Treo Smartphone GPS | Traveling with a Treo GPS In My Pocket
Without a doubt one of the single best experiences that I’ve had with my Treo over the past two weeks while travelling with my car rental across LA and SF has been testing various GPS solutions for my Treo 650 – in hindsight I wonder how I managed to get around foreign cities without one for so long.
This is the first time that I’ve ever tested a Treo GPS solution and I decided to select three different Bluetooth ones and compare them agains the bestselling : TomTom Navigator Bundle, Emtac + GPS (no longer available) and Palm’s GPS Navigator.
I have to admit that I probably waited a little longer than I should have to test these and I think that it’s simply because the whole GPS thing seemed much too complicated, a hassle to install and use and possibly nothing more than an expensive gimmick for my Treo. I was completely wrong and these GPS solutions saved me from getting utterly lost on numerous occasions but evidently I needed to take the time to get my head around the issue to finally realize this.
For starters, I had made some flawed assumptions about GPS solutions for the Treo. I had always assumed that the hardware and software components of the GPS had to be made by the same manufacturer to work well so that, for example, the TomTom Navigator software would only work with the TomTom GPS receiver. In fact the GPS software and hardware are fully interchangable and in much the same way that you can use any Bluetooth headset with the Bluetooth software on your Treo you can also use any GPS receiver once you have at least one GPS navigation software installed.
Two of the three GPS hardware units that I selected included the TomTom Navigator software and I quickly concluded that it was one of the best applications around – it took me a little longer to figure out all the settings and many options that come with it. Before leaving, back at home in London I installed the TomTom Navigator application for my Treo as well as all the California maps on one of my spare 1GB SD cards (it used about 250MB of space). Next I also paired the three Bluetooth GPS units with my Treo so that they would be ready to go when I arrived in LA.
My first opportunity to ‘test & drive’ came for the one hour journey from Marina Del Rey to Huntington Beach two weeks ago for the DEMOfall conference. This being my first time in LA and LA not being exactly the easiest city to navigate, I couldn’t have asked for a better test environment as I was truly a tourist there.
To get started with this short trip, I accessed TomTom Navigator’s “Main Menu” (using the Treo Menu key) then clicked Add Favourite, then from the “Navigate to…” menu I clicked Address which is a three step process of City + Street + Number then Save. I prefer adding destinations as Favourites because it is an easier and faster way to ‘navigate to…’ later but you can alternatively just add the destination manually every time you’re going somewhere.
With my destination to the Huntington Beach hotel where I was staying now added to the favourites I moved to the hardware side of things in my rental car. Aside from my Treo I had a windshield suction cup vehicle mount (which in this case was included with Palm’s GPS unit), a lighter plug charger to power the GPS unit and finally the GPS unit itself (for this first journey I chose TomTom’s pictured below).
I turned TomTom’s GPS unit on and waited for the green light to flash intermittently (which indicates that the unit has picked up a satellite signal – a process that can take between 1 and 3 minutes). Next I launched the TomTom Navigator software on my Treo, clicked the Menu and then Navigate To… selecting the Favourite that I had previously set for the hotel. TomTom’s software then quickly calculates the best route, provides you with a map (below left) with an estimated trip duration and distance, then after clicking ‘Done’ I was ready to go.
You then get a bird’s eye view of your route with various route and status indicators just under this (above center and right). The arrow indicates the direction of your next turn and the figure to its right the distance left to travel before that turn is required and at the bottom the name of the street to turn at. Next to this is the distance left to travel and the estimated time to arrival at your destination. Finally, completely to the right is the satellite reception status and the current time.
On top of the visual directions, the TomTom Navigator software also provides turn-by-turn audio prompts via the built-in speaker on our Treo – in my case I got a lovely female British voice telling me things like “Right turn ahead in 500 meters” and naturally the best one is hearing “You have arrived at your destination”.
There are dozens of options, settings and preferences that you can play around with within the Navigator software. For example, you can choose daytime and nighttime colours, turn off the sound or even the maps. There were at least two that proved particularly useful on my various trips and which further demonstrated how Navigator was a really great application.
The first is “Advanced Planning” (below) which allows you to plan a journey from point A to point B by simply selecting a “Depart from:“ and “Pick a destination:“ address which like before will provide you a quick map with estimated trip duration and distance (which I’ve used repeatedly). You can even click on “Route” and view your trip as an animated demo (below right) which is one of five options.
The second is the option to easily navigate to built-in “Points of Interest” such as the nearest petrol station (this saved me yesterday as I nearly ran out) or museum (which added some culture to my trip), restaurant, hotel/motel and parking garage.
Another example of how TomTom’s Navigator saved the day (or the morning in this case) was when I overslept the day that I was due to fly out to San Francisco. I only managed to make my flight because I managed to cut at least 20 minutes in my trip planning thanks to the fact that I didn’t have to figure out how to get to Hertz’ car rental returns at the airport. I managed to get there in record time as the car was ‘remote controlled’ by the voice prompts telling me exactly where I had to go and all I had to do was press the accelerator…
Finally, as for selecting the best GPS unit of the three that I tested I can’t immediately say that one is better than the other. TomTom’s unit ($299) benefits from the nicest design and includes the excellent Navigator software, Emtac’s proved to be the fastest at picking up satellites but lacks the Navigator software and finally Palm’s ($239) is the cheapest and the one that includes both the Navigator software and the most accessories (dual Treo & GPS unit charger + USB charger + vehicle mount). Having said all this, I will personally settle for the TomTom GPS bundle because it is the slickest and most pocketable of all units.
One thing is absolutely for sure though – I am never again travelling without a Treo GPS unit in my pocket. I cannot more highly recommend that you take your Treo and car for a spin with one.
UPDATE: A lot of people have been disappointed to find out that the TomTom Navigator 5 Bundle has completely sold out and will not become available for another 3 weeks. However, someone else pointed me to the fact that the Bluetooth TomTom Navigator 5 + GPS ($279) is a similar unit which also benefits from the more advanced SiRF star III chipset (instead of the star II found on the others) and therefore provides more accurate and faster satellite readings.
Treonauts never get lost…