Head-to-Head Review of Navigation Software for Palm OS

by Reads (29,851)

Thanks to the following vendors for providing software for review:

  • TomTom
  • Mapopolis
  • Emtac

Equipment used for testing: Tapwave Zodiac 2 with 1 GB SD card for TomTom and Emtac, a Palm Nav Card for Mapopolis, and an Emtac Bluetooth GPS module.

Some of you may have read a review I did of navigation applications for Pocket PCs published several months back. This is in the same style, but for the Palm OS platform. Both Mapopolis and TomTom are back, but iGo was only a Pocket PC product, and Emtac is Palm only. If you have a Palm OS device, read on!

Similarities: As with the Pocket PC versions, many features were similar on all three applications, including route options of shortest time or distance, voice prompts, Point of Interest (POI) display on/off, night mode, screen backlight always on (Mapopolis 1 hr only), and auto zoom and rotate. The biggest differences were the extra features, and the user interface.

Here are examples of the style of each application.

Mapopolis TomTom Emtac


TomTom has the easiest interface for quick data entry using a finger. Emtac has easy finger entry, but the keypad is similar to a cell phone, so although it searches as you type to narrow down the choices, it takes a bit longer if you have to hit the TUV button three times to enter V, for example. Mapopolis needs to add a finger option, as currently you almost need a stylus to tap the small (Palm style) menus and Graffiti keyboard.

Mapopolis TomTom Emtac


When routing, TomTom and Emtac assumes you want to use your current GPS position to start, but with Mapopolis you must select your starting point, but the current GPS position is the default option.

All apps have the ability to enter addresses on the fly, or selecting existing addresses from your Palm’s address book.

I often use the POI option for mapping, and all have the option for searching for POI’s near your current location or your destination.

Here is a look at the differences in the map display, which has a 3D option on Emtac and TomTom, but not Mapopolis.

Mapopolis TomTom Emtac


Voice prompting is very important in a navigation system. Once you start driving, there should be little need for interaction with the unit. All three of these applications use voice prompting to varying degrees of success.

Mapopolis was very robotic, and often hard to understand, but it does announce street names. For example "Take next left, Larpenteur Ave". TomTom has a slight static sound, but was otherwise easy to understand. Emtac was clear and loud. Of the three, Emtac was the easiest to hear and understand with road noise.

Sometimes you may want to schedule several stops on your route. Only TomTom has itinerary planning; Mapopolis and Emtac do not, although with Emtac, you can route one extra stop on a route.

TomTom and Emtac have a nice zoom feature that brings you in closer and slightly changes the angle at intersections.

All three programs have several options for Navigation appearance. TomTom has all options available in the large "finger" interface. Emtac has basic preferences in the large format, with more available in the normal Palm menus. Mapopolis has all options in the smaller "stylus tap" interface.

Mapopolis TomTom Emtac

Another key difference is routing across maps. By that I mean, with both Mapopolis and Emtac, as long as the map is loaded on the SD card, you can route across states/regions. With TomTom, you can only route on the current loaded map, and need to manually switch maps when you cross regions. This may be a deal breaker for some.

On the Go

When you have your route complete, the software shows you your current position, and takes you on your route. Here are some shots of what you will look at with a glance (pay no attention to my speed on Emtac while grabbing a screenshot). Notice they all show the next turn, but Emtac goes one further by showing an arrow for the next turn immediately after the first turn if there is one.

Mapopolis TomTom Emtac


As I mentioned before, all three have voice prompting along the way. In the Pocket PC version, Mapopolis was always a bit late with the prompts, but in the Palm version I did not have that issue. With TomTom, you have the option of purchasing extra voices if you would rather hear John Cleese or a New York cabbie tell you where to go.

Test Scenarios

From home, to work, and back. This is always fun since I know where I am going, but it is interesting to see how I will be routed. I had home and work addresses saved, so I could do quick taps to navigate. I live in a northwest suburb of Minneapolis, and work in St Paul.

Test 1: Using quickest route, travel from home to work and back EXACTLY how the App told me to, and hope I don’t end up in Canada.

Test 2: Using quickest route, purposely go off course by taking known shortcuts, stopping for coffee, etc, to see how quickly the route would adjust, and how I would be routed back on course.

Test 3: Change to Shortest route, and repeat Test 1.

Test 4: Using shortest route, repeat Test 2.

