Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Take Control of Your Car with Mavia

Posted by Andrew at 11:06 PM on January 25, 2012

Mavia DeviceTodd chats to Madison of Mavizon about their new Mavia automotive product which keeps tabs on your vehicle in more ways than one.

Mavia is a small box (see picture left) that plugs into your vehicle’s ODB-II port – that’s the connector used by technician’s to check on the car when there’s a problem. The Mavia combines readouts from this port with its own internal GPS receiver to provide location and technical information that is sent back to an online hub at www.mymavia.comAndroid and iPhone client apps can be downloaded too.

The MyMavia hub will show data on the vehicle such as gas mileage and distance to next service, plus any diagnostic error codes. MyMavia can interpret some of the diagnostic codes and it enables the owner to consult other resources, online or otherwise, to find out more on what’s wrong with the car. MyMavia incorporates location services too, showing where the vehicle is on Google Maps and there are connections to social sites like Foursquare.

The Mavia is in a beta testing phase so pricing is not confirmed but is expected to be around $200. The device will be available from retail outlets later in the year and requires no special fitting; it’s a self-install.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Magellan Back-up Camera Wins CES Innovations 2012 Award

Posted by Alan at 2:47 PM on December 19, 2011

The run up to CES always picks up speed in the second half of December when early award winners begin to be announced.  Today Magellan, one of the leaders in the GPS market, announced that they have been named the winner of the CES Innovations 2012 Design and Engineering Award for their Magellan Wireless Back-up Camera.

Many cars today are beginning to come with this technology built-in, but if yours doesn’t Magellan makes it an easy retro-fit.  The tiny wireless camera mounts to the car’s license plate and when the vehicle is put into reverse compatible Magellan GPS devices switch from navigation mode to camera view.

“Magellan is proud to announce it has been named an International CES Innovations 2012 Design and Engineering Award Honoree for its Wireless Back-up Camera. Sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the prestigious Innovations Design and Engineering Awards have been recognizing achievements in product design and engineering since 1976. Products in 32 categories are judged by a preeminent panel of independent industrial designers, engineers and members of the media.”

The Magellan Wireless Back-up Camera is available from the Magellan Store for $149.99.  You can find out more about the CES Innovations Awards by visiting this page on the CES website.

Tweaking Google Latitude With Latify

Posted by tomwiles at 8:33 AM on September 27, 2011

Tweaking Google Latitude With Latify

Google Latitude is a nifty, fun add-on utility for Google Maps that can be very useful for tracking friends and family. With Latitude, it’s possible to share real-time location information from devices such as supported Android and iOS phones and tablets. Location sharing is by permission only – any mutual Latitude friends must specifically grant permission for location information to be shared.

I’ve been making use of Latitude for a few years. I’ve got a number of friends and relatives that follow my location as I travel around the country as an over-the-road truck driver. Even after all this time, I’m still surprised that some people are curious enough about my location that some of them will check on me multiple times a day.

One of the things I’ve long wished for in Latitude is much greater control over the sharing. Most of the time I want my shared location information to be as accurate and real-time as possible. Thus, it becomes possible for Latitude friends and family to track me as I drive down the road in real-time.

Recently I purchased a $2.89 program available in the Android Marketplace called Latify. The Latify program works in conjunction with Latitude to provide a lot of extra control over Latitude and its sharing capabilities.

With Latify set to push out the most accurate, real-time location information possible it does use more battery power, as it is making more intensive use of the phone’s GPS chip. This isn’t a problem for me, since most of the time I keep the phone plugged in when I’m in my truck. In those instances when the phone is going to be running on battery power for hours on end, I turn off automatic data synching. There are also a number of power-saving options available within Latify itself.

If you want a way to share the most accurate, real-time GPS location of your phone with Latitude friends, at $2.89 Latify is worth the money.

Garmin DEZL 560LT Trucker’s GPS

Posted by tomwiles at 11:04 PM on September 7, 2011

GPS units have been around for several years and have made quite a heavy penetration into the automotive marketplace. It would be logical to assume a degree of maturity when it comes to GPS maps and operating system software on the units themselves. However, there is still quite a bit of room left for improvement.

