This powerful navigation system utilizes a GPS device and a Pocket PC personal digital assistant to provide on-the-road navigation and can be transferred from motorhome to towed vehicle.
By Jack Gabow, F182036
It’s a new kid on the block! Quite a few global positioning system (GPS) navigation devices are available today and of particular interest to RVers. Now a combination of a new navigation program and a palm-sized computer is making its debut. The system — known as Destinator — uses a Pocket PC personal digital assistant (PDA) for its output (we tested it with a Compaq iPAQ) and has a sophisticated navigation system with an excellent 12-channel GPS receiver. This combination offers a high-quality traveling device for use in an auto or RV. There are several systems on the market with similar combinations, but we were particularly impressed with this new program.
PowerLOC Technologies Inc., a company that designs, develops, and produces high-tech commercial navigation systems, is offering Destinator to the consumer market. The company employs NAVTECH maps created by Navigation Technologies Corp., the same maps that are in the navigation systems used by such prestigious companies as Federal Express, OnStar, Mercedes Benz, and others. The maps cover most of North America and come on a single CD.
When planning a trip, the user loads the disk into a laptop or desktop computer running Windows 98 or later. The Pocket PC is then connected to the computer, and the necessary maps are transferred into the PDA’s main memory or onto an external memory card. The memory card is similar to the ones that are used in digital cameras and can be used repeatedly. Utilizing a powerful compression system, Destinator is able to place a great deal of mapping data onto the PDA’s internal memory or a small memory card.
The Destinator is a very user-friendly program that can be worked in either an imperial (feet and miles) or metric format. Users also have a choice of languages (English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish). According to the company, European maps are now offered as well.
The unit is small enough to be easily and conveniently mounted in the cockpit. Permanent installation is not required. Several mounting systems are available to keep the iPAQ handy. We mounted ours on a nearby air-conditioning vent. Some models can be mounted on the windshield or directly on the dashboard. The small GPS receiver usually is placed on top of the dashboard and anchored to the windshield with a suction cup, which is included. The complete unit plugs into a 12-volt outlet. This supplies power to the GPS receiver and charges the little computer’s battery. In addition, an optional mounting system can transfer the sound commands to your FM radio without any external wiring. What we particularly liked was the ability to transfer the unit from one vehicle to another easily.
To start a trip (after having downloaded the appropriate maps), you turn on the program and bring up the menu. It will ask for the destination, which can be entered in one of several fashions — by city and street address, cross streets, zip code, or a spot on a map. Plus, an available address book can hold up to 4,000 addresses. The program will also automatically store your last 15 destinations for reuse. In addition, a points of interest (POI) library contains a listing of available options grouped into more than 45 categories and numerous subcategories, such as nearby airports, auto services, shopping services, gas stations, parking lots, restaurants, and ATMs. These can be shown on your chosen map.
Once all of the information has been entered, click on the Navigation option, and you are on your way. The GPS will quickly make contact with the available satellites and establish your location. We have found this to be very accurate, sometimes within a few feet. Your current location and route are shown on the chosen map, and a pleasant voice command will start directing you through all of the necessary turns that will lead you to your destination.
The voice will give you several turn warnings well ahead of the turn to give the driver time to prepare for the turn safely. The details and area of the shown map will become more specific as you approach the turn. If you should miss your turn for any reason, the system will quickly recalculate your route, and the friendly voice will direct you back to the planned route. This was a valuable asset during one of our trips when an accident caused a road closing and we could not make the needed turn. Almost immediately, we were informed of a recalculated route to get us back on course.
We have found the Destinator to be convenient and accurate. The quality of the maps lived up to their reputation. The voice prompts were delivered in a timely manner, and as a result, the maps themselves needed to be referred to only when it was safe and prudent to do so. In fact, if you have a copilot on board, it’s best to allow him or her to work with the system.
The quality of the maps is what originally attracted us to the program. The navigation program is created using vector imaging techniques. There are generally two methods of creating maps for computer display. One is called vector imaging and the other raster or bitmap imaging. The bitmap system creates the images by using a series of dots. Vector maps are created as solid lines and images, which creates sharper pictures and is especially pleasing when the images are enlarged. The maps are also interactive with the user, which enables the program to react according to the speed of the vehicle.
One of the biggest pluses of the Destinator is that not only do you have an active piece of mapping equipment, but you also have a PDA that can be used to tend to your computer needs while camped. By increasing the storage capacity of our iPAQ, we have found that it is capable of taking care of all of our computer needs while we are away from our home base. We have added a 5-gigabyte storage card that holds all of the maps of North America and leaves plenty of room to operate the various other programs that are in the little PDA. It comes loaded with several Microsoft programs that are in common with our home computer, such as Excel, Word, and Money.
We found the Excel spreadsheets useful for creating programs that help us to keep track of our motorhome’s maintenance requirements. We use the Money program to keep our financial records handy and up-to-date while we are away from home. Word can be used to create files, memos, and letters. A newly developed small printer that can be hooked up to the PDA will make this more practical. When we return home, the entire on-road information that we have collected can be fed into our home computer using a sync cable.
The iPAQ is capable of connecting to a server to receive and send e-mail. It also can be used to connect to the Internet. We carry a small plug-in 56K modem for use when a telephone line is available, and a cell phone with a modem card that can be used when there is no land line.
Along with all of these conveniences, the Compaq iPAQ PDA also includes a telephone directory, as well as a fully active personal calendar. An exciting feature that we have used many times is the built-in microphone that can be used to record your voice and quickly make notes. You also can write with a stylus and have the iPAQ interpret the handwriting and save it as a file. Another capability that we find comforting while away is the ability to store photos of our grandchildren to view during our trip. For those who enjoy reading, the unit has a program that can be used to download books for the road. There are several other wonderful things that the iPAQ can be used for, so this is not only a program for traveling but also a useful appliance for living.
Currently, the Destinator program can be used with the Compaq iPAQ, HP Jurnada, and Casio Cassiopeia e125 Pocket PC PDAs, and the company plans to make it available for other quality PDAs in the near future. For those who already own a GPS receiver, PowerLOC now offers a software and map product that supports virtually any GPS that communicates in standard protocols. Another planned enhancement will give the program wireless capability to check on current road conditions.
The Destinator navigation system package carries a suggested retail price of $329. The package includes a GPS antenna-receiver, a cigarette lighter adapter-charger, and connecting cables; a CD-ROM containing the Destinator software, NAVTECH maps, a user’s manual, and a tutorial; and a travel pouch. A bundled system that includes the Destinator and a Compaq iPAQ PDA is available for $805 through Destinator distributor Raco Industries — www.trackmyvehicle.com; (888) 446-1991. There are no additional monthly charges or fees. To view a sample of the program in use and for ordering information, visit the Raco Industries Web site or the manufacturer at www.destinator1.com. For additional information, contact PowerLOC Technologies Inc. at (866) 798-0905.