Wednesday 28 December 2011

Satellite Navigation

Satellite navigation (SATNAV) for surface transport especially for cars has been around for many years now. My earliest use of electronic maps was about 6 years back. Back then, I was using HP IPaq handheld device for navigation. It  had TomTom Route planner maps loaded for navigation. I used this device to navigate around UK, Netherlands and Portugal. My first true device for Satellite Navigation was Garmin Nuvi 270. The reason I bought this device was it had both Europe and US maps pre-loaded. The countries I navigated using this device were UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain (with some nervousness as the maps were outdated and many new roads just didn't exit, thanks to the drive by the European union to have roads across EU states to be of similar standard) and US. This device is fairly solid and gave very little aggro. I didn't have any major mis-routes so far.

In this post, I will try and present a test I ran using three devices whilst navigating from Birmingham to Aberdeen. Based on the success I had with Garmin Nuvi 270, I bought the Garmin app, touted as the best navigation app on iPhone. As people might have noticed, iPhone GPS in its current state is unusable with Google maps. Its lock on location is off by atleast a few tens of metres. But with Gamin app, the GPS worked like a treat.

Coming to my test, I used three devices, (1) Garmin Nuvi 270, (2) Garmin App on iPhone and (3) Google maps on ZTE Skate. Garmin Nuvi costed me a few hundred bucks a few years back, while the Garmin app costed me £34. The Google maps on ZTE Skate though was free. 

As two of the three devices has a common provider, Garmin, the comparison is more between Garmin and Google Maps. 

I was most impressed with the Garmin device. The Garmin display (even the old one) is very good and the battery drain rate is very reasonable. On full charge it would last atleast 4 hours of driving time. There are a few glitches with navigation routing and even the latest update of the maps missed a few fixed speed cameras in Birmingham. I am very certain that the latest devices by Garmin would be far more advanced than the one I am having and would make navigation more easier.

I was impressed with the Garmin app for iPhone. This app is a good middle solution as it would save one carrying a separate navigation device. However, this device stopped warning about speed cameras mid way through my journey. The routing by this app is very accurate. Furthermore, its prediction of the final time of arrival is fairly spot on. The battery drain rate was ok. A full charge would last me a couple of hours of driving. Not ideal but passable. One needs to carry a in-car charger to charge in case the battery runs out. For Garmin app, I need to buy an addon extra to get live traffic updates, which is not ideal. 

I was also impressed with the free Google maps navigation software. The plus side of this software is it is free. Furthermore, it warned me about traffic hotspots via the 3G network. Its used more traditional and widely used routes. It failed to route me through less congested routes to avoid traffic. However, the battery drain rate was the highest on this device. It barely lasted more than a hour from full charge. The ZTE Skate was running the latest ICS ROM, which my son ported onto this device after painstaking hours of work. Android OS still needs to get its act together with regards to battery drain on its mobile devices.

My winner in this test is Garmin Nuvi 270 for obvious reasons, good display, accurate routing and long battery life. Here are photographs of the three of them side-by-side.

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