GPS market saturation, combined with the sales of millions of Android and other smartphones that contain sophisticated GPS functionality have conspired to bite into the growth of stand-alone GPS unit sales, forcing a reduction in price along with a search for ways of adding value in order to justify and/or maintain higher price points. Thus, GPS manufacturers have created a market segment of specialty GPS units aimed specifically at truck drivers and the recreational vehicle market segments.

After trying and returning two faulty TomTom GO 2535M Live units, as well as trying and returning a Cobra 7750 Platinum trucker GPS unit, I’ve settled on a Garmin DEZL 560LT trucker GPS. The Garmin 560LT has a 5” pressure sensitive widescreen LCD display along with a number of features that attempt to tailor it toward commercial drivers.

From an operating system/software standpoint, the Garmin is solid. Also, the Garmin hardware build quality is quite good. The unit seems very solid and the pressure sensitive touchscreen works extremely well. The 5” widescreen LCD display is bright and colorful, remaining quite visible in bright daylight. It includes Bluetooth speaker/microphone functionality, along with the ability to display photos as well as function as a video display for a composite backup video camera.

Most of the trucker-specific features revolve around map and point-of-interest databases. As always, these databases continue to have holes in them. Although you can program in large/heavy vehicle types and sizes, the Garmin mapping software does not necessarily follow only truck routes when calculating routes. Garmin’s “out” on this point seems to be the fact that it makes a chime sound and pops up a specific on-screen icon when on a route that “truck accessibility information” is not known. When on secondary roads, this icon pops up a surprising amount of the time. It even pops up when driving on a fair number of freeway access ramps. This lack of “truck accessibility information” is quite perplexing, since the vast majority of these roads have been around for many, many years and therefore HAVE to be clearly well-known. The surprising thing is that these same roads that “truck accessibility information” isn’t available for have extensive speed limit information available. The Garmin unit is highly accurate in displaying the vast majority of speed limits on federal, state, and even on many county roads.

The other problem has to do with truck-specific point-of-interest databases that are included in the unit. These include truck stops, truck washes, truck repair shops, etc. Some of these facilities show up in the database, and some don’t. It can be quite maddening. Also another problem that has long plagued point-of-interest databases is inconsistent naming conventions. “T/A Truck Stop” may sometimes be entered into the database that way, or it might be “TA Truck Stop” or “TA Truckstop” or “TA Travel Plaza” or “Travel Centers of America”, etc., etc., etc. – you get the picture. When one tries to do a text search for the name of any business this inconsistency will almost immediately rear its ugly head.

Although the GPS certainly makes many things easier to find, it is not anywhere near a 100% foolproof solution. I frequently find myself having to search Google on my Android phone, which carries with it its own set of problems. Search Google for “truck wash” along with the name of a city and state and you are almost certainly going to come up with a bunch of listings for local car washes that have nothing whatsoever to do with offering washing services (specifically, refrigerated trailer wash-out services) for large commercial vehicles.

I like the Garmin DEZL 560LT and plan on keeping it. It’s a good hardware/software platform, and hopefully Garmin will continue to develop the updatable databases so that future updates contain more complete information.

My idea of the ideal trucker GPS would include the full-time data connection and “HD Traffic” of the TomTom GO Live, the solid, easy-to-use design of the Garmin, much more accurate truck-specific information concerning secondary roads, along with much better, more consistent point-of-interest information.

Cobra 7750 Platinum Trucker’s GPS

Posted by tomwiles at 8:42 PM on September 7, 2011

After my recent unacceptable experience with the TomTom GO 2535M Live with two separate units spontaneously falling into an endless reboot loop, I decided it was time to try another brand of GPS.

After getting a refund in full from Best Buy, I decided to try a GPS that’s specifically aimed at truck drivers. Trucker-specific GPS units tend to carry significantly higher price tags. My question was, do they deliver extra value?

So, I made my way to a Pilot truck stop and purchased a Cobra 7750 Platinum 7” widescreen trucker GPS. Pretty much every Pilot truck stop has a GPS display set up with various brands of trucker-specific GPS units. On the Cobra unit they have a very slick, highly produced sales video playing on the unit itself that really puts the model 7750 in a very good light. I was impressed, so I purchased one. In Pilot the Cobra 7750 sells for $399 plus tax. It can be purchased from Amazon.Com for about $340 if one has time to wait for shipping.

