20 November 2010

GPS + Mount

I was searching for a GPS that fits my "needs and wants" for quite a while now. The problem is, there is none.

Garmin has stopped making GPS devices that I consider good for motorcycling, I will list some of the reasons here, but this is not even trying to be comprehensive or complete, just the things I dislike most.

Zümo series:
  • I need tracking capabilities as well as routing. The Zümo series has no tracking at all (for the uninitiated: that is recording your trip, replaying a recorded or generated track, etc), it only has routing.
  • The devices can't be run long enough on battery power.
  • You can't use them properly while walking around.
  • They are incredibly expensive for no reason compared to hiking / car GPS devices.
Latest GPSMap series:
  • The small GPSMap and Oregon handhelds come close to what I actually like but I also want to power the device from my bike to not burn the batteries if I don't have to. A USB port is about the worst connector you can have for this. (To Garmin: this is a shitty policy.)
  • The bigger GPSMap devices that are for marine and automotive use can't do tracks anymore when you switch them to automotive and they are all huge. (To Garmin: this is shitty policy.)


First Try

The first thing I did was buying a GPSMap 62S at the local REI store because they have a very good return policy and I wanted to play around with the device for at least a day or two to make sure it's what I want. Not using it on the motorcycle, not leaving marks or so, really no - I actually wanted to like this device. But I couldn't. Reasons:
  • The build quality is not good, the device squeaks and makes weird noises when you touch it. The battery compartment door wasn't very confidence inspiring, the rubber thingy over the interfaces on the back must be a pretty bad joke.
  • The ON/OFF button is on the side where I accidentally hit it all the time. 
  • The mini USB connector. That thing is abysmal as a connector that will get used all the time here. I like to plan routes on the computer, I like to read tracks from the device. Put them back on later and so on. The connection broke up all the time when I moved the device around, the cable got loose really fast, no way on earth could this connector survive the use on a motorcycle. 
  • The software for the Mac is a piece of ... I couldn't even install a "downloaded map" from Garmin's own website as their own browser plugin crashed.
  • The UI of the device is pretty painful if you are working in my line of work (remember, I work for a company where design and usability is everything - see the software section if you want to know what I think about that).
  • There is only a very fickly plastic mount from RAM to mount the device on the bike. It's not absolutely bad if the 60 series cradles are any indication. Oh, and it's not available yet. I could have made up a 60 series cradle to fit with a rubber band, but fortunately didn't have to do this.
So back it went. I was thoroughly turned off by this thing. 

All that aside, I liked the form factor - kind of like a really thick, really old cell phone -, I liked the size and weight, the battery runtime, the display.

Therefore, after I returned the 62S it was back to the decision of finding a used GPSMap 276c, 378, or 478 or something else. Those are basically marine or aviation devices that can also do automotive routing plus tracking. They really are the silver bullet for motorcycle touring. The only two problems, they go for quite a high price if you find them at all, and are long discontinued and 6 years old with all the downsides like slow processors and not very solid satellite reception (bad in cities and under tree cover).

Another alternative I had was getting a new GPSMap 60CSx, which is the predecessor of the 62S and is at the moment selling at Costco or GPSCity for $199 which is a pretty good price all things considered. 

After a lot of back and forth I bit the bullet and ordered a new 60CSx, because it seemed to solve some of the issues I had with the 62S:
  • It has a more solid feel and better build quality.
  • ON/OFF button is out of the way, next to the antenna where I never touch it by accident.
  • There is a very good motorcycle cradle available from Touratech (stupidly expensive, but at least the quality is normally right) that can even be bought as "lockable". 
  • It has the old 4 pin power connector that is very solid and fairly safe to use even in wet conditions (it's the same that is used on the marine devices).
  • The rubber plugs on the back are better.
  • I can get one with RAM mounting hardware, Touratech cradle, and cable for the bike for the same price as the 62S unit alone.
  • The internal UI is alarmingly colorful but it's not as bad as the new one on the 62S.
  • It is recognized better by the software.
There are also some disadvantages of course, like the slower processor (I don't care), some limitations for geo caching (I don't do this.), less colors in the display (Aeh, so what?). 

