PocketMap Navigator
by Space Machine


 - December 2002 -



 

Note: This review, like my other software reviews, will focus mainly on a discussion of what I see as the
strengths and weaknesses of this  program based on my (growing) experience with PocketPC Navigation programs.
Hopefully, this will help readers to see what sets a product aside from the competition, in good or bad.

Last updated on 05/29/03
 (Major contribution by Paul Biba for all the live GPS based testing of R2.10 and R2.11)

 


 

Review:
Current Version:

General
Strengths
Weaknesses

Screenshots
Future Enhancements
Tips
Conclusion

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  • Disclaimer:

    • Space Machine is a member and sponsor of the GpsPasSion Club and has agreed to bring special offers to other club members. This review will include references to these offers.

    • Space Machine also has a section in the GpsPasSion forume

    • I hereby represent that all efforts have been made, to ensure that all the comments and opinions present in this review would have been similar if Space Machine had not been a member of the GpsPasSion Club
       

  • Current Version:

  • General

    • PocketMap Navigator 2003 R1 was released in October  2002. Building on their previous mapping programs, Space Machine set out to build PocketMap Navigator with a pretty aggressive timetable as the alpha stage started in mid-June 2002 with a tentative a late summer release. As a result, the UI (User Interface) could not be modified significantly during the process and was pushed back to R2 that comes out hot on the heels of R1

    •  PMN retails for $79.95 and there are also several attractively priced bundles for a one-stop-shop. As a side-note, the GpsPasSion Club has some special offers running until 05/31/03

    • Initial Coverage is of  the US with 16 European countries to be added in 2003 (July)

    • PocketMap is compatible with all GPS receivers capable of outputting NMEA data This means that all current receivers should be compatible.
      As with R1, I could not get the Socket Bluetooth CF/Emtac GPS combo to work with PMN.

    • My testing took place over several days and several hundred miles. I used an iPaq 3670, an iPaq 3955 and a Dell Axim X5 with a variety of GPS receivers (CoPilot jacket, Navman Jacket, Holux CF GPS, etc...)
       

  • Strengths:

    1. Routing and directions:
      This is an area where PMN really shines even though it comes at a "cost"

      1. "Real" Waypoints:

        1. PMN is the only PocketPC navigation program on the market today that offers "real" waypoints. What I call "real" waypoint are waypoints that you can use to customize a route that's been calculated by the program, while maintaining overall guidance, i.e. Distance until you arrive (DTG) or ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival).

        2. Why is this important?
          Those who have experience with  navigation programs (laptop or PocketPC) know that while it's useful to have a route calculated automatically, there's just so much algorithms can do and sometimes routes will look odd. This is generally due to incomplete routing data included in the maps or simply to specificities of the area. For instance in the San Francisco Bay Area, I-280 will generally be a better choice than Hwy 101 (less traffic, better condition, wider, etc..), although on paper there's no good reason for that as both are freeways and it thus can't easily (or economically) be included in maps.
        3. So the way to alter a route and still keep active guidance to your arrival point from the get-go is by having PMN calculate a route and if need be "bend" it with a waypoint before you get going. With other programs, all you can do is set out on your trip and ignore turns you think are not appropriate and let the program recalculate your route. It's a poor solution mainly because you won't get a good estimate of the actual  distance and therefore ETA.
      2. Routes are generally very good.

        1. While it's hard to quantify that, there are two things I look out for when I test navigation software. Do you notice an "odd" route from time to time and does it give you better routes than those you'd been using for years and though couldn't be beat? I'll update this as keep on using PMN, but so far, #1 is NO and #2 is YES.

        2. ETA appears to be accurate and is available (with DTG) from each step/leg of the road (in the direction list mode)

      3. Re-routing is fast: Starting with R2.10, rerouting is automatic and generally very fast and efficient

      4. Long distance routing is possible on the PPC

        1. Thanks to the inclusion of a good set of highway maps that weigh in at 13mb for the West and 16.5mb for the East. I was able to plan a route from San Jose, Ca to Las Vegas, Nv with no difficulty by loading the Western Highway Maps, the Santa Clara County and the Clark County.

