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GPS Navigation Receiver CF Card for Pocket PCs from AmbiCom
  - posted Oct. 29, 2003 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor

AmbiCom, a company that makes networking products, now offers a GPS package for Pocket PCs in CF format. The package combines their thin CF card GPS receiver with PocketMap navigation software and Atlas maps data offered by Space Machine. This solution gives you a highly portable GPS solution for your Pocket PC. If you are new to GPS technology, make sure to read our GPS FAQ first. If you need some help evaluating a GPS solution for your PDA, you can read our GPS Evaluation Guide.

Ambicom CF GPS

What’s in the Box?

The AmbiCom GPS solution includes a GPS receiver in Type I CF format. This CF GPS receiver is the slimmest one I have ever seen for PDAs. The package also comes with an additional external antenna, which can stay on the roof of your car since it’s magnetic, to enhance the signal strength and quality. You will also find 2 PocketMap Navigator CDs containing the navigation software and the map data. The 3rd CD is labeled as Diagnostics CD and has the software you need to install in order to make the GPS receiver work with your Pocket PC. The docs include a Quick Installation Guide and Quick Start Guide for the PocketMap software. A more extensive User’s Guide can be found on the CD. There is also a Product Registration Card in the package.

The GPS receiver should work on any Pocket PC, Pocket PC 2002 and Windows Mobile 2003 device that has either a Type I or type II CF slot.

Installation

The installation is quite easy. First you need to install the GPS software using the Diagnostics CD. The GPS software supports Pocket PC OS (WinCE), Windows CE .NET 4.x and Windows desktops including Windows 98, 2000, ME and XP. Please note, even though the GPS driver supports Windows CE .NET, the PocketMap Navigator bundled with this package does not. So you can see satellite tracking info on your Windows CE .NET devices, but you won’t be able to use the navigation software which provides guidance for your trip planning and driving.

When you install the GPS software onto your Pocket PC, make sure you connect your Pocket PC to the desktop machine via ActiveSync and then select the WinCE option on the pop-up menu from the installation CD. Once this software is installed, you will see GPS Diag icon on your Pocket PC and you can start the GPS tracking.

To install the navigation software, which includes routing features, driving instructions and voice guidance, and map software that covers the 50 US States, insert the PocketMap Disk 1. Follow the installation instructions to install the PocketMap Data Manager on both desktop machine and Pocket PC, and PocketMap Navigator on the Pocket PC. Launch the PocketMap Data Manager from your Start menu on the desktop machine to install maps and POIs (Points of Interest). There are three types of data you can download: Map data, Highway data and trip Routes data. In the Map data download utility, you can choose to download the maps by searching for the city, county or state, although the smallest map is the county map. You can download multiple county or state maps and see a list of cities in the county download or a list of counties in state download. The Highway data is optimized for calculating long-distance routes on your Pocket PC.

The map data is broken down into two files: West and East. You could however manually delete the counties you won’t need after downloaded the maps. The Routes data download allows you to create routes and download the maps of the areas around each Route Points. In the Routes window, you need to give the origin and destination addresses, and can add Waypoints along the routes. Once all the addresses are entered, you can calculate the route, get driving directions and download the maps.

In all three map data download modes, you will get info on map file size, POI file size, etc. If you don’t want to pull out the data CD each time you plan a trip or download a map, you can install the maps onto your desktop or save routes you’ve planned on your desktop for reuse later. If you download the map data to your Pocket PC, you can map out your routes right on your handheld as well. The map data size and POI file size vary depending on which State, County or City you are in. Since it breaks down to Counties, the file size won’t be humongous in most cases. This map data manager packs with bells and whistles that will help you to get the exact map info you need onto your Pocket PC.

How are the results of routes calculation? It varies depends on where you go. The route calculation tends to use the highway system when possible, even though in some cases the local routes might be shorter and make more sense.

 

 

 

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Driving with the GPS

After you have completed the installation process, you can now plug your GPS CF card into your Pocket PC. There is a port on top of the CF card that allows you to connect the external antenna to the CF card; and a reset button that allows you to clear all existing data that the GPS has acquired before. After you reset the GPS receiver, you will need to soft reset your Pocket PC as well before acquiring a new GPS reading. I have done this without soft resetting my Pocket PC, but it works more reliably if you soft reset your Pocket PC.

