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July 30, 2006

Garmin's Fading LCD Screen

Garmin c550 Screen

Well, that's just great. No sooner than I declare the Garmin StreetPilot c550 my current Editor's Choice and the LCD display goes and craps out on me. On exactly day 30 of ownership, I turned on my StreetPilot c550 only to discover there was something wrong with the display. The unit was able to navigate fine, and it gave audio prompts, but the screen was barely visible. I took a photo of it (above), and had to do some Photoshop work to get anything visible at all. Tilting the unit at an angle made things visible enough to tap around and see if it was merely a brightness/contrast setting issue, but alas it was a more serious problem. I tried doing a hard reset and that also had no effect.

Luckily, I had kept the original box and receipt. I looked carefully at the exchange policy on the receipt, only to discover I could only return a defective item within 30 days -- yikes! I headed out to Circuit City right away, and an hour later I had a new StreetPilot c550.

If anyone else is having issues with the Garmin c550 display, I'd like to hear about it and gauge how widespread an issue this is.

July 27, 2006

Coming Soon: Lowrance iWay 500c Review

Lowrance iWay 500c
Look for it this weekend.

TomTom (Finally) Releases Firmware v.6.14

TomTom version 6.14

As you may recall a few weeks ago we reported that TomTom released version 6.12 a few weeks ago on July 3rd, only to pull the update from their site within a few hours amid complaints the update was rendering units unable to boot. Well, after about 2 weeks of conspicuous silence from TomTom, it looks like they've finally posted an updated firmware, this time version 6.14.

However, 6.14 is aimed at older TomTom units, and is NOT designed for the new GO 910 and 510. TomTom says 6.14 is identical to version 6.11 for the 910 and 510, so 910 and 510 owners will not receive the update via TomTom Home.

In case you're curious, the problem with 6.12 was apparently due to incompatibilities with certain brands of SD memory cards. By all accounts 6.14 seems to be pretty stable, so if you've got an older TomTom now's your chance to upgrade to version 6.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: TomTom NEEDS to get these kinds of release problems ironed out if they want to compete with Garmin. The GO 910 has been plagued by buggy firmware and poor mounting hardware (not to mention terrible customer support), and it's starting to really hurt their image.

July 24, 2006

TomTom Releases Updated Mount for GO 510 & 910

TomTom Quietly Issues New Mount for GO 510 & 910

If you own a TomTom GO 910, then you probably already know all about the many problems with TomTom's windshield mount. As I mentioned in my review of the TomTom GO 910, and subsequent articles, the mount that shipped with the GO 910 did a poor job of holding the unit in place, and would eventually break altogether under the stress. Also, the old mount had a tendency to loose contact with the unit while driving, causing the unit to turn itself on and off, as contact with the mount was made and lost.

Well, it looks like TomTom has actually released a modified version of the mount and reports so far are that the new mount is much improved. TomTom Support is now replacing broken 510 and 910 mounts with these new units.

TomTom's new mount

As you can see from the illustration above, the new mount (left) has an updated connector lip towards the front (presumably to make more solid contact with the 910 while driving (avoiding the problem of loosing power to the unit while driving).

No word yet on whether this new mount will have the problem of drooping downwards in hot weather (as the old mount was prone to do), but we'll keep you posted. It's a positive sign that a new mount has surfaced. If you've been living with a temperamental 910 mount, now might be the time to call TomTom support and get a new improved mount.

July 22, 2006

Magellan to be purchased

Well well well – this one comes as a bit of a shocker. An investment group called “Shah Capital Partners” (SCP) will be purchasing Thales Navigation. The new company will be called Magellan Navigation, so not much change on the name front.

Who the hell is SCP you ask? According to the press release, Shah Capital Partners is a private equity firm specializing in re-focusing technology companies and executing a strategic vision. Hmmm…. Perhaps this purchase makes more sense if you take a look at Magellan’s performance over the past few years.  

Take a look at Magellan’s current market share

GPS Market Share

Four years ago Magellan owned the consumer GPS market, commanding more than 50% of market share. Today that has dwindled to 19% and falling. And Magellan's latest offerings aren't exactly flying off the shelves.

As I remarked in my review of the new Magellan RoadMate 3000T, I've always been partial to Magellan and I've always loved their wonderful UI. But I've grown frustrated with their lack of innovation in recent years, and their seeming willingness to create mediocre products.

The press release states that SCP plans "to execute aggressively on our strategy to increase our leadership in the consumer, survey, GIS and OEM markets worldwide". Sounds like maybe SCP will be the new sheriff at Magellan and maybe they'll be able to kick things back into gear and help Magellan re-claim it's crown in the consumer GPS market space. Let's keep our fingers crossed and see what happens.

