Traveling with a car navigator: large screen to the masses

    Back in 2001, I happened to develop a navigation system for Windows Mobile. In those days, it was an exotic and expensive thing even for Moscow. PDAs were rapidly improving, and they were still waiting for the peak of popularity (remember the well-known iPAQs). We conducted development on the weighty "bricks" of the Casio E125. On civilian GPS receivers there were draconian restrictions on accuracy - an error of at least 30 meters, which made the route guidance task very non-trivial. Due to strict restrictions on the amount of expensive flash memory, a map of Moscow with each house and with all interchanges and lanes occupied 8 MB in our own format, the entire Moscow region - 30 MB. Unfortunately, the business then had to be frozen due to overestimated demand. I think that all the difficulties of that period deserve a separate article.

    But time passed, the population grew rich, technology became cheaper, and now, after 10 years, a long-distance car trip without a navigator was, rather, an exception.

    Going by car from Moscow to the Crimea, I was lucky enough to get the Lexand ST-610 navigator of impressive size and was very eager to look at the results of a ten-year development.

    Preparing the navigator on the road took relatively little time. Over the past year, I fluently tried several navigation programs on my PDA, traveling with them around Moscow, and by the time of the trip I finally settled on iGo 8. Here, of course, there is a large share of subjectivity, but there are objective criteria: other tried and tested systems hung several times in the most inopportune moment. With iGo, this has never happened. Naturally, everything is being improved, and, most likely, more recent versions work more stable, or I had some specific problem. But I preferred a proven option, so as not to risk being left without navigation somewhere off the beaten path. But let's talk about everything in order.

    Options

    Completely standard for today:
    • in fact, a navigator in a stylish thin case
    • car glass holder
    • car charger
    • USB cable (sync + charge)
    • stylus
    • soft case
    • guide







    Nothing more than a stylus. With such a large screen, it can occasionally come in handy to reset the device. Later it turned out that this is not entirely true, as discussed below. By the way, it was not easy to find it: for the sake of ergonomics, it almost merges with the rounded back wall of the case.

    But what may turn out to be in demand when using the navigator as a media player is an autonomous network charger, which is proposed to be purchased separately. However, after all, the main function is navigation in the car, so this minus can hardly be considered serious.

    Now let's look at the characteristics of the device

    Screen



    This, of course, is what attracts in the first place. Touch resistiveTFT-screen on a TN-matrix, diagonal of 6 inches, resolution QVGA 480 * 272, 65,000 colors.

    At first it seemed to me that the resolution with such a diagonal is not enough, but then it became clear that it was quite enough for navigation. It is very likely that dynamic rendering of a card on a 500 MHz processor will slow down at higher resolutions. Although, there may be a simple desire to save. There is still unconfirmed information that the next batch of ST-610 will be with other technical characteristics, the changes should just affect the resolution and quality of the screen.

    Finger-oriented interface is declared. Why is it "declared"? Because on a resistive matrix, pressing with a fingertip does not always work out - you have to use a fingernail or a stylus, which is not very convenient and unsafe for the screen. Only scrolling the map was possible with the plane of the finger without any problems.

    I still didn’t like that with each touch very noticeable “waves” scatter across the screen, as on desktop, non-touch, monitors. On ordinary PDAs and communicators, this is not the case. I am not very deeply familiar with touch technologies, but I suspect that these are also features of this type of cheap matrix.

    The screen does not glare. However, the viewing angles, as with all TN matrices, are small, especially vertically. This is not so important for the driver, but inconvenient for the "navigator".

    And I would still think of some kind of protection - the screen is very easy to damage if the device falls on something sharp and solid.

    On the whole, it’s much more convenient to scroll the map while driving on the big screen, zoom is not so often needed - all the inscriptions and objects are perfectly visible. This is an undeniable advantage.

    Case, dimensions, weight

    128x82x12.7 mm, 195. The case is stylish, without backlashes and creaking. It has a record thickness for devices with such a diagonal. Light weight is also important - it is less likely that the navigator accidentally falls off on the go.









    Car mount

    I really liked it (see photo above). Made very high quality. Both degrees of freedom are securely fixed in any position. Fastens easily and quickly, without effort. When driving, the device does not hang out and practically does not tremble. The suction cup from the glass never fell off by itself, even with intense heat in the cabin. But, for example, I tried to stick it on plastic in the office - it came off after a while. Generally speaking, in addition to the suction cup, it's time to come up with a more reliable mount, for example, screw. In some cars it can be used, for example, on the ventilation grill. Maybe a certain standard is needed - then the situation will improve. But automakers, unfortunately, are very conservative.

    operating system

    Microsoft WinCE.NET 6.0. Given that most of the most popular navigation software exists in the version for Windows CE, this choice is quite natural. I don’t know how the situation will change after the release of Windows Phone 7 - we'll see.