The Cobra brand has long been associated with CB radios sold at truck stops marketed specifically to truck drivers, so a trucker-specific GPS would seem to be a natural product extension.

The best part of the 7750 was the large, bright 7” widescreen display. Unfortunately, the 7750’s pressure-sensitive touch screen left a bit to be desired, producing a higher-than-average number of errors compared to similar pressure-sensitive touch screens. Pressure-sensitive touch screen technology has been around for years, so this may reflect build-quality issues.

The 7750 seems to be using some variation of TomTom software, since it displays an event horizon near the top of the screen with blue sky and clouds in the daytime mode and a black sky with moving stars in the night display mode just like TomTom units do.

The menu screens gave me the impression they were perhaps scaled for smaller screens. It could have been that they were trying to make the menu icons large and easy to select in a bouncing truck, but they gave me the impression of lack of refinement.

To be perfectly honest, I found the 7750 to be hugely disappointing. Entering addresses proved to be a clunky, somewhat confusing, time-consuming experience. Pilot Truck Stops have a 7 day money back return policy on GPS items, with a 14 day exchange policy. I was within the 7 days and I realized I would never be happy with the 7750, so I took it back and exchanged it for a Garmin DEZL 560LT.

Update On TomTom GO 2535M Live 5” Widescreen GPS

Posted by tomwiles at 10:23 PM on August 31, 2011

On August 19th I posted about my experience with a TomTom GO 2535 Live 5” Widescreen GPS. After failure of a second unit, an update is in order.

To briefly recap, I had purchased it at a Best Buy store in Lincoln, Nebraska. After a little more than a week, the unit spontaneously rebooted and was then stuck in a rebooting loop. Nothing I could do would cause the unit to return to normal operation. I ended up exchanging it for an identical unit at a Best Buy store in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

I figured the problem was resolved. Unfortunately, the after I’d had the second unit for just under two weeks, it did the same thing as the first unit – it spontaneously rebooted and then was caught in the same rebooting loop. Since the unit only has a power button and no other controls, it is impossible to do anything to reset it. The GPS must be booted in order for a computer to recognize its USB presence, but the GPS reboots before it’s possible to do any manipulation to it with the TomTom computer software.

I ended up returning it to yet another Best Buy store for a full refund.

Therefore, the TomTom GO 2535M Live 5” Widescreen GPS is a fail. That’s unfortunate, because there is a lot to like about this GPS. However, with two units in a row suffering the same operating system failure going into a non-escapable rebooting loop, I cannot recommend it or any other TomTom product.

Magellan RoadMate 9055-LM Review

Posted by Mike Dell at 12:49 PM on August 28, 2011

I have reviewed at least a dozen different GPS devices over the past 5 years, but have never reviewed a Magellan GPS. Immediately upon opening the box I could tell that the Magellan RoadMate 9055-LM was not your normal GPS. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the 7 inch touch screen that was at least 25% bigger than any GPS device I have used in the past.

Over the past several weeks I have used this GPS on trips to both Texas and New Mexico. It was very easy to setup (less than 5 minutes) and use straight our of the box. I was able to navigate the menu system with ease. The menu flow to input destination was very streamlined.

One of the features printed on the box, that did catch my attention was this GPS comes with lifetime map updates! Some of the other GPS units I have reviewed the map updates where often as much as a $100.00 per year.

One of the features I like to use while on travel is what I bill the attractions feature. I am always looking for places to stop and explore. The Magellan RoadMate 9055-LM did not let me down. This unit included a built-in AAA TourBook guide, that gives you ratings and descriptions on AAA-approved places to stay, play, dine, and more. This feature really set the unit apart from others I have tested.

I travel a great deal, and spend at least 1 week each month in a rental car, even though I travel the volume of phone calls I need to make do not diminish. Some rental cars have Bluetooth built in, and some don’t. It is always a pain to get them configured and usually delays my departure from the rental car location for 10-15 minutes, but now I do not have to be delayed as the 9055-LM has Hands free Bluetooth built in. It has an excellent microphone and of course the speaker works great.

