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Garmin Mobile for BlackBerry Review

We had to navigate new towns regularly when I was growing up moving from base to base in an Air Force family. Mom would grab a map, a phone book and a kid, and get to wherever she needed to be. Mom drove, the kid would figure out where we were by looking up businesses we were passing in the phone book to grab the address, and then tell her what turns to take. (It is a great, low-tech system if you are driving with a good navigator.)

Cram those three elements (map, phone directory, kid) into an electronic device, and call them routing, location-fixing, and voice-navigation, and Mom may very well have invented the precursor to GPS navigation albeit a grits-fueled version.

In the decades since, I have tried out several GPS navigation systems; I still own two versions of the DeLorme EarthMate, including one from when it was still the TripMate, plus their gorgeous world atlas.

Fast-forward to this spring. For my father-in-law’s birthday, we picked him up an in-car GPS system to replace the GPP system he had been relying on (Global-Positioning Patricia, aka my mother-in-law). Pat herself came up with the idea; we’re not sure what spurred it. We researched different GPS models and settled on a Garmin nüvi. After several days of the in-laws taking deliberately wrong turns, just to try and confuse the device, we all agreed that it was a very well-designed unit.

Garmin For Blackberry Running on an 8800It came as a welcome surprise to find that Garmin sells a variation of the software as a downloadable application that runs directly on the BlackBerry. Garmin’s software version is not exactly the same as the Garmin GPS device; the Garmin software is an Internet-connected application, rather than a self-contained one, but that has more good points, in practice, than bad ones. Garmin offers their Mobile BlackBerry app for $99 for life. The downside to the ‘for life’ clause is that it reportedly won’t transfer from one phone to another, which is going to bite for us, since we purchased it two weeks ago, and now our BlackBerry is going to be replaced with a work-managed version.1

There is a seven-day trial available. We originally came across it on a 30-day trial, which was enough to get totally hooked. 30 days is nice, because you can set it up when you go on a trip, and have a few days to get used to it, beforehand, and still have enough time to realize you don’t want to travel without it. At the same time, the interface is very simple and intuitive, so picking it up as you go isn’t difficult.

The software is rapidly becoming essential on this trip not completely indispensable but it has proven its worth repeatedly.

Pluses

  • Since the Garmin software is Internet-connected, the maps are as up-to-date as you can get. Today, it even accurately mapped us on a stretch of road that was still under construction.
  • Garmin routes us around traffic. On Google Maps, you can show traffic information, in real-time. Garmin for BlackBerry actively routes you around trouble areas. Heading into Atlanta, a while back, the software took us off the highway about 10 miles before we were expecting to exit (the restaurant we were looking for was about two miles off the highway). We took the exit the Garmin told us to…just before the highway became a parking lot. For me, that was worth the cost of the software. With the Garmin nüvi, you can purchase a receiver that will pick up traffic-band and accurately use the information, but on the BlackBerry, it’s in the palm of your hand.
  • Turn-by-turn voice navigation, with well-designed and timed prompts.
  • Garmin knows the price of gas at many gas stations around you, and it shows them to you in the search results.
  • Garmin the company has been extremely pleasant to deal with. There was a problem with our bank not accepting our billing address when we purchased the software, which took several calls and emails to track down. Everybody we spoke to at Garmin was knowledgeable and friendly and went out of their way to be helpful.

Minuses

  • Since the Garmin software is Internet-connected, it’s as reliable as your cell-coverage. The GPS unit (which, like all GPS is only a receiver) will work from anywhere you have line-of-sight to the geostationary satellites so pretty much anywhere, although cities, tunnels and such cause it trouble. The maps and directions, on the other hand, are downloaded from the Internet on the fly. So we probably wouldn’t rely on it to find our way home from the middle of nowhere. Although, anywhere it doesn’t have a signal probably doesn’t have so many roads to choose from.
  • Something disconnects the data stream (to be fair we don’t know for sure that it’s the Garmin software). The problem seems to manifest itself mostly when we try to look for directions and have an insufficient signal sometimes it errors and loses connectivity right there. We have no empirical evidence showing that it is the Garmin hitting an error and cutting the connection vs the connection dying and the Garmin raising an error, but it happens now and then. Walking into the open and rebooting clears it up every time.

