Deluo Routis Review

Routis is the name given by Deluo Electronics to their automatic streetlevel routing product. This review covers the Routis 2004 version which replaces their earlier product that also offered point to point automatic routing and voice guidance. The reviewed version is 1.1.0NA. There is a separate review for the Deluo GPS hardware products. As this is a revision of the earlier review I will be focusing on the new features while leaving the older text in place on things that remained the same. One very prominent new feature is the addition of a pc version of Routis. You can now do everything on the pc that you can on the pocketpc. The user interface is exactly the same and the screens are the same except that the map screen can be made larger to accommodate the larger pc screen and the menus are moved to the top to reflect the different standards of a pc vs. a pocketpc. The other screens pop up as needed instead of replacing the map screen.

The image at the left shows the main map screen with a route in progress. Note that Routis has chosen to maintain the same look and feel so this page is basically unchanged from the previous product. The map page is also usable without a route, of course, and looks the same except that the turn arrow is missing, the turn distance is missing, and the turn street name (shown at the top) is replaced with a little more map data. The image shows a menu field with icons at the bottom and a large menu icon on the map itself. The menu icon can be used to access the most likely tasks on the machine and can easily be tapped with your finger. (The pc version requires the mouse.) For the most part, a stylus is not required to use this product which makes using the program much safer in a moving car. Below the menu icon is the name of the current street being traversed. In this case it is a highway but for surface streets an address range is also shown which changes as needed. To the right of the Menu icon there is a scale showing the current map scale. The + and - can be tapped to change scale but it is better just to use the rocker pad key (cursor up/down keys). Press up for zoom in and down for zoom out. To the right of the map scale is the current speed display. When navigating this display can be tapped to reveal other navigation data. Remaining time, ETA, and distance to destination can be shown here, one at a time by successive taps. Just above the Menu icon is the mute icon than can silence the sound if you wish.

In the lower center is an arrow showing the current car position on the road (road lock is used). As shown the car is traveling along the route as indicated by the heavier blue line. In this display I have set an option to force current direction to be up. It is also possible to make North up if you prefer. The map is visible with major roads marked. Zooming in to 500 feet would mark all of the road with names. Optional icons are also being shown for all of the poi's (points of interest) from the database.

The top line on the screen shows the street name of the next turn. Note that the name and the top and the name at the bottom are translucent so that the roads can be discerned underneath them (a nice touch). Just below the target street name is a large icon showing the direction of the turn. This can be tapped at anytime to hear an audible voice message about the turn. To the right of the direction icon is an indication of the distance to the turn. I would have preferred this to be under the turn icon or perhaps above it since it can sometimes obstruct data that I would like to see but this is a small complaint. To the far right is an arrow showing the direction of North. If you tap this arrow it will switch to displaying the cardinal direction (N, NE, E, ...) of the top of the screen. Tap again to return to this display.

Installation

If you have a previous version of Routis installed on the pc then you must remove it prior to installation of the new version. Otherwise the old version will attempt to grab the cdrom to install maps.

Routis arrives on two CD's (East and West Coast maps of the USA and Canada). The user inserts one of the cd's into a cdrom player and follows the instructions to load a map selection product on the pc and the main routis program on their pocketpc using the standard ActiveSync install. Before you can run the copy on the ppc you will need to install some maps. You can also load the Routis tool itself on the pc but you will need to install maps for the pc version just like you need to install maps on the ppc version.

Map installation is performed by running the map install program from the pc. There are two ways to generate a map for the Routis tool. The primary method is to select the state or states (or provinces) you wish to load (Texas and California have 1/2 state choices). Once selected then select the place on the pocketpc you wish to load them and download a composite map made up from the states you chose. Note that if they are not adjacent a highway map connecting the states will automatically be generated. The result is one continuous map. There is no way to make multiple maps for the Routis tool (except to switch removable media) since it will only load one map when started. These maps are very large, often from 30 to 70 Megabytes or more. Coverage for Routis 2004 is 49 states in the U.S. plus 6 provinces in Canada.

The second method is to select a city and specify a radius around the center center. This will build a map for download of the specified size. These maps are relatively smaller but they only cover the one city. There is no way to build a map for more than one city or to combine this method with method one.

