Tag Archives: GPS

Navigating Elsewhere by GPS

We were going to be in England for a couple of weeks and we wanted to use our phones for navigation like we do in the States. We also needed to stay connected. How did we do it?image

Like most smartphone owners, I have become accustomed to the convenience of having maps at my fingertips when I need to find an address or look up directions.

Offline Google Maps are Worthless

Here at home in the U.S., we have a Rand McNally RVND 7720 Dashboard GPS in our motorhome. All maps are stored locally and no Internet connection is needed to do our routing. But we use Google Maps on our phones when driving the car. Google Maps uses Internet (data) for the maps. If you know you’re going to be out of cell service, you can save a section (a small section) of map offline. We tried that in England but quickly discovered that when using the offline map, you are not able to search or navigate. All you could do is look at the map. So, what good is that?!?

We did verify however that, if you start navigating when you have an Internet connection, the map along that route will be good even after you lose connection.  If you deviate from your active route, all bets are off. Part of our travels were driving in the NE Norfolk area of England where none of our phones had any signal. No data to run Google Maps! When we stopped for lunch we found a Wi-Fi hotspot and connected. We loaded Google Maps and asked it to navigate to our next destination while connected to the Wi-Fi. That navigation was good even after we disconnected from the Wi-Fi and were traveling thru data-less territory!

T-Mobile is Good in England and much of Europe

Planning ahead for data is the key to success. We had been wanting an iPhone for our weekly “What Does This Button Do?” show, so we decided to get a 16GB iPhone 6 Plus on the T-Mobile network which includes international capability. We were very impressed with the connectivity we had using this phone throughout England and even during our two day jaunt to France and Belgium where our British friend’s phone did not work, the T-Mobile phone did! See the countries included in T-Mobile’s plan on the International page of their website.

Chris had her Verizon Samsung Galaxy S5 phone and AT&T iPad Mini. We purchased local SIM cards to connect over there as international roaming on Verizon and AT&T is prohibitively expensive.

Just before we left for England, I got notification that my invitation-only experimental Google Project Fi world phone was available. Another phone! Great. I’ll be talking a lot more about Project Fi and the 32GB Nexus 6 phone in future posts.

Google Maps turn-by-turn voice navigation works the same in Europe as here. It is the best. We wanted to look at other inexpensive or free apps for our mobile devices, too. We were running both iOS and Android. If we were staying longer, there are plenty of more expensive choices including dedicated satnav units.

Get good paper maps for the areas you will be visiting!

Do not rely on your mobile device exclusively unless you don’t mind getting lost occasionally. Actually, getting lost sometimes can be fun. You may discover things you never expected. Planning ahead using a paper map will help with your orientation and give you a better sense of direction and distances. Especially when we were walking, consulting our phones for directions was often more confusing than helpful.

No app or dedicated device is perfect! Any of them can try to take you the wrong way down a one-way street, or tell you to turn where there is no road. Most don’t care if the road is gravel or appropriate for your mode of travel. Use your head.

One problem we experienced was the speed of GPS location updates on the maps. We missed a couple of turns in the car because of that. The issue is even more pronounced when walking in cities or towns. We got completely turned around more than once because the GPS didn’t know which direction we were walking. Other times, the GPS fix was lost because we were surrounded by tall buildings. GPS needs to “see” the satellites in the sky.

Here are a few apps which were recommended to us. It is not a comprehensive list, by any means. These are available for both Apple and Android unless noted. We tended to trust Google Maps most as we had connectivity on one device or another most of the time.

Maps.me: Free mapping. Totally offline, worldwide maps, fast, and detailed. Only need the Internet to get the app and preload the maps. There was no voice direction for turn by turn navigation as we discovered. We are spoiled by Google Maps clear spoken directions.

OffMaps2: iOS, $0.99. Offline maps for over 4000 cities and tourist destinations.

Telenav Scout: Freemium (extras like voices and traffic cost more) First country map is included free. They partnered with Trip Advisor and Foursquare, great for tourists.

MapFactor Navigator is a free turn-by-turn GPS navigation app for Android phones and tablets using OpenStreetMaps data. Maps are installed on the SD card so there is no need for an Internet connection when traveling. Map and app updates are FREE every month. It has voice guidance in several languages with door-to-door route planning and can handle border crossings without the need to switch data files. Those data files can get pretty big, so you need plenty of capacity.

Sygic is another well regarded app with a free component. The premium app looks to have much better features. It may well be good choice for frequent overseas travelers.

Let us know if you have a favorite navigation or mapping app.

Our Data Plans

T-Mobile’s $70/month Simple Choice Plan features unlimited talk + text and 3GB of high-speed (4G LTE) data at home. They will throttle your speed if you go over 3GB during the month. Unlimited text and slower-speed (256KB) data is included in 120+ countries. Voice calls are $0.20 per minute overseas. WiFi tethering is included and there is no annual contract. You can purchase higher speed data.

Google’s Project Fi Plan is $20/month for unlimited voice + text using the Sprint and T-Mobile networks at home. Add $30/month for 3GB of high-speed data. Additional data is $10 per 1GB, no throttling. Like the T-Mobile plan, tethering is included and voice calls are $0.20/minute overseas. No annual contract.

We also used local SIM cards to turn Chris’ phone into a local UK phone. Read more about that in this article: Three Ways to Get Internet Abroad.

312.SM-CoPilot Live: an RV-Aware GPS for Mobile Phones and Tablets

by Jim Guld

CoPilot Live Premium, North America Maps $14.99 for iOS and Android. For complete pricing and map availability, visit their website at www.copilotlive.com. There is a free version, but it does not offer voice-directed turn-by-turn instructions.

