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OnCourse Navigator 4 GPS for Pocket PC
Posted January 2005 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor

OnCourse Navigator is owned and managed by Easy PocketNAV.com LLC, a relative newcomer to the GPS space. Their OnCourse Navigator 4 product represents a new way of navigating compared to existing PDA GPS navigation solutions. You can navigate not only base on existing destinations such as street addresses, addresses in your Contacts database or in the Point of Interest (POI) database, but also any point on the map! This means you can pinpoint a location on the map with your stylus and the navigation software will route your trip to or from that point or find POIs, addresses and streets near that point. This along with a full set of navigation features, support for many GPS receivers and the bundled NAVTEQ North America map data, will make OnCourse Navigator 4 a very popular solution for the Pocket PC.

OnCourse Navigator 4 offers bundles with many types of GPS receivers which will give you the freedom to choose the best hardware GPS solution for your Pocket PC. These bundles include CF card GPS receiver, CF + Memory card GPS receiver, Bluetooth GPS receiver, wired mouse GPS (you can find a device compatibility list here) and a bundle with the Mio 168 Pocket PC. An SDIO GPS receiver bundle is on its way at press time. In North America, BuyGPSNow.com is the official distributor of OnCourse Navigator 4 and you will find all the available bundles on BuyGPSNow.com website. We have reviewed the HAiCOM GPS receivers offered by BuyGPSNow.com previously and you can find that review by following this link.

We used the Mio 168 Pocket PC bundled with OnCourse Navigator 4 in the review. OnCourse Navigator 4 bundles NAVTEQ map data which comes on 4 CDs and covers North America including US and Canada. The US maps include 49 States including Hawaii, but no Alaska. NAVTEQ has published the map for Alaska only very recently. OnCourse Navigator 4 also offers a Western European map bundle. If you are not familiar with GPS solutions, check out our GPS FAQ and our Guide on how to evaluate a GPS solution that will work with your PDA.

What’s in the Box?

The OnCourse Navigator 4 All in One bundle includes Mio 168 Pocket PC with built-in GPS receiver and Pocket PC standard software bundle, a 256MB MMC card pre-loaded with the navigation software and the maps of 31 top cities, the OnCourse Navigator 4 software and map on 4 CDs and a printed Quick Start Guide. The accessories bundled in the package include a USB ActiveSync cable, an AC adapter and an in-vehicle charger, a windshield suction mounting brace and holster as well as a PDA protection case.

Mio Hardware bundle

 

 

Some additional information about the Mio 168

The Mio 168, introduced in March of 2004, is the first Pocket PC with a built in GPS receiver. It features a bright and colorful display, a very loud speaker (great when using it as a GPS in the car) and a compact design. We did a very in-depth review including benchmark test results when the Mio 168 first came out. You can find that review by following this link. While the OnCourse Navigator 4 bundles the same Pocket PC device, there are two major variations in this Mio 168 compared to the one we used in our first Mio 168 review. One is the firmware update. Mitac, the manufacturer of the Mio 168, has since released an updated firmware which has received very positive feedback from their customers. Mitac worked together with the SiRF, the GPS chipset maker, on this firmware update and you will see that the Mio 168 bundled with OnCourse Navigator 4 has the SiRF Xtrac Version 2.0 firmware (as do newer Mio 168 units sold with the standard Mitac GPS software bundle). Another major difference is the navigation software. The original Mio 168 was bundled with Destinator 3 navigation software and the OnCourse Navigator 4 bundle features its own navigation software. Map data however is coming from the same source: NAVTEQ.

Installation

Since the all in one package comes with a flash card pre-installed with the navigation software and some major metro maps, you can just stick the card in your Mio 168 and the software will be automatically installed from the card to your Pocket PC. If you don’t have the bundle with the flash card, you can use the CDs that come with your GPS to install the software. It’s an easy process to install the navigation software, desktop software for cutting maps and map data to your desktop. Once all the software is installed, you can use the MapExport tool to cut and download maps to your Pocket PC.

