Pocket Navigator Review

This review covers the Pocket Navigator product from Maptech. The reviewed version is 2.6.1 build 131 working with maps from Terrain Navigator 2002. Review hardware includes an iPAQ 3970 running pocket pc 2002 and several gps devices including a Garmin 12, emap, etrex vista, and a Navman series-i (shown to the left). The focus of this review is the use of Pocket Navigator on the pocket pc with a gps. There is a separate review available on the Navman sleeve.

Contents

Introduction

The product arrives on a cdrom and installation was uneventful. First you install the PC application, called Memory-Map Navigator, and then you must register your product via the web or by telephone. After registration you use the pc application to download the pocket pc application to your pocket pc. Similarly all maps are downloaded by using the pc application. A few sample maps come with the product but for real use you will need to also own one of the companion mapping products for your pc. They have aviation products, marine products, and topo products. The aviation products and marine products have some international maps but the topo products are only for the USA. For this review I used the topo product, Terrain Navigator. A short discussion of features for these other products is included later in the review. You don't actually have to install the companion product if you don't want to as you only need the maps for Memory-Map Navigator. If, for some reason, you can't register the Navigator product immediately the gps functions won't work properly, but you can always register later and the registration code will automatically get synced to the pocket pc unit. If you ordered the Navman gps with your order you will also need to install this driver to your pocket pc. This can be done using Memory-Map Navigator or via the included Navman cdrom.

The Memory-Map Navigator product and the Pocket Navigator product are very similar and have a similar interface. The Pocket Navigator help facility is pretty abbreviated but you can use the pc product help to fill in the gaps since the products are so similar and documentation for the pocket pc is included. Note that the Memory-Map product is not the full featured product as it is missing the ability to print maps and work with a gps on the pc. The companion product that you purchased to get the maps does have these features so it is generally not a problem but it is also possible to update the Memory-Map product. There is a paper getting started manual shipped with the product that is pretty complete plus some quick start guides.

Operation

The screen on Pocket Navigator is shown on the left with a shot near my home. To work with pocket navigator you will need some maps or charts. Typically mariners and aviators use the word chart while everyone else is more familiar with the term map. Generally this review will use the term map unless talking about a specific command called 'chart' or referencing Marine or Aviation products. Start the Memory-Map product with the appropriate maps in the cdrom and click on 'chart'. The first time you use the application you will need to register the maps. After a short while a full list of the available maps will appear, but notice that the size column is blank for most of them. Select the one you want and hit ok. Note that you could send it directly to the PDA from this form but it may be better to look at it first. Being able to view it can help in selecting adjacent maps for download by viewing the data in the margins of the map and the size of the map will show up on the chart form. If you have more than one cdrom you will need to remember which one you used to register the maps since it won't look at all the cdroms when loading. There is a full selection of 24K maps and 100K maps present on the cdrom. You can use either or both on the pocket pc but realize that these are pretty big maps. The 24K maps range from about 3 Meg to over 6 Meg while the 100K maps are 8 to 10 Megabytes each. Once you have decided on the maps you want to download you can send them to your PDA from the chart form or from the PDA menu. You will be offered a choice of places on your unit to store the maps depending on the current cards installed. The program will find all of the maps even if they are distributed among several cards. These are USGS maps and are exactly like the paper ones you might own. They are suitable for off road use but don't trust man made objects like streets or buildings to reflect current data. Some highways are named but don't expect names on roads.

Viewing the maps is basically the same on both Memory-Map and Pocket Navigator. There are two icons for zooming as shown above and you can program two hard buttons to perform this task. There are 6 zoom levels available with level 5 being full map resolution while level 6 is done by pixel replication and aliasing. Zooming out just compresses the display losing detail as you zoom out. Panning is done simply by touching the screen and dragging. There is no measuring tool available but there is a scale indicator (shown above) that can be displayed and the maps themselves provide a legend in the margin that has a ruler on it. Here is a table that shows the full width of the screen at the various zoom levels. The charts available for marine and aviation use can be estimated from this data.

zm24K100K
19 mi45 mi
224000 ft23 mi
312000 ft11 mi
46000 ft30000 ft
53000 ft15000 ft
61500 ft7500 ft
This means about 6 feet per pixel on a pocket pc.

