Can I use Google GPS Navigation and TMobile to drive cross country?
March 26, 2010 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I plan to drive from NYC to the Black Hills in South Dakota and Devil's Tower in Wyoming in a few months. I have a Nexus One Android Phone and service with Tmobile. How realistic is it to expect to use Google's free GPS Navigation with Tmobile's coverage along this trip?
posted by somas1 to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Parts of South Dakota have no coverage at all on Verizon (just went out that way last year).

Really, you don't need GPS. There are so many goddamn signs it's hard to miss. And an atlas, six bucks at your local gas station, will do you so much better than GPS.

(I've done road trips with friends who were GPS equipped. Being able to drill down to the street level was nice in towns, but out in the open, you either get too much or too little information. On a physical map, your eyes do all the filtering instead of an algorithm.)
posted by notsnot at 7:56 AM on March 26, 2010

I am on T-Mobile, I am very fond of my (ancient) android phone, but there is no way that you will get service out in the middle of nowhere.

Do what notsnot says.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:22 AM on March 26, 2010

when you're outside of coverage areas, your route information will still be displayed, but you some map tiles might be missing. If you turn off the route while without cell service, you're just going to get directions that say "return to route"

an atlas might be a good backup, but this is totally doable :)
posted by jrishel at 8:24 AM on March 26, 2010

in t-mobile dead zones, only stop at hotels/truck stop/restaurants with free wifi so you can restart navigation :)
posted by jrishel at 8:26 AM on March 26, 2010

You could also pay for Copilot, which has offline maps. All you need is battery power and GPS signal, no Internet necessary once the program is installed and the map packages are downloaded.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:55 AM on March 26, 2010

I've driven from Colorado to NC and back via Louisiana. You don't need a GPS, like was said above, just have a decent atlas and a half way decent sense of which way you are heading.

More importantly, make sure you have XM Radio or a good MP3 collection or similar. Some of those stretches will be totally Sans Radio--oh wait, maybe radio is too old school for you too? :)
posted by DetonatedManiac at 9:02 AM on March 26, 2010

It definitely always makes sense to have analog maps and analog directions with you when you are on long haul trips. Electronics break and things run out of battery.
posted by mmascolino at 9:06 AM on March 26, 2010

There is this organization called AAA. If you are a car owner, they are a very useful organization to be a member of (and yes I know they lobby for asphalt over train tracks, but they have also saved my ass and prevented many near-disasters in my life and I am still loyal to them).

If you go to one of their offices, they will give you maps for every state you want to travel in. They will make hand-held trip routes for the way you want to go. They will even rescue you if you break down in the middle of nowhere or get a flat tire and your spare is flat too. They will also give you discounts at hotels and motels all over the country.

Road trips are one of those things where meat-space paper can still be your friend. Especially if you want to spend your time looking at what you see out the window rather than at your GPS. In my experience, using a map involves short-term memorization like -> Okay, we'll take I-95 to blah blah town and then get on blardy-bloo. This allows you to stare at the road and the scenery and get that quintessential American experience.

Most of my experiences with GPS involved constant attention on the little line moving forward and a computer telling me I've veered off course. I don't know. This just isn't as fun to me.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:32 AM on March 26, 2010

Last I knew, T-Mobile's coverage in SD was pretty rough. Verizon seemed to have the best coverage in the Black Hills, where I spent a few wonderful summers working in the state park. If you're going to try for the GPS route, I'd suggest maybe renting or borrowing an actual GPS unit. If you're going to just use a map, look out for all of the Highway 19s (there are a few) and I'd suggest maybe getting a compass if you're going to hit any of the crazy curvy roads in Custer State Park. The intersections are generally labeled really well out there, with road names and indicators of which town is in which direction. Please go to Custer State Park; I think it's one of the most beautiful places on the planet. And considering bringing a manual transmission to the roads, 'cause driving has never been so fun.

MeMail me if you have any questions about it, for real. This is my favorite part of the world.
posted by lauranesson at 9:54 AM on March 26, 2010

Greetings from South Dakota, albeit the opposite side from the Black Hills. I figured I'd chime in since you'll likely be passing through here anyway.

I have an Android phone with GPS and have zero problems using it around here. That said, I'm on Verizon and Verizon is king in this area. In the past, relatives on T-Mobile have mentioned spotty coverage, but it has been a while since I've heard them mention it. We have some guests coming this weekend with T-Mobile phones so I could certainly check in with them and report back.

As for the roads, everyone else is right. It's been years since I've been to the Black Hills, but most of the trip leading up to it is going to be a series of very straight interstates with clear signage.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by bristolcat at 11:48 AM on March 26, 2010

Thanks for all the feedback. Lauranesson, I'll take you up on your offer to answer SD questions soon. I do plan to visit Custer State Park.

Bristolcat, I'd appreciate it if you do update this thread with info from your friends on Tmobile.

While I'm open to the idea of getting an atlas, I don't relish the idea of thumbing through pages of a large atlas while on the road. I'm fine with doing it in sections if necessary but I'd also like some info from people about some of the other states between NY and SD. What are some of the other big Tmobile deadspots?
posted by somas1 at 11:56 AM on March 26, 2010

I'll do my best. If not, I can ask my friends who went to the Black Hills last summer what their experience was.

If you're taking 90 across Minnesota, I think you'll be fine there. That seems to be pretty solid T-Mobile country until you get closer to South Dakota.
posted by bristolcat at 12:19 PM on March 26, 2010

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