One of the best new features in the OnCourse Navigator 4 is the freedom to customize the maps. The MapExport in OnCourse Navigator 4 provides you with many ways to customize the maps you wish to download. You can use your cursor to mark an area in the Basic Map view and MapExport will tell you how many miles your selected area covers and the size of the map. You can give a name to this customized map, then download it to your Pocket PC, save it for later use or open it the next time you launch MapExport. If you need to create a custom map based on your travel itinerary, you can create a map with all the stops on your route and the radius of the areas you will travel through or stay in. To create a map for this purpose, you will need to use the Corridor Map view in the MapExport. You can create or import itineraries from your PC or Pocket PC with all the stops, POIs and waypoints and load them into the MapExport. The MapExport will generate a route map based on your itinerary. There are some additional route options such as Quickest Route, Shortest Route, Pedestrian Route and options to avoid Interstates, ferries or tolled roads. There are also vehicle options for you to map the route based on car speed, truck or motorcycle. You can also set the radius around the route in mile to download maps surrounding your trip. Once you are done creating the Corridor map, the MapExport will tell the size of the map and you can give it a name, then download or save the map.

In both Basic Map and Corridor Map views, you can zoom in to see the detailed street level map and to search for POIs. The combination of these two map customization tools give users the flexibility to plan their trip easily and to cut the maps they need. They work well for both door-to-door navigation and cross country navigation. As mentioned, the US maps include the 48 continental States plus the map of Hawaii. In addition to the MapExport tool, OnCourse Navigator 4 also provides a SkinEditor tool which allows you to change the look and feel of the navigation display on your Pocket PC. You can change the background image of the OnCourse Navigator 4, the colors, fonts and borders of the buttons, the colors of the pop-up windows and more. After editing the skin, you can save them and load them to your Pocket PC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GPS Receivers

The built-in GPS uses the SiRF chipset and supports the standard NMEA protocol. The Baud rate is set at 4800. The updated firmware ensures the Mio 168 gets a fix quickly and gets its signal from a large number of satellites. The cold start in our test took about 15 seconds to get 3 satellites for a 2D fix and about 20 seconds to get 5 satellites for a 3D fix. The Mio 168 receiver works with 5-7 satellites consistently and often gets 8 or 9 satellites in the Silicon Valley area and can even get a satellite signal indoors. Impressive! The warm and hot starts take very little time. The GPS interface is a simple one in the OnCourse Navigator, but it does have a nice integration with the navigation tool. When you get a fix on your position, you can hit the save this location button to save your position as a destination. You can label this destination with either text or voice note. Very convenient!

Navigation

The OnCourse Navigator 4 has an intuitive interface yet provides full set of options for you to navigation routes quickly and accurately. There are two options in the start of the navigation: navigate to a single destination and navigate to several destinations. There are many ways you can establish destinations in OnCourse Navigator 4. You can enter new addresses in the navigation window, use addresses from your Outlook Contacts database, select Points of Interest from the POI database, re-use the destinations you’ve recently entered or saved as favorite, and the one I like above all is any position on the map can be your destination. This eliminates the need of having to know the street address when you navigate your route. You can save your current position or any position on the map as your destination. The OnCourse Navigator 4 will actually tell you the street details when you select a point on the map and allows you to navigate to or from that point, search nearby Points of Interest and save it as a special location such as where I parked my car or here is a restaurant I want to check out later. Another use for this feature is that when you are lost, you can use your current position to navigate your way out of the maze. One more useful feature in finding and selecting a destination is using the voice command. Like many built-in vehicle GPS, the OnCourse Navigator 4 allows you to enter a destination by speaking the name of the destination. Tap on the voice command icon in the navigation main menu and speak the voice tag (such as David or Fry’s), the navigation software will select the address associated with that voice tag.

To help customize your routes, the OnCourse Navigator 4 provides you with the usual set of options and then some. You can select the fastest route, shortest route or pedestrian route for the navigation and also avoid, permit or forbid Interstate highways, Ferries or tolled roads. One nice thing about the OnCourse Navigator 4 is that you can modify these option in each leg of your journey should you have multiple destinations in one trip planning. In addition to the route navigation option, there is also a speed profile option. You can choose from three speed levels for cars, a truck speed level and a motorcycle level. This helps the guidance system monitor the speed limit for you. One thing missing though is the automatic reverse trip planning that many GPS users have used and loved.

