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StreetFinder GPS for Palm V
Robert Zach (email@example.com)
Want to use your Palm to find your way? Clip on Rand McNally's GPS receiver for the PalmV and do just that!
The StreetFinder GPS is an all inclusive kit containing the Palm V/Vx clip-on GPS Receiver, StreetFinder Deluxe Software, Car Mount, 12V Car Adapter, 2 AAA batteries, and a Carrying Case that will fit both thee Palm and Receiver.
I was impressed at the completeness of the kit. As much as I expect this, it is getting rare these days unfortunately.
As you can see below the packing is nice; very professionally done.
Here is a shot of the palm with GPS attached lying on top of the vinyl carry case.
By the two shots below you can see that the style is very similar to the clip-on PalmV modem. The back of the unit has the release mechanism, battery door, and reveals the receiver componentry is manufactured by Magellan; very well known in the GPS market. On the front, the hotsync button can be used to start the satellite acquisition process. The unit will shut off after 90 seconds of no use.
To being using the device you must first install the StreetFinder Deluxe software onto a PC. The software comes on 3 CDs - one is an install CD and the others are Eastern and Western U.S. map data CDs. The install process also has you select a user profile to install the StreetFinder.PRC file to on the PalmV (~145K).
At this point you go to work with the PC software. The PC software allows you to make map snapshots or directions to transfer to the Palm. You can zoom in and out to get just the right level of detail (Rand suggests at least level 7).
As you zoom in, you can see detail including POIs (points of interest) such as restaurants, hotels, schools, parks, banks, etc. This information can be included in the map information synced over to the Palm. Simply select an area and the detail level you want and click on the "MapShots" button. A map will be generated and automatically queued for your next hotsync. This process also gives you the opportunity to see map size...and these can be MONSTROUS creating long HotSync times.
At this point you have a map in the Palm and you're on your way. Clip on the GPS receiver and power it on...run StreetFinder on the Palm and select GPS.
Once a signal is acquired, and this can take a LOOONG time the first time (up tp 20 minutes according to the documentation), a crosshair will begin to plot your location on the map as you move. Cool! If you travel off that map, game over. Not so cool.
The other mapping function you can do is address to address directions. However, this is not nearly as nice. My home was nowhere to be found on either Eastern or Western CDs, that's right the software isn't smart enough to know not to search the Western CD for an address in PA. This causes needless CD swapping.
OK let's assume that you do get address-to-address directions ready, the software then goes to the Internet for the directions. Seems to me the software should be either ALL CD based or ALL Internet based, not both. This seriously hampers the "mobility" of the product. On this point I believe that a competing product, GeoDiscovery Geode, will be ALL Internet based.
While I do have issues with the PC side of this application, I must say that the Palm side software has one of the slickest interfaces for a Palm app that I have ever seen. The software uses toolbars on top of the map that all can individually hide with a tap. Very Slick!
Another nice feature of the Palm software is that when you first use it any tap on on the toolbar produces a dialog box that explains what the feature does. There is a check box that says "don't show this help again". I thought this was very nice, it speeds learning of the application without having to RTM ;-)
The Palm app will show you where you are on a map as you travel and give very nice listed address-to-address directions or individual driving directions with large directional indicators. I do have some nit picks with this aspect of the Palm app - these aren't as serious as the PC side but worth a mention.
First of all, with all this positional data, why can't the directional information be automated? By this I mean, take you through the directions with things like "make right turn 50ft" and automagically guide you. Secondly, if you drive off a map I can see where a compass might come in handy. The software has no provision for a GPS compass, which is simple to implement. On this second point I did find a shareware app that provided just this. And, as the Rand receiver outputs standard NMEA, this third party software worked quite well (a plus)!
It seems that since the kit includes a car mount (with a very functional spring loaded system to hold the GPS attached Palm!), seen below, that most of the above comments (good and bad) are all geared toward auto travel. But, this is a GPS receiver so on my wish list for a next release of this software would be to also have Rand McNally include a simple waypoint function and longitude, latitude, elevation information. This way I could go into the woods with my Palm and find my way out ;-) I think this falls into the same category as the compass feature - it's simply just what I'd expect from a GPS unit.
On a final note, as long as we are talking wishes, I really wish the car adapter and receiver had charging circuitry! It is very curious why the Palm III model is rechargeable for a non-rechargeable device, and the PalmV GPS unit takes batteries for a rechargeable Palm. Being as one would normally leave the Palm and receiver on all the time while traveling, it would have been nice to see some simple charging circuitry added to charge the Palm and the GPS unit together while on the road.
All in all, I think this is a really nice product. The hardware and software are for the most part very well produced - from packaging to functionality. And for all this the price seems reasonable. I hope Rand McNally will give some thought to making the software updates as suggested, and solving the charging issues in version 2.0 will make for a 5-star product!
Operational Note: As mentioned initial GPS satellite acquisition took some time. I did determine that either a HackMaster hack or the Palm Keyboard driver may have been causing me problems. A soft reset with PgUp made serial port access, and thereby GPS access, much quicker. Maybe Rand McNally can look into this.
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