SmartSt Professional Review

Update for version 2

I am way behind on my reviews so I will just add some version 2.O stuff to this review for the SmartStreet Pro product. The user interface and most screens are the same as in the previous version as shown below so an existing user will be right at home with this product. This introduction will highlight the changes for 2.0 as compared to the previous version. The major changes are listed below:

Original review

Smart Street Professional software is bundled with the Navman GPS for iPAQs to make up either the GPS 3420 sold in the USA or the GPS 3400 sold in Western Europe. Check the Navman web site for more information. This software may also accompany some oem products and is also available as an upgrade for Navman customers who previously purchased Navman hardware. The 3400 product supplies maps of Europe and the 3420 supplies maps of the USA. For world travelers the other maps may be purchased separately. Since I live in the USA I am reviewing the 3420 product but the information about the product itself is the same, only the maps differ, so this review may be of use to European users as well.

There is a separate review of the hardware Navman product so this review will focus on only the software product as a separate mapping/navigation product and its interaction with the hardware.

The product reviewed is the USA Release, Version 1.90.1003. It only works with a Navman sleeve so this is, of course, what I used. This is a street level mapping program that provides automatic routing from one location to another and will then provide voice and visual street to street guidance. It uses the same map database (from NavTech) as all of the major car companies use for their in-car gps systems but since SmartST runs on a pocketPC it is portable from vehicle to vehicle.

Installation

The product arrives with 2 CDROMS and the Navman sleeve along with the standard accessories for the sleeve. The CDROMs contain the maps of the USA and the program itself along with the Navman driver. You will need an internet connection to register this product during installation which is required to achieve the gps functionality. You can insert whichever cdrom contains the maps for your area as they both contain the installation program and even have some overlapping map areas to minimize the need to swap disks. You will need the serial number that is on the back of the outside cdrom cover. The cdrom install is pretty simple and installs directly to the PocketPC without requiring any installation on your pc. First you must install the application and register it. Then you can install the maps of your choice. These map databases are huge, averaging over 30 Megs, so don't even think about installing the maps in main memory. They need a card and the CF slot in the Navman hardware works nicely for this. (Well you could get away with installing in main memory if you live in Hawaii.) You must always install full regions and they have 24 regions covering the whole US. If you live close to the boundary of a region you might need a couple of regions, but they do try and carve of the regions to minimize this need. If you are unsure of exactly which region you want the install utility has the ability to find a city and show you which region it is in. You can also read the manual on this cdrom but don't expect more than the basics. SmartST doesn't indicate what maps it has loaded but the setup program can view the card(s) on the iPAQ and check this for you.

Operation

Click on the application to start it up. It can be found on the start menu. You will need maps, of course. If you have maps and it won't start it is likely a resource problem. You are probably out of memory. Stop all apps (which you should always do anyway) and try it again. The iPAQ can shove some memory around so it is always good to try a second time. If that doesn't work try a soft reset. If it still won't start within a couple of tries you will need to remove some apps from your system or perhaps move them to a card. There is no error message, which is a shame. Once you get it going you will be rewarded with a splash screen and then a lawyer screen. You must say 'I agree' every time the product is started; there is no timeout and no way to turn this off. The very first time you run it the tutorial will appear. You do need to work your way though the tutorial at least once. It is short, informative and important to understand as the use of the software which is not obvious. There is no help screen or help file so this is all you get on the PocketPC. However, the good news is that the tool is really easy to use so once you know how you will have no trouble. At the end of the tutorial is a box that will let you turn this off. (You can always turn it back on from the setup screen but you can't view it except at startup.)