Once the map is generated it can be downloaded to the storage media of your choice in the pocketpc. Generally you would select a storage card on your unit or you can select a drive (card reader) attached directly to your pc. Using a card reader attached to the pc for download of maps is considerably quicker than trying to use activesync to do the download. You will be prompted for the second CD if needed for the installation. For the pc map installation you will need to select a drive letter for the pc.

Operation

Once the desired map is downloaded (installed) to the ppc the application can be started by tapping on the icon. A startup lawyer screen is presented and this must be ok'd every time you start the application. Then the screen goes away and you are left wondering what happened for a little while until the map finally appears. It would be nice to disable the lawyer screen and to have some kind of indication of progress prior to the maps first appearance. This delay can be significant if you have a large map. Once the application is running a screen display similar to that shown above will appear.

This product works fine with or without a GPS is attached. There is more on attaching a GPS in the section below but a GPS is not essential to use this product. It can display maps, search for locations, and do route planning without a GPS attached. The product includes an installation and getting started guide in paper form as well as a help file that covers most commands and features. The pc version installed a web page for machine operation but it is not geared to the pc version but is just a copy of the ppc version.

Tapping a poi object on the screen brings up the name of the object but no further information. Pressing tap and hold (right mouse button) on any screen object will bring up a menu. The menu shows the address range and road name if appropriate and permits you to select this spot as the source or destination for a route. You can also save the location in a list of favorites or find more detailed information about this spot such as its lat/lon location or the city that the location is in. You can also drag a spot on the screen to pan the display in any direction. Be careful while panning since if you touch one of the command icons the command will be executed even though you were dragging the screen at the time. Touching the X icon ends the scrolling operation.

Routis commands are primarily intended to be reached from the menu icon. Tapping this icon brings up the screen shown at the left. Almost everything you might want to do can be done from this screen with the exception of saving your current location. Saving your current location is reachable from the file menu and is one of the few things that requires a stylus, which is unfortunate. Other things only reachable from the file menu include Help and Exit. There is also a tools menu but the only thing that needs to be set there is the gps options which are usually only set once. An input options setting is also there where you can set your preference to use the standard ppc text entry methods or the special routis keyboard that is big enough to tap with your fingers. The final menu choice has items that can be done other ways except the Almanac command which shows the sunrise/sunset time and the moon phase for today only.

The commands on the Menu screen allow selecting a Destination for a route or just to view, selecting the router options, display options and other features. you can also return to the map view. Routing is and GPS operation is covered below in separate sections. The display options let you choose the map orientation (North up or track up) which is also available as an icon at the bottom of the map screen. The color scheme can be specified as Day or Night. The almanac feature can be used to set the color scheme automatically based on sunrise/sunset times. You can also decide to view the POI icons or turn them off. The final choice is an option to automatically turn on the guidance screen when you get within 1000 feet of a turn. The guidance screen is a map with an instant zoom and is useful to see when attempting to navigate a tricky freeway intersection or any complicated turn. The guidance screen is one of three screens available in a rotation from the rocker keypad. These are the main map screen, the guidance screen, and the route screen (only present when a route is active). Pressing the right keypad direction selects the next screen in the rotation while pressing the left keypad direction selects the previous screen. Pressing the keypad up/down zooms in and out while depressing the key straight down can be used to bring up the menu screen. When you are on a text screen such as the route display the up/down keys can also be used for scrolling.

GPS operation

The GPS information screen tells you a lot about the GPS however, surprisingly it does not tell you whether or not you actually have a fix. You have to determine this yourself by looking at the data on the screen. This screen can be reached from the main menu icon, the view menu selection, or you can select it from the little satellite icon at the bottom of the screen. The icons at the bottom of the screen are just far enough apart that I can usually get the one I want with my fingernail. You can leave the screen with X icon or by tapping the same little satellite icon (a toggle), but not by tapping the X at the top of the screen which will leave the entire application.