Okay, now, with that out of the way, the hardware bought, now on to the Maps.

Maps

Garmin must have the most idiotic licensing for their maps a group of morons can come up with. 
  1. When you buy a map on their website as "Download", it can only be used on the device and cannot be transferred to the computer to do "offline" routing with the device not connected. It can be at least kind of used when the device is connected and put into USB mass storage mode, but it's pretty slow.
  2. When you buy a map as an SD card chip, the same bullshit applies.
  3. When you buy a map as a DVD, you can use the map with a computer and a device.
As the prices are all the same, what's that about? Garmin, who in your company is the moron that either came up with this crap or let it through when getting the deal from your map supplier (NavTeq I think)? Fire him / her! Don't look twice. Just fire. This is the worst customer licensing terms that you can come up with. Make it one single license, just let the map be used on a computer all the time. What's the problem with that? 

Also, if you loose your device you bought the map for, the map is gone, too. The whole licensing thing could have come from Microsoft or Oracle - it's really that bad. And it was very, very close that I didn't buy a Garmin device because of the worst map licensing terms in the whole industry!

My recommendation: don't buy a Garmin device until they change the licensing. If there is absolutely nothing else that fits your needs than a Garmin device and you buy maps, buy the DVD. Never ever buy download or chip. Just get the DVD and if you don't want to use a computer to install it yourself, let somebody else do it for you. At least you have options!

The next step now is to get the software on the computer working. Which is a pretty big pain by itself.

Mac Software 

The Garmin Mac software (called BaseCamp) is complete garbage. It is incredibly stupid and complicated to use, it doesn't recognize the device half the time, the usability for routing is abysmal and it can't read and cache the map from the device properly. It is also full of small, medium, and big bugs. It would take me days to just list them all. Garmin can not have a UI designer and a QA department looking at this software, this is plain impossible. Or it is the same guy who came up with the map licensing terms - I wouldn't be surprised.

But ...

... I have a GPS device now despite all the hurdles Garmin puts in the way of customers. It is not from the current series, and that even as I hate buying out of date models, but it was the only way of getting a device that actually does what I want it to do.

Connecting the GPSMap 60CSx to the Motorcycle

To connect the device to power from the motorcycle I ordered a generic Garmin cable for the round 4 pin connector and a "Repair Connector" (US part number: 83 30 0 413 585) from BMW. Overall ~ $50 if you can bring the two pieces together on your own or $80 when you buy the full cable from Touratech. I soldered it from the two mentioned pieces and it was easy to do and I could get exactly the length I wanted.

Here are very good and detailed instructions how to do it yourself.

Routing

I did some preliminary testing with the device in the car and it looked good. The route it selected was efficient and short, you can set all kinds of avoidance preferences (no U-Turn, no Highway, no Toll Road, no unpaved, and so on), you can select whether to route for time or distance and there is an off-road mode that just points you in the correct direction all the time.

I used it, it works. The small display is pretty useless with the map display but as I prefer other display settings anyways, this doesn't bother me. When I'm on the bike I want to see what I have to do next and when. The "current route" screen shows this (see photo below) and switches to a zoomed in map view as soon as you hit one of the way points. Works great for me.

Creating routes on the computer is pretty painful due to the incredibly bad user interface of the PC software (Mac as well as PC), but it can be done. I have to hook up the device for this as I made the mistake of buying a map as download and not as DVD (as I wanted to get started with it), but I can probably deal with that for the time being.

Tracks


So far, I haven't used tracks all too much. I tried it when I dropped Andrea off at the Airport and it worked just fine, recorded the route properly and I could read it from my computer. More to come probably.

Conclusion

If you are in my position that you want a device you can use for hiking and motorcycling, depending on your needs I can give two recommendations:
  1. If you want an externally powered device get the Garmin GPSMap 60CSx as long as it is available or used later.
  2. Get the GPSMap 62S if you can run on batteries alone (which is actually possible with these devices as the batteries easily survive two riding days and you can use rechargeable batteries if you stay in hotels / motels / organized campgrounds where they have power plugs). Do this only when you plan to only rarely hook up the device to a computer and you are certain you don't need it powered from the bike.
I was thinking of staying with the 62S, but it doesn't have any advantage over the 60CSx for me, therefore I went with the cheaper one and got all the mounting hardware and cables I wanted, plus a map for North America for the same price as just the 62S alone.