The GPS receiver gets a very strong signal in the Silicon Valley. It takes less than 30 seconds to complete a cold start and a few seconds for a warm start, and it constantly tracks 4-5 satellites with 9-10 in view. To start the GPS, click on the GPS Diag icon on your Pocket PC. You will see an interface with Start GPS, Satellite Distribution and Setting buttons. Once the GPS has a fix, you will see the usual positioning info such as Latitude, Longitude, Speed, Course and Date/Time. The Satellite Distribution screen shows you visually how many satellites are in sight and being tracked. In Settings, you will find GPS COM ports, more detailed info on satellites and more. As with many other GPS receivers for handhelds, the AmbiCom GPS CF card can work with other navigation software under the NMEA standard (0183) and SiRF Binary protocols. Also the AmbiCom GPS receiver has WAAS support but you will need to turn it on using the Diag CD settings.

Satellite view

 

To access the navigation, click on the PocketMap icon. The PocketMap Navigator software has a very intuitive interface that gives you quick access to Configure GPS, Explore, Driving Directions and Navigate functions. You can set up map display preferences including Night Mode, Pan Arrows, Auto Reroute and more in the Settings on this main screen. You can also set up POI categories and storage options in the Settings. Even though the GPS Diag has acquired the necessary GPS readings, you still need to get readings in the GPS Configuration screen in the PocketMap in order to navigate or view maps on your Pocket PC.

Driving Directions can be accessed from the main screen and is a text version of the turn-by-turn instructions with icons indicating various maneuvers. You also get additional trip information such as how many turns, miles and ETA. To see the map, you need to go to the Navigate screen. If you have a route planned, the Navigation will mark your route on the map and track your movements. You will hear the voice guidance giving you turn-by-turn driving instructions. If you missed your turn, the PocketMap Navigator will make a sound alert and re-route automatically and give you new driving directions. The re-route process is fairly quick in our test. The Navigate screen also offers additional visual aids such as shortcut buttons for reverse the route, next maneuver, etc, and icons such as Countdown for number of voice guidance messages left before the next turn.

map view

If you haven’t created a route or downloaded one from your desktop, you can do it right on your Pocket PC, as long as you have the maps on your handheld and your GPS can get a position reading. Click on the Explore button on the main screen, you can explore the vicinity of your current location, view the maps, POIs and plan your route. To find a location, you can search by address, intersection or city name as well as nearby POIs or your recent favorites. There is no integration with your Outlook Contacts, which means you need to re-enter the address even if you have already had it in your Contact database. However, the process is quite easy as all the City names, Street names and Street numbers are preinstalled. Once you’ve entered origin, destination and waypoints, hit the red Calculate Route button to get the route map and driving directions. If for any reason you have missed a turn, the PocketMap navigator will notice it immediately and recalculate your route right away.

The presence of the voice guidance is constant. Combine the voice over with system alert sound, you will get the turn directions, info on mileage, etc. read to you, and hear warning of off route, speed limit and more with various systems alert sound. The volume is decent over the noise of the road, although I wouldn’t mind a better amplification. The timing seems right on target and you will even get a route confirmation when crossing major intersections.

Conclusion

Pros: The AmbiCom CF GPS package wins with its slim CF receiver size and adding the external antenna for better signals while driving. The bundle with PocketMap makes this solution a complete mobile package for your Pocket PC. The GPS software supports Windows CE .NET 4.x devices like Samsung NEXiO S160, but the PocketMap Navigator does not. The GPS receiver gets consistently great signal strength in the Silicon Valley. It sells at a GREAT price.
Cons: It doesn’t come with any vehicle mounting kit. The route calculation needs a bit of tweaking since it seems to favor the highway a lot more. It’d be nice to have Outlook integration for those folks who sync their contacts with the Pocket PCs. It would have been great if the navigation software supported Windows CE .NET to work with the GPS software on those devices.

Price: $199.99
Web Site: www.ambicom.com