In our test, the route calculation seems to be very accurate. Navigation to our destination in Fastest and Shortest routes yielded correct routing. It is always a good idea to experiment with all the options to find the right combination for your area and routes. If you missed a turn, the OnCourse Navigator 4 will re-route your course. In our test, the re-calculations didn’t get as good results as the initial trip planning. The main issue we experienced in the re-calculation is the delay in getting you onto the right route. This means you might need to drive an extra block or two before the OnCourse Navigator 4 gets you back on the right route. Once your routes are calculated, you can view an animated simulation, save the route into a file, view the route map or go to the navigation view for driving guidance.

Guidance

The turn-by-turn driving directions view is combined with the map view. The top part of your Pocket PC displays the map and the bottom half shows the next turn, distance to the next turn, the street you are currently on and the next street after the turn, your current speed as well as estimated arrival time, estimated remaining time and remaining distance. There is lots of information available on this screen and if you wish to turn some of the information on or off, you can do so easily in the Settings from the Main Menu.

The map can be displayed in either 2D or 3D view and there is a granular zoom tool that can help you read the map. You can switch the daytime mode and nighttime mode by accessing the additional options screen. You will also find icons that link to GPS status, trip log and Pocket PC Start menu at the bottom of the guidance window.

The map re-draws quickly when following the moving car. The voice guidance in the OnCourse Navigator 4 is intuitive and easy to follow, but has a little delay when your route is re-calculated by the navigation software. The voice notification comes on at about 600 feet before a turn and once again at the turn. After the turn, the voice guidance will tell you roughly how long you will need to be on driving on this road. If you followed your route planning, the voice guidance seems perfect. But if you missed a turn, especially in an area with many off ramps, the voice guidance has a delay. You can save some time by just looking at the map which often re-route your trip quickly and follow the indications on the map. Otherwise, the voice guidance might confuse you because of the delay in giving directions.

The Mio 168 has the loudest sound volume of any Pocket PC and it defaults at 90% volume in the OnCourse Navigator 4. There is a volume control in the Settings menu in the OnCourse Navigator 4 for you to change the volume.

 

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About the Map Data

Like many GPS and navigation package bundles, the OnCourse Navigator 4 licensed the NAVTEQ map data for North America and Western Europe. NAVTEQ map data has one of the most detailed map sources and is usually updated in 6-12 months. The street-level maps and database from NAVTEQ include a large number of POIs (Points of Interest). They not only get the most up-to-date material collected from all levels of government, planning agencies, police and fire departments and aerial photographs, but they also collect first-hand data in real time. NAVTEQ has a large number of field offices staffed with over 400 analysts and engineers who drive everyday to collect data and feed it daily to the live database. NAVTEQ uses up to 150 data attributes in each road segment that may affect the way you get from one place to another. These road attributes are characteristics of the roads and include road names, address ranges, turn-restrictions, one-way Info, time of day restrictions, speed limits, and more. If you wish to sample the map data, you can use MapQuest.com since it also uses the map data provided by NAVTEQ or check out NAVTEQ's web site.

In the Silicon Valley, the NAVTEQ seems very accurate. I’ve yet to find a street that I traveled on not in the map and often learn new businesses and shops in the NAVTEQ POI data in my area. Note that no map database is 100% accurate, especially for the areas that have been active development zones and more rural areas. If you experienced any error in the map, you should let the map maker know to help them develop more accurate maps.

Conclusion

Pro: Great hardware with accurate positioning info! The Mio 168 with the new firmware update gets signals from large number of GPS satellites and performs very well in cold and hot starts. The OnCourse Navigator 4 has one of the best map cutting tools for trip planning. The route calculations are accurate and reflect modifications you make based on various types of roads. The guidance system is easy to use and interface is intuitive, and you can choose what you wish to see in the directions screen. The map data is accurate in this area with a large POI database. The GPS receiver bundle options for the OnCourse Navigator 4 mean every Pocket PC owner can find a GPS option fit their needs, especially when the SDIO version comes out.

Con: The initial OnCourse Navigator 4 application launch is a little slow. The voice guidance on route re-calculation has a delay. No automatic reserve trip planning.

Price: $549.95. (BuyGPSNow.com sells it for $425.95)

Web sites: www.oncoursenavigator.com, www.buygpsnow.com