The next screen shows a "waiting for gps" message and a blank screen. Since this product only supports the Navman there is no gps setup. You can, however, visit the gps status screen to see how its doing. There are no menus to tap on the main screen; the product is designed to be operated with your fingers rather than a stylus which is a good thing since a stylus can be dangerous to use while traveling down the road. Unfortunately this is a version 1.0 product and the finger interface doesn't seem to be fully finished. You will still find some cases where the screen area is way to small to be able to operate the commands without a stylus. I will point out a few of them as we go. Anyway, we wanted to see the gps status. Press the left end of the rocker panel to bring up the main menu. Then you can tap the gps status area with your finger nail to bring up the status screen. There is only one button on the screen and that turns off the gps which can save some batteries when your not using it. (More on this later.) It will automatically be turned on anyway the next time the application starts. When the gps has a lock, numbers will appear in the lat/lon display and the square areas that show satellite status will turn green. (If this doesn't happen please go outside.) While not documented, you can now press on the rocker button to return to the map screen thus avoiding the problem of having to hit the ok with your fingernail (a fairly difficult task).

Once the gps signal is received you will see the map displayed on the screen with an arrowhead in the center and a circle around it. (If the map doesn't appear you will likely see an arrowhead in the lower right hand corner that indicates that the map is panned off the screen. Tap the arrowhead to bring up the map.) The circle is just decoration and has no significance but the arrowhead will point in the direction the car is moving. Initially the direction is random until you start moving. The color of the arrowhead indicates the gps status with red meaning no lock and blue signifying a lock. The map can be zoomed in and out using the up and down edges of the rocker pad and can be panned by just touching an area of the screen and dragging it. You can always return to the gps position by tapping on the little icon in the lower right of the screen. This map display is excellent. You can zoom in to 20 feet (further than you would ever want) and the roads themselves show width and little direction arrows if they are one way streets. Freeways are shown with separate lanes when you zoom in.

As you zoom out the detail becomes less, as would be expected. The final zoom out is 12 miles and the detail is less than I would have liked in that some freeways of 8 lanes are not even shown. This is likely a database problem rather than the fault of SmartST, but it makes the far zooms less useful than they could be. I-80 between Sacramento and San Francisco doesn't show up until you zoom in to 1 mile. Of course this doesn't have any effect in the internal router. These are primarily road maps but a few lakes and rivers are shown, as is the coastline. This helps with orientation when zoomed out, but they are not named and don't expect high resolution for these items. POI's, points of interest, are shown on the screen as icons and these too are controlled by the zoom level (to control screen clutter). You tap and hold to display the name the icon represents but when zoomed out sometimes the icon cannot be selected. Some icons like the San Jose airport, on the other hand, is selected from miles away when zoomed out.

Favorite places and searches

SmartST supports a list of favorite places that can be saved in the database. The documentation says it is limited to 30 but it is much more than that. These can only be used to position the map or to serve as targets for destinations. They will not be shown on the map unless they were originally selected and then Show was clicked. A favorite place is one of the first things you want to do since viewing a favorite place or poi is the only way to see a map when you don't have a fix. Most people will set a favorite place to their home as soon as they have their first fix. The only way to create a favorite place is to tap and hold a spot on the screen. Even if the favorite place is a poi you will need to find it on the screen and then tap and hold the location. Tap and hold brings up a menu and the bottom value is "add to favorites". Tap this and now you will have a favorite with a nondescript name. Press the left edge of the rocker button to bring up the menu and then tap on Destination and then Favorites. The favorite place you just defined should show up on the list. Tap to highlight it and the tap edit.

The favorite edit screen is where you can customize the place you just chose. The nondescript name is always chosen even if you happened to select a poi and the unit should have had a better name to pick from. You will likely want to change this name so at least it is highlighted so you can just type in the change. Navman recommends that you have the large keyboard choice in your preferences if you want to use keyboard entry since you may be able to get away with using your fingernail. As an old palm user I always go for the graffiti. The next field is the Street Name where the favorite is located. It looks editable but is not. The Save As choice has 4 entries; you can save it as a favorite or one of 3 Quick Nav destinations. More on using Quick Nav locations later. You can also change the icon from the default picture that looks like the Greek Acropolis. There are 9 possible choices called Fav0 to Fav8, which are hard coded names. These icon choices are, in addition to the Acropolis, a gas station, an airplane, a telephone, a coffee cup, a church, a car, a mailbox, and a wine glass. Press the down direction on the rocker pad to scroll through the list and tap the one you want to get back to the favorite edit screen. You will have to press the rocker twice to get the first choice. The left arrow on the screen can be used to cancel the screen. Be sure and tap the Save choice from the Favorite Edit screen to save your changes.