Test 5: Route with more than one stop (Itinerary)


TomTom: With TomTom, I was usually routed and underway within less than a minute of sitting in my car. Just as in the Pocket PC version, TomTom got me there and back flawlessly.

I was given ample time to prepare for turns and exits, and the 3D view was easy to read with a quick glance. The voice prompts were easily understood. Upon going off course, it would reroute me in a matter of seconds.

It recognized one-way streets as such, and guided me to the first one-way going the direction I needed.

Using the shortest route, I was routed down side streets I normally wouldn’t take, but the distance was shortest. Just like the quickest route, my meanderings were quickly corrected back to the short route.

The itinerary mapping was intuitive and worked well. It took me from stop to stop without issue.

TomTom has weather and traffic options for your route, which may be more useful on longer trips. The downsides to TomTom are no cross-map routing, and poor technical support.

Grade A-

Emtac: As with TomTom, I was able to go from sitting in my car to underway quickly.

Of the three, Emtac gets the highest "eye candy" award. I felt it had the best look, and was equally easy to read. I thought the sun in the upper right corner was a nice touch. It also had the most options for what you wanted displayed in the status bar on top.

It also had the easiest to understand at highway speed voice prompting. I was quickly brought back on course when I went off on the wrong road, and had similar results to TomTom when switching to quickest route. Many side streets, but the route was shorter.

The downside of Emtac is the cell phone-style text entry, but you do get used to it. The tech support is excellent!

Grade A

Mapopolis: Mapopolis took a bit longer than the others to get going, mainly because it always needed a response from me every time it connected to the GPS receiver. With the others, it always connected automatically after the first connection.

Mapopolis always seems to need more screen taps than the others, even when using destinations in history.

Of the three, Mapopolis was the only one without a 3D map option. This may be a preference, but I found the 3D maps easier to read on the go.

The upcoming turn visual prompt was always on screen, even if the turn was miles away (see picture above). According to Mapopolis, this should only pop up when needed, and can be minimized with a hardware button. I imagine the unusual button layout of my Zodiac was the problem causing it to always be visible.

The voice prompts sounded very digital, and were sometimes hard to understand with background noise.

Re-routes after going off course were relatively quick. Just like TomTom and Emtac, the shortest route plunged me down side roads I normally wouldn’t take, but as promised, the route was shorter.

There is no true itinerary mode in the current version.

The response from Mapopolis tech support and the user community forums were very responsive and helpful.

Grade B+

An interesting side note: When in my driveway, all of the Pocket PC versions, including iGo, and the Palm versions of TomTom and Mapopolis would show me about 50 yards away from my house when parked in my driveway. Only Emtac showed me firmly planted in my driveway. I believe this is not due to the software, but the map data being used. In all of my driving around, this was the only time I noticed the GPS being different from the map.


All three of these applications worked, and should be adequate for most people.

At this time my recommendation would be Emtac. It was very reliable and accurate, and the ability to route across maps, and the better audio and visual experience was the winner for me. The 3D view with zoom was very easy to read, and the options for routing were very comprehensive.

TomTom is very good, but I believe its developers need to address the routing across map files situation. The weather and traffic are nice, but I often had a hard time connecting to get updates.

Mapopolis is in third place here, but not by much. It is cheaper, and had the smallest memory footprint of the three. It also routes across maps. Mapopolis needs to work on the interface, the GPS connection, and the sound quality of the voices.

TomTom Navigator 5

The good:  Mature product, very stable and well thought out.  The extras are very nice. And I loved the ability to use John Cleese’s voice!  Options for traffic and weather updates.

The Bad:  Can only route on currently loaded map file..  Technical Support can be very slow to respond.  Most costly of the three.

$149.99 (Software only)  $249.99 with Bluetooth Module  www.tomtom.com

Mapopolis Nav Card

The Good:  Low memory requirements, very fast load times, least expensive

The Bad:  No 3D option, voice very mechanical, no finger data entry option

$119.99(Software only)    $189.99 with Bluetooth Module  www.mapopolis.com

Emtac Navigator 3

The Good:  3D and zoom are very well designed.  The zoom is very smooth. Visual indicator of multiple turns coming.  Clear voice prompts.  Launch screen 

The Bad:  Cell phone type typing interface may be hard to get accustomed to.

$129.99 (Software only)   $199.99 with Bluetooth Module  www.emtac.com

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