GPS Devices Tested



We’ve only heard about GPS devices on the Internet and in the news, but we’ve never really looked at any products as such. People have little knowledge about GPS and how useful these units can be. It’s assumed that the real use of GPS is only for those into aviation, marine and science related work. The other major misconception is that GPS equipment is extremely expensive, and to use it means that you require some sort of formal training or the other.

There are some other misconceptions that must be cleared before we proceed. You do not need GPRS to use a GPS unit nor is there a monthly or yearly fee to be paid to avail of GPS services. It’s a one-time fee covered when you purchase the device. GPS devices calculate and pinpoint your location using data from satellites and then put it on a map. Dedicated GPS devices come with maps and software preloaded on the device. Mobile phones that have GPS features don’t come with such maps in most cases. These maps require loads of space and a good bit of processing power. Instead, those GPS software available for mobile phones download maps of the region you are in using GPRS. This is the only relation there is. All the products we’ve tested come with the software and maps inbuilt and require no external connections to download additional maps. We also reviewed some GPS receivers that connect to laptops and mobile phones, but they need separate software to operate.

We decided to see to see if we could get our hands on some GPS devices available in the market and we managed to get in products from MapmyIndia, Satguide and also some Garmin products from GPS India. This is the first time we’ve got in GPS devices and we decided to focus our attention on products that would best suit you, the end user. This category of products covers user friendly devices that anyone can use while travelling from one place to another. The whole point of using a GPS device is to make sure that you are never really lost – in fact once you use them, you know where you are at any given time of the day, anywhere in the world. Obviously this kind of information is much more important for specialized tasks. Fishermen, explorers and hikers will find GPS devices much more useful. Navigating through the urban landscape these days is no less of a challenge either.

What we looked for

This being one of the first tests of this kind for us, we looked mostly at the features in this mini-comparison of devices. Like any other human interfacing device, we looked for quality of the screens, the design for both the hardware and also the software interface. We look at how good the interface design was, and how simple it was to use. We tried adding a source and a destination point by searching through the database and also using a direct pointing selection mode and looked at what kind of route the device would offer. Nobody wants a device that requires you to read a manual to tell you how to go from one point to another. We also looked for what kind of add-ons came along with the unit to attach to your car.

We looked at how easy it was enter in key points and routes. Some of the devices even came with a simulation mode which allows users to run through a demonstration of the entire route in advance. Some GPS devices even allow you to avoid certain roads while some others allow you to divert through another route. All the devices we reviewed ran on some kind of mobile software platform or the other. When you have some kind of processing power bundled with a touchscreen, there’s bound to be some entertainment as well. So, we looked at some of the extra software features such as image viewing, movie and audio playback.

MapmyIndia A-MAX 06GP5A

One of the two MapmyIndia GPS devices received was the A-MAX 06GP5A. The device is meant to be used in a vehicle and comes with maps built into it. The device itself is compact and simple looking. The 3.5-inch screen on it isn’t especially great but it gets the job done. Being designed for the car, the box pack comes with the necessary attachments to fit it on to the windshield of your car, for example. The touch interface is OK, and is not incredibly reactive. Scrolling around the map itself is a little difficult. The device has no buttons and is completely touch-operated.

The device makes use of a SD card slot to read maps. This is something seen across all the brands. The devices might be different but they all run the same kind of maps. The interface is slightly dull with a plain Windows XP-like theme running on it. The menu bars and the rest seem a little too thick and so occupy a lot of useful real estate on a screen this small. Charging is done through a mini-USB port and a separate 3.5 mm audio jack is also present if you want to hook up the unit to the car speakers or your pair of headphones.

The features on it are pretty impressive in general. The route and the maps on the device can be viewed in three different ways – the top-down view, the chase view and the last one which has both the views side by side. The maps are well detailed across the major cities and national highways are clearly mapped. This will be useful while you drive from one city to another.

The trip computer which represents a typical speedometer on a car is also present. Although not as fancy as some of the other models we’ve looked, the A-MAX 06GP5A shows your speed — the average as well as the maximum speed attained during your trip. A voice guidance system constantly announces and updates you of upcoming turns, and the distance to the turn. The voice quality is OK, but is loud enough for a car with the windows closed.

The GPS can be used for other tasks as well. The unit lets you play music, movies and even view photos on it. In some ways, it’s a bit of an entertainment system for passengers sitting in the front.

The speed of loading maps and zooming into them is a little slower than some of the other GPS units. This also happens to be one of the models that MapmyIndia plans on phasing out very soon. If you’re looking for a cheap GPS unit for your car, this is one to consider. It should be priced around Rs. 18,000. MapmyIndia is bringing newer models which offer Bluetooth functionality to connect to your phone, and should be out soon.

MapmyIndia 430 Classic Navigator

The MapmyIndia 430 Classic Navigator is one of the newer models to come into the market. Unlike the A-MAX 06GP5A, this one comes with a 4.3-inch screen which also supports a higher resolution of 480 x 270. The touchscreen is a little more reactive and the quality of the display is considerably better too. The hardware also comes with a newer version of the software than that on the A-MAX device.