Here are some photos of how I mounted it:

Mounted on RAM mount with short arm.

Sitting safely in the Touratech mount.

The "current route info" screen. The screen I prefer on the bike to use
for A to B navigation.

The Touratech cradle by itself, it aluminum, high quality, feels good.
The big black knob in the upper left corner is the 4 pin Garmin
connector that is powered by the GPS power plug of my R1200GS. 

Some last thoughts: Garmin as a company

During my research and the tests I have done, Garmin was helpful, the service decent. If it weren't for their incredibly bad software, the dumbed down new devices, and the stupid licensing terms, they could be a decent company. But because of that I'd rate them as the worst manufacturer of a gadget I have ever dealt with. The devices (at least the old ones) are pretty good, the service is surprisingly good, but everything else is a "nice try" at best. And the new devices show this policy even more, they are dumbed down, not widely useable anymore and the quality goes down.

What makes it even worse is that the competition is not even a competition. The DeLorme PN-60 for example has really, really bad routing, but is pretty good otherwise. You can get life time map updates for a few bucks, the device is not bad, but the routing permits buying it for me.

TomTom doesn't even have a close to modern device for motorcycle use. The TomTom Rider series is ridiculously outdated, expensive, and doesn't even come close to a useful feature set if you want more than just have it tell you how to get from A to B - and even that doesn't work often enough in the Bay Area where it stumbles over long streets that stretch from one city to the next. 

Is there anything else around? Nothing I have found that's worth a second look.

15 comments:

  1. I also have a 60CSx and am satisfied with it. Kind of expensive with the maps but have used it for years on trips on the bike, cars (mostly rentals), lots of hikes and some bicycle trips. The Touratech mount looks cool and I have been thinking of picking one up while they are still being made. For the last couple of years, the plastic Garmin mount has been working fine with the RAM mount. I've never actually tried to modify a route using software just blindly accepting the route suggested.

    Detailed review. Thank you.

    Richard

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  2. I like planning long routes for day or weekend trips on the computer - selecting a specific route that is neither the shortest nor by any means the fastest, but one that looks like it would be fun on the motorcycle. That's why I use the computer with the big screen, a real mouse, and keyboard.

    Going from A to B - the device itself is just fine.

    This all might read like a big rant - but I'm really very disappointed with Garmin. I thought it was a decent company given the devices it creates and so on. But when I really got into it, I only found out that when you buy a GPS for a motorcycle today, you are between a rock and a hard place. The companies all try to rip you off with insane pricing, stupid licensing and devices that are not worth being used. The small GPSMap devices seem to be the best around, even the 62S with all the drawbacks I have listed.

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  3. Man, you are really flaming Garmin, and rightly so. When it comes to planning major road trips I am rather old fashioned... I actually use paper maps and travel guides... and only use the GPS to find my way from A to B if I have to.

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  4. Yes. I'm flaming Garmin. I think they are one of those companies that can't make something really good until forced to by competition. They are not driven by the desire to build a great product. And that is one of the worst things to say about a company - but it's how I feel about Garmin.

    I also do paper map planning - still need to get a good California Map (DeLorme or Benchmark Maps). But then I want to transfer waypoints and partial routes to the GPS. Once the routes are on the GPS I can decide whether I not to use them or just have the GPS route to a way point or ... it's all very flexible that way.

    Unfortunately there are no good maps for the US that are in the "folding style" as the Shell maps in Europe. Those you can put in a tank back, you can fold in all directions and they are very precise (1:200 000 or 1:150 000). Nothing like that available here. The DeLorme is a ridiculously large monster, haven't seen the Benchmark Maps yet.

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  5. Aah, don't get me started... I loved those Shell maps. Not sure if they make them any more that way.

