough to tell you about them.

My current rig is a big clunky laptop that was headed to the scrapheap at work, a Lowrance iFINDER with a regular serial cable, and Topo USA. I'll soon be replacing the laptop and Topo with my PowerBook and Route66 if all goes well.
posted by majick at 10:37 PM on October 16, 2004

Many GPS receivers come with software that will set up a "virtual" COM port so there's generally no need for an adapter.

... And what majick said.
posted by mrgavins at 10:50 PM on October 16, 2004

Personally, I use Street Atlas with a USB GPS receiver (which uses a serial port emulator driver). I tried Topo but it's huge and extremely slow, so I reverted to Street Atlas. Both of these have a disagreeable interface, although the map quality is good - perhaps Streets and Trips is better.
posted by azazello at 12:51 AM on October 17, 2004

I've been really happy with my Garmin system. I bought a Garmin V Deluxe for a couple hundred dollars (USD, 03/2004, ebay). The deluxe package included the MapSource North America maps/software, a car charger, and a dashboard mount. I had to get a serial-->usb adapter ($30) and use VirtualPC (~$250, but I had it already) to order to load maps from my Powerbook.

MacGPS Pro allows me to transfer waypoints, tracks, etc. as well as work with other, more detailed maps (USGS Topo maps, namely).

Both MacGPS Pro and the MapSource allow you to do realtime GPS reception, but neither do "on the fly" navigation.

For street navigation, the Garmin MapSource maps and the built-in routing/navigation in the Garmin V have served me very well indeed.
posted by maniactown at 7:26 AM on October 17, 2004

I like the looks of iGuidance and while the screenshots are all for PocketPC, it says the software comes with executables for PocketPC and Windows.
posted by revgeorge at 9:49 AM on October 17, 2004

Thanks folks
posted by Hildago at 12:00 PM on October 17, 2004

Followup: Route66 is OK, given that it's the only thing that runs on OSX, but it isn't great and has some jawdroppingly enormous user interface issues, a couple of annoying bugs, and is pretty slow. I sort of regret spending $45 on it.
posted by majick at 8:42 PM on November 15, 2004

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