Maps are not seamless and you can only display one at a time on Pocket Navigator, but while using a gps the map will automatically be changed to display your current location on a map if you have one loaded at that scale. You can switch between maps from the menu or if you scroll off the map press and hold the stylus on the screen. If there is a map available you will be shown a menu that can select it. You may see same scale, if the map is the same scale as the one you were using, or 'scale out'/'scale in' if the map is a different scale. You might have multiple choices available. There is also an alt view icon (shown above next to the zoom icons) that will switch from your current scale to a full scale of the map the first time you use it. On the pc this will show you where you are on the full map but this feature does not work on the pocket pc. This view is handy for long routes that span multiple maps but the alt view can also be zoomed to provide the ability to switch back and forth in two zoom levels.

There is also a 'data' icon shown above between the lock and the info button. (The lock and info are used for gps operation.) If the data icon is enabled it will cause each tap on the screen to report its lat/lon numbers or other selectable grid. Grids include various forms of lat/lon, UTM, and British Grid. The UTM is available in two datums to match paper USA topo maps you might have. These grids displays are designed to allow you to match the screen display with a paper map. The UTM zone is missing the letter suffix that is usually part of a UTM designation but the numbers are unique within a hemisphere even without it. If you Tap on an overlay object (waypoint, route, tracklog) it will report information about the object. Tap the number again to remove it.

GPS and Pocket Navigator

One of the main features of Pocket Navigator is its ability to work with gps receivers. While maps are useful without a gps they are really enhanced if the computer does all the work for locating your position on the map and even more if you can place some of your own data on the map. GPS support is reached from the menu and includes a setup menu, a satellite status display, a position display, and navigation support. Navigation support will be covered later but other features will be covered in this section. In addition to the menu items there is an info icon and lock icon at the bottom of the screen.

Setup

The setup (menu->gps->setup) command is where gps selection occurs. There is a selection field for Manufacturer and perhaps for model. Two more selection fields are provided for port and Baud rate. For some manufacturers this data is fixed and these fields will be grayed out. A pseudo manufacturer called none is used to disable gps operation. There is also a debug checkbox, which writes a file to the system. At the top of the screen there is a display of the current gps status which will be 'no signal' the first time you select setup.

NMEA setting is supported which is standard at 4800 baud but Pocket Navigator lets you change this for gps units that support different baud rates. For example the Garmin 12 can use 9600 baud to be able to update the position every second instead of the default of every 2 seconds. In addition to the standard NMEA setting there are special settings for certain receivers. Setting Navman automatically configures for the Navman 3400 sleeve by selecting the baud rate and port. This is particularly useful since Pocket Navigator can be purchased with a Navman sleeve. The Garmin setting allows use of the Garmin proprietary interface which can be used for real time tracking on some Garmin receivers, and for upload and download of tracks, waypoints, and routes on all Garmin handhelds. Of course Garmin receivers will also work for real time tracking in NMEA mode.

A nice feature of the gps mode it the fact that Pocket Navigator will keep your PocketPC running, even while on batteries, in this mode. Note that this does not work if you lose a lock or during initialization so you will have to check the unit during these times. This is convenient when using the unit to log your travels but don't forget to shut it off. Another nice feature is the fact that you can scroll the screen to place the gps location off center to provide more information in a particular direction such as ahead of your movement. It will remain offset while continuing to scroll the map under the position icon.

Status and Position

Two other choices are status and position. Each of these draws a box on top of the map display to contain specific data. The boxes can be moved as needed to see the underlying map or resized to take up less space on the screen. (The behavior of these screens is change dramatically in 3.0) The status screen resizes the data itself and tries to display all of it but the position screen simply truncates the information if the screen is too small to contain it. Unfortunately the clock and date display is on the first line so it is always displayed. I wish it were on the last line since most users don't need to see this data (there is already a clock in the banner) and it takes up valuable screen real estate. The rest of the data varies as needed but can include lat/lon, speed and direction, altitude, and error messages about the gps status. The only configurable item is the display of altitude data and this check box is on a settings form over on the Overlay menu for reasons that are beyond me. The lat/lon numbers will correspond to the preference setting mentioned in the data section above. The satellite status chart shows bars in two colors. The green bars show satellites that are being used as part of the solution while the gray bars are not. There are a number of reasons a bar may be present and shown in gray but the primary reason is that the gps has not yet gathered ephemeris data for the satellite.

