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Treo Smartphone GPS | Five Treo GPS Solutions Under the Microscope

Following my previous post about “Travelling with a Treo 650 GPS in my Pocket” and based on the number of emails that I’ve received asking me for additional information it looks like a great many Treonauts have been discovering the benefits of having a GPS in their hands.

In order to really do a proper job evaluating the various options I decided to add two more GPS units to my collection so that I have now had the opportunity to test five in total.  These are listed below in no particular order:

  1. TomTom Navigator 5 Bundle ($299.95)
  2. Palm GPS Navigator ($239.95)
  3. TomTom 5 + Bluetooth GPS ($279.95)
  4. EMTAC + Bluetooth GPS ($279.95)
  5. Seidio G2500M TomTom 5 + Bluetooth GPS ($399.95)

As I’ve mentioned previously, a GPS solution consists of a hardware and software component.  In the case of hardware, please note that all of the GPS units above are Bluetooth but there are other wired ones (which I would not recommend).  In the case of software, all except EMTAC’s also include the excellent and critical TomTom 5 Navigator Software (please read my previous post for a more in-depth review of this).

The thing that Treonauts have been specifically asking me most about and which I’ll focus on here are the differences in the ‘overall package’ that each of the available GPS solutions comes with and so this is what I will discuss below.

Basic GPS Bundle Differences
I wish you didn’t need to know this but in order to be able to understand the hardware differences across these GPS units you will need to know a little about GPS chipsets.

There are basically two leading GPS chipset manufacturers – SiRF and Nemerix (think of Intel versus AMD) – and each have different chip models.  SiRF offers a Star II and III chipset while Nemerix offers another.  Based on the number of these GPS solutions with a SiRF chipset I have to assume that it is the leading company.

The main thing to know here is that a SiRF Star III chipset is capable of tracking up to 20 simultaneous satellites providing greater tracking accuracy while a SiRF Star II is limited to 12.  Having said this, I have tested both and it was extremely difficult to tell the difference between the one and the other.  Nemerix’ tracks 16 and therefore sits somewhere in between the previous two.

Please note that all GPS units are in the order of the above comparison chart but excludes the EMTAC unit since this one doesn’t have the TomTom Navigator 5 software in its bundle.

TomTom Navigator 5 Bundle ($299.95)
This is the ‘official’ TomTom bundle which includes both their Navigator 5 software and a GPS SiRF Star III unit designed by them.  There is no doubt that the GPS unit is by far the slickest and most elegant of all the ones that I tested and it also happens to be the slimmest.

From a ‘kit’ perspective however, TomTom’s bundle is the weakest of all as it only includes a vehicle power adapter and will ideally require a separate Vehicle Mount ($19.95) and possibly also a Car Charger ($14.95) for your Treo.

Palm GPS Navigator ($239.95)
There is no doubt that Palm’s package is the most complete of all as it includes not only the TomTom Navigator 5 software but also a full kit of extra accessories such as a windshield mounting bracket and suction cup pad, USB charger and a dual vehicle power adapter which allows you to charge both the GPS unit and your Treo at the same time.

As I mentioned previoiusly, the only drawback (albeit not a major one) is that the GPS unit itself uses a SiRF Star II chipset and arguably the fact that it’s not the prettiest unit to look at.  Having said this, at only $239 this is a hard package to beat.

TomTom 5 + Bluetooth GPS ($279.95)
This particular bundle includes an appealing package consisting of a SiRF Star III GPS unit and the TomTom Navigator 5 software.  The GPS unit itself is solidly and elegantly built with the longest operating time (17 hours).

Although it doesn’t have a full windshield mounting bracket, this package does however include a air vent mounting bracket, a soft leather carrying case (with belt loop) and a dual vehicle charger (cannot charge your Treo though).

EMTAC + Bluetooth GPS ($279.95)
Although EMTAC’s is a solid GPS unit that I’ve had absolutely no problems using, this package unfortunately lacks the TomTom Navigator 5 software and I have thus chosen to skip my review of it.  In the future the Treonauts Shop may stock another bundle that will include a full SiRF Star III unit as well as TomTom’s Navigator software and I will take another look at it then.

Seidio G2500M TomTom 5 + Bluetooth GPS ($399.95)
Like Palm’s, Seidio’s accessories package is extremely complete and includes a Nemerix chipset GPS unit.  However, I was extremely disappointed with the cradle mount which includes a speakerphone whose volume I found extremely low and also poor sound.  I quickly dismissed this package because of its price and the issue of the speakerphone even though the GPS unit itself and the bundled TomTom Navigator 5 software are evidently good.

At the end of this rather long post I’m sure that you’d like to know what GPS bundle I would recommend.

Firstly, one thing that I’ve made clear is that I would not choose one that didn’t have the TomTom Navigator 5 software included so this currently leaves out the EMTAC from my list.  Secondly, I guess that it boils down to a question of aesthetics, need and budget.   

