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Windows Mobile GPS – iGO 2006

May 16, 2008

I just recently installed iGO 2006 on my Sprint Mogul.  I’ve never thought seriously about a full-featured GPS system installed on my phone.  I have a GPS system installed in my car, and I’ve used a small Magellan RoadMate in my girlfriend’s SUV.  I know that alot of these systems use Windows CE as their base, but it still never sank in that I might be able to run something as good on my cell phone which has a pretty piddly amount of RAM (64MB).  Even with no apps loaded, Windows Mobile itself eats up about 24MB of that RAM just to run.  Which leaves me running a full-featured GPS app in ~40MB.

With all that said…DAMN!  iGO 2006 is AWESOME!  In fact, I would say it’s better than my $2000+ factory-installed Alpine GPS system and much much better than the Magellan RoadMate my girlfriend has.  It loads incredibly fast, locks on to satellites quickly, and creates routes faster than I can blink.  I figured the app would run for me, but I assumed it would be damn slow given the low memory.  But this is the fastest GPS system I’ve ever used.

iGO also makes excellent use of the small 2.8 inch screen on my phone.  You would think I’d be squinting to see all the information presented, but it’s surprisingly clear and well laid out.  That’s saying something because my built-in GPS system has a large 7 inch touchscreen and the Magellan has a 3.5 inch screen, if I remember correctly.  So I’m used to larger screens.  But using the iGO interface is easy on the small screen, even with my fat thumbs.

Speaking of the interface, the menus are quick and responsive, well laid out, and easy to understand.  When first launching the app, you’re presented with a circular menu with a large “Find” button in the middle.  You hit the “Find” button and you’re taken through a simple wizard that will ask you for the address information of the place you want to go to.  After typing in the info, a route is created (on my phone, it honestly takes less than 2 seconds to create a full route) and the voice prompts begin to direct you.

The voice prompts are a little quirky.  They’re accurate, but if you listen solely to the prompts and don’t check the screen every once in awhile, you could make a wrong turn.  For instance, my house is in a court off the right side of a road.  The road is long and straight until you get to the end, at which point the road veers a little left.  Then you make the right turn into the court to the house.  The voice prompts on the phone told me to “Bear left in 500 feet”.  Normally, whenever I hear the “bear left” comment from my GPS systems, it is a warning that the road may be splitting and I need to keep on the left side split.  I also had the iGO 2006 give me this instruction:  “In 3.6 miles, continue straight.”  Really?  Thanks!  I never would have known to continue straight on the road.  Without the GPS system, I probably would have just let go of the steering wheel and taken out a sapling.  So, the spoken directions ARE technically accurate, but they’re a little odd and will require a bit of getting used to.

iGO 2006 does not provide text-to-speech capabilities, meaning that the voice prompts won’t try to sound out street names.  I’ve heard that this is a feature included in the newer 8.0 version, but I haven’t tried that one.  I’m wondering how much more processing overhead is required for the more complex TTS, as well as RAM requirements?  My phone might not even be capable.  However, if the speed of 2006 on my phone is any indication, the iGO development team knows how to optimize their software for low-RAM environments, so 8.0 might work pretty well.

Now, as far as locking on to satellites is concerned, there is a bit of a catch.  iGO couldn’t lock on to a satellite when I first launched it.  It couldn’t access the GPS chip in my phone.  However, when I launched Google Maps (which I knew could access the GPS), and then launched iGO, iGO locked on in a few seconds.  It seems that some apps can correctly initialize the GPS chip and some apps can’t.  By launching Google Maps first, I was “priming” the chip.  Once the chip was primed, iGO was able to detect it and access it.

Well, launching Google Maps first every single time I wanted to use iGO was a no-go for me.  So I needed to find a transparent way to prime the GPS chip.  And I found it in a little piece of software called AstroGPSLauncher, created by AstronusX at the xda-dev community.  AstroGPSLauncher is simply a GPS priming application.  When you install AstroGPSLauncher, it creates two shortcuts on your system.  One shortcut launches AstroGPSLauncher and iGuidance (if installed).  The other shortcut launches AstroGPSLauncher and TomTom (again, if it’s installed).  I guess AstroGPSLauncher was originally created with those two apps in mind.  However, by quickly editing the iGuidance shortcut, I pointed it toward my iGO executable and ran it.  Sure enough, it launched everything just fine and iGO was able to lock on to satellites in just a few seconds.  So a big thank you goes to AstronusX for creating AstroGPSLauncher.

Other than a few quirks, iGO 2006 is awesome.  I’m looking forward to playing with 8.0 to see if it lives up to this edition.

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