Because this units screen size was so large, I was a little concerned in using it in a mid-sized car. My recommendation is that if you have a SUV or larger vehicle this GPS will be fine. For a mid sized car the screen was a little bit to big. But looking at other Magellan RoadMate series they have units with smaller screens with the same exact features.

One thing I hate about the GPS built into my Luxury Mazada CX9 is that it’s slow. My in car GPS seems it is always a street behind on it’s navigation. So I ran some head to head test with my cars built in GPS against the Magellan Roadmate. Not surprisingly the Magellan unit simply kicked my own in cars system butt!  Pretty sad but maybe the folks at Mazda should talk to the folks at Magellan.

This unit retails at $299.00 and is worth every penny and then some. I have only touched the surface on all of the available features but I can tell you that Magellan RoadMate GPS devices will be sitting on our car dashes.

TomTom GO 2535M Live 5” Widescreen GPS

Posted by tomwiles at 1:23 PM on August 19, 2011

I recently ended up purchasing a TomTom GO 2535M Live portable 5” widescreen GPS unit at a Best Buy store. With tax, the total price ended up being just under $300 dollars.

For the past 6 years or so, I’ve had a Garmin C550 with a 3.5” touch screen that is hard drive based. Since I drive a truck over-the-road, the Garmin has been running almost 24/7 for those six years, taking very high amounts of what can often be severe jolts and vibration along with occasional extreme heat and cold. I’ve paid to update the maps in the C550 about three times, but I’m reluctant to pay to update the maps again since I really don’t know how much useful life the hardware, particularly the unit’s hard drive, has left in it. For the time being, the aging Garmin is still working so I’m using it side-by-side with the new TomTom unit.

In my experience the perfect GPS unit has yet to be sold. Each brand has it’s strength and weaknesses. I’m including in this software-based solutions such as Google Navigation, Telenav, etc. that frequently comes bundled with Android or other smartphones. Maps used in GPS devices have improved dramatically, but they are accurate only about 90% of the time, and this includes Google itself. As a truck driver I’m looking for new addresses on average about two to three times a day, sometimes more and sometimes less. About 10% of the time I run into errors, sometimes with the potential to cause catastrophe – think narrow streets, weight-restricted bridges, etc.

Right after I bought the TomTom I had to go to a cold storage in Chicago, Illinois that the TomTom could not find, but the Garmin could. It turns out the street had been given two names with dual street signs, one below the other. The TomTom could find what was probably the original numbered street name, but not the other, which was a woman’s name the city was obviously trying to honor. At that point I was unhappy with the TomTom’s performance, but decided to continue to give it a longer chance before rushing into a knee-jerk judgment of the device or its software. The TomTom redeemed itself later that day by warning me around a 15-mile-long traffic backup in northern Indiana on I-65 which ended up saving me hours of sitting waiting for a major accident to be cleared and the road opened back up.

The TomTom is different than the Garmin. TomTom has a different way of doing things. The GO 2535M Live is a fairly sophisticated device. It even has a full-time GSM data connection to the TomTom server with the ability to do real-time Google searches, either locally or in other locations, get live traffic and weather updates, and do real-time rerouting to avoid traffic problems. Though the unit has free lifetime map updates from TomTom and a year’s worth of live “HD” traffic and weather updates, the live “HD” traffic and weather update service is just under $60 per year. Once you create an account at TomTom.Com you can sign in to your account with the unit itself. Incidentally, I’m willing to pay $60 dollars per year for accurate, up-to-the-minute traffic and weather information. That type of information can end up saving a lot of time and trouble as long as it’s presented as soon as it becomes available. The unit can even accurately display areas of traffic backups and slowdowns.

After I’d had the unit for about a week and a half, it was sitting on my dash and suddenly started going into a rebooting loop. Regardless of what I did, the unit would just keep rebooting. After a quick call to TomTom’s support number (I got right through to a live support person), they advised me to return the unit to Best Buy for an exchange since I was well within the 30-day exchange window. I’m pretty sure it must have been some sort of software/operating system error, since a few minutes before I had entered a new favorite location.

