Almost every summer, my wife and I visit her parents’ cabin in Houghton Lake in central Michigan. We were going to stay for almost three weeks this year, so we decided to drive, rather than fly.
We live in Atlanta, so this is quite a long roadtrip. One of the best things I brought with me was a Dell Bluetooth GPS Receiver and an Axim X30.
With the GPS receiver, we never had any worries we’d get lost. It also saved us some driving time by pointing out a route that was shorter than we had originally planned to take, and helped us find fun things to do once we got there.
What’s a GPS Receiver?
Over the decades, things that used to exist only in science-fiction novels have become commonplace. One of these is the Global Positioning System.
This is a collection of satellites in Earth orbit. Each one of these is constantly broadcasting a very precise time signal. A GPS receiver on the ground picks up these signals. Because radio waves don’t travel instantly from the satellite to the receiver, it’s possible to determine the distance between the two. When this is done with several satellites, the receiver’s position on the Earth can be determined quite accurately.
Some people are nervous about using the GPS system because they think if they use a receiver, other people (the government, the Trilateral Commission, Elvis, whoever) will be able to learn where they are. This isn’t possible. All the communication from the satellites to the GPS receiver is one way. The government can no more determine the location of your GPS receiver than your local radio station can overhear you talking when you have your car radio on.
Setting Things Up
The first step in using this GPS system is, of course, loading the necessary software onto the Axim X30. I saved it to the handheld’s Internal Memory, rather than RAM, where it runs just fine.
Next I needed to load the maps for the states my wife and I would be driving through on our way to Michigan.
Setting Things Up
These maps take up a lot of space. The exact amount depends on the size of the state, of course, but I found that just Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky took up more than half of the 256 MB card I was bringing with me on this trip. I wanted to leave some extra space for other files on this card so I decided to leave off Georgia and Tennessee.
If you decide to get this GPS receiver, you’ll need at least a 64 MB card to store the maps for most states. If you are going on a long roadtrip, a 256 MB or even 512 MB card should also be on your shopping list.
The Dell GPS Navigation System in Action
If you’ve never used a GPS receiver before, it basically shows you a road map of the area you are in with an icon giving your exact location and the direction you are heading. With the one from Dell, all of this is displayed on the Axim X30, of course. The actual receiver has no screen of any kind.
This GPS system started coming in handy almost immediately. When we got hungry, I had it display a list of nearby restaurants. We picked one and told the system to direct us to it.
The Navigation System shows you the route on the map and indicates where you need to turn. Of course, when you are driving you don’t want to have to keep looking away from the road, so it also gives audible cues. It gives you lots of warnings that a turn is coming up so you’d have to work pretty hard to miss one. The first warning is at 2 miles away and you get four or five more warnings until you reach the actual road you need to turn on.
Time Saved We were going from Atlanta to central Michigan, and MapQuest told us to stay on I-75 the whole way. When we got to central Ohio, I noticed that the GPS system was telling us to take a different route. I dug out the road atlas and discovered that I-75 takes a wide swing to the east in order to be able to go through Detroit. Dell’s GPS Navigational System was recommending a shorter, but more complicated, route through Ann Arbor.
When I’m driving through a strange area, I’m not fond of taking shortcuts if they involve making a lot of turns. I don’t like to have to watch the road and a map at the same time. But with the GPS this shortcut was a breeze. I just followed the spoken directions and had no problems at all. And, best of all, I never had to take my eyes off the road.
Dell’s GPS Navigational System has some other features that are very useful on long trips. For example, it will give you an estimated time of arrival at your destination, which is mighty handy when you are trying to decide whether to stop for the night or plow on through.
Mighty Useful Even after we had arrived at our destination, this GPS receiver kept coming in handy.
I’d already mentioned its ability to show you where all the nearby restaurants are. It can tell you where other attractions are as well, like state parks, museums, theatres, amusement parks, and more.
It isn’t all fun and games. If you run into trouble, it can tell you where the nearest hospital or police station is.
