Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Garmin Mobile

In September 2005 Garmin announced its navigation software by offering Garmin Mobile to Sprint PCS customers. It is currently available for the multimedia Sanyo CDMA phones (MM-5600, MM-7400, MM-7500, MM-8300 and MM-9000) in two versions. Both provide moving maps, location search and directions for addresses and POI's.

You can choose Garmin Mobile for US$9.99 a month and Mobile Lite for US$4.99 a month. Lite doesn't include voice prompted turn by turn guidance or automatic recalculation. Not sure if you need to interact to get a new route or if the feature isn't available at all. In either case, think that it is way better and safer to listen to directions instead of looking at a screen and that recalculation is a basic requirement for this type of product so go for the most expensive plan. It might probably end up being a lot cheaper after all.

Installing

Follow the directions at Garmin's website but during the actual download, add a second "Select Find It..." while drilling down the available apps for purchase. If you are wondering about how to get out of it check for Unsubscribing to applications in the Online Help for directions about how to cancel the subscription either on the phone itself or at Sprint's website.

There are quite a few applications available under Maps and More including TeleNav, MapQuest Mobile and MapQuest Traffic, NearHere, Trimble Outdoors, Rand McNally and Express New Maps. The only other package that combines the use of GPS and turn by turn directions is TeleNav which also costs US$ 9.99 for unlimited usage.

But if you check for the subscription price of TeleNav at other providers like in for Nextel/Boost you will find out that you have to pay extra for trip after the limit of 4 per month is reached.

MM7400

I borrowed a Sanyo MM7400 for this review. The MM7400, launched in 2004 is a CDMA model that uses Qualcomm MSM6100 chipset and runs apps developed with Brew. This was the first model from Sanyo to include a video camera [PDF specs].

The Garmin application is a Java Midlet using J2ME (MIDP 2.0, CLDC 1.1) that makes use of the GPS API from Qualcomm provided with its Java Extensions (com.qualcomm.qjae.gps.*) in its gpsOne platform.

That because Qualcomm wanted to offer developers the ability to run Java code in its devices and platform, and incorporated a Java Virtual Machine (from Insignia) in its chipset combined to the ARM's Jazelle used to accelerate its performance.

These phones use Assisted GPS to obtain a fix in two basic modes: Mobile Device Based or Mobile Device Assisted. At this time Brew doesn't support a third, standalone mode where all work is done by the mobile device itself without any help from the network.

But you will need to be close to a window to be able to get the first fix and if you want good accuracy you better have a clear view of the sky. After that you can even be in an enclosed area that you will be able to keep some level of location. At some point it will use the last known position if required. This paper [PDF] describes in detail the operation of Assisted-GPS provided by the gpsOne chipset and software.

Using it

When you start Garmin Mobile it will always ask you if it can access the GPS in the phone, but you will first need to enable the Location service in the phone itself (Menu | Settings | Location). Read the warning about using the phone while driving and make sure you understand the consequences.

From there you can pick a destination and see a map with your current location. Get used to the little hourglass icon. You will see it quite a bit. Notice the accuracy rate at the top of the map image. You can zoom in (3) and out (1) to get more or less details of the NavTeq provided street maps. In the maps blue is used as the route color, red for highways and orange for streets.

To get directions go back and select the other option. Now you can search for address, POI's, cities and airports. You can also look for your saved locations at Garmin's website.

Mobile Manager

The way you go about this is by first creating an account at the Garmin Mobile website under Mobile Manager. After that you can find places in the website by name or address. You can also browse by category for POI's in a given area. Imagine then that for a trip you are planning, you can save location of the hotels, campgrounds, restaurants and parks for example.


With the location saved in the website, go back to the phone and select My Locations. There you will see Mobile Manager. If you select that option you will be presented with the addresses you saved at the website. You can also save addresses under My Favories in the phone itself.

By default it will always pick the fastest route, so if you don't want to pick highways you are out of luck. But you can always change from the original route and wait for it to be recalculated.

You might experience less accuracy than what you would get from a real GPS device if you get location information inside buildings, so expect to have to adjust the directions in that case. In one case I had a nearby street used to start a route while the package calculated the directions to a restaurant. While following the directions the voice prompts for the turns were a bit too close for confort specially when you are coming from a highway. If you driving along a street they are just fine.

If you missed the voice directions press OK on the Turns page and you will be able to listen to it again. The drawback is that it will take a while and you might miss the turn anyway, the longer the sentence more time will be needed for the text-to-speech engine to convert it. The phone does a pretty good job with the voice itself and you will get used to it pretty fast. It will also save you the download cost of keeping the maps up to date.

Garmin also sells a universal phone support ($19.99) for the phone that you can mount at the windshield which isn't legal in CA. The idea is to "listen" to the phone not to look at it. Either because of the small size, reflections or just a plain dark screen. Be sure to try the safest way to use the phone.

Conclusion

The main advantage of these systems over dedicated turn-by-turn navigation hardware is that the maps will be kept up-to-date as long as you pay for the service, without the need to obtain updates for your current maps.

The ease and speed in obtaining a first fix with a clear sky is quite amazing but as expected you might loose a bit in accuracy under poor visibility conditions. Compared to dedicated navigation systems you might be saving quite a bundle here but it will also depend on how much use you make out of it. For casual use it is quite a deal.

But you will need to have the right phone and the right plan for use this package. At least for now. Also, consider the use of these packages with care, don't ignore the warnings about using it while driving. Be smart.

[Update: And Garmin announced today support for Nokia, Windows Mobile and Treo 650 Smartphones with Garmin 20 which includes a BlueTooth GPS receiver and phone cradle. But for now, it is just a teaser, Garmin says that it should only be available around July.]

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