GPS Info

There is an info button at the bottom of the screen that is supposed to display gps info. The way it is designed it only displays info when there is a problem with the gps, when the gps is working the info button is grayed out. If you want info about the gps when it is running you hold the stylus down on the position icon and select the properties form. I would not have expected to get info about the fix on the properties form instead of the info icon and would have preferred it if the info button changed colors based on whether there is a fix or not but always provided gps info.

Selecting this property shows the fix status and provides a number that indicates accuracy. Note that a gps cannot actually tell you how accurate it really is but can provide an estimate based on information about satellite locations and data provided by the satellite itself. How the number is computed is not specified in the documentation but it is clearly different from the number a Garmin receiver computes by about a factor of 2. I suspect it is reporting a 95% probability number while the Garmin is reporting a number with a 50-60% probability range. Note that the status is only given when the form is first opened and will not change even if the gps status changes. To see if there are any changes close and reopen the form.

In addition to gps information such as status and accuracy there is another config item on the properties form which is called a Velocity Vector. The Velocity Vector is a neat feature that projects your future position on the screen with an arrow showing where you will be given your current speed and direction. The configuration items let you control the color of the arrow and scale the length of the arrow. The arrow length is determine by the current speed but the configuration setting lets you specify how far into the future you want the project to display. This sounds funny but works well. For example, if you set it to 1 minute then the length of the arrow would predict where you will be one minute from now at your current speed and heading. The faster you go the longer the arrow. Visually the arrow provides a clear indicator as to direction of movement and relative speed. You can also rename the position icon which can be handy since the log will be named the same. You can send the log back to the pc and email it to your friends. They can display it on their copy of Pocket Navigator and it will be tagged with the name you gave it.

Capturing a waypoint

One of the things a gps user may want to do is to save the current gps location as a waypoint. There is a direct way to store this location as a waypoint only on Pocket PC systems with a voice recorder by pressing the record button. This is usually a convenient button to press even when the unit is in a case. You will get a voice recording that is referenced in the notes part of the waypoint and the waypoint name will be 'note'. On other units you must use the overlay menu and select 'Create Mark'. (This behavior is changed in 3.0) Then you must tap the screen at the location where you want the mark to appear. Since accuracy with this technique is very dependent on the ability to tap a precise place it is best to zoom way in when using this technique. Once you tap at the precise point of the gps display the default waypoint will be created. You might like to edit it to provide a unique name or change the icon but you will not be able to select it so long as the gps locator is setting over it. Once the gps location moves off the icon it will be selectable. Note that most icons can be selected by tapping the center but the default flag icon requires finding the end of the flag pole. Of course this marking method is the same technique you would use when creating marks during route planning but the gps icon won't get in the way.

I think the manual mark behavior would be enhanced if it automatically brought up the properties form when the waypoint is created so that the icon or name can be changed and notes added. This would help mitigate the problem of the waypoint appearing under the gps location icon when created in this fashion. While we are talking about the properties form it would be nice to add the lock check box, a hide check box and a delete key to this form. It would also be nice to be able to designate another key to set the gps waypoint for units with no voice recorder or when you don't want a voice message. Being able to add notes and recordings does make this tool useful for field data gathering tasks. The properties form also includes the ability to designate this waypoint as a proximity or anchor point. There is more data on these features below.

Navigation using Pocket Navigator

Navigation on Pocket Navigator supports both route navigation and direct navigation to a waypoint. Routes are collections of waypoints that are expected to be traversed in a given order. This order can be reversed to return back using the same route.

To initiate simple goto navigation select the target waypoint and choose 'GoTo WP' from the menu. A navigation window will appear with the target, an arrow pointing the way, and a distance and heading. Follow the arrow to get to the destination. (The behavior of this screen is changed in 3.0) If you kill the window then navigation is terminated but you can resize it and move it. Navigating a route is just as simple once you have one built. Just find the route on the screen and select it and choose "Follow Route". The same navigation window will appear and guide you from point to point in the route. Only the route name is shown however. I think it would be better to show the name of the upcoming waypoint. It will switch automatically as you pass a waypoint but will not warn you about upcoming waypoints except by showing you the distance. It also will not show you which way to turn until you go too far. One trick is to place the waypoint slightly ahead of the turn or after the turn to fool the arrow into guiding you better. You might think that setting proximity alarms at key turn decisions would be useful and they would be except ... the designer seems only to have expected them to be used for hazard areas so there is no way to shut them off except to turn off sound on your pocket pc entirely. Note that if you set the proximity alarm you should realize that the distances are always in meters no matter how you have your preferences set.