    The navigator has a pre-installed shell of its own production, about which below.

    Memory

    RAM (SDRAM) 64MB. According to some reviews, such a volume may not be enough for heavy navigation software, but I had no problems. 32 MB of real problems and freezes with programs like iGo. It doesn’t always help editing the notorious sys.txt. In principle, another 64 MB would not hurt to guarantee that any problems will be avoided in the near future. But, it seems, they decided to save here.

    ROM (NAND Flash) 4Gb. This volume allows you to record several navigation programs with maps, but it is probably preferable to use an external flash drive for this: to be honest, I’m not sure that the contents of the ROM will be saved in case of a hard reset. In my version, 1 GB of ROM was occupied on the device. Of these, about 50 MB of service files and 950 MB are Navitel Navigator with maps of Russia (1 and 10 km). There is also a Russian manual in PDF.

    MicroSD expansion slot (support for SDHC cards up to 32GB). Here the possibilities are endless - you can take with you all imaginable navigation systems with all available maps. It may well be that in some countries a particular program works better.

    CPU

    SiRFatlasIV, ARM1136JF-S, 500Mhz. This is a new processor made using 65 nm technology. Perhaps, due to this, the device is slightly heated. The processor is fast enough - there is no slowdown of the navigation system.

    GPS chipset

    SiRF GRF3i +, 64 channels. Very stable reception, I have never lost satellites, you can safely hold the navigator in your hands while sitting in the car. The first start lasts about 2 minutes. I liked that the navigator very accurately determines the position. If the information is correct, the accuracy of the receiver is about 3 meters, which is enough to confidently determine not only the road, but also the lane. I remember what torment we had with the old receivers "roughened" up to 30 meters. The system behaved especially badly when driving through complex intersections or adjoining streets, and this could not be fixed by any algorithms. Now there is no such problem in principle.

    Computer connection

    USB 2.0, miniUSB cable included. It can work in two modes: a regular flash-drive or Microsoft ActiveSync. The choice is made through the dialogue that appears when a USB cable is connected.

    Copying data is relatively slow - about 1 MB per second. But I do not think that this is a big problem, because navigation software does not change very often.

    I am having problems in flash drive mode: the navigator is recognized as an unknown device. ActiveSync mode saved the situation. Perhaps the reason is the raw firmware, because, as far as I heard, Lexand usually has everything ok with that. Naturally, when using a microSD card complete with a card reader, there will be no such problems.

    Nutrition

    The built-in lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 850mAh, the operating time without recharging with a minimum backlight - up to 2.5 hours, with a maximum - up to 1 hour, the time of a full charge of the battery - 2-3 hours. This is really very small. Those. in the car anyway, because the device is usually powered by a cigarette lighter, but it is practically impossible to use it as a media player or as a pedestrian navigator. Even in a car on a long journey, sometimes it becomes necessary to recharge the phone, and during this time the navigator easily sits down.

    In addition, for some reason, the battery was not always charged. Either the unreliable USB connector is to blame, or my cigarette lighter did not understand. It is even possible that the matter is in firmware, which does not always include a charge. One way or another, a couple of times it turned off on the go from full discharge and, after being switched on again, it started to charge successfully. I want to remind you that you can insert the cigarette lighter wire only with the engine running, because a power surge during ignition can damage the device.

    Additional functions

    FM transmitter. Allows you to output sound from the navigator (voice prompts, music, sound from video) to the speakers of the audio system built into the car using an FM signal. On a trip, I was not able to set up. Later I read that for this the transmitter needs a connected USB cable that works like an antenna. But, in principle, the volume of the built-in speaker is enough. In addition, on long trips, you usually listen to music on the radio, and in the case of sound output from the navigator, this will be impossible. Now, if it were possible to mix the sound in the radio with the sound of a navigator, then this function would be really useful. According to reviews, the transmitter broadcasts to a distance of 7 meters and is even capable of drowning out the radio in a nearby car.

    Multimedia applications and utilities: video, audio, photo, text, games, calendar, notes, calculator. All this standard set is present in most navigators, but, rather, for show. I did not even try. Those who used complained that the films should be pinched to a lower resolution, there is no support for some music formats, etc. This is despite the fact that under Windows CE there are much more functional media players than the one that is built into the navigator. The reader of text files opens only txt, of course, in only one encoding. It may be convenient to write in text files information about the route, a description of the route, motels, campsites, etc. The image viewer, judging by the review of the st-570 model, does not show pictures larger than 4 Mb.