The favorite list is always sorted alphabetically, case sensitive, except for the first 3 entries which are your Quick Nav choices. This page provides the ability to select edit, Delete, show, and Go or you can just tap the left arrow to return to the previous screen. Show goes to the map page and displays your selected favorite location on the map. Show works whether or not you are using the gps so this is the best way to bring up a map to view. Go is designed to begin Navigation with your favorite location as the destination. Delete lets you remove a favorite but you cannot remove a Quick Nav choice. To get rid of a quick nav choice you will need to replace it with a different favorite and then it can be removed.

POI's are reached similarly to favorites. Menu -> Destination -> Points of Interest. The first time you visit this page you will need to click on the flag at the top for your country. You won't need to do this again unless you change the maps to a different country. There are three fields that look similar but only the Area field can be typed in. It is possible to just tap the right arrow button and bring up every poi in the database but it makes more sense to limit the data using the three fields. The database is a collection of information from every map that is loaded into the machine at the time and can get rather cumbersome to deal with. Use the category field to limit the choices by selecting what you are looking for. Not all of the categories are intuitive so I suggest you display the type choice to get an idea of what is in the category. (Tap the field and then use the rocker pad to scroll the choices, and press the rocker to select the one you want.) The poi's choices are pretty good about showing man made objects but not very good at locating natural attractions although there is one category that shows some. The area field is a type in. To use it effectively type the first 3 or 4 letters of the area you are interested in. This might be a city, a county, or even a state. Then wait a second or two for the program to present a list of possible places. Use the rocker pad as before to scroll to the selection you like. If the choice isn't there type a few more characters.

Once you have what you want tap the right arrow key. A list of the possible poi's of interest will show up. To scroll this list with the rocker keys click somewhere on the list to set the keypad focus to the list and then scrolling will work. This list itself may be too large to show at once. You can search the list by entering one or two characters in the name field to limit the choices and then scroll, or if you know exactly what you want you can enter more characters until it appears. If your choice isn't there you can use the left arrow to return to the previous screen and change the search.

There four buttons on the screen. Left arrow returns to do another search. Show goes to the map and displays the poi in the center of the screen. Go sets up a navigation with the poi as the destination. Finally, info displays more information about the selected poi. I suggest you use this one unless you are absolutely sure you have the right place. Selecting show or go brings up the map and you cannot get the info any more. The info choice also offers the Show and Go commands.

Address lookup and intersection look up work exactly the same at poi look up except, of course, the data is different. You can search of an individual address but you cannot display addresses on the map page. Roads can be searched for and these names will be displayed on the map with the tap and hold menu. The area function works well here as well to help the search process. Use the same technique of typing just a few letters in the area and in the road field then allow the unit to offer the choices. Note that the choice list is limited so you may have to type a few more letters to get what you want. Again, once you show something, all the search data you used is gone.

Navigation

The display will work to show your current position on the map and this can be used to find out where you are at any time. There is a road lock feature that causes the arrow to always appear on a road and the road name is listed below. It is possible for the arrow to be locked to the wrong road but generally it is right. Note that if you get far enough off the road it will jump to your real location and a message will say to drive to the nearest road. But if this were all you did with the display you would really be missing out.

The real power of this program is in the Navigation. All you need is a gps fix on your current location and a destination and the program will do the rest. A destination can be any of, a favorite, a poi, the result of any search, or just a point on the screen some place (tap and hold and select destination from the menu). The program also remembers previous places you used as targets for navigation, up to 20, and can use these as destination. It can also calculate the way back from the last trip you took. Look on the quick nav screen for the return trip or for some of your favorite destinations.

If you already have a gps fix so that the unit knows where you are, selecting the destination is enough to kick off the route calculation. The route calculation operates at a reasonable speed and soon starts displaying your route to the destination. While not instantaneous the route calculation speed is fast and re-routes are even faster as they have be optimized to only reroute the local area. A autoroute calculation will work so long as the starting point and the destination has a set of contiguous maps. Either they need to be in the same region or all of the maps between the two points must be present.