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  6. I've been using a Tomtom Rider v2 with routes planned on TYRE and am reasonably satisfied that it meets my needs for touring.

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  7. The downside of the TomTom devices (from own experience) is that they don't do any tracking at all, the POI list is not very comprehensive, the software I tried to use on the Mac is even worse than the one from Garmin and TomTom uses incredibly low quality batteries for their devices. A two year old TomTom 930 that is fully charged makes it about 10 minutes here ...

    Also the Rider is not usable as a hiking GPS, can't do Geocaching (not that important) and it has a touch screen which I tried to use with my gloves on some devices - completely useless to me. I tend to have wide fitting gloves and I touch about everything on that screen but not what I actually want to hit.

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  8. Sorry if my remarks appear to be a little naive but I'm a relative newcomer to the science of GPS!

    Just after I made my comment, I realised that you wanted "tracking".

    Does tracking imply that you can fix waypoints and the route between them and go along that exact route?

    If you use TYRE to produce the .itn file and fix waypoints close together then Tomtom takes you along the route you want (most of the time), but the machine is always tring to calculate the route. If you fix waypoints too far apart then the route bewteen the wapoints will be at the whim of the TT (and whatever mode its set on). I found this out the hard way.

    Re. the touch screen - I use the wand from my old beloved defunct PSION 5!

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  9. @Nikos: Tracking is mainly recording where you went. I often don't even want route navigation but I want recorded where I went so I can either backtrack or use the recorded track to plan a new route or ride it again.

    Planning with waypoints is important on the Garmin, too, as it doesn't transfer a calculated route to the device but just the waypoints and the device recalculates. Which is kind of shit and Garmin tries to talk their way out of their inability to make it consistent by saying that there are different algorithms used on the computer and on the device. That's just plain bullshit even if it is true - again they are just plain lazy and don't work for a good product, just something that is good enough to sell / release.

    People like this wouldn't get fired in my job. They either get buried or not hired in the first place ...

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  10. Maybe I'm in the minority but I've always liked the idea of just specifying the waypoints and letting the gps figure out the path between them. But then again, my use of the route planning features of a gps has been limited to travel in the lower 48 states and usually in a vehicle. Here in Alaska, we have so few roads that there usually isn't much choice between destinations and the only really useable features are the ETA and city street maps.

    I have also been concerned about the lack of ability to transfer the map license to other devices in case the unit gets lost or stolen.

    Richard

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  11. Hey Richard,

    I can totally relate to what you say ... but I just wanted more. Not only for using it on the motorcycle but also on when hiking or walking.

    Right now I'm on a short trip to Southern California and I wanted the ability to track exactly where I was riding, while just "riding around". And from time to time use the routing to find a restaurant, a gas station, a motel. All the while not interrupting the tracking.

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  12. Guido:

    I also wanted tracking but all the units were more than I thought were reasonable. I also wanted a unit where I could plan my route on a computer then transfer the file into the GPS so I could go where I wanted to go, not have to change the target destination while entering each "leg" of my route. I am forced by my Garmin to enter each leg separately so as to not let it choose it's own way.

    bob
    Wet Coast Scootin

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  13. Bob,

    yes, you're right. The devices that do tracking are fairly expensive and I was happy / lucky to jump on the $199 offer for the GPSMap 60CSx. It's a good device. Quite slow when routing to a destination, but I can live with that. It worked pretty well on my trip the last three days!

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  14. Guido,

    I, too, recently acquired a GPS. I bought a Garmin 765T, but it was a struggle to figure out which of their units has both routing and tracking -- and an earphone jack.

    You can read about my selection here: http://buckysride.blogspot.com/2011/02/direction-needed-now-found.html

    I am still working on transferring maps from Google Maps or MapQuest to the unit.
    This method seems best so far: http://www.cameroncole.com/tips.htm
    It takes quite a few steps to get it done, and unfortunately, Garmin does not provide MapSource with the 765T, so I will have to find a workaround.

    MapQuest will export a route to Garmin directly, but it appears that any manual modifications you make to the route to make it interesting and off-the-beaten-path are lost.

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