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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

Posted by Andrew on October 4, 2005 at 09:51 AM

Treo Accessories , Treo GPS

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» Treo 650 GPS solution comparison from Treo Today
Andrew at Treonauts has an excellent, in depth review of 3 GPS solutions for the Palm Treo 650 smartphone. He covers the TomTom Navigator 5 Bundle, Emtac + GPS and also Palm’s GPS Navigator. Follow along as he tests the above devices in real-lif... [Read More]

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I have had my Treo now since February. The first few weeks was Treo fever, but I haven't been playing around with the Treo too much lately other than getting a few cool apps like PSSH (an SSH client for the Palm). Somehow you just take ... [Read More]

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by Mike Hardy | Oct 3, 2005 10:11:15 PM

Great review. I've been curious about these myself. For $50 and more stuff, the Palm one really looks like the better deal though. Is it that much less pocketable? In the large image on your site, it looks pretty small to me.

For folks that exercise, this could potentially replace the newer GPS-based exercise units. It'll never do speed or cadence, but this could be a running aid. Can you still use pockettunes while TomTom is going?

by Mike Hardy | Oct 3, 2005 10:13:52 PM

Here's an example of what I mean by GPS-based exercise units:


There's no reason whatsoever smartphones shouldn't own this market. In fact, Polar (who made my triathlon gear - a S625X with cyclometer, power meter, heart rate and pedometer among other things) should really stop trying to make the "brain" and make their data acquisition devices bluetooth then make Treo software.

All while still allowing PocketTunes to play my beloved wefunkradio.com of course ;-)

by Mike Hardy | Oct 3, 2005 10:15:42 PM

Ok, I keep posting, but I get excited by this GPS stuff. I just realized Garmin's top of the line unit was $255! That's more than the Treo GPS unit. Crazy


by Andrew | Oct 3, 2005 10:24:12 PM

Thanks Mike - I can't disagree with you. Kudos to Palm for its GPS offering which is indeed a very good and cheaper solution. However, from a personal taste perspective I prefer TomTom's design.

Also, it may be worthwhile mentioning that typically GPS solutions built into a car will be significantly more expensive and naturally less pocketable... Someone travelling with me actually told me that they thought that I had a better setup than the $1,000 unit in their car.

Cheers, A.

by TazUk | Oct 4, 2005 5:15:18 AM

I've been using TomTom Navigator 5 on my T650 for about six months. Proved to be very usueful both here in the UK and whilst on holiday in France :o). There is an update to the Nav 5 software but this seems to create more problems than it solves :o\. I assume you've come across the hotsync errors?

by olac | Oct 4, 2005 7:12:13 AM

I bought NAVIGATOR 5 - Software & Maps of Western Europe last month. Coupled with the very cheap GPS Buetooth Wonde-X from Xaiox, it's my best palm investment from years !

by Murad Kheraj | Oct 4, 2005 8:23:14 AM

I have a question on the usability of the software with the Treo 650. What happens when a phone call comes through? Does the mapping software stop, allow you to answer the call, then resume? This is only issue that might delay me from purchasing the GPS package.

by TazUk | Oct 4, 2005 8:50:06 AM

With Navigator 5, and the update, it should switch back to the map when a call is answered/rejected. This works most of the time but occasionally I have to manually switch back.

by Chris | Oct 4, 2005 8:53:34 AM

I dont see anywhere to email the dude on this site. Just want to give a heads up that Verizon released 1.04 software for the Treo650. I am installing it now.

Says it fixes the annoying incoming call setup when you are on the phone. I hope this is true


by Craig Danuloff | Oct 4, 2005 10:07:17 AM

Don't you lose the ability to use the phone while you're using the GPS? That was reported some months ago, and for me kills the deal. Have they fixed this? I just bought the Garmin 2720 which I love, but would consider using my Treo if it didn't stop being a phone when I need it as a GPS.

by swagner | Oct 4, 2005 11:40:39 AM

* TomTom Navigator on the Treo 650: The Phone feature of the Treo 650 must be switchced off while using TomTom Navigator. If a call is taken or made while TomTom Navigator is in use you will have to restart it and replan the route.

