October 21, 2004 11:38 PM   Subscribe

GPS solutions. I hate getting lost and not knowing alternate routes when I'm driving and it seems that increasingly I wish I had some sort of navigation unit. So I started looking. In-car systems are about $2k (and stuck in a single car), portable handheld ones are about $600 (I can use in other cars, which is good), but I hear iPaq PDA units with GPS are only about $500. Has anyone used an iPaq for road trips? Does it work ok with the small screen? What's the best add-on GPS to get for it? And what kind of iPaq do I need as a base to make it work?
posted by mathowie to Shopping (15 answers total)
Before considering an iPaq with an add-on GPS, I'd consider a Garmin iQue (Palm + GPS integrated in one unit) or one of the new NavMan units if you don't need any PDA functionality at all. The latter looks spiffy, with a pseudo-3D map view like you get on high-end integrated navigation systems, and is only $450.
posted by kindall at 11:42 PM on October 21, 2004

You think the single purpose NavMan unit is a good idea? It looks good but I fear if it'll be useful two years from now. If it was a palm or ipaq device, I could update the software, input data easier, and be more flexible.

I'm seeing that these bluetooth ipaq gps things work even with pocketpc phones. I could conceivably get an ipaq phone/pda and just have that one device to carry around.
posted by mathowie at 11:52 PM on October 21, 2004

I got a NavMan 630 about a year and change ago (when they retailed for around $1000) for a job that had me driving a lot, and can't live without it.

The problem with GPS systems are people's expectations. The device is not perfect, and there are times when it would have me go in a direction that is rather out of my way, which is why you still need to use a bit of common sense while using one. Once you learn the quirks, though, it's fine. For instance, when going to my house up one street, instead of me making a left, it will have me go left on the preceding street, and then two rights to get there. But who cares? I'm so used to it now, that I can't imagine having to go and print up a map, have it in my lap, and have to constantly look for streets, not knowing if I missed it or not, etc. I guess I'm a bit spoiled by it.

If you do any amount of driving beyond going to work and back, a decent GPS system really makes a difference. I found that in NYC, though, it sometimes has trouble initially finding the signal, but it only takes a few minutes. But, the software knows which streets are one way, and generally will nail down the location pretty easily. I do wish it had more programmable voices besides male and female, though. Like Cookie Monster, etc.
posted by adampsyche at 4:30 AM on October 22, 2004

I have copilot for my Orange C500 phone, (audiovox brand in the US) with a Fortuna Clip On Bluetooth GPS unit, and I'm really happy with it. You can also use it with the new version of Pocket Streets if you are just wandering around a city. There are at least 3 other products available for windows smartphone alone.

You could also use the same combo of software with an Ipaq or similar, and benfit from a larger screen. I just love the fact that I can have it around all the time.

I'm a fairly light user of navigation software, but the copilot software seems to work perfectly well for my situation, and covers all the points, such as alternative routes.
posted by viama at 4:34 AM on October 22, 2004

It looks good but I fear if it'll be useful two years from now. If it was a palm or ipaq device, I could update the software, input data easier, and be more flexible.

One more note: the device is USB programmable, and NavMan is really good about releasing new firmware, maps, etc. for the device. It also has an IR receiver, though there is no remote control for it yet (I'm sure there are plans for this). It can take up to a 256 MB SD card, so you can program maps from other regions. I keep just the tri-state area on it, and load other maps as needed.

When loading an address, you first specify the state, then town, then street and number, and you can either user a soft keyboard on the screen, or scroll for a list. It also keeps points of interest, such as banks, gas stations, hospitals, shopping, restaurants (categorized in excruciating detail, with different icons on the map for, say, Chinese food or Indian, or a diner), and entertainment spots, and this has actually come in quite handy.
posted by adampsyche at 4:35 AM on October 22, 2004

I bought an iQue shortly after it hit the market. It's a decent device, but has some flaws. The desktop software is much more painful than it should be; woe to you if you already own another Palm device and were hoping to sync both to your desktop, and I can't imagine a more hairbrained way to manage the task of adding and removing county maps to the device. Also, I've noticed that after the most recent software update from Garmin, I get lots of "Route Calculation Errors"--meaning the thing just plain gives up, and can't figure out how to get me across town.

To make the device useful, you absolutely need the bean-bag vehicle mount thing, and a SD/MMC card of about 64MB or more.
posted by profwhat at 5:04 AM on October 22, 2004

We just schlepped all over Vermont with a Garmin iQue when my Dad came to town. Since it seems in your price range, I'll chip in a few bits of info

1. My Dad agrees with profwhat, trying to map out a route on the laptop and then upload it onto your PDA is super hard if not impossible [my dad's not a manual reader, so I can't vouch for this 100%] most of the PDA interface is clunky but understandable
2. When you want to override the GPS's directions [we have a talking version so it will say "in 400 feet, turn right" whichis good if you're driving alone] it will spend a fair amount of time trying to turn you around to get you back in its preferred route before planning out a new route for you. In Vermont where there are ten different ways to get anyplace, this was a bit tiresome.
3. That said, its ability to do route re-calculations on the fly was pretty incredible.
4. The screeen is visible from the driver's side and has a "night" screen where the little arrow is yellow on black so it doesn't blind you as the brightest thing in the car
5. I second the little beanbag thing, we were on some pretty complicated roads and it stayed put.
posted by jessamyn at 5:53 AM on October 22, 2004