All this information is great if you are in an unfamiliar town looking for things to do.
Also, the GPS system gave me confidence to really explore the area we are staying in, as I knew I could never get lost. No matter how far I went, I was confident I could go the quickest route back to my in-laws’ cabin.
You can ask it to direct you to anywhere in your Pocket PC’s Address Book. Or you can manually put in an address. You can also ask it to direct you to the center of a city or town, which is convenient if you don’t know exactly where you are going.
I like specifying a specific location as being one of my Favorites. For example, I found a place that makes a really good cup of coffee, which is not always easy to find in this area. I set it as a Favorite and never needed to worry about forgetting where it is.
The only downside to using Favorites is the GPS system always tells me that these Favorites are on the opposite side of the road from where they really are. It was kind of irritating at first but now I’ve gotten used to looking opposite of where it tells me to. Fortunately, this is only true of Favorites.
The Dell GPS receiver is a rounded silver plastic box. It is 2.0 inches wide, 3.4 inches long, and 1.05 inches thick. It rides well in a pocket, and will work fine from there too, if you are out walking around.
On the front is a light that indicates that Bluetooth is active, another that shows it is picking up signals from the satellites, and a third that gives battery status.
Bluetooth Speaking of Bluetooth, that’s the method the GPS receiver uses to communicate with the handheld. This means you don’t have to mess around with a lot of wires.
This is handy when you first turn the GPS receiver on. Sometimes it will have difficulties getting itself oriented if you are in a car and the receiver isn’t up on the front dash. Once it is oriented I can take it off the dash and it will have no problems.
The main reason I’m happy that this system uses Bluetooth is it makes the whole package less bulky. If I’m going somewhere, I can tuck the handheld in one pocket and the GPS receiver in another. I don’t have to find a third pocket to put a cable in.
However, there is one disadvantage to using Bluetooth with this system. If I launch the GPS software on my Pocket PC without remembering to turn Bluetooth on first, the application will act like it’s running but then it will apparently crash and there’s no way to get to run, even if I turn Bluetooth on. The only thing to do at that point is reset the Axim X30.
In the next version of the software, I’d suggest Dell either make it automatically turn Bluetooth on, or at least give us the option to turn it on without crashing the GPS application.
Car Mount While it doesn’t really matter where in the car the GPS receiver is, you are going to want your handheld to be where you can see the screen without taking your eyes too far off the road. That’s why a car mount is included with the Dell GPS Navigation System. This attaches to your windshield and includes a long arm that allows you to position the Axim wherever you want it to be.
This brings up an important point. Don’t get in the habit of looking at the handheld’s screen too much when you are driving. It’s really easy to cause an accident this way. If I don’t remember to set a destination before I start driving, I either pull off to the side of the road or have my wife handle it.
The internal battery in the GPS receiver lasts for a long time on a single charge. I got at least 6 hours of use before it went dead. Basically, it is capable of going for longer than your Axim does on a single charge.
Fortunately, Dell includes a car charger with this system that can recharge both the GPS receiver and your Axim at the same time. This plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter.
If any trip I’m on is going to last more than a few minutes, I plug both the handheld and GPS receiver in. The wires aren’t much of a hassle and this way I keep the handheld’s battery topped off. It isn’t like I’m going to be walking around inside the car while I’m driving somewhere. And a battery has a certain number of recharge cycles before it gets worn out. Using the battery when it really isn’t necessary is hastening the day when the battery can’t be recharged any more.
Anyone who does a lot of driving around in unfamiliar areas can benefit from a GPS receiver. It not only keeps you from being lost, it helps you find all kinds of useful places.
I warn you though, this thing can be addictive. I now use it when I go everywhere. My wife was giving me a hard time about using it when I was going to the grocery store, a drive I’ve made so many times I could do it in my sleep. There’s just something about seeing that little icon move around on the map that’s fascinating.
The Dell GPS Navigation System can be found on the company’s web site. The list price is $249.