The interface is one of the biggest improvements you’ll notice in the 430 Classic. The theme used looks a bit like Windows Vista. The excessive animations are unnecessary, but the rest of the interface is made very professionally. The colors are bright, and give the device a very user-friendly look.

The volume control is placed on the side of the device. Like some of the other improvements over the other model, the 430 Classic too has a better speaker built into it. The On/Off button is a small switch placed at the bottom of the GPS.

The device also shows a graph of the speed and altitude over the trip. There are some features where you can choose road types that you want to avoid. The software automatically sets an alternate route. Like other GPS systems, you can look for hotels and other places of interest along the way. The manoeuvre route mode gives a list of turns along that route you’ve chosen. The device can also keep tracks of logs and journeys you’ve done which is useful for future reference.

The 430 Classic can also play media like the A-MAX 06GP5A. It supports AVI files, and the feature works rather well. The screen quality itself is average, so watching videos on them, although practical, isn’t as much fun as a dedicated PMP. Image viewing also isn’t great. This device is good for its performance, and the quality of speakers. It comes with a price tag of Rs 22,990 which might seem like lot money, but there’s still decent value here.

GPS India Garmin Nuvi 350

Garmin is a well reputed name in the industry and the Nuvi 350 is first of the two devices from this brand that we reviewed. This is another dedicated GPS system like the ones from MapmyIndia and Satguide.

The device is small and compact like the MapmyIndia A-MAX 06GP5A. The advantage of using products this small is that you have the option of carrying it around in your pant pocket or pouch when you step out of your vehicle or go an off-track outdoor trip. The screen quality is also very identical to the A-MAX 06GP5A. The Nuvi 350 is one of the few devices to come with a foldable antenna. There’s also provision for an extendible antenna for better performance.

When you first power it on, the welcome menu lets you down with an underwhelming three-option menu. It’s only later that you discover that the software interface on the Garmin is actually made to be clean and organized. There is use of sober colors all throughout the software. Even the maps follow a similar theme. This combination is truly unique and will suit many users. When day turns to night, the Nuvi 350 can be set to switch a night mode which changes the color scheme to be more of a contrasted darker interface. There is a very simple menu to look for places of interests such as dining places, fuel stations and so on. The artwork used for the selection is very nice done. While going through its entire feature set, the great performance of the interface is easy to notice.

The trip computer is simpler looking but it has all current live information updated on it. It gives you information about the moving time, the time you’ve stopped, your average speed and so on. This device is all about the function and less about the presentation and style.

The Garmin Nuvi 350 even has an optional add-on for the traffic receiver. The software interface has an option which can be enabled only if you have this module. The feature lets you know of traffic reports and information on it on the Nuvi 350. Unfortunately, this unique little feature is subscription based and more importantly not available in India at the moment.

If you’re looking for some kind of entertainment from your GPS system, then the Nuvi 350 will in no way disappoint. There is a media player for music playback, an image viewer and even an audiobook reader – all the things that your passengers will find interesting. The nifty bit of software is the language translator that gives voice results in different languages. You can then travel to other countries and still be able to have basic communication with the people of the region. There is also a currency calculator, a measurement convertor and even a world clock that keeps track of time in different places. Garmin’s experience in GPS devices is clearly visible in the case of the Nuvi 350. This is one of the best GPS devices we’ve seen. At Rs 27,300 without taxes, it also happens to be the costliest one. Although the higher price is hard to justify, it’s a great buy for those without budgets.

Satguide Mio C230

The Mio C230 is supplied and distributed by Satguide under their branding here in India — with their software and maps of course. The Mio C230 has a decent 3.5-inch screen that operates at a resolution of 320 x 240. The screen is more or less the typical size of Windows Mobile phones and PDAs. It’s a compact device with lots of rounded edges. Again, this is another device that can be carried away with you when you leave the car.

The touch screen is both accurate and functions well with the interface. The performance of the C230 isn’t as good as the Nuvi. There is some amount of delay while operating the device and while loading maps of different regions when you scroll. We also had some stability issues when we accessed some features. The application would randomly crash and the device had to be restarted. This could have been an issue with the device we received.

The maps are detailed but this can get crowded, especially when you zoom out a bit. The maps even have names of many buildings and this part of the reason why the interface can be so flooded with information. Operating the software is simple and straight-forward. The only thing that bothers us is the colors and look of the interface. Although simple, it’s doesn’t look as smooth or refined when compared to the other interface on the other devices. The windshield mounting mechanism is really sturdy and works very well. It is also flexible with its joints and allows you to mount the unit in in a variety of ways.

The PMP feature of the device is really impressive. The player has a proper playlist and even seeking features. The speaker is also pretty good so as a whole, for music playback this is a very good device to own. Even though it’s not the perfect GPS, it is incredibly cheap in comparison to the other devices of its kind. The price of Rs 16,000 is truly impressive and makes the device a very good value-for-money purchase.