Can I piggy back on Matt's post for a moment to ask a question. I tried an earlier version of mapping (no GPS) software when I got completely lost and nearly arrested for stalking The Facts of Life crew after I first got my car a few years ago, but had real trouble with the fact that, while it knew which streets were one way, it had no idea which streets I could and couldn't turn left on, so when I found myself with instructions to turn left on a street on which I was not permitted to turn left, it ended up dragging me a long way out of my way to get back to where I needed to be. Downtown Toronto, which is where I do most of my getting lost, is positively littered with intersections in which you're not actually permitted to turn, or not permitted to turn during given hours. Have they found a way to deal with this yet? Or is it still a problem.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:10 AM on October 22, 2004

The NavMan, in addition to being able to re-route (they call it back on track), knows which streets you can and can't turn on, provided that the rules haven't changed since the last software update.
posted by adampsyche at 6:51 AM on October 22, 2004

Before considering an iBaz8000 with integrated naviga-pro dedicated virtual 3-d highlighted countour viewer and realtime differential position updates, I'd look at a folding paper map.

A $5 map from the nearest gas station suits your stated purpose just as well, and costs somewhat less. I use GPS for nautical navigation, but on the road I find it inferior to a good paper map. Unless you're wardriving.
posted by sfenders at 7:12 AM on October 22, 2004

I use GPS for nautical navigation, but on the road I find it inferior to a good paper map.

I do have to chime in on this one and say that a good DeLorme Gazeteer or Thomas Guide to the area you are lost in plus a capable huiman navigator will kick ass over a GPS unit any day. I consistently out-tracked my Dad with the gazeteer while he was still pushing buttons and adding waypoints. Maps are good at giving you an overview of an area that the zoom in/zoom out functionality of the GPS only approximates. What I like about the GPS unit on long multi-day car trips [I have an old Garmin III with mapping but no directional/PDA functionality] is the ability of the thing to tell me how fast I'm going, where the nearest rest stop/intersection is, and how long it's going to be until my destination.
posted by jessamyn at 7:25 AM on October 22, 2004

I have an old Garmin eTrex Legend which had mapping capability, but no routing -- it only calculated as-the-crow-flies distances. I still found it useful on every road trip, though: as jessamyn notes, it's nice to know how far till the next time you have to turn, your velocity made good, et cetera.

Plus it's fun in airplanes. Point the sucker out the window, and you can instantly figure out what all the scenery below you is. Plus it's fun to see it saying something like: "Altitude 35849 feet, Speed 620 mph".
posted by Vidiot at 8:19 AM on October 22, 2004

I have a Garmin V Deluxe package that is far superior to any paper map and is well within your budget (got mine for $200 and change on ebay). It's automatic routing features are great (not perfect, but extremely useful). It works in "landscape" orientation on my dashboard (mounting kit included in Deluxe package) or in "horizontal" orientation for walking around. The package came with detailed road/business maps of all of North America. I'm able to connect the GPS to my PowerBook and, with the help of Virtual PC (Garmin's software is PC-only) or MacGPS Pro, upload maps, routes, waypoints, or use 3rd party maps (mostly USGS Topo maps for hiking). The main drawback is the serial connection, which is ten kinds of slow. When they make a FireWire one, I'll upgrade in a heartbeat.

I just moved across the country to a completely new city and have found the GPS to be indispensable while getting oriented and finding exploring the eastern seaboard. Plus I've got into GeoCaching which is tons of fun.

I'd be reluctant to integrate GPS with my PDA as my only GPS. I can't imagine a "add on" unit would perform as well as a dedicated GPS, in terms of antenna, battery life, form factor, etc. I'm not a huge PDA user in the first place, but it seems that the two different needs are best addressed by two devices.
posted by maniactown at 8:53 AM on October 22, 2004

You think the single purpose NavMan unit is a good idea?

If you're going to be using it primarily in the car and not carrying it around with you, sure. It's got a bigger screen than the iPaq, to be sure.

If you were already planning to get an iPaq or some other PDA, then maybe it makes sense to combine them, but it doesn't really make sense to me to buy an iPaq just for GPS.

And no, $5 map won't do the same job at all. I've never heard a map with voice prompting or that already knew where I was when I was lost or that glowed in the dark.
posted by kindall at 8:55 AM on October 22, 2004

The TomTom looks great, if overpriced. I just use a laptop, some routing software, and a serial cable.

I recently purchased Route66 USA in hopes of being able to use my PowerBook in this capacity, but despite being the best (and possibly only) route planning/mapping solution for the Mac, it turns out to be a pretty disappointing product compared to the Windows offerings out there. I wouldn't reccommend it.
posted by majick at 11:03 AM on October 22, 2004

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