Running Multiple GPS on the Road

As an over-the-road truck driver, I’ve been playing around with GPS various devices and mapping software for several years. Maps and GPS’s have radically improved over the years. Does the perfect GPS exist? Not yet. So what is the solution? The solution I’m currently using is multiple GPS’s running at once. “Isn’t that a bit extreme?” you ask. Not really. Let me explain my current setup. I have a special Garmin GPS that is aimed at commercial truck drivers as well as those driving around in large motorhomes and other recreational vehicles. It differs from a standard Garmin or other stand-alone GPS unit in at least a couple of important ways. First, the user inputs the overall dimensions of his or her vehicle. The Garmin attempts to calculate routes based on known truck routes. It attempts to calculate routes based on keeping to known truck routes, and avoiding roads and routes that trucks and large vehicles are prohibited from. Secondly the Garmin has a database of truck stops, truck washes, scales, rest areas, etc. These two elements are theoretically updated with each new periodic map update. The Garmin does a decent job, but it has its quirks. I also have a Google Nexus 7 which has the excellent built-in Google Maps and Google Navigation, which are actually two separate apps that are tied closely together. I have found the Google satellite view and Google Street View to be invaluable aids on a daily basis as I am constantly having to find and go to places such as warehouses I’ve never been before. I can usually get a great idea of the size of the place, how it is laid out, if there is truck parking either on the property or nearby, etc. I also have the TomTom for Android GPS app along with a subscription to TomTom’s excellent HD Traffic service. Since I have a full-time data connection via a WiFi hotspot, I often run the TomTom software in parallel with the Garmin since TomTom’s HD Traffic service is generally pretty accurate when it comes to major traffic tie-ups and slow-downs. But wait, there’s more. Let’s say I’ve got the same destination programmed in to both the Garmin and the TomTom software, but I want to know how far it is to a particular point of interest along the route, for example a particular truck stop. The TomTom software continues to run in the background as I go to the Nexus 7’s menu and start Google Maps and/or Google Navigation. Yes, it is easily possible to have TWO completely separate navigation programs running on the Nexus 7 at the same time, even in the background. Of course if one runs any GPS program it’s a good idea to have the Nexus 7 plugged in since it will drain the battery in just a few hours’ time especially if one keeps the screen turned on. Also, with both the TomTom app as well as the included Google Navigation app running simultaneously in the background, it is still possible to open the regular Google Maps app and search and browse the satellite views as normal. As an extra aside, I frequently also have an app such as Audible or DoubleTwist running in the background attached via Bluetooth to a Bluetooth stereo speaker setup. The Nexus 7 is easily able to handle all of these tasks in stride with no slowdowns or stutters. So I find that having multiple GPS apps available in front of me (stuck to my windshield on the Nexus 7 via an inexpensive windshield mount I found on Amazon) to be an invaluable extra navigational aid. I personally believe one of the Nexus 7’s biggest strengths to be the built-in GPS chip, a feature that the Amazon Kindle HD’s lack, as well as all iPads that lack a built-in data connection. A built-in GPS chip really adds tremendous amount of value to any tablet, regardless of what the intended use might be.

Update On TomTom GO 2535M Live 5” Widescreen GPS

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.

TomTom GO 2535M Live 5” Widescreen GPS

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.