When the route completes the screen display shows the main navigation screen. There are 4 navigation screens available, 3 can be reach with successive presses of the right side of the rocker pad and the 4th, called, Instruction List, can be reached from the main menu. Personally I would have preferred a configuration option where I could place all four screens in the rotation.

The main navigation screen displays the map in the middle with the direction you are driving up, which is a nice feature. The top of the screen shows the direction of the next turn and the name of the street you need to turn on, while the bottom right corner shows the distance. The bottom line on the screen shows the street name you are traveling on while just above that line is a toggle line. The toggle line changes each time you tap on it and will display your current speed, the current time, the distance to go for the entire trip, the ETA (estimated time of arrival) for the trip, and the TTG (Time To Go) for the trip. I found this screen to be my favorite navigation screen. It keeps the course toward the top of the screen and controls zooming based on your current speed. Panning is not permitted on this screen. I like the fact that it holds the current location just a little below center of the screen so you can see what's ahead of you. If you're stopped and you see a poi on the screen you can tap and hold to see what it is.

The navigation information is very complete and rivals many of the standalone gps units. The estimates are based on the speed limits recorded in the database and not on how fast you are really driving.

The second screen is sometimes called a safety screen since it presents all the essential text data in large characters so you can see them at a glance. This screen adds a second toggle field so you can display 2 pieces of toggle data simultaneously, one will be in large text. (A third line would make this screen even better.)

The third screen is the standard map screen. You can use it just like always. It is oriented north up, and can be panned or zoomed as well, and can inspected for the name of streets, poi's etc. Note that if you tap and hold an object to get its name you can make that spot the center of the screen by tapping the name on the menu (even if the name field is blank).

The fourth screen is the instruction list and is reached from the main menu. It shows all the turns in the route and is updated as you drive to highlight the next turn. You can use the rocker keys to scroll up and down the list and the arrow on the screen to return via the main menu. It is quicker to tap the ok button which returns instantly but there is no easy finger button to use. Pressing down on the rocker doesn't work to leave this screen.

Any of the screens can be selected while a route is in progress with the same basic sequences used to view the instruction lists. Some screens will ask if you want to cancel the route but you can always say no. However, if you leave the program temporarily, say, to look up an address in your contacts list the gps connection will be lost and you will have to re-establish the connection and the fix which can take awhile while traveling down the road. A workaround is to select the gps screen display before trying to select your contact list. If the gps screen is being displayed the gps connection will not be lost and you can simply return to the program by quitting the contact program. Then you can exit the gps display to get back to the route screens. Note that the program is designed to drop the gps when you exit to save batteries so this isn't exactly a bug.

There are voice prompts to guide you through the turns. These can be in either a male or female voice. There is also an independent volume control for the voice which is remembered from one session to the next. The messages are constructed from pre-recorded words and I had no problem understanding either voice. Since the words are not synthesized all the messages are generic without mentioning map features like road names although it does mention freeway ramps and other general map data. There are usually two messages telling you about an upcoming turn with the advanced message varying in time depending on your current speed to allow you to change lanes or otherwise prepare for the turn.

Routing can be programmed to try the quickest or the shortest and can be requested to avoid toll roads and urban areas. Other than these general setup variable there is no method to guide the router and no way to block a road that is closed for construction or has a gate on it. The best you can do is just go a different way and let the router recompute the course once it figures out you left the route. Often the first reroute will try and get you back on the original route so you may have to ignore that one too. It may say something like perform a U turn to redirect you back. However you can't depend on this behavior to guide you back to the road if you stop for gas. It may take an entirely different direction using local roads. In addition a reroute when you are closer to the destination may compute a different route than it did when you were further away. Note that if you change quickest to shortest or vice versa this will not effect the current route for any reroutes. You will need to redo the route from the beginning (menu -> quick Nav -> recent) to see the effect of this change.

You can turn off reroute entirely if you wish. In this case, if you go off route there will be no indication except the next turn distance will disappear. You will need to use the map display to find your way back to the route but once you get there the voice prompt will tell you that you are back on the route.