The replacement unit is working great. The TomTom rep gave me a reference number to call back with when I had the replacement unit so they could make the necessary changes to associate it with my existing account in their system, which I did.

There are much more expensive GPS units on the market (sold at truck stops) aimed specifically at truck drivers which look enticing, some of them priced up to 200% more than the units sold at a place like Best Buy or other big-box retailer. I talked to a driver that bought one of these very expensive trucker-specific GPS units. He said it was nice, but he didn’t feel the extra trucker-specific features were worth the substantially higher price he had to pay for the specialized unit.

It turns out feature I like the most so far is the ability to do Google searches in order to input destinations rather than go through the standard process. Other features I like are that that unit has enough room on its bright, high-resolution 5” widescreen to display my current speed, the current time with the time zone automatically updated, and speed limits with audible alerts if I’m going over the speed limit. It also has a lane assist feature which primarily warns if an upcoming exit is on the left or the right. Another useful, though not always consistent feature is that it can be set to announce upcoming points of interest such as rest areas and truck stops, along with virtually any other type of other business one can think of, including user-defined points of interest.

I am enjoying the TomTom GO 2535M Live. It’s not yet perfect, but with continued updates from the folks at TomTom I’m certain it can continue to improve.

Ford Introduces Live Operator for SYNC Users

Posted by Andrew at 3:11 PM on July 12, 2011

Ford yesterday announced a new SYNC Services feature, “Operator Assist”, which lets drivers speak to a real person in order to help with enquiries such as business searches or address entry. It’s currently in beta and is being offered free to registered users of SYNC Services.

Operator Assist is voice activated and the new feature provides customers with the ability to safely connect with a live person who can quickly access information databases to help drivers get where they want to go. No additional hardware or software is needed and the driver (or passenger) simply says, “Operator” if he or she needs assistance with the automated system. After confirming the request, the individual is connected to a live operator for help in finding a business or entering an address. Directions can be sent directly to the vehicle’s navigation system or the business address and phone number can be texted to a mobile phone.

Taking the concept a step further, in the instance when a driver says an address or business that the automated system can’t identify, the driver will be offered the option to connect to a live operator for further assistance. If the user confirms he or she would like to speak with an operator, the system automatically connects the user to the live operator. This avoids the frustration that I think we’ve all encountered when we know where we want to go but the GPS doesn’t recognise the address.

Seventy percent of all SYNC Services calls are for business search and directions“, said David Gersabeck, product manager, SYNC Services. “Our customers asked for additional assistance in situations where their voice request was not understood…Being able to connect with a live person at any time contributes to that [assistance].

MotionX GPS Drive

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 1:07 PM on June 20, 2011

MotionX-Drive I had purchased the MotionX GPS Drive awhile back but hadn’t had a chance to use it until this past weekend. I was traveling to Northern Kentucky near Cincinnati, OH and area that I am not familiar with. I was looking at GPS products and I remembered I had MotionX- Drive and decided to give it a try. Before I left home I set it up to take me from my home to the Holiday Inn I was staying at. It worked great and brought me straight to the hotel. In fact, the one case when I thought it was taking me in the wrong direction, I double checked it using Google Map and sure enough it was right. The one time when I was not paying attention and went pass the entrance I was supposed to use MotionX GPS quickly recalculated my route and got me on to the highway.

It is really good at finding local restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations and grocery stores. You can also enter addresses from your contacts or Facebook with without ever leaving the application. iTunes is integrated into it so when the directions are no longer needed MotionX gets out-of-the-way and iTunes starts playing. You can also share your location and eta through email with your friends. The voice guidance is free for 30 days and can be renewed for a monthly or yearly basis with an in-app purchase. The monthly rate is $3.00. The yearly rate is $19.99. The monthly purchase doesn’t renew automatically, so you can pay for it as you need it. The newest update added free traffic update, more custom voices and the ability to share on Facebook.  The only negatives thing I can say about MotionX GPS Drive is it does use a lot of battery life, so make sure you have a car charger if you plan to be traveling a long way. I am really glad I purchased this app, it was well worth the 99 cents I paid for it. if you are looking for a GPS application I would highly recommend giving MotionX GPS Drive a try.