I am one of those people who likes maps. I mean really, I can sit and look at a map for hours just mapping out different routes. And lately, with all the new-fangled GPS tools being released, I’ve kind of felt that my time of just taking a map and exploring (my close friends call it getting lost and just driving around until I am on a familiar road again) was coming to an end.
Well, the Palm GPS with TomTom Navigator 6 showed me that there is still fun to be had in just getting in the car for random trips, only it is even more fun because there is a voice telling you what is going on the whole time.
The Palm GPS Navigator Smartphone Edition is basically a GPS solution designed around the use of Palm Treo smartphones.
In the box is the Bluetooth GPS module, an MMC card with TomTom Navigator 6 software and maps, a vehicle cradle and car mounting bracket, a combination mini-USB cable (for the GPS module), and a Treo power adapter (that fits into the lighter socket), and a USB memory card reader.
Setup and Initial Use
I wanted to use the Palm GPS for the first time, as many users do, without looking at the manual or associated software, and so the first part of this review will talk a lot about setup and ease of use. I will go into the more detailed aspects of the Palm GPS in the next section.
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Having unboxed the Palm GPS, it was pretty easy to get it all setup. The hardest thing for me was trying to find a place in my Honda Civic where I could mount it. Thankfully, in addition to the suction cup, there is a sticky pad that can stick to (almost) any surface in your car and then you can attach the suction cup to. I found a nice spot near the shifter; however heat and visibility made me have to move it a bit higher.
Upon turning on the Palm GPS I was led through some menus that took me through paring with my Treo, and then connecting to Tom Tom’s servers so that my GPS can be authenticated.
This was initially an issue for me because my product key did not work. However, Tom Tom’s site worked quite well from my Treo and I was able to get a new authentication number to get started with using the GPS pretty quickly.
The first thing I did was set up my home area. This was pretty much a menu-driven request. And then my first drive with the GPS was to someplace that I already knew how to get to; I just wanted to see how the GPS would respond.
In general, I found it to be very responsive, only getting laggy when I was doing more than the DC Metro speed limit (anyone who has driven on there knows what I mean).
One aspect that I immediately found useful was the TomTom Traffic part. This let me see the traffic for the destination I was going to, and it was pretty much on-point (off by a few minutes at times). I can then pick an alternate route or continue on the route that I had started on.
All of this was done without using the manual, as I found that to be pretty much how many people will initially use this product.
I give the Palm GPS 4.5 out of 5 stars for this aspect.
Planning a Trip and Planned Use
One of the reasons that I was excited to review this latest Palm GPS is that it has been a summer of job interviews for me, and many of these involved going to places where I either needed to avoid traffic if I knew where I was going, or just get there as I never went there before.
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My first planned usage was to South West Baltimore, a destination I knew nothing about, so basically I had to let the Palm GPS and TomTom handle the trip.
Before getting started, I sat in the car and turned on the GPS module, then plugged the MMC card with all the map info into my Treo. Once the screen showed that the Palm GPS was on and ready, I followed the menu to a trip planner.
This started with the zip code or city to where I was going, and then it asked me the street and number of the destination. Then TomTom calculated the trip and let me know how long it would take. As I had TomTom Plus, I also could see traffic stats and TomTom Buddies (others who are using TomTom to get around).
I then proceeded on my trip and found it pretty much a “drive and follow directions” kind of experience. The voice was very much ahead of where I was going and in some cases would give me two directions that are coming if there was an immediate turn after the first direction.
I also noticed that on I-95 that it would treat this not as a whole highway, but just in sections. For example, it would count the area between I-32 and I-895 as a section of I-95, and then between I-95 and the Fort McHenry Tunnel as different sections. It seems that major interstates are carefully designated so that you do not make a wrong turn.
Seeing the screen was also not too hard. There is usually not too much sunlight coming into my windshield, but even when it was, I had no problem seeing the directions.
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Of course, being that it was the first trip, I did miss a turn. The first thing that this GPS system said was to turn around at first opportunity, but after about a half a mile, it quickly found an alternate route and that was actually quite neat. Being that I am a map-based person, I would normally just turn around, but having the alternate route come in so fast made it easy to just drive and not worry about where I am.
In a second trip that I took (to central Pennsylvania), it was interesting to note that many of the maps had been updated; however, the most recently constructed exits and roads were not on the included maps. This meant in one aspect that I had to pay more attention to the road, but again, the ability of Tom Tom’s software to get an alternate route quickly made it a non-issue if I missed a turn.
Because of some other circumstances, I was not able to take an even longer trip. I had planned to use the itinerary function of TomTom to fully plan the trip (it would have been about an 18 hour drive). The itinerary allows you to plan things like rest stops into your trip and reminds you when there are points of interest on your journey that you might want to stop at.
In terms of planned trips and usage, I give the software a 5 out of 5.
Issues with the Treo and TomTom
As much as I liked the Palm GPS and it’s software, everything was not perfect.
Using the GPS was the first real time it hit me that the Palm OS is indeed old and needs some help. One of the most frustrating things was when I was using the GPS and get a call. The Treo would work just fine during the call, but as soon I would hang up, the Treo would reset.
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I imagine that this is an issue of the limited networking abilities of the Treo trying to deal with Bluetooth networking and phone functions at the same time. But it was very unpleasant to have that happen. Granted, once it rebooted and went back into Tom Tom’s mapping application I was quickly given the route and map as if I never missed a beat, but it was still plenty frustrating.
Also, I didn’t like that there were so many menus. However, I do like that the menus were designed so that I could use my finger on the screen pretty easily. It’s kind of a catch-22 there, but just something that might make some people want to pull over to the side of the road if they want to edit their trip or get more information that is buried a few menus down.
Adding maps was pretty easy with the included card adapter, but I wonder why an SD card was not used. It is a standard card format, and would have meant that in many cases that one could use some mounting software (such as the Tungsten T5’s File Transfer) to add maps onto the card.
This is one of those cases where the hardware and operating system needs to catch up with the software. The Palm OS Treo, while more than capable in most situations, could use some more horsepower and cache memory to take advantage of the TomTom Palm GPS software.
This is not to say that it is not great. I still call myself a map person, but would heartily recommend the Palm GPS Navigation Smartphone Edition to anyone who has a Treo (works with the 650 and 700p/w/wx) and finds that they travel a lot.
The included maps are great (if not completely accurate), and the extra services, such as TomTom Traffic, help the make it more than just a long trip item, but something that could easily work for the day-to-day commute.
There is absolutely no learning curve, either, as the tutorial and menus are pretty much laid out just the way that you would need them while planning for or taking a trip.
The Palm GPS Navigator Smartphone Edition is an excellent product to show off the Treo, and even moreso to get you where you have to go without breaking too much of a sweat.
This product is available now for $299.99 from Palm’s web site.