Near the center of the screen is a box showing NMEA messages. When you are correctly hooked to the GPS this will show constantly changing data. If it doesn't you are not hooked to your gps device. To hook up to your GPS you need to make sure it is plugged in (serial on COM1 and CF on some other numbered port) and select the device from the Tools menu GPS options. Options include an automatic detection of the GPS or you can specify the com port and baud rate yourself. Generally the baudrate should be set to 4800 baud. If the device is plugged in after the tools is running it sometimes won't detect the GPS even if the settings are correct. Generally this can be corrected by reselecting the same com port again. Note that there is no command to turn off the GPS but you could select an incorrect com port to accomplish this.

Once the NMEA messages are coming in correctly the display should indicate the GPS Info. The UTC and local time as well as the Lat/Lon numbers should display ok once a fix is obtained. Altitude will be shown for a 3D fix and if you only have a 2D fix this will be indicated to the right of the altitude display. Speed will be shown in statute miles (the only supported format) and the current direction is shown just above the satellite map display. The number of satellite used in the solution is shown just under the speed setting. If you don't have a fix this would be 0 (zero) over the number that is possible to receive.

The bottom of the screen shows a map of the current satellite constellation. As shown the satellite PRN 20 is available but not being received. 31 and 11 are currently obtaining ephemeris data and the others are in use.

GPS status is shown on main map screen by using a color scheme for the arrow that shows the car position. Red is no reception, yellow is obtaining reception, and green is ok. Unfortunately the area that changes colors is only a few pixels (not the whole arrow) and the dominate color blind problem for some people is read/green so for a part of the population this does not work well at all. Yellow seems bright enough for an indication of potential problems but otherwise this is poor.

It is also possible to save a log of your travels for later playback. This is a recording of the NMEA sentences generated by the GPS. They can be played back on the map or using another program that understands NMEA log files. One good use of this data is to move the ppc log file to your pc and then play it back in the windows version of Routis.

For the 2004 version I did ensure that all of the standard GPS devices will work with this software but I focused my GPS testing on the Deluo BlackBox BlueTooth GPS receiver. For my 3970 the Bluetooth receiver can be selected by choosing COM 8 once it has been setup. I will be writing a separate review for the blackbox unit but this section should be useful to anyone using a bluetooth device with Routis. The idea of bluetooth is be be transparent and behave just like a wire that could be used to connect two devices.

The initial setup for Bluetooth requires turning on the bluetooth radio transceiver and then starting the Bluetooth Manager. On my 3970 this is on the today screen in the lower right corner. You must have the bluetooth GPS plugged in and running for the next steps. I used an AC adapter to supply 12 Volt power to my bluetooth unit but you could just as well hook it up in the car and take the ppc to the car to set it up. Tapping the search menu choice on the manager should result in the unit being found and identifying itself. Once this is accomplished you won't need to repeat this step. You can use the tools in the manager to determine the serial port address for you unit and to check the receive status. Tapping the icon for the device will permit the manager to try and communicate with the device and determine what services it can perform. For a GPS this is primarily the serial port capability. You can set up the serial port connection using the manager to test it but you need not do this each time it is used. There are two serial ports assigned since it is possible to transmit data either way. For GPS use you only need one of them.

Once the device is known to the manager the setup is complete and you only need to turn the radio transceiver on and off as needed. When you want to work with Routis and the BlueTooth receiver you only need to turn on the radio and then start Routis. Selecting the correct com port will cause Routis to detect the Bluetooth GPS unit and enable the serial port connection. This will be automatic when you start Routis the next time so long as the radio is turned on.

In general I found the bluetooth connection to work fine and pretty much the same as when I had a device cabled up or connected via a CF slot. However when I shut off the ppc with this connection I found a difference between bluetooth and other connections. With bluetooth, when I powered the ppc back on later it regained the connection but within a few minutes it would either crash the application or lockup the ppc requiring a software reset. I did not experience this problem when Routis was using a more traditional device. At one point, just prior to a lockup I noticed that the latitude value dropped to all zeros causing a missing map message and then the unit locked up. The problem seems to be with Routis. For a work around I found that if I stopped Routis and then restarted it after powering back up the problem would not appear.