Displaying routes can tie up computer resources that are needed for navigation guidance so it is best to hide all routes and tracks except the one you want to use. Unfortunately this is not easy to do since you have to find all of the routes graphically and hide them one by one. There really needs to be better route and waypoint management on the pocket pc.

Building and editing routes

A route can be imported from a Garmin gps, downloaded from the pc program, or built on the spot. It can also be added to or the waypoints can be moved around as needed. You can build a route from scratch just by starting a new route and tapping successive places on the map. You can stop the route building and scroll the map and then add some more points. You can even tap on existing waypoints to include them in your route, however be careful since you cannot remove them from a route without deleting them. You can select a route and view its properties to change the name of the route and to rename the individual points in the route to more meaningful names if you wish. You can also reverse a route to return back the way you came. However you can't delete route points or do any other maintenance from this screen. Route maintenance must be done graphically. Another choice is to upload the route to the pc and edit it on the pc. Note that any downloads from the pc does not merge with existing data but will replace all of the data of that type, therefore upload any data you wish to save first.

A route can also be built to aid in the calculation of an area. If the route is closed where the end point and the start point are the same the area in acres (or hectares for metric) will be displayed. If you traverse a perimeter a tracklog will provide the same data.

Tracklogs

An automatic recording of your travel is always done when using a gps receiver. Having automatic record mean you can focus on the trip without having to worry abut recording location data. This can be viewed to provide the ability to retrace your steps but there is not direct navigation on this data without manually converting it to a route. The tracklog can be stopped at any time to create a new one or to erase the older data but the recording cannot be turned off. If displayed it can slow down the operation of Pocket Navigator as the log gets too long. It is possible to send this data back to the pc for later analysis. The track properties can be used to adjust the update time in seconds and the update distance in meters. This controls how often the data is collected. Both criteria must be met before a point is recorded. Tracklogs can also be reduced by automatically removing points to improve performance or to take up less space.

Other Features

There is a find command that can be reached from the menu. It can be used find points of interest on the maps. For the topo maps these include some non-commercial buildings and mostly geographic objects. To get this to work you much load the poi database into Memory-map navigator and then download it to the Pocket PC. (In 3.0 you can select one map and download only the data from that map.) Note that this works fairly well when used in Memory-map navigator where it can prompt you for a cdrom if you choose an object that is not on a registered map but does not work well for the Pocket Navigator since you are unlikely to have very many maps loaded and most of the objects in your database will not be found. The database cannot be edited, but you can build an ascii database from scratch that can contain information about your maps. While painful to do since it requires a lot of typing the results will be a poi database that you can actually use.

A vast improvement to the find command would be to be able to use it to find your waypoints, routes, and tracks. Currently these things must be found graphically by trial and error.

There are some features intended for marine and aviation use. Most notably for marine use these include the proximity alarms for hazards and anchor alarms to alert you to a drifting boat. As already noted proximity alarms would be a lot more useful if you could turn them off, then they could be used to alert the aviator about navigation beacons or by anyone running a route. The ability to set the track and bearing displays to magnetic is of particular importance to marine and aviation users since this allows the numbers to match the bulkhead mounted compass displays. Topo users may also find this useful to match their hand compasses but this is not nearly so necessary since everything needed for navigation is built into the tool. (That is not to say that having a compass and paper map for backup is not important because it is always important to have backups that do not depend on batteries.)

Most of the uniqueness for aviators and mariners is in the maps themselves and their poi data. Navigation aids are clearly shown on the NOAA charts as a visual aid to navigation. Pocket Navigator provides the ability to display this data clearly for the user which is also an important feature for Topo use!

Tips

I my review of this product I have found a few tips and workarounds. This section will cover the things I have found.

  1. issue: When using the X in the banner to turn off Pocket Navigator the software stays connected to the gps.
    This can be considered a feature if you just want to bring up the contack list or some other tasks and then return to Pocket Navigator. Using the menu exit command will remove the software from active memory and free the gps connection. This will free the gps for use by other software. This may improve power consumption slightly when using a gps that receives power from the pocket pc.