Technology can make travel a richer experience. Teaching technology to travelers is what Geeks On Tour is all about. We have been using GPS for navigation since we started RVing back in ’03. Keeping up with this stuff is a full time job and we love it. Visit us at www.geeksontour.com.

Our Advice

Don’t get rid of your paper maps and atlases. Do get the CoPilot Live app for your mobile devices – we like it. It is available for Android phones and tablets, iOS iPhones and iPad 3G, Windows mobile, and laptops, too. Be sure to read thru the excellent user guide available on their website under the Support menu.

clip_image002ALK, the company behind CoPilot has been in the business since 1979. They know what they are doing, and they do it well.

I first got the CoPilot app for my Droid RAZR phone and used it in our travels from Louisville, KY up through New Jersey, New York, and New England. While in Vermont, I bought the new Google Nexus 7 tablet. The main reason for getting the tablet was for navigation. This review is based on those 2 devices.

Stand-alone Dashboard GPS navigation tools have been around quite a while, and they still have their place. More and more I see them being replaced by general purpose devices like smartphones and tablets running navigation apps.

The Big Picture, Planning Vs. Navigating:

Size matters. So does distance. I still like planning our trips using a laptop and a combination of Microsoft Streets & Trips, Google Maps, and paper maps. The big laptop screen makes it easy to see and the information available is unprecedented. Navigation using the laptop requires a GPS receiver and a secure place to mount the laptop. It is much easier to mount a mobile device running CoPilot for navigation. I have decided that for me, the 7 inch screen is ideal for trip navigation. I attach it to our dashboard with a simple strip of Velcro.

I still use the free Google Navigation with voice search on my Droid for around-town driving, finding restaurants, stores, etc. It is always with me.

The Nexus 7, with its superior resolution, Android 4.1 OS, reasonable price, and responsive touch screen is a great way to go. And, unlike other Wi-Fi only tablets, it includes the GPS receiver. More on the Nexus 7 in an upcoming review.

Though you can use the app right after downloading, you will want to customize it for best results. Spend some time with the settings for the Map Display, Guidance, Traffic, Speed Limits, Language & Voice, etc.

clip_image004Vehicle Preferences are especially important for RVers. Height restrictions and Propane restricted tunnels are nice to see and are usually available only on higher end GPS units. We entered our RV height at 12’ 6” and it properly routed around some low bridges but not all. Admittedly, we’ve never seen so many low bridges as we did in Connecticut, none of our devices or other resources showed all of them.

The Pros: Almost too many to list. Here is a summary.

  • Great street maps which are stored on your device. No need for a data connection while navigating.
  • RV aware settings for height and propane.
  • Excellent spoken turn by turn directions – short and clear. Visual cues on the screen are easy to follow.
  • Trip planning is easy. Alternate routes are suggested. You have complete control to drag your route to exactly where you want.
  • Choice of 2D and 3D views, with or without directions on screen.
  • There are multiple ways of adding a destination. You can select a contact from your address book, pick a location on the map, input lat/lon coordinates, and even use a geotagged photo.
  • Price. It is inexpensive if you already have a device. It is worth buying a device just to have the app.
  • FREE Quarterly Map Update for All CoPilot Live Premium Android and iOS Customers

The Cons:

  • Sound is not as loud as most dedicated dashboard units. You can use Bluetooth or cable to your radio, if so equipped. I think I will get a new dashboard radio with Bluetooth capability for better volume.
  • The onscreen keyboard is flakey. Strange things sometimes happen when using it for input. Occasionally typing an entry just won’t work at all – pressing search enters your typing twice, or adds extra characters. This can only be called a bug. I have seen this mentioned in other reviews.
  • Discrepancies in maps and directions. No GPS Navigation or map is completely and absolutely accurate. This app is better than most, it did correctly route us around some low clearances, but not all. We are using the CoPilot Live Personal – not CoPilot Live Truck, which is available for $149. There is a way to send corrections to CoPilot. On their website, you’ll see a link to ‘Submit a Map Improvement.’ They guarantee that the corrections will be made within 45 days.

In conclusion, this is a great app for navigation and planning on your smartphone. It is even better on a tablet like the Nexus 7.

A Short Video Demo of CoPilot Live on the Nexus 7 Android Tablet


Streets and Trips: Navigate in Full Screen

We’re back on the road and using our Microsoft Streets and Trips software for Trip-Planning and Navigation.  Check out all our new Tutorial Videos on Streets and Trips on our website, and we’re making more as we go.  In this article we’re spotlighting one simple but very useful tip that you can use when S&T on your laptop computer is your navigator on the road.

Streets and Trips screen has lots of parts to it:


But, when you’re driving, you really only need the map and the next turn info at the bottom. 


You can easily switch between the two with one touch of the F11 key.  F11 means ‘Full Screen’ and it works in several programs.  In Internet Explorer for example, when you press F11, all the toolbars and menus disappear leaving just the website.  Press F11 again, and you’re back to the view you started – it’s a ‘Toggle.’  Press it once you’re viewing Full Screen, press it again, you’re back to all the menus, toolbars and task panes.

We sometimes use our little NetBook for Streets and Trips navigating while we drive.  It has a very little screen, so we find Full Screen view to be very helpful.  So helpful in fact, that we *always* want to navigate in Full Screen view.  You can do that by changing an option: Tools | Options | Navigation: Show full screen when navigating.