Routing

Routing is accomplished by selecting a destination and then clicking the Nav command. The source for the route is assumed to be either you current GPS location, the current center of the screen if you are panned, or a previously selected Start Location. You can select a start location by using tap and hold on the portion of the screen and then choosing from the menu. Selecting a destination is this same fashion will kick off the autorouter. Normally, however, the destination is chosen from the main menu icon. This will bring up a screen offering several choices for picking the destination other than the already described method of selecting it from the map itself. The choices include Street Address, Street Intersection, Points of Interest, someone in your contacts database, a location saved in your favorites (This is where all of your saved locations are listed), and finally a list of recent previous locations (just in case you want to go there again).

Street Addresses can be entered by selecting the street first or the City first; then you select the specific address. A list of choices will appear and you tap the one your want and select NAV. The unit doesn't do well with designations like N. or W. or the kind of street such as road or avenue. Just leave these parts out of the name and then find them in the list of choices to make the final selection. This method works well for address searches but does not work well at all for your contacts list. Since your contacts list address is very specific and already includes most but perhaps not all of this data it is likely to fail to be found in the contacts search. If your contact is not found try an address search. If this works then note the exact way it was listed and edit the contact list to have the address listed exactly like Routis expects it. In the future this contact will be found.

Once the destination routing has been computed the route screen will appear in the rotation of screens. It is a live screen in that the distance to the next turn will be counted down as you approach it. The default highlighted line will always be the next turn. In addition you can use the up/down keys to scroll the list and the highlighted entry can be viewed on the map by tapping the map icon. This is useful to study a tricky turn that is ahead of you. I wish this screen would show the total distance remaining and the ETA. This could easily be added to the top line. Note that this screen can also be reached directly from the map screen by tapping on the name of the next turn at the top of the screen.

Another way to use the destination router is to select poi which will bring up a list that can select between airports, Banks, Entertainment, Gas Stations, Emergency services, hotels, parking, or restaurants, and new for 2004 shopping areas. There are no subcategories in any of these but they can be searched either by alphabetical listing or by distance from your current location for those within 25 miles. For planning purposes or distant cities you can even select them by state and then city which will always be listed alphabetically. If the place you choose has more than one location then a list with each address will appear for you to select the one you want. The shopping choice only lists shopping malls, etc. and not individual stores. Unlike the case when tapping a poi on the screen the results of the search for poi's includes the ability to get more detail such as a telephone number.

Favorite locations can also be the target for a destination. These locations are the ones you saved yourself or ones from another list such as a poi that you decided to save in your favorites list. This list is always alphabetical. You can edit the name that appears in the favorite list but you cannot associate an icon with a favorite so it will not normally show up on your map. It is possible to view the location of a favorite by selecting it and then tapping map. Note that, unfortunately, last years favorites database is not compatible with this years product so you will have to enter your favorites all over again. The data in favorites.dat is compatible between the ppc version and the pc version although there is no way to merge the two, expect perhaps to overwrite the recent.dat file and use it to merge the data.

The router can be controlled from the route options screen. You can choose the method from quickest, shortest, one that favors major road, or one that favors local roads. You can also include or exclude toll roads (but not toll bridges) and you can identify whether or not to use Carpool lanes in the calculation. There is also an option to reduce turns but I can't imagine when you wouldn't want to do that and there is no clue in the documentation.

There is no direct method to control the route chosen by the router but there is a Stopover option that can be used to accomplish something very similar. The idea of the stopover feature is to permit you to take a side route if you decide to without having to cancel the main route. For example if you are site seeing on a trip and want to make a side trip you can tap destinations, and because a current destination is active a new screen will appear to permit the Stopover. Select stopover and then enter the new destination. Once you reach the stopover point you will be given an opportunity to recalculate the route to the original destination. This works by discarding the current route, storing away the original destination, and calculating the new route. Later the original destination will be remembered and a new route calculated to it. I really like this feature for its intended use, and it can also help control a route. Suppose you calculate a route but don't like the results. You can immediately choose an intermediate point to force the route to head in the direction you want and even if you don't go all the way to that location you can just cancel the route and return to the original destination. Since you have a new starting point now the new route will be more like what you probably wanted.