    2.5mm stereo headphone jack (not included). Also, rather, for show, because of the complexity of using the navigator as a player. The device does not have a hardware volume control, everything is done from the menu, which is not always convenient, especially when you need to reduce the volume of voice prompts on the go if one of the passengers falls asleep.

    Lexand navigators are blamed for the lack of a Bluetooth module, which makes it impossible to get traffic information via GPRS. However, the company is preparing models with a SIM card, so the problem will be resolved soon.

    The device interface can be customized to your liking: using any graphic files to set the desktop background, customize your screen saver. On a flash drive for these purposes, I found the logos of the main automobile brands, which is very nice - it will look like a standard navigation.

    The rest of the navigator is not overloaded with functionality, like larger models. After all, he must fulfill the main function, and the rest is much less important.

    Navigation software

    The main advantage of Lexand is the ability to run any navigation program. It is enough to specify the path to the executable file.





    In Russia, they are equipped with one of three navigation systems:
    • Navitel Navigator: detailed maps of a large number of Russian regions, detailed maps of regional centers with targeted plans
    • ProCity: highly detailed maps of Russia of its own production, emulation of road junctions, the mode of prompts when driving on multi-lane highways
    • CityGID: a recognized leader in navigation in St. Petersburg and the northwestern region of Russia.

    However, for an international trip, I preferred iGo, which I ran without problems, writing to internal flash memory.

    A few words about iGo. This is a well thought out system. Everything that may be required on the go is available on the main screen. There are 3 modes of viewing the map: 3D, flat with an orientation to the north and with an orientation in the direction of movement - to whom it is convenient. The screen displays the speed, the predicted travel time (by the way, amazingly accurate!), The distance to the nearest junction. The system warns of speeding (the threshold is adjustable) - it constantly helped me out. On an additional screen, you can watch many parameters: distance traveled, maximum speed, altitude, direction of travel, etc. The program supports skins and offers several options for voice acting. It is very convenient that the route can be laid between different maps, say, Russia and Ukraine. The transition is invisible to the user. Voice prompts are very high quality and minimally necessary. When leaving the route, reruns a new one without any questions. If he doesn’t know the road (for example, a new bypass), then he is simply silent until we reach the highway known to her. There are hot buttons for switching viewing modes, searching for user points (the base is very large and constantly updated), a search button for a detour. The map was shown very competently - when approaching the roundabout, the detail becomes very detailed, and when we leave for a long section without exits, the map is moved away to improve the visibility. There are many more pleasant things, but all this deserves a separate story. until we get to the well-known track. There are hot buttons for switching viewing modes, searching for user points (the base is very large and constantly updated), a search button for a detour. The map was shown very competently - when approaching the roundabout, the detail becomes very detailed, and when we leave for a long section without exits, the map is moved away to improve the visibility. There are many more pleasant things, but all this deserves a separate story. until we get to the well-known track. There are hot buttons for switching viewing modes, searching for user points (the base is very large and constantly updated), a search button for a detour. The map was shown very competently - when approaching the roundabout, the detail becomes very detailed, and when we leave for a long section without exits, the map is moved away to improve the visibility. There are many more pleasant things, but all this deserves a separate story.

    I just want to say that iGo has never hovered for all 3 odd thousand kilometers and guided us along the route perfectly, confused only once on the new highway Kharkiv-Dnepropetrovsk, where we were following the signs. I think that the track has already been added to the new maps.

    In all navigation programs, do not blindly trust the route laid, especially in large cities, otherwise the risk of driving into some kind of dead traffic jam at rush hour is quite high. For this, by the way, there are different modes for calculating the route - the shortest, optimal, fastest.

    conclusions

    We can say that we have the correct Chinese device. Positive impressions significantly exceed minor flaws. The current minimum price in the Messenger is 6990 rubles. In other stores, for some reason, it is more expensive - from 8400 rubles. Honestly, it’s expensive, considering that the 610th model differs from its younger brothers only in the diagonal of the screen. You can, of course, order in China 2 times cheaper and without navigation software, but remembering about our mail, the desire immediately disappears.

    For those who read only the introduction and conclusion, a list of pros and cons.

    Advantages :
    • big screen
    • modern processor and gps receiver
    • the ability to launch any navigation program
    • Fm transmitter
    • stylish very thin body
    • excellent car mount

    Disadvantages :
    • damp firmware (problems with USB connection)
    • full use of the fingers is not very convenient due to the type of touch screen
    • no mains charge included
    • the screen is not protected by anything
    • frankly weak battery
    • lack of any means of communication with the phone
    • relatively expensive


    In general, there is something to improve, but I do not see fatal flaws. Compared with what was at the dawn of the era of navigators - then one could only dream of such a thing.

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