  2. issue: The hot buttons remain active even after quitting the application.
    This issue is similar to the one above in that using Menu->exit will not have this problem. You might call it a feature since the button can be used to return to Pocket Navigator! Another way to fix this is to use the system menu to kill the application.

  3. issue: When a waypoint is under the gps location icon it cannot be edited. Even turning off the gps will not remove the icon.
    Use the gps setup and select none to turn off the gps connection and then select the position icon to bring up the menu. Use delete to remove the icon. (It will be recreated automatically the next time the gps is selected.) Do not use Hide since there is no easy way to get the icon back if you use hide. If you use Hide you can only turn it back on by turning on everything which may require turning the other items back off again that you had previously hidden.

  4. issue: The software becomes very sluggish and the gps tracking icon spends more time off than on and is difficult to find.
    This is almost always caused by tracklog processing. When the tracklog gets too large or you have too many displayed it can cause this problem. The solution is to hide or delete the log. Another solution may be to reduce the log. This problem may also appear if you download tracklogs from a Garmin gps. The software seems to expect a single log and will get bogged down from the multiple logs that later Garmin units have.

  5. issue: The satellite screen doesn't work with a Garmin receiver.
    A Garmin GPS, in Garmin interface mode, does not provide the data to drive this display. If you wish to see the display you can switch the Garmin unit to NMEA mode and select NMEA mode from the software.

  6. issue: A waypoint cannot be removed even though lock is not set.
    If the waypoint is part of a route and the route is locked then the waypoint cannot be deleted. Unlock the route and unlock the waypoint to remove it.

  7. issue: What is the best way to use a Garmin and pocket pc to capture sample tracks on a hike?
    If you need to turn off power to save batteries then be sure and shut down the Garmin last and turn it on first. Shutting down a Garmin running in Garmin mode will cause Pocket Navigator to attempt a recover procedure and when this fails it will be locked in recovery mode and will not respond when you finally turn the gps back on. You will need to go through a complete turn off of gps and back on in Pocket Navigator to recover although I have seen it recover after about 5 minutes on its own. This problem does not exist in NMEA mode.

  8. issue: How can I capture my Magellan or other brand gps data?
    (Pocket PC does support Magellan in 3.0 but the issue if still valide if you have a different brand of gps.) Pocket PC does not support Magellan or other brands of gps units directly but Terrain Navigator may. If Terrain Navigator (or other appropriate Maptech map display program) supports waypoints or routes on your device you could hook your gps to a pc and download waypoints and routes to Terrain Navigator, export this data, and import it into Memory-Map. Once it is in memory-map it can be downloaded to Pocket Navigator. Of course, real time tracking is supported on any GPS that uses NMEA mode.

Conclusions

I have already made most of the comments in the discussion of the specific topics above. However, some general conclusions are listed below.

If you want to use top quality maps and charts on your pocket pc then this product may be just what you are looking for. It starts with high quality scans of paper maps and I was pleasantly surprised to find that major roads were distinguishable at level 2 and city names became readable at level 3 even though it is compressing the level 5 data. This speaks well of the electronic quality. In addition the gps location is very accurately represented as the maps are well calibrated. Some folks will buy this product just to get the maps! But you don't have to trust my comments as I have collected several views of the maps in a web page and you can look for yourself. Since I live within a block a map boundary I would like to have custom maps available.

Many of the menus and forms are not organized efficiently making it difficult to find a some items or awkward to use. This is particularly true for cyclists or off-roaders which may have trouble using a stylus while moving. There are several examples of this in the text.

There is good support for overlay data (waypoints, tracks, routes) which can be created on the pocket pc and uploaded to the pc or vice versa. This flexibility will be of particular use to folks needing to plan trips or folks wanting to collect field data for later analysis. Both audible and written notes are supported. Of course some folks just want to map their favorite fishing spot, follow a trail, or see a log of where they went. These needs are fully supported as well.

Overall the software quality was good. I suffered some performance problems but no crashes while using the tool. The feature set provides the promised functionality and a bit more. GPS support was good as well.

Final Notes

Pocket Navigator is marketed by MapTech but was created by Memory Map.com as is Memory-map Navigator. I have obtained comments on this review to ensure that it is accurate from both companies but the opinions and ideas are mine alone. All of the maps shown are from MapTech.

by Dale DePriest - all rights reserved.
27 September 2002, minor revision 16 October 2002
4 November 2002, identified some improvements that are coming in the 3.0 release.