The router works fairly fast but the setup time for address lookup is longer than I would like. On local destinations it can usually find a route as quick or quicker than you can find the address using address lookup. I do believe address lookup speed could be improved. The router also does an automatic re-calculation if you leave the route. This is lightning fast most of the time but it does not calculate a new route. Instead it calculates a route to get you back to the original route in the most efficient manner. Often this is just a U-turn but if you just keep driving off the route it will eventually attempt more creative ways to get you back on route.

A new feature in this release is the ability to block roads from the route. Once a route is activated you can tap destinations again and a choice will be presented to permit you to Detour around a road. This choice can be selected when you encounter a problem with a road or even at the very beginning if you don't like the route it picked. I like this ability but the knowledge of the bad route is only kept while the road is active. I would like the ability to have a few permanent avoid choices available. I did, however, find one elusive bug in this feature. If you use the avoid choices (particularly after the route is partially completed) and then later the unit chooses to do a recalculation for some other reason totally unrelated to the avoid choice it can generate some pretty bizarre routes wandering all over the map. I am not sure what is happening but it seems to be avoiding whatever road I am currently traveling on. I have only seen this problem after using the detour feature. The workaround is to generate a route from scratch again to the destination. The recent destinations choice can simplify this process.

Navigation

Once the destination is identified and a route computed the unit will go into navigation mode which will guide you to the destination. This guidance is both visual and audible. Visual guidance is shown in the top and top-left corner of of the map page and on the special guidance screen shown at the left. This guidance screen will be selected automatically (if enabled) when your reach 1000 feet from the turn no matter what else you may be viewing at the time (including the GPS info screen). It may also be reached from the left/right keys in the rotation with the map, guidance, and route list. The guidance screen is a zoomed in version of the map screen with the addition of a count-down bar chart on the right side that visually shows the distance to the turn. The arrow head on the route itself shows the exact point of the turn. If there are two turns very close together the visual screen will not offer guidance to the second one until the first is complete.

There is also audible guidance from 'Chatty Cathy'. I call her that from the amount of information she says. Sometimes she seems to be talking all the time. For each turn she will tell you the distance to the next turn at the start of the route leg. She will tell you when your are getting close to the turn (2 miles away at highway speeds and closer at local streets). She will tell you again a few hundred feet away and once more at the turn itself. Each announcement will include the direction of the turn and the current distance to the turn. For all numbered roadways she will also identify the number of the roadway you are turning on. On freeways she will also tell you to "keep left" or other appropriate message on major freeway intersections even though you are not changing roads. Generally Cathy uses whole sentences when she talks. It seems clear the programmers at routis know about 'Chatty Cathy'; why else would they include two icons on the screen to shut her up! However, there are some good things to say about Cathy. On my way from San Francisco to Reno there is a tricky turn on I-80 as it enters Sacramento. Routis is one of the few programs that alert you to the fact that I-80 actually exits the freeway to the right and if you miss this you will end up on US Hiway-50. Another nice thing about Cathy is the fact that she reports the Interstate turns very close to the way they are printed on the signs so that recognition is much easier. This feature is great. Many other programs tell you about the name of the road for the turn which may or may not be on any of the signs you get on the freeway. For tight turns where the next turn is very close to the last one she will report both of them ahead of time to alert you to the fact that it is really a double turn. I really like the feature of calling out the road numbers.

On the backroads away from the city things are not quite as clear. For example the maps have a lot of extra entries in the database causing Chatty Cathy to ramble on and on about upcoming turns that are just bends in the road or perhaps only a cross street. In some cases the navigation guidance screen never gets a chance to switch off for a half a dozen turns or more since they are all so close together. There are times though when I wish Cathy and the database would tell me about a turn a little better. Because of the database errors sometimes two roads will seemingly flow as if they are one road that changes names but in fact on the real highway there is a clear distinction. Under these conditions the router will fail to log the name change so if you are following the road by name you will miss the turn. Only by watching the map itself will you be ok. By the way, the underlying cause of the problem is the NavTech database which is inaccurate in rural areas. More about this later.

The unit will try and predict your ETA (Estimated time of Arrival) and ETE (Estimated time enroute) which is calls REM (remaining). The accuracy of this information is improved for the 2004 version which is likely an algorithm change and better map speed data. The information seems to based on some average of the history of your speed augmented with map speed data.