The pluses of the minuses

  • While the BlackBerry may not be the hiker’s best friend, we find that in-city it’s extremely accurate. It even navigates well among tall buildings, in our experience, even in areas where we were expecting to lose the signal.
  • The connection loss is so intermittent that it hasn’t even turned into an annoyance. And we stress that we don’t know for sure that the Garmin software is the cause. It’s also the worst thing we have to say about the software.

Things we haven’t found, but would be nice if they were there

The option to set the default zoom level. I find that one-zoom-in from the default is where I always put it (the 3-D view at that point is remarkably similar to real vision).

It would be nice to be able to send an address to it, from other applications, similar to how you can click on a phone-number in BlackBerry emails. Hopefully, the application supports parameters, in which case it’s just a matter of writing some plug-ins.

It would be nice to have something like a user-tagging taxonomy (since the BlackBerry, unlike other GPS units, is a two-way device), or to have some more filtering options on the places searches. (For example, we tend not to eat at chain restaurants, and we do look for vegetarian places. There’s not currently a way to do filters like that that I’m aware of.)

We have gone to one address for a business that had closed down. It would be handy if one could flag it as a defunct business for everybody else.

It would also be nice to have the Garmin software optionally weight searches to the direction you are traveling (e.g., if you are on the interstate going South, a coffee shop 20 miles South is better than one 5 miles North)2. Even better would be an option to search for things by proximity to a route you are already taking.3

Would we recommend the application?

We recommend the Garmin GPS softwware for BlackBerry unreservedly as a street-routing application, especially if the alternative is having/bringing kids. (Your mileage may vary.)

If you have a BlackBerry, and you are navigating around cities/towns, the real-time nature of the Garmin’s information is hard to beat. If you are off-roading, or playing geo-cacheing games, it might not be your cup of tea (and Garmin would be thrilled to show you their other GPS units). But our tests on a spring road trip from Richmond to Miami, and now our current trip from Richmond to Baltimore, have proven the Garmin software it to be extremely capable for on-roading.

Update

  1. It didn’t bite. I emailed tech support, and they indicated they can transfer to the new device one time, over the phone. One quick phone call, and it was done. I’m happy; I consider this to be very fair on their part. []
  2. Search Results do show you the direction for each result. It’s pretty much just a matter of checking the map to see what direction you are travelling before you search []
  3. Just a few minutes ago we found this. By selecting a search while you are already on a route, it gives you the option of seaching near your position, your route, or your destination. That just rocks. =] []

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4 comments

1 Neil { 07.22.08 at 8:08 pm }

Just an additional wish; it would be nice if you could change voices, the way you can with the Garmin handheld. The different characterizations are easier to hear for different people. Even a file you updated through the BlackBerry Dektop Manager would be great.

2 Mark { 06.16.09 at 2:12 am }

A couple of shortcomings of the Garmin for Blackberry software:
The program has no way to view the total distance for a route, and theres is also no display of remaining distance to your destination. It only shows distance to your next turn.

3 Michael { 06.20.09 at 5:51 pm }

I agree with mark, I use the remaining distance alot to judge when to stop for fuel – much more critical when trying to find a place to get diesel when pulling a long rv…
This is the one reason I am not purchasing the software right now – telenav does this, but i can not stomach the monthly fees…

4 Neil { 07.06.09 at 5:41 pm }

Fortunately, we’re running a lot smaller (the Mini being a very minor RV). I don’t miss that specific function as much, as I tend to just sort of ballpark remaining miles by remaining time. If I was having to wheel around with a trailer or park a house, I suspect it would be crucial.

On a related missing option, I have found myself wishing that I could start a search ‘n’ minutes down the road; for example, to look for restaurants centered on where I will be in, say 2 hours, given that I stay on course.

Other niceties I’m missing are highway/tollway avoidance, and keyboard hotkeys (if they’re listed anywhere, I haven’t found them). It would be nice to be able to switch options (say, quickest route to shortest route) without going through the menus.

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