        2. Naturally as with other such solutions, you won't have access to street level detail if the county map isn't loaded.

      5. Routes can be saved for future use.
        A useful feature for repeat trips or for routes created on the PC.

      6. A clear direction list

        1. PMN offers an icon (green icon at the top) for a quick access to the direction list from any other screen

        2. The list uses a pleasant format, with colors, icons, distance and more important, very accurate written indications for turns and exits .(more on this later)

        3. The desktop version lets you print the directions if need be
           

      7. There is a flipside though and all these impressive features come at the cost of at routing that's on the slow side. In my test routes,   I found PMN to take about x6 compared to the speed champs (Mapopolis and Pocket CoPilot), about x5 compared to the Intellinav OEMs and x2 compared with SmartST and Destinator. For an initial route calculation, I think this is a small price to pay. Since R2.10 this is no longer a problem for rerouting (more on this later).
         

    2. Map Data:
      PocketMap have chosen to use TeleAtlas maps. Before some of you start frowning, let's backtrack a bit. Everyone (including myself) pretty much takes for granted that NavTech has the "best maps". Hard to tell why this is, especially since until this year NavTech didn't really offer detailed coverage out of large metros. This has been fixed in the US, but not yet in Europe. This "Best of Breed" reputation is probably due to clever marketing: "all high end car systems use NavTech" and impressive numbers "NavTech has spent close to $1 billion on their map database"...but also to the fact that up to now TeleAtlas based navigation programs in the US offered fairly poor routing

      It's too early to tell if this is about to change but up to now my testing has shown that there are two things that PMN does much better than most other systems I've seen and as well as the Intellinav OEMs:

      1. Exit information on freeways is accurate, i.e. it's what you see on the sign, which is never a bad thing ;-)

      2. Changes in road segments are not announced as "turns" by the routing engine. Most other programs (especially the NavTech ones) will announce a turn on a freeway when in fact it's presumably just the routing info built in the maps that's different on that road segment, i.e. there's no actual change in direction. While this is fairly minor inconvenience, it's a lot "cleaner" to not have these parasite directions.

      I don't know how much of that is due to the TeleAtlas data and how much is due to the data manipulation done by the Space Machine team. In any case it seems to work well,  this time at the expense of fairly large maps, see Weaknesses.
       

    3. Navigation Information:
      The new navigation screen introduced in R2 offers a lot of useful information:

      1. A transparent "slide-up" Navigation Console banner can be toggled on and off and contains

        1. a compass

        2. DTG (Distance To Go)

        3. TTG (Time to Go), ETA

        4. Speed and

        5. a compass to indicate what direction you're driving in (more on this later)

      2. A transparent "slide-down" Guidance Mode banner  can be toggled on and off and contains

        1. a green arrow with the direction of the next turn,

        2.  the distance to go to the next turn, the name of the street/ramp/exit you'll be turning on and

        3.  four diamonds that act as a countdown to the next turn and that you can have in your field of vision without being distracted, 4 green diamonds indicate that there are 2+miles to go, 3 indicate 1.5m+, 2 indicate 1m+ and none means less than 0.5. In addition, within 100ft of the turn PMN will sound a little chime to indicate that the turn is imminent.

      3. There's a transparent banner showing the name of the street you're on with the range of street numbers, which can be handy to locate an address.

      4. A small satellite icon indicating the quality of the GPS position (3D. 2D. none) and a meter with 6 bars to indicate how many satellites are active

      5. A chip icon indicating the status of RAM

      6. A nice touch too is the WAAS indicator in the GPS console to show when your GPS is getting such a fix.

      There are also three big blue non-transparent icons NEXT/QUICK ROUTE/BACK TRACK. Honestly, I don't find these very useful and have yet to fully understand how they work. The NEXT icon is certainly helpful when you're planning your route because you can see (it's slow though) the succession of turns you'll be making. When you're driving though it's of little use and sometimes prompts the routing engine to recalculate your position. The QUICK ROUTE will recalculate your route...to your current destination. I think that in the future this could be used to get a new route based on interactive information, but right it uses up precious screen real estate.
       