This is from TomTom's website. Although not the best solution, having to start and replan your route is not the worst thing that could happen. Too bad though. You cannot however use a bluetooth headset while using the gps.

by Dave P | Oct 4, 2005 12:59:38 PM

I use TomTom all the time with the phone on. You take the call and when it is over it puts you back in TomTom. Occasionally you have to re-enter TomTom from the menu, but it picks up from where you are and knows where you want to go.

You can even leave TomTom if you know you will be going the same way for a long stretch so you can do other things with the Treo, as soon as you go back to TomTom it picks up again from where you are!

by Vitto | Oct 4, 2005 4:28:14 PM

what happes if you try to answer to an incoming call using a BT earpiece? Does it connect?
Do TT Navigator 5 slow down your Treo Performances that much?


by TazUk | Oct 4, 2005 4:38:51 PM

You can't use a BT headset at the same time as using a BT GPS reciever as the Treo 650 has BT v1.1, which only supports one device at a time.

Not sure what you mean by slow down the performance, what else would you be running whilst using TomTom?

by TazUk | Oct 4, 2005 4:41:00 PM

"* TomTom Navigator on the Treo 650: The Phone feature of the Treo 650 must be switchced off while using TomTom Navigator. If a call is taken or made while TomTom Navigator is in use you will have to restart it and replan the route."

Which version of Navigator are they referring too? Version 5 certainly doesn't have this limitation.

by Doug | Oct 4, 2005 5:29:58 PM

I've been using TomTom Navigator 5 on my Treo 650 for a couple of months now and have to say it is one of the best investments I have made. I do a lot of driving in Southern California and have yet to have had a problem with TomTom. As for using TomTom with the phone enabled, I am generally returned to the TomTom navigator as soon as I end my call. Ocassionally I do have to manually restart TomTom but that is a minor annoyance for having a portable GPS that works great.

by Art | Oct 4, 2005 6:51:03 PM

Hey, I wish i could get a gps for my GSM Treo 600 but i am only 16
Question, where are you from A.?

by gene | Oct 4, 2005 10:05:44 PM

What about the differences in the hardware? Is the tomtom hardware better than the mobilesat that is bundled with tomtom for 20 bucks less on this site?

by Shwaydogg | Oct 4, 2005 10:24:14 PM

What about off road GPS with the Treo. Are there any hiking programs to be used with the treo 650? That would seal the deal for me.

by Lon Seidman | Oct 5, 2005 1:20:33 PM

Great review!

From the looks of things the TomTom navigation software for the 650 is identical to their TomTom Go product.

I bought my girlfriend a TomTom Go last year and we love it when we're away on trips. It has an excellent user interface and is a superb navigational tool. I actually prefer it to the stock system installed in my car.

TomTom is also very good at squeezing a ton of data into a relatively small file. On our Go, I think we have all of New England and Florida crammed into the included 128 meg SD card. This includes yellow pages info.

If the Treo version is based on the same software, this is a bargain at the retail price stated in the review.

by Patrick | Oct 5, 2005 3:54:30 PM

Your website doesn't list the TomTom software without the GPS and I haven't found it in a brief search. I have a Bluetooth GPS already (use it with Mapopolis) but I'd like to give TomTom a go as many of the features look to be worth the switch. Do you have this option available?

by Murad Kheraj | Oct 5, 2005 4:12:27 PM

From TomTom site:

Why should I download this update (5.12)?
We recommend installing the latest version of TomTom NAVIGATOR 5 on your device.
This new version has the following new features and improvements:
1. Both NAVIGATOR 5 and Contacts Navigation can independently be assigned to a button.
2. Improved error messages in the HotSync© log.
For PalmOne Treo 650:
a. Improved handling of incoming phone calls - the device will now automatically switch back to NAVIGATOR 5 after the phone call has been connected.
b. The device will always turn off when the power key is pressed.

If these improvements work as it says, this is the device for me.


by Me | Oct 5, 2005 10:00:08 PM

Has anyone gotten TomTom 5's network stuff (like Traffic) to work with SprintPCS? It always complains about not being able to connect (it seems to give up awfully quickly...)

by Marie | Oct 9, 2005 8:35:59 AM

With the TREO 700 operating on Windows we will all be able to use NAVIZON (http://www.navizon.com ) it will be much more easier !!!!!!!

by Ralph | Oct 11, 2005 11:43:25 PM

Real cool review.

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