Palm Pre vs iPhone, Round 2: Road Trip

As promised, I wanted to review my experience with the Pre’s Google Map and Sprint Navigation applications. For comparison, a more traditional GPS unit (the Garmin Nuvi 750) also made the trip.

The hands-down winner in this head-to-head was clearly the Garmin Nuvi, but then it’s not really a fair comparison. As I have stated before, I have always found that dedicated devices do a much more complete job than any multitasker. However, since the trip started without the Nuvi, having at least some navigation functions on my Pre was great! Read on to find out how it went…

Google Maps

Using Google Maps on the Pre requires a Sprint data connection. Generally, along interstates and in cities, this is not a problem. Particularly in cities, I find the Google Map app useful for navigating while NOT driving. For example, when you are searching for a restaurant and want to see how to get there from where you are.

Directions can be programmed either from your current location using the GPS signal, or you can input an address. If you tap an address in your Contacts, it will automatically pull up directions in Google Maps – handy.

Unfortunately, there is no scale on the Google maps display, so it can be difficult to determine the time to your destination while en route.

In terms of the routes themselves, I found Google to be overall very good at choosing a main route, avoiding unpaved roads, and displaying traffic info (in urban areas only.) It would not alter the route if I made a wrong turn or help me get back on track.

Sprint Navigation

Once en route to my destination, I found the Sprint Navigation app more useful. It gives a time to the destination that updates based on your current position. It also states turn-by-turn directions with the actual street names (rather than just “turn in 500 ft”) – a favorite feature of mine on the Garmin devices.

You can adjust the display of the Sprint Nav for either 3D or bird’s eye views and it includes scale.

The down side of Sprint Nav is that, despite being GPS-based, it requires a connection to the Sprint data network to program a trip. I found that once the trip was started, it continued to update my location and ETA even after I lost the Sprint data network. But if the trip was cancelled, I needed new connection to the Sprint data network to be established before I could relaunch the Nav app. This was highly annoying.

It appeared that the maps for the Nav app are not stored on the device itself, but rather downloaded on a per-trip basis. I can appreciate the desire to save memory, as there is no expansion slot. However once a trip has been started, it would be nice if it was stored in local memory until the GPS reaches its destination (or the trip is cancelled, or a new trip started) even if the app is closed. This would allow me to close the app when not needed to save battery life and return to the trip directions when I neared my destination.

I also found Sprint Nav sent me down a dirt road in the middle of a very urban area when there was perfectly good paved road right there. Not only highly annoying, but also potentially damaging to my car! Yikes!

Garmin Nuvi

Unfortunately, for much of my road trip, I was not able to connect to the Sprint data network and so was not able to launch either Sprint Navigation or Google Maps apps on the Pre. Luckily, my Garmin nuvi was able to load (albeit very, very slowly.)

I believe the slow loading nuvi maps may be caused my Garmin embedding a satellite search parameter in with the maps updates. Since I haven’t purchased a 2009 map update yet, I believe it will continue to take longer and longer to find the satellites until I purchase that update. At least I hope it’s just a software update because taking 4 min+ (and getting longer) to find signal is not going to be acceptable. Then again, the Pre wasn’t finding any signal at all, so maybe I was just on holiday out in the sticks… ha ha!

Once on signal, though, the Garmin performed admirably – avoiding obstacles and selecting a fairly good quality route, somewhere between Google Maps (best routes, IMO) and Sprint Nav (worst routes) Still sometimes, the Garmin would choose a smaller road (ie, get off the interstate, just to cut a corner, and then get back on – what up with that?) so I wouldn’t follow blindly.

I liked locating nearby services (gas, coffee, food, etc.) and adding them as “via” points on our trip. While I could use the CitySearch or other 3rd party app for this on the Pre, it wouldn’t add them to the nav directions automatically. If this functionality could be integrated in WebOS, that would be a great enhancement.

The Garmin would also go to sleep at night and remember our trip in the morning so it did not need re-programming. Note, this is the second time I’ve mentioned this feature. On a road trip, batteries of every size and type are always in need of charging, so any feature that helps me conserve power is going to get the thumbs up in my book.

Other Road Trip musings

At one point in the car, I was playing with the Facebook app. While it let me update my status, it did not read the comments on my status, or allow me to comment on those comments. Luckily, I was able to log into on the browser and comment from there. Ironically, my comment, which was on the subject of the Pre itself, encouraged my friend to go out and purchase a Pre the very next day!

I wanted to play more with mobile uploads, particularly photos, as the camera on the Pre takes some nice quality images. But with little cell service on the island, I was at the mercy of open wi-fi connections in cafes and at family’s homes. When I was in a location with a signal, I inevitably didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted before it was time to go.

With spotty cell service, text messaging is the way to go. Even if I couldn’t maintain a signal long enough to check my voicemail, a short text (SMS) message was usually able to be delivered. The keyboard of my Pre makes texting a dream too! I’m a new convert of messaging! I even tried to send my father a MMS (movie/photo) message, but his iPhone’s AT&T network doesn’t support MMS messaging yet. Funny, his new S iPhone is supposed to support it… wha ha ha ha! Although, really, I shouldn’t laugh too much, I still can’t take any movies yet at all, even though I can watch them…. Where’s my movie app? Palm WebOS developers, I’m looking at you!

The last thing I will mention is the WebOS 1.1 update, which was released while I was on this road trip. I was able to download it over the network very quickly (it was a 90mb download) and apply it without a hitch. Although, I do not have a need for all the EAS enhancements, I will be looking forward to playing with my new NFL app. Thanks, developers!

That’s it for this installment. Watch for more reviews on that new NFL app and more as my Pre experience continues!

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