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GPS Navigation System

System Details | Installation | On Road Navigation | Off Road Navigation

I had no real requirements for an on-road navigation system but after going on a few weekend 4x4 explorations I thought some sort of GPS mapping system would be very useful. However, I wanted some software that had proper maps (rather than just street maps) and while looking I came across Memory Map software which uses Ordnance Survey maps (specifically the 1:50,000 scale Landranger maps).

Being a bit of a computer and gadget geek I first thought I would make a custom GPS Navigation and MP3 Player for my truck based on a Laptop Computer or small PC. However, after costing up different options and having difficulty finding anywhere to mount a screen and control the system I finally decided against this and instead went for a PDA based solution (for GPS only).

System Details

The system comprises of a Compaq iPAQ handheld PC and the Navman sleeve that performs all the GPS recieving.

The iPAQ sits in the Navman sleeve and the Navman comes with a windscreen suction mounting holder to mount in the vehicle and an in-car charger for the iPAQ.

I got the latest (at the time) Navman 3400 which includes voice navigation software (i.e. it speaks directions at you like "take next left") which is far safer than having to look at the screen all the time.

I purchased a package from Total PDA (I would not recommend them, their service was awful) consisting of a brand new Navman 3400 and a factory refurbished iPAQ H3950 . I also purchased a 512MB Compact Flash card from Scan to store all the software & maps (both on-road and off-road) that I may need.

Although not cheap, this system works out a lot cheaper than most in-car navigation systems, it can be removed (for security) when not in use, transferred between vehicles easily and is also flexible and upgradable (and of course the Ipaq PC can have many other uses).

This system can also be used handheld while walking or whatever (although battery life is probably your main restriction here).

 

Installation

The Navman system comes with a universal windscreen mount but I did not really want it attached to the windscreen, I would rather use the windscreen for what it was intended for, and I can't see through a big bit of plastic.

So...

 
     

I bought two of these vent mount clips from The Clip Company in the US.

I bought two so I can easily transfer the navigation system between my two vehicles.

They are very versatile and will do the job but I think for off-roading I will need a more secure mount as the vent mount does not lock in so I can imagine the Navman jumping out of the mount on a heavy bump. So...

 

I then made this mount. I used a piece of sheet metal cut and shaped, then painted and a bit of high-density foam glued to the inside to protect the navman. It also uses a universal mount from a in-car phone kit that can be angled all sorts of directions.

There are not many suitable places to mount it but I managed to do it in the end where it is not too much in the way although it does foul the cup holder a little bit, but you can still use the cup holder when the Navman is not in the mount.

 

On Road Navigation

The Navman 3400 comes with some excellent street-level voice navigation software covering the whole of Europe.

I'm not going to review the software as there are already plenty of better reviews available on the web but I have made some comments below.

Here are a few reviews of the Navman 3400 and software:

 

On Road Navigation - My Comments

Good Points:

  • GPS seems to be very accurate nearly all the time, very occasionaly it loses accuracy and sometimes you may lose the GPS signal all together for a few minutes, but most of the time it is very good.
  • Display is very clear and easy to read, next junction always on screen, e.g. in 2.5 miles turn left into North Street.
  • Voice navigation is good and accurate, for example it will say:
    • On the approach to a roundabout: "In 900 yards at the roundabout, take the third exit"
    • When you near the roundabout: "Take the third exit"
    • When you pass the second exit: "Exit left"
  • Automatic re-routing, i.e. if you take a wrong turn or go a different way the Navman will automatically re-calculate the route and continue directing you to the destination.
  • The Navman software includes a "points of interest" database which includes all sorts of places like railway stations, arenas, cinemas, petrol stations etc. This means you can quite easily find and navigate to any of these places.

Bad Points:

  • Does not support postcodes so sometimes it is impossible to navigate to an address, for example if a company gives its address as "Smith & Co North Street, Portsmouth" and North Street is 20 miles long then you cannot set the Navman to navigate you to the appropriate place on North Street without knowing a building number.
  • Occasional bugs in the maps, for example I was coming up to join a motorway to head South but for some reason the Navman thought I could not join the motorway Southbound so it directed me to join Northbound and then turn around at the next junction! Luckily I was paying attention and just ignored the direction.
  • You can only choose between "Shortest Distance" (it will take you on any small road it can) or "Quickest Route" (which will favour main roads etc). You cannot navigate to a location via another location, so for example if I want to navigate to point A it may take me on the nearest Motorway, but I may know that if I go via point B I can do the journey quicker, but there is no facility to do this other than to plot a route to point B, then when you get there stop and plot a route to point A.
  • The speaker on the iPAQ is not really loud enough when you are travelling at speed or when you have music on it is sometimes difficult to hear the voice directions.
  • There is no PC-based software other than the software to allow you to select and download different area maps to the Navman. It would be nice to be able to plot and review exact routes on the PC and then be able to download them to the Navman.

Off Road Navigation

For off-road navigation, traditional street-level mapping software is pretty much useless - it has no topographical detail. This is why I purchased Memory Map Navigator software including all OS maps for the South of England.

Obviously you get all the detail you do on a paper OS map with the addition of GPS positioning, height details and the ablility to input waypoints etc.

Again, i'm not going to properly review the software but I will make some comments (see below) here when I have used the software enough to comment on how it performs.

Reviews of Memory Map software:

 
     
As well as 1:50,000 Landranger maps, Memory Map supplies various European maps, roadmaps and even aerial photography.  

Off Road Navigation - My Comments

Good Points:

  • GPS seems to be very accurate and I had no dropouts the whole time - even when in forested areas.
  • Very easy to use and navigate tracks - current direction is constantly displayed as a red line and the whole package makes it a doddle to navigate any roads/tracks/byways. No problem seeing if you have gone the wrong way or veered from the track. All in all I am very happy with the way it worked.

Bad Points:

  • Not easy to work with routes and points on the iPaq due to interface limitations - but I don't really tend to bother anyway - I just plan routes beforehand or just follow the maps.
  • Routes you have driven do not seem to be retained by the iPaq after 1 day so when I got back from the weekend there were none of my routes available to review/save etc. Not sure if this is a limitation in the software or just user error!
  • No easy way to flick between maps and aerial photos - requires a few clicks/menu selections - really could do with a single toggle button.

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