The maps and database

Once the decision was made to use NavTech maps there is very little control that Deluo has over the map database. However, from the user perspective the database can make the product useful or worthless so I will give a few comments on it now.

NavTech is the leading supplier of autorouting map databases in the USA. It is used by all of the auto manufactures on their gps systems and most of the 3rd parties as well. They made their name and reputation from offering very accurate maps with good autorouting information for all of the major cites in the USA. In 2001 they decided that they needed to have coverage for the entire USA, not just the cities. This was the correct decision but the implementation seems to have left a lot to be desired. In the country the data is not nearly so accurate as it is the cities and NavTech in their rush to get the product out has really let the quality suffer, in my opinion. Note that some parts of the country are better than others so an individual opinion is likely to be made on a small sample of the overall database. For your area is might be perfect (well almost anyway). More more data on NavTech please see my article on MapMakers.

As a case in point, I live in an area not covered by the city maps and I have many bogus turns in the area near my house. By bogus turns I mean the autoroute voice says turn left or turn right but in fact you continue straight on the same road. The starting and the ending road are shown as the same road. After this happens enough time you get fed up and tend to ignore the real data since you can't filter out the bogus stuff. Within 2 miles of my house are two private roads with locked gates. The autorouter insists on sending me down these roads even though I can't get through. The 2004 version has picked up the Tiger database changes from the government 2000 census but NavTech seems to have adopted this without fixing anything. While some new roads are present that were not in last years database they are no more accurately shown than any of the earlier roads and it some cases they are worse. It looks like NavTech doesn't care much about rural areas.

The poi's in my area are also old and out of date and in the wrong places. This is not restricted totally to the rural areas however. The database is not nearly as complete or as accurate as some other products.

I will say that the roads are pretty much where they are supposed to be. In the outlying areas the roads are sometimes shifted from where they belong but road lock keeps the gps display on the correct road most of the time.

I realize that there are no perfect databases, but this one can be better than it is. I have submitted fixes to the NavTech web site and I suggest that each user do likewise.

Other Features

A new feature in 2004 is the inclusion of the ability to display the map page in 3D. There are three possible choices for the 3D presentation depending on how close to the ground you want to be. I have chosen to show the level 1 choice to the left. The others show much less map in front of you and I don't like to give up the screen space. This choice shows almost the same roads ahead as would be seen from the normal bird's eye map view. While the picture is accurate it fails the portray the feeling you get when actually driving. Seeing the data move similar to the view ahead of you can really increase the wow factor of the tool. The view does attempt to show the names of close in roads and display poi's that are fairly close as well while more distant objects are not shown. However, you cannot tap on things like you can with the map view to get information about them. While the map is being shown in 3D, remember it is only a map. It does not show terrain nor does it even show whether the road you are on is going over or under a cross street. I like the display but once I got over the wow factor I tended to return to the 2D map display although I do use this one for variety from time to time. I am sure this will become a favorite feature for some folks.

The tool features a couple of safety features. You can set fog mode and the unit will beep each time it comes up to a cross road so that you can slow down a bit. In addition there is a speed feature. You can be warned when you exceed a preset speed or you have have it alert you if you exceed the speed set for the class of road you are on. This is a nice feature but it is not exactly the speedlimit for the area so you need to be careful. The database seems only to have road classes and assigns an approximate speed. I like the feature but would have preferred to be able to set a speed that could be added to the class speed before the alarm was triggered. This way I could tune the speed warning to my particular area. Note that the warning is both an audible beep and a visual warning since the speed shown on the map page turns red.

Tips and Limitation

This section contains a list of items that did not seem to fit in the dialog above. They are in no particular order.

Conclusions

The is a really well thought out program. It is a nice interface and essential features needed for road navigation plus several innovations I have not seen elsewhere. The 2004 version is worth the upgrade in my opinion.

I have obtained comments on this review from Deluo Electronics to ensure that it is technically accurate, but the opinions and ideas are mine.

Dale DePriest - all rights reserved.

Revision
2003/6/13 original post
2003/11/21 Major rewrite for the 2004 version.