Route Planning

The manual that accompanies the product says you must have a gps fix to perform a route calculation. Luckily this is not the case and you can use SmartST to plan tomorrow's route from the comfort of your easy chair. Here's how:

  1. Start the program and turn off the gps from the gps status screen. If your maps are on the CF card that plugs into the Navman sleeve turning off the gps will conserve power. It will also prevent the gps from deciding it needs to search the sky for satellites since it is likely that it can't get a fix from your easy chair. If it goes into sky search mode the next real fix will take a lot longer. Return to the main screen and ignore the Waiting for GPS message.
  2. Go to the Destination menu choice and pick a place close to where you want to start. It can be a favorite, a poi, or a recent destination and then tap show. Unfortunately your past fix isn't a choice so you may need to save that location as a favorite before you stop each day if you didn't use a route.
  3. The show will cause a display of the area on a map with your selection in the center. Tap and Hold to bring up the menu and select "set as departure". This is the magic that substitutes for the gps location.
  4. Repeat step 2 and do a go (or if you do a show use tap and hold to select destination).
  5. Your route will be automatically calculated. You can try what-ifs by changing the route options and you can pan around as need to study the route. You can look at the instruction list to study where all the turns are but unfortunately it won't display the distances (even though it knows them). You will have to estimate distances from the map scale to plan stops and other daily activity.

The maps and database

Once the decision was made to use NavTech maps there is very little control that Navman 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. Last year 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).

As a case in point, I live in an area not covered by the city maps and I have 3 bogus turns within the first mile on every autoroute from 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. I also get annoying messages while driving down a road that suddenly tells me to do a U-turn out of the clear blue. I do live in the mountains and maybe these mountain roads could be confused with a U-turn but, in fact this is a problem in the database. 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. On my street there are blocks of address missing from the database so those houses show up in the wrong part of the road. These are all errors caused by making a sloppy database. In addition the maps they are using are many years old and they haven't corrected them. Hopefully the next years database will be better.

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 country however as I notice that San Francisco shows two different locations for the Cliff House both identified with the same telephone number. SmartST doesn't report the street address so I can't tell what's wrong with it.

I will say that the roads are pretty much where they are supposed to be. I have seen other products where the roads are shown more than 500 feet from their true location and I haven't seen this so far on this database.

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. Navman has committed to twice yearly updates so it won't take long to get a good database if everyone inputs data.

Customization Setup

There are several items that can be customized by the user. These are reached from the main menu by tapping Setup. The color scheme can be changed, Voice instructions can be turned off or set to the desired person and distances can be set to kilometers or miles.

In addition to the general setup mentioned in the navigation section you can also turn off automatic Re-routing if desired. It is also possible to set up a tracklog from this page. The tracklog is just a recording of the NMEA sentences from the gps at a 2 to 3 second rate. The file is given a .gps extension. The program can produce the file but will not use it.

POI display can also be controlled by category but there is no control on the zoom level that causes the poi to appear. Pressing the rocker button will leave the setup screen.

More on GPS Operation

As already mentioned, gps operation is automatic with the Navman sleeve. To not use the gps it would have to be unplugged on turned off manually. Even if its turned off the screen will still say "Waiting for GPS".

The GPS status screen displays information about the current state of each of the satellites that the GPS knows about. This is displayed in the center of the screen by coloring the trapezoid shapes around the circle. Yellow means that the gps trying to gather information from that satellite while green means it is in use. If you only have a 2D fix (no altitude) then the satellites will show in red. The circle itself will change color from red to green. If you are color blind and have trouble with the red, green, yellow colors don't worry too much about it as the fix status is also shown in text at the bottom of the screen. the number at the left tells how many satellites are being used and next to it is the fix status either 2D or 3D. Of course, once you have a fix all sorts of numbers start appearing such as the lat/lon for your location, your current velocity (speed and direction), and the UTC time and date. This information is accurate even if the position is currently locked to a road so this screen can be used to report or check your real position.

