Rcarcomm Hardware Review

CarComm.nl is a company specializing in car mounting kits for PDA's. I wasn't able to get that site to view very well in netscape but the parent company is DTM.nl and shows most of the same information. It can be viewed fine in netscape. Both sites work ok in internet explorer but they clearly have coded some Microsoft specific features.

They also have a GPS product that is designed to work with the car mount. For this review I tried the iPAQ car mount for the 3800/3900/5400/5500 models with the GPS attached. They also have mounts for other iPAQ units, the Fujitsu-Siemens Loox 600, and some Palm units including the Zire and Tungsten units. Generally I would expect this review to be close to what you can expect with any of the models. Check the site for the latests products.

The mount

The figure above shows the parts that I received with this mount. The main part of the cradle is shown to the left. It contains the cable preattached and not removable. This ensures you use the correct cable for the unit. The voltage regulator is in the cradle so the power cord could be cut and hardwired to the battery. An inline fuse is included for this purpose. The cable includes a split to feed a gps unit as well. Both signal data and 5V power is sent to the GPS via either the ps2 connector or the 9 pin rs232 connector. Note that power is sent on pin 9 of the rs232 connector which can be used by some mouse type gps receivers like the one from routis. This 9 pin connector can also be used by standalone gps receivers such as Garmin or Magellan by plugging in the appropriate pc adapter cable. In that case the power will not be used for the GPS device. The ps2 connector is used to support other mouse type gps units like the carcomm one described below. carcomm also makes adapters for specific other mouse units. Check their web site for details. I specifically tested the unit with a routis gps, a carcomm gps, and a Garmin gps via this connector. Of course you don't need to use the connector at all if you are using a bluetooth GPS device.

The cradle comes with a small ball-joint adapter, shown in the upper right, that permits the unit to swivel and tilt as needed by the installation. The kit includes 4 nuts/screws to mount the ball-joint adapter to the cradle and 4 screws to direct mount the unit to a dashboard or bulkhead.

An optional car adapter is shown in the top center of the drawing above with more detail shown to the left. Carcomm has many specialized car adapters at their site for custom installation requirements. This particular one is designed to mount on the right end of a din radio installation. The bends in the metal bracket tuck in behind the radio on the right side. Note that, to perform this installation, the radio will have to be pulled out a few inches from the dashboad. You may need special tools to pull the radio, or perhaps you can find a radio installation center that will do this for you.

If you are looking at this product be sure and study the installation choices available at the web site. They have a vast array of mounting hardware in two major categories. One is a custom plastic part designed for your specific car model. The second category is the metal brackets like the one I used. They also have some adapters that use a suction cup to mount to the windshield.

The bracket mounts to the cradle with four small machine screws that are included in second screw package. You will need 4 screws, 4 nuts, and 4 washers (not supplied but I recommend them) to complete the installation. The picture at the right shows the completed assembly with my iPAQ 3970 installed. The assembly, as a unit, can be installed in car without marring the car in any way. Note that the cradle requires a naked iPAQ. It will not work with a sleeve attached. The iPAQ simply plugs in to the top of the cradle and is held in place by friction and gravity. I did not see any tendency for it to dislodge. It generally takes two hands to remove the iPAQ, one to hold the mount and one to extract the unit.

The GPS

Carcomm also makes a mouse style GPS receiver that works well with this mounting system. It can also be used on pc computer laptops via the ps2 connector. It sends signals and receives power from this connector. It produces standard NMEA output and will work with most navigation software on a PDA or pc. This GPS is called the ENAV Euro-Navigation GPS Receiver.

Installation is very simple, just attach the supplied velcro pad to the back of the unit and attach the other piece to a location on the dash with a clear view of the sky. The GPS receiver can then be placed on the dash and plugged into the cradle. Expect it to take a considerable amount of time obtaining its first fix in your area but after the first time it locks on fairly quickly (about 1 minute). I tend to leave mine on my dash, powered on, all the time and it is ready to go when I get in the car. I just plug in the iPAQ, start up the mapping program and take off. This usually works well but from time to time after several days use I find that the heading (direction) is wrong on my unit and not updating although the position continues to update. Unplugging the unit and plugging it back in performs a reset and corrects the problem.

I found the performance of the unit to be good, even in the mountains. It does need a reasonable sky view from the windshield. If you have a tinted windshield that blocks reception of gps signals then you will need a different unit or perhaps a re-radiating antenna. The unit is not waterproof and should not be mounted on the roof or anywhere outside the car.

Conclusion

This GPS setup could be just the one you need for your iPAQ or other PDA device. It is well thought out and works as advertised. Whether you need the mouse GPS or not you may still find the mount to be just right for your own GPS setup.

Note that this was reviewed by carcomm for technical accuracy but the views presented are mine.

Dale DePriest

Revision

2004/01/10 initial version