On the aesthetics front there is no doubt that the TomTom Navigator 5 Bundle is the best choice (closely followed by the TomTom 5 + Bluetooth GPS) and it also benefits from a SiRF III chipset but is not the cheapest at $299 and will also require a separate Vehicle Mount ($19.95) since this is not included in the package.

On the budget front the clear winner is the Palm GPS Navigator bundle which not only has the largest and most comprehensive accessories package but is also the cheapest at $239.  The GPS unit may only use a SiRF Star II chipset but as I mentioned any drawbacks from this were not immediately noticeable in my tests.

Whatever you decide, I can almost guarantee that once you get started using a GPS solution with your Treo 650 you will not only find it an absolutely amazing experience but will soon also begin to wonder how you managed to drive around without one for so long…

Treonauts rarely get lost anymore

Posted by Andrew on October 28, 2005 at 03:31 PM

Treo Accessories , Treo GPS

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by jonathan Pabalate | Oct 28, 2005 3:15:16 PM

This is a great review. The information I am looking for though.... Which one is easiest to use from a Mac standpoint? I already have a GPS receiver from pharos that does connect to the Treo 650. But alas no software. Can TomTom software be purchased independently? and then used with a non Tom Tom GPS unit? Can it be managed and installed using a MAc? or do I have to use a PC to do it all?

by Doug | Oct 28, 2005 5:35:15 PM

Hi Jonathan,

I've been using my Tom Tom software with another GPS unit for some time and have had no problems with it. There is a setting in the Tom Tom software for it to search for a non-Tom Tom GPS unit. I don't have any info on using it with your Mac though. You might try this link to Tom Tom to get your answer.


by Al | Oct 28, 2005 10:10:24 PM

Excellent Review about GPS for the Treo. I have a TomTom Nav. 5 bundle and I love it. However, I didn't know why it was that good until today. Go Treonauts...!!

by Bob | Oct 29, 2005 4:08:17 PM

The latest version of the TomTom software can be installed from a Mac. TomTom distributed a broken installer, but you can download the right one from their website. Search on MacOSXHints.com for the instructions.

Also, be prepared to use the worst installer you've ever seen. It's your first peek into the crappy software that TomTom makes. Unfortunately, it seems to be better than all the rest of the GPS software, which is really sad.

On the bright side, the current crop of GPS companies is making GPS more popular, and soon there will be a big enough user base for a company with half a clue to take over and stomp all over the current lame-ass companies. I predict that nobody will remember TomTom in 5 years.

by Traveller | Oct 29, 2005 5:19:30 PM

I recently purchased the Palm GPS unit and I am very impressed by it. I did have a difficult time installing the Tom Tom navigator software using mac os 10.4.2 but after upgrading to the latest version of palm desktop and downloading the latest tomtom installer, things went pretty smooth.

I have a question for the group here regarding the Palm unit - there is a port on the GPS device for an external antenna. Does anyone here have any suggestions or experience with any particular external antennas? I've experamented with the GPS unit in the trunk (my car has an power outlet in trunk) and the bluetooth signal is fine but the GPS signal sometimes drops off. I think an external antenna would do the trick.

BTW - love this site.

by Paul | Oct 31, 2005 5:07:36 AM

Can you use a bluetooth headset if you are using a bluetooth GPS unit ?
If you can't surely a wired receiver would be cheaper and better for use in the car.
On my old Treo 600 with a wired GPS receiver, Mapopolis and some demo maps got me all around France for a weeks holiday no problem.
To upgrade to TomTom you have to either buy the PDA kit with a GPS or software for all of Europe on CD.
Why can't I just get Navigator 5 with UK maps pre installed on an SD card ?

by Franck | Oct 31, 2005 9:52:21 AM

There was no operation time indicated in the table for the palm GPS solution. Does it mean that it is not powered with a rechargeable battery?

Can it be powered by standard batteries?

Has anyone been able to use the GPS/Treo for other application that driving? Please explain. Thank you

by Jonathan Pabalate | Oct 31, 2005 4:12:41 PM

Thanks for the info on Mac installation with Tom Tom. I will be looking into this. My other question is...

Can the mapping software be used in the US? I head it was only for Europe and UK

Thanks !

by WTrout | Nov 4, 2005 4:46:00 PM

After much worry and reading your reviews, I opted for the Navigator 5 GPS. I had no issues with installation because I had read your reviews. I updated the TomTom software and I'm in heaven. I do about 150 to 200 miles of driving each day as a Realtor inspector for Banks. I don't know how I lived without it. Thanks for all the messages and reveiws.

by Albert | Nov 7, 2005 10:53:49 PM

Your reviews on the tom tom helped me in purchasing the tom tom 5 + bt GPS. However, I'm having the hardest time trying to install and activate GPS on my treo. I keep getting the following error message when I Hot-synch, "ERROR: The following file(s) could not be installed to the SecureDigital (SD) Card because there is no application on your handheld to open these files. If you have recently installed such an application, please run that application and then perform a HotSync operation.
GPS Information.exe
GPS Information.lnk"
It has taken me 2 weeks to get this going ans I'm almost at my wits end. Any suggestion? I'm using my laptop with Windows XP.

by Franck | Nov 14, 2005 2:13:26 PM

Additional information for the Palm GPS Navigator:

In the battery section there was no information regarding the operating time and charge time which could make you wonder if the unit was actually running off a rechargeable unit. From a palm rep. on the phone I was told the unit is powered off a rechargeable battery, has a 6 to 8 hours autonomy, and.... is recharged in 30 minutes which seems short compared to the other units.