The gps is placed in a binary mode while the data is gathered and displayed on this status screen. If the system crashes or you kill the application while this screen is in use you will need to return to the gps status screen to restore proper operation.

On the main mapping and navigation screens the gps uses NMEA mode but it changes the sentences to only present the RMC and GSA messages. Since many other programs that you might use with your Navman do not touch the NMEA messages you may experience problems. Either the program will not be able to use the gps at all or it may have missing gps functionality based on the fact that it is missing some messages. I use WinFast Navigator to fix the missing messages when I switch to another application. You may need to experiment to determine which messages an application depends upon.

The status screen indicates a 3D solution but there is no way to display the altitude in this program. A 3D solution is still important since it is usually more accurate than a 2D solution.

Bugs, Issues, and Tips

  1. Icon page and favorites page requires multiple taps on the up or down rocker pad to highlight an entry. The favorites page can take up to six down presses to get to the first entry, or you can press up six times to get to the last entry. Of course, if you use a stylus you can use the scroll bar or tap one of the entries and scroll from there.
  2. Each time you want to do a search you will have to start over since none of the search parameters are remembered. This can be frustrating if you chose show after a search to make sure this is the correct location but now want to see the phone number. It is better to select info first and write down the number, just in case. The info screen will offer the show and go buttons again. I think the tap and hold menu should offer the info data as a menu choice from the map page but this is not the case.
  3. Everything you search for wants some filter by the user but not the one I wanted. I would like to sort the lists by the nearest to my location. If I am running out of gas I want to know the nearest gas station to my gps position without having to know what city its in. Similarly, when I am hungry.
  4. I did a search for Yosemite and while looking at it the background changed to blue. This is evidently a known problem that will be fixed on a future release.
  5. Highways can be particularly difficult to search for. You are never quite sure what the name is and if you tap on hold on most highways you will get a blank in the name column of the menu. Sometimes you can prefix the name with the word highway, sometimes the state abbreviation such as CA- but sometimes you can't find it at all with address searches. I suggest trying an intersection search and the name may show up. Even though you know the exact name it may still not show in an address search. This seems to be a database problem.
  6. an autoroute recalculation while displaying the route info screen disables the user interface. If you happen to leave the route while the information screen is up and a recalculation occurs you will switch to the main navigation screen but none of the keys will work any longer. The workaround is to press the itask button and select the SmarSt application to kick start it again. The keys will now work again until the next time.
  7. I was never able to get a return trip to work as it always complained about not knowing where it was. I don't know what the problem is with this function since I could always generate a new route easily. Select menu -> Quick Nav -> Recent and select the desired destination.
  8. The tool won't always start but doesn't display any error message to help the user. To recover see the text above.
  9. Using any other resource while this program is running may cause the gps to shut down. The workaround is in the gps section above.
  10. You will need to turn off any automatic shutdowns when using this tool. Even with automatic shutdown off you need to tap the screen once to ensure that it doesn't shut down anyway. This seems to be a PPC issue. Many cars remove power to the accessory outlet when the keys are removed so you may want to turn off battery shutdown as well. Remember to turn them back on after the tool is finished. I wish the program would sense that the gps was in use and kept power on as do many other programs for the PPC.
  11. The navigation screen tries to be too smart for me. I would like to either be able to zoom in or out and then it can change it later for the next leg of the journey, or if I significantly change speeds.
  12. On long routes or sometimes on reroutes I have noticed that the street name for a turn gets confused and reports some name that is not anywhere near the turn. This is usually easy to spot since the name is someplace much earlier in the route. The location of the turn is correct so the map display can be used to accurately determine the turn.
  13. The non-stylus user interface is not quite finished. A few examples are listed in the text.
  14. The voice prompts are generally clear but I did notice that the voice message that said the turn was .3 miles ahead was sometimes missing the leading point or turning it into oint.
  15. I would like a better set of icons for the favorites and the ability to have them display other than with the show command.

Conclusions

Most of the items I found in testing this product has already been mentioned in the text so I'll just try a sum them up here.

Final Note

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

By Dale DePriest - All rights reserved.

Revisions
Original release 11/23/2002
revised for 2.0 7/24/2004