Satguide Mio P360

When you first look at the Satguide Mio P360, it looks like a slightly oversized PDA or a touch screen phone with a 3.5-inch screen. The external looks are quite impressive as well. It’s also built very well. You could call this a handheld GPS device but you might find it difficult to fit into your shirt pocket very easily. The device runs Windows Mobile 6 and like any other PDA boots up into the operating system.

It comes installed with the Satguide application which needs to be run by going into the Programs menu on the device. The application that loads is identical to the one used on the other device we received from Satguide – the Mio C230. In comparison, the same software runs really horribly on the P360. It has none of the crashing issues but it performs really poorly. The device by itself runs rather well and even better than some of the other phones and PDAs we’ve used.

The software, like on the C230, isn’t the nicest looking one. The interface is simple but colors used are too gaudy. The touch screen is not as sensitive and controlling the device is quite troublesome. The maps and the rest of the software are exactly the same as the C230.

The speaker on the P360 is exceptionally good. It is loud and crystal clear. It comes with a 2.5mm jack which means you will need some kind of a convertor to connect conventional earphones to it. A connector for an external antenna is also available.

Even though we aren’t impressed by the P360 for its GPS features, you must remember that you get a good fully functional PDA for the money you spend on it. You can run any Windows Mobile application on it. At that, it will undoubtedly excel. The price for the P360 is Rs 19,490 which is still asking a lot in our opinion. For those who want just the GPS functionality, the Mio C230 is the better of the two Mio devices.

GPS Bluetooth Receivers

One of the cheapest and simplest ways to use a GPS is with your phone, PDA or laptop. All you need then is what is commonly referred to as a GPS receiver. These are cheaper than dedicated GPS units and the choice of software that you want to use with it is left to you. Along with the completely ready GPS units, we received three GPS receivers and we had to give him a run to see how they ran. Most of the GPS receivers you get today connect wirelessly using Bluetooth connectivity.Of the three, the Garmin Mobile 10 was the best looking of the lot but the Satguide GPS Bluetooth Receiver was slightly more compact. There really isn’t a big difference in functionality between these two devices. They both have a simple on/off switch which turns on the device. All you really need to do is turn on the Bluetooth on your laptop or phone, scan for Bluetooth devices and then add the GPS unit. You can then choose to use any software and the maps for it on your phone.

We used the devices with a laptop and a Windows Mobile without any problems. Setting up was pretty straight forward and with the serial link via Bluetooth set up, we were able to able to use the receivers along with some of the software for Windows Mobile.

The price for the Garmin Mobile 10 is Rs 11,025 and Rs 4,290 for the Satguide GPS Bluetooth Receiver. The Garmin Mobile 10 is a lot more expensive but the price tag isn’t totally justified. It comes with software for the desktop and the Windows Mobile platform – nRoute and Garmin Mobile XT.

For those who want something a little different – something that can monitor your tracks for you, there is a device by Satguide called the GPS Logger which we reviewed a few months back. This device too has the same Bluetooth functionality as the GPS Receiver from Satguide but it does the additional task of storing data on the memory. Once you’ve completed your trip, you can attach it to a computer and download all the data which can be used on software such as Google Earth with the least bit of effort. This is useful where you want to monitor the routes through which your vehicles travel by. The Satguide GPS Logger is priced at Rs 6,990 which is a fairly good price and it removes the need for a separate device of either a phone or computer to store data on it.

Conclusion

We’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the number of GPS systems available and the number steadily growing for the consumer market. We were impressed by the details on the maps. Getting this amount of data collected, sorted and put into maps has required an enormous amount of effort. Work is still on and updates are still regularly available to improve maps by all of the brands.

Now coming to what we think of the products, we like the Garmin Nuvi 350 the most for its very elegant design and feel. The new MapmyIndia 430 Classic is larger than the rest but has a stylish and modern look to it. The maps on it were equally detailed as well. If you have the choice between the two, we’d recommend you go for the Nuvi 350 but the MapmyIndia 430 Classic would be the best if there was a budget constraint. The Satguide Mio C230 is the cheapest of the lot but we aren’t so fond of their interface. For all practical uses and for those who just want a GPS system for their car for as cheap as possible, that is the way to go. Among the Bluetooth receivers, we like the Satguide GPS Receiver mainly for its price. As for those want to log data of your travel routes, the Satguide GPS Logger is the only option you have. It’s a bit more expensive than the receiver but it’s well worth the price.
We like the idea of Bluetooth receivers as they give the user the flexibility and choice of the maps and the software that you use. Phones with Bluetooth connectivity are something that everybody has these days. Our only concern is that mobile phones drain down their battery too quickly with Bluetooth left on. In most phones, it’s possible to drain the battery within five hours of using it. This still is a great way to experience how to use a GPS.

Windows Mobile is also the preferred platform and there are plenty of commercial and free open source software being developed for it on communities on the Internet. There are applications for Symbian as well but Windows Mobile seems to be the more preferred one for GPS. Google Earth Plus is one of simplest software for those who want to use it with their laptops while sitting in a car or travelling by a long distance train.

The whole idea of being to track where you go and then revisit it online or show others the way to reach places is great. We like the idea of using GPS units for everyday use and will definitely be looking at more GPS systems in the future.




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