Some GPS Hardware Thoughts and Observations

© Beverly Howard, Austin, Tx, 2002
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The price of the GPS is only the Beginning

If you are going through the purchase decision process, be sure to price the map software, cables and (if available) an external antenna before you make a decision as those items can run the purchase price up quickly after you have comitted to the basic unit.  Magellan comes out smelling pretty nice on those points.

The other push for this purchase was my goal to enable super lightweight travel.  I not only survived a week and a half trip this year with only a PocketPC and no laptop, I was immersed in a sea of almost a thousand other techies, almost every one lugging at least ten to fifteen cumulative pounds of computing iron, making me, in turn, feel like a flyweight having left the Sony at home and "roughing it" with only a PocketPC and it's accessories. Click here to learn what I learned from that experience and previous test trips.

PictureBook + Street Atlas + Tripmate = Car Travel Bliss

At least it was a decade or more ago... ;-)  I started my gps addition with Street Atlas 3 running on the Sony Picturebook, so it's significant contribution to reducing mental fatigue load on the road, not to mention the time savings meant that it earned it's carry weight well into the future for any extended highway trip.

In addition to having a dash mount in our cars, travel that includes rent cars includes packing strips of double stick velcro that has held the Picturebook in a convenient dash location in all but one rent car that I have come across to date.  If you are shopping for a GPS friendly laptop, remember that they have limited keyboards that use a <Fn> key to convert keys such as the arrow keys to uses such as <PgUp> <PgDn> etc.  On the C1X, the designers were sharp enough to understand that a mobile user might only have one hand available when a program such as Street Atlas uses the <PgUp> etc keys for critical keyboard shortcuts, and they placed a second <Fn> key on the right side of the keyboard that makes these commands possible with a single hand... and it makes a huge difference.  If you have a laptop with this limit, give consideration to packing a numeric keypad to make it easier and safer to control the display on the road.

GPS Handhelds which do almost as much as a laptop

The minimalist in me then migrated from the Tripmate/Laptop to the Magellan Meridian "Yellow" which served me well for well over three years as my primary GPS and now lives on riding the handlebar of my BMW.  Using handhelds for vehicle navigation is not for the faint of heart... the tiny screen and bunched controls absolutely demand time to learn what these incredible units can do in such a small package... for example, turn by turn routing using Google Maps.

The Meridian was finally replaced in early 2007 by the Magellan Explorist after a brief detour to the Meridian Color which turned out to be painful to use in full sunlight, so it quickly went back to the vendor.  The Explorist 500 series was being closed out and when a $200 combo package came up that included the CD version of MapSendTopo3D USA, I bit and have been smiling ever since.  The transition from Meridian to Explorist turned out to be a much harder task than I had anticipated, so, to help others, I cobbled together an Explorist transition tips page to hopefully help others going down the same road.

"Startup Time"

"Startup Time," and not understanding what was happening, had a lot to do with my first experiments with GPS.  Most newcomers to GPS can easily be run off by the possibility that a new GPS unit may take over a half hour to come up with a position after it is first powered up.

This has a lot to do with the gps units "last position" If you fire it up within 25 miles of it's last  used position, a fix is normally found pretty fast, under a minute or two by most units that store it after power down and run their own onboard clock, but if you take a flight from NY to LA, and fire it up in the rent car when you arrive, it's gonna be a while until it sorts out the sky.

All these units are going to have an initialization screen that will allow the user to reset the current approximate position when you know the unit is going to be lost, so work with the unit or software when this comes up and you will get the most utilization out of this great technology.

Additional GPS Links to;
Bev's GPS Theory Tutorial
Turn by Turn Routing using Google Maps
Delorme's TripMate
Magellan's Meridian
Explorist Transition Tips
Raw Map Reduction
Traveling Lite with Tech Tools