Garmin Announces Zumo 550

Garmin Zumo 550

Although Garmin is advertising the Zumo 550 as a GPS for motorcycles, looks like it could turn out to be a great in-car nav unit as well. As I mentioned in my recent review of the Garmin StreetPilot c550, the one thing I would have liked is a freshening up of Garmin's ageing interface. Looks like the Zumo just might be great. Check out the specs:

  • Bluetooth
  • XM NavTraffic
  • XM Satellite Radio
  • SiRF StarIII Chipset
  • NAVTEQ Mapping Data
  • WAAS Enabled

Garmin Zumo 550
So what exactly makes the Zumo 550 a bikers GPS? According to Garmin's website, the unit's touch screen display is designed to be "glove friendly" to operate, and you can set the controls for left-handed operation. The unit is also ruggedized, and designed to withstand all the vibration you typically get on a motorcycle. It also includes special motorcycle mounting hardware, in addition to regular 4-wheel vehicle mounting equipment.

Garmin Zumo 550
Looks like we can expect about 3 hours of battery life from the Zumo 550's internal lithium-ion rechargeable. Here are all the deets we know so far:

  • High-sensitivity GPS receiver
  • Display: 2.8” W x 2.1” H (3.5” diag.), 320 x 240 pixels; high bright sunlight-readable, UV-resistant, touch screen display
  • Unit dimensions: 4.8" W x 3.9" H x 1.6" D
  • Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Removable lithium-ion battery; three hour typical use
  • Bluetooth wireless technology for hands-free calling and navigation audio prompts
  • Supports optional FM TMC traffic alerts
  • Supports optional XM NavTraffic with XM weather, and XM Satellite Radio
  • Preloaded maps for all of North America or Europe
  • Voice announces streets by name
  • Look up addresses and points of interest
  • Choose 2D or 3D map perspective
  • Upload custom POIs, including alerts for speed zones and safety cameras
  • Built-in MP3 player and JPEG Picture Viewer
  • SD card expansion makes it easy for storage and route sharing
  • Export and review your travels in Google™ Earth with a free account from MotionBased.com
  • Glove-friendly touch screen with left-handed controls makes it easy to operate
  • Sunlight-readable, UV-resistant display makes it easy to view your screen
  • Motorcycle console for trip information, including fuel gauge to warn you when its time to fill up
  • Motorcycle mount with standard 4-hole AMPS pattern so you can mount it anywhere
  • Included motorcycle mount for riding and automotive mount (with integrated speaker) for driving
  • Includes Garmin Lock™, an anti-theft feature
  • Custom caps, available in a variety of colors, to reflect your style
  • Waterproof: IEC 60529 IPX7 standards (submersible in one meter of water for up to 30 min.)

 

July 18, 2006

Which GPS Gets the Strongest Signal?

Recently I reviewed the Magellan RoadMate 3000T, TomTom GO 910, and Garmin StreetPilot c550. All three units use SiRF's latest high performance 20-channel receiver, the SiRF StarIII. So you would expect all three units to have similar GPS performance. I did a side-by-side comparison, and found some surprising results.

SiRF Test1
Figure 1: Clockwise from the top-left, the Magellan RoadMate 3000T, Garmin StreetPilot c550, TomTom GO 910. The units were setup indoors, close to a window. Look at the difference between the TomTom 910 and the Magellan and Garmin -- both the Magellan and Garmin get 4 out of 5 bars signal strength, while TomTom's GO 910 only gets 2 out of 5 bars.

SiRF Test 2
Figure 2: A closer look at the Magellan. Although the Magellan is considerably less expensive than the Garmin or TomTom (and not really a fair comparison here, since the Magellan 3000T would really compete more with the Garmin c530 and TomTom GO 510), it had considerably better signal reception than the GO 910, and was on par with the Garmin c550.

SiRF Test 3
Figure 3: The Garmin c550 had similar GPS performance to the Magellan 3000T, and considerably better performance than the TomTom GO 910.

SiRF Test 4
Figure 4: The TomTom GO 910.I was surprised at how much worse GPS performance was on the TomTom GO 910. Signal reception was almost half as strong on the 910 as it was on the Magellan 3000T or the Garmin c550.

SirF Test 5
Figure 5: A more detailed info screen on the Magellan RoadMate 3000T.

SiRF Test 6
Figure 6: A more detailed GPS Status screen on the TomTom GO 910.

Conclusion: I would not have guessed it, but it turns out the TomTom 910 was the under performer here. The Magellan 3000T and Garmin c550 both had comparable performance, getting a strong 4 out of 5 bars even indoors. The TomTom GO 910, on the other hand, fluctuated between 2 bars and no signal at all.

July 16, 2006

NAVTEQ vs. TELEATLAS: Which one is better?

In several recent GPS Magazine product reviews (TomTom GO 910, Magellan RoadMate 3000T, Garmin StreetPilot c550), I mentioned that I prefer NAVTEQ's mapping data. That prompted some questions from folks wondering what, if any, there differences are between the two products.

NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas both provide mapping data to GPS manufacturers, online mapping services, and generally any other application that might need street-level mapping data. The conventional wisdom has always been that NAVTEQ is "better", but more expensive, and TeleAtlas not so good, but cheaper. Here is some more specific data:

  1. In general NAVTEQ has more current mapping data in the United States. Want to see for yourself? Google Maps uses NAVTEQ mapping data, but Google's GMap Pedometer site uses TeleAtlas maps (no doubt the result of NAVTEQ's unwillingness to let Google use the open API).

    Now Check out a view of the same area of New Jersey via Gmaps (using TeleAtlas data) http://www.sueandpaul.com/gmapPedometer/?centerX=-74.03115749359131&c... , then checkout the same map using Google Maps (NAVTEQ): http://maps.google.com/maps?q=hoboken,+nj&spn=0.015104,0.027479&hl=en
    Clearly the NAVTEQ map is more up-to-date. Try it out yourself using your own address.

  2. NAVTEQ is generally considered better, so why does anyone use TeleAtlas? No surprise here, TeleAtlas is cheaper.

  3. When Google's Pedometer site recently switched to TeleAtlas data, it triggered a lengthy forum discussion about how much better NAVTEQ was. If you read through the postings, you'll see a lot of examples of data missing from TeleAtlas' mapping data in North America

  4. In my own testing, I found TeleAtlas mapping data was less accurate than NAVTEQ on several occasions.

  5. If popularity is any measure, then we can definitely conclude NAVTEQ is the better option: Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, MSN Maps, and MapQuest all use NAVTEQ.

  6. NAVTEQ is a US based company, while TeleAtlas is based in Europe. So while NAVTEQ is definately the better choice for North America, TeleAtlas is better for Europe.

  7. I spoke with another expert on mapping data today, and he told me that TeleAtlas is improving their data every day, and it's entirely possible that TeleAtlas will someday be the better option. TomTom is the fastest growing GPS manufacturer in the U.S., and they're using TeleAtlas. Garmin and Magellan are using NAVTEQ, so clearly Magellan and Garmin have made a decision that the extra money for NAVTEQ is worth it. Of course, TomTom is a dutch firm, so for their European customers, TeleAtlas is a better choice.

One of the most common complaints I hear about GPS navigation is "it took me on a crazy route", or "my destination wasn't even on the map!". These complaints are always the result of mapping data, and really don't have much to do with the GPS unit itself (which is why I almost never point out mapping inaccuracies in my reviews, since all GPS devices using TeleAtlas or NAVTEQ will share the same mapping deficiencies).

NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas will both always have mapping inaccuracies. However, currently NAVTEQ is the better choice (in the USA). I think it speaks well for Magellan and Garmin that they are willing to pay for NAVTEQ mapping data. Frankly, when choosing a navigation device, I can hardly think of anything more important than having current and accurate maps! Until I hear otherwise, I say NAVTEQ is the way to go.

July 15, 2006

Garmin Posts StreetPilot c550 software version 3.10

Late yesterday afternoon Garmin made available version 3.10 firmware update for the StreetPilot c550. The update is available either via Garmin's WebUpdater software, or as a stand-alone download.

Here's what's new in version 3.10:

  • Garmin safety Camera Support (For more information please visit Safety Camera Subscription)
  • TourGuide Support
  • Support for Avoid Ferries along the route
  • MP3 play position is saved between power cycles
  • Improved Call waiting Support
  • Flip call history order automatically if they are backwards
  • Prevent 2d map scale being overwritten by pop-up buttons
  • Prompt to choose HOME as via point when setting home address and navigating to home
  • Prevent small dial button from overlapping with the phone number on the custom POI review pages
  • Copyrights Update
  • Save country code with the phone numbers when saving waypoints
  • Display setup menu properly for SD card insert/eject
  • Added alpha characters to active call keyboard
  • Display Bluetooth devices as they are discovered
  • Allow to cancel Bluetooth device search
  • Fixed restore errors for map setup and display setup
  • Display multiple phone numbers under one contact if they exist in that manner in the phone
  • Fixed slow response to first button pressed on keyboard
  • Enable USB Support for Macintosh computers

Already running 3.10? Let us know how its running for you - post a comment.

July 14, 2006

Magellan RoadMate 3000T Review

Verdict: Needs Improvement

Magellan Roadmate 3000T

REVIEW UPDATE: This GPS model has been discontinued

This week I got my hands on Magellan's much anticipated RoadMate 3000T. I put the 3000T throught the usual GPSmagazine testing criteria, and found the unit came up short in several key areas, including physical design and ease of use. The 3000T sells for around $350.

Continue reading "Magellan RoadMate 3000T Review" »