    4. User Experience:
      Starting with R2.10 this has reached new levels. Prior to that, it was a bit of a mixed bag because while the overall UI was very well thought out and convenient (top bar with icons for each function, i.e. settings, planning, direction and navigation) the overall operation was slow, mainly because of the map redraws that take anywhere between 2s and 8s. With R2.10 this is no longer a problem with overall speed being on par with other programs. They apparently use an efficient caching technology and a modified display method. Regardless, it works very well! Kudos for fixing that.

     

  • Weaknesses

    With the release of R2.10, a lot of the weaknesses that "hurt" the great features of the program, such as slow map display, slow rerouting and problematic GPS tracking are gone. Kudos to the PMN team for fixing that and giving us an excellent overall user experience!
     

    1. Slow Route Calculation on the PocketPC:
      This is one area where R2.10 hasn't been able to improve on previous versions. In my test routes,   I found PMN to take about x6 compared to the speed champs (Mapopolis and Pocket CoPilot), about x5 compared to the Intellinav OEMs and x2 compared with SmartST and Destinator. Hard to tell what what the issue is, memory, the size of the map data? For an initial route calculation or if you can plan your routes on a PC,  it's not too problematic, but it will slow you down if you're planning on the go.

       

    2. POI's can't be searched:
      PMN has a solid POI database but unfortunately you can't search it and when you ask for "Nearby POI's", they get shown in alphabetical order accompanied by  an icon showing their category
       

    3. Size of Maps
      PMN uses very memory-weighty maps that would seem to be about 3x those of other programs like Mapopolis (Santa Clara County is 6mb vs 2mb) and Destinator (California is 202mb vs 65mb). In days of tumbling CF and SD memory card prices, it's not necessarily a major problem, but this is a definite drawback and it might also account for the slow route calculations and map display


       

  • Screenshots
    You can find some in the
    PocketMap Section of the GpsPasSion Forums


     
  • Future upgrades
    PocketMap have communicated informally (phone, message boards) that they were working on the following enhancements (some may have been mentioned in the review)
    • European Maps for 16 countries to be made available in 2003
    • POI Search - patch available in 2003

     

  • Tips
     
    1. Making the most of the Waypoint Feature:
      When you are trying to create a waypoint to customize a route, move the map so that the spot where you want to place your waypoint is approximately centered. Then you can zoom in and select the exact spot, by tapping and holding. You can then insert that waypoint in your route. If you don't zoom in, you'll find yourself possibly selecting a side street, because even though you may not see it at the zoom level where you are, the underlying data is still selectable by tapping and holding.
       
    2. Map hardware button to PMN
      As  a workaround for the occasional instability of PMN (see W.4.b.), you can map a hardware button (the one on the left for instance) to PMN. Hitting it after PMN has seemingly exited will get you back in the program. Sometimes the program will complain that the GPS COM port is already in use though, so it won't always help.


       
  • Conclusion:
     
    • Pros:
      • Excellent Calculated Routes and Directions - Best
      • Real Waypoints- Best
      • Ultra-fast rerouting - Best
      • Very Good Navigation Information
    • Cons:
      • Route calculation on the PocketPC is slower than the competition by a factor of x6 to x2
      • Maps are very large compared with the competition (provide good directions)
      • No POI Search

         
    • Overall evaluation (compare)
      • Short distance in town:  A-
      • Medium (<200 miles) distance: B
      • Long (>200 miles) distance:  B


       

  • Want another opinion?
    no other review yet


Still have questions, try this thread or  the Official PocketMap Forums

 

  • Revisions

    • 12/24/02: Added info about the patch released on 12/23 - W2 moved to W6

    • 12/29/02: After a trip of several hundred miles and significant stability and slow response problems, I've temporarily removed the overall evaluation and will reinstate it when the stability issue has been solved

    • 05/15/03: Updated review to account for R2.10 improvements. Major contribution by Paul Biba for all the live GPS based testing.