So technically you could use the gps unit outside of your car for lat/long positioning during your next nature hiking trip. Has anyone used its GPS system this way? adventure.

by Ajay Jain | Nov 18, 2005 8:39:28 AM

Just saw this at http://www.tigergps.com/tonablgpsfor.html, Tomtom GPS Navigator for $254.99 with free shipping. Thought fellow treonauts might be interested


by carlos2 | Nov 26, 2005 1:42:30 PM

Quick question: If I can't use a BT headset while using the GPS navigation system, how do you typically answer calls?

It seems that the only option is to use the speaker phone. The built in speakerphone is quite bad. Do you end up buying something else? Do you use a hired headset?

Any ideas?

by acollazo | Dec 1, 2005 5:00:35 PM

How big an SD card do you need to load the maps for the whole US?

by Andrew | Dec 2, 2005 7:18:35 AM

accollazo - from my experience if you want to load _all_ of the US maps at once you'll need at least a 1GB SD card.

Cheers, A.

by Tom | Dec 6, 2005 11:30:10 AM

Can anyone explain how to load the maps from the tomtom navigator cds onto the SD card using a powerbook running OS X 10.4? I also can't tell what maps are on what CDs. The instructions that came are practically useless. It took me much searching on the web, just to get the actual Navigator 5 software loaded. Thanks

by Mike | Dec 13, 2005 4:02:12 PM

Regarding "ERROR: The following file(s) could not be installed to the SecureDigital (SD) Card because there is no application on your handheld to open these files.

This might help others out who are having a hard time. I don't know much about macs, but maybe this would do the trick too if you could run it under virtual pc or something.

Anyway, I had a hard time installing TomTom too but was able to install/transfer the files with the following great, FREE utility:

It essentially just lets you copy and delete any files to your SD card. It makes the SD card show up as a removable device on your PC.

Great prog, these are the guys I happily PayPal a few bucks.

by Seth Elgart | Dec 26, 2005 12:48:25 AM

I'd just like to mention that I put up a few web pages that have complete instructions for setting up a TomTom using a Mac. The page is at http://homepage.mac.com/selgart/tomtom/intro.html

The complete map set for the US and Canada will not quite fit on a 1GB SD card. It needs about 1.3GB for all the maps.

by Cj johnson | Jan 5, 2006 5:57:10 PM

I was wondering if this unit could be used for flying. Does it give speed and altitude readings? Can you put navigation charts into it? The flying I'm talking about is in a powered paraglider.


by Josh | Jan 6, 2006 4:32:33 PM

Someone posted above asking for info on the external antenna for the Palm gps.. I'm interested in this too. Google is no help..

Someone else asked if it was battery powered, it is indeed. No clue on the battery life though as i've only had it for a day (thanks treonauts!!!)

by Steve | Feb 22, 2006 3:55:50 PM

This is a great site. My question is...does the 650 or 700 have the internal capacity to switch their GPRS to act as an internal GPS antennae?


by scott | Feb 26, 2006 5:20:23 PM

do you have to have a data plan to use gps software with your treo 650?

by tester | May 22, 2006 7:30:16 PM

Is there anyway to use the TREO 650's built in GPS? without having to purchase a external GPS?

by ggeoffre | May 28, 2006 4:25:37 PM

I to have been struggling to find a good GPS solution that would work both with my Apple Powerbook G4 as well as my Treo 650. I thought I had it with the USGlobalSat BT-338 v3.1.1 WAAS Enabled Bluetooth GPS Receiver, Route66 for the Mac, and Mapopolis for the Treo 650. But unfortunately the reviews of Route66 are far from flattering and the company apparently no longer supports this product that was last updated in 2004. "By the end of 2006, Garmin intends to have made all its popular hardware and software applications Mac OS X compatible." (press release), but I have not seen any reviews of the Garmin GPS 10 with the Treo 650. It is not listed as a supported device with Mapopolis.

by lee | Jun 1, 2006 10:16:57 PM

I am thinking about getting one of these setups and have two questions:

(1) Are any of these units WAAS-enabled?

(2) Tom-Tom seems to come only with maps of US and Canada. Can you get other countries? Mexico? China? Europe? If so, where do you get them and how much are they?

Thank you!

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