Thursday, 20 July 2017

Get lost why dont ya!

So I have been asked a bit lately what would I recommend in regards to sat nav in your vehicle. Would I recommend a hema such as the HN7, a tablet, an Ipad or some other device.

Well at the outset, I have to say I have absolutely no experience with any apple product, nor do I plan to. Too many handcuffs for my liking. But those that have them, love them, so there must be something of worth there.

Since 2009 when I first set up an incar sat nav (and I'm not talking Garmin Nuvi's, Tom Tom's, Navman's and other street routable portable devices), I went with the good old PC, running various operating systems and had the output linked to an external monitor.

That has served my purposes very well, although it does come with some hangup's. Like trying to change mapset's on the move for example. Its almost impossible to do, and cant be done safely IMO.

But I've never been lost and have recorded some great data over the years. For example, my track logs from 2009 - 2015:

After my Canning Stock Route trip, the old 10" netbook hard drive running XP was starting to play up. I'm surprised it lasted that long. That poor old hard drive had been beaten to a pulp from off road corrugations for years without issue. The Canning finally sorted that out - not to mention the other vehicle damage suffered.

So I replaced that 12 months ago with a 14" lappy with SSD, running windows 10.  That has brought me up to the modern era. But I'm getting over trying to get touch screen drivers to run on Win10 effectively. That allows me control over my mapping program from the onitor itself - the laptop is buried under the seat.

Since 2009 my software of choice has been PC ozi explorer and I can get my way around this  reasonably well. Its pretty full on for the novice, but in reality, its not that hard to master most functions you would need to use for off road navigation with a bit of practice.

Some years ago I also purchased a cheap Chinese 7" street navigator running a WinCe platform, purchased a licence and put ozi on that. That wasn't too bad, Having 2 navs running at once, displaying different map sets of the same location can be handy. Its been sitting in my glove box since my old car failed on me though in 2015.

Over the years, I've purchased a lot of ozi mapsets. So to stick with what I have is a no brainer - unless someone can show me a better alternative for my map set library I've built up, primarily in ECW and various Ozf formats. 

So that brings me to the question that's been asked of me: what mapping platform to run? 

I recommended an android tablet. The reason being, its far cheaper than a hema (if you already have maps that is - and most maps aren't cheap) and far more versatile. Not only can you use a tablet for navigation, but there is a whole world of apps out there to cover almost any need one could have. The hema can't do that. And if you buy a 3/4G capable unit or have access to wifi, then you have the world of the webs at your finger tips too.

So, not to rest on my laurels, I put my money where my mouth is and went out and bought a tablet, specifically for this purpose. I'm unsure how this will go in the future, so will just have to give it a shot. With the PC, I've saved all my files as a GPX file. This allows me to save both waypoints and tracks in the one file. I can also exchange it between different platforms and import that into Google Earth if needed. However, Ozi android, still after all these years in development, cant handle .GPX files. So to make my older files usable on the tablet, I'm going to have to save both waypoints and tracks as separate files.

It can be very handy when in an area you have been to before and cant seem t find your way. Uploading previous saved tracklogs can be a godsend when you cant find your way. So that is one issue I will need to contend with. 

Onto the Tab. I already have a quality sSmsung tab with 4g . But I want a stand alone tab for my nav and my 8" Samsung isn't big enough for me. So enter a lenovo tab3 10 business. On special at the Good Guys atm for $200. Here is where I strike my biggest drama's. trying to find out if the tab has 2 features I need

1. a stand alone GPS
2. A magnometer (compass)

In the past, asking salesmen these questions was a mission in futility. They haven't a freakin clue.

Funny how things don't change. 

The salesman was getting a bit irate at my barrage of questioning. I said, if you can confirm these features you have a sale, if you cant, I have to walk. I must have spent a couple of hours with him. He tried to tell me it only had a-gps (needing an internet connection) and if it didn't have Glonass in the specs it wasn't stand alone. So I told him that's crap and he should google Glosnass - a Russian GPS constellation 

Anyway, with no Glonass in the specs, he wasn't keen to sell it to me. After searching numerous sites for specs on this tab, we agreed it probably did have a standalone gps and I would give it a shot. In fact, is there any tabs out there without a stand alone GPS only A-GPS?? So I saved at least $150 over a similar sized and lesser memory Samsung.

Once home and through the initial set up, I downloaded a GPS status app. And my fears were quelled. It did have stand alone GPS - phew. But no magnometer (compass). It would have been nice to have that magnometer, but for nav purposes isnt' required, so I can live with that. Funny though the lower spec 10" Lenovo showed an electronic compass.  And Android 5.1.

It might have been a better bet in hindsight. I forgot I had read that with Android 6 (the OS of my new tab), writing to SD cards had been disabled and provided some difficulties. I recalled this when I went to play with the new tab and found some issues. So to get around this, I have mounted the 64Gb card as internal storage. I can still transfer files with USB transfer on the PC to the card so all is not lost.

Anyway, teething issues sorted, I payed my $32 for an OziAndroid licence key and got that up and running with my truckload of maps. The GPS can be a bit flakey at times compared to my gps module on the PC, but it is good enough. I suppose I could go buy a bluetooth gps module if I dont like this flakiness at some stage in the future:

I then installed wiki camps to the tab, another valuable feature of using a tab:

My next task was for street nav routable maps. I was going to go with Igo - somthing I'm familiar with, but getitng no response from a vendor made me think again. My mate Woody, who was one who asked me which way he should go, put me onto here we go (formerly here maps). A free app with a free map download for off line usage.

I tried it out today, and although I knew where I was going, it seemed to do the job, even when I deliberately veered onto a different route. Like all rout-able street maps, sometimes you scratch your head where they take you. I've always said, it pays to look at a map first and rough plan your route.

So, to make this a going concern, I had to sort out mounting it in the car. I went the ram mount option. A seat bolt flexible pedestal, with quick release tab holder. Not a cheap option at $120, but it should do the job. I put a brace on the stem to help sort some of the movement this will produce when in the rough - mind you, I had a heavier monitor on a different stem and never bothered with the vibration in the past.

I was always planning on running this in landscape. However, it seemed to encroach too much into the passenger area for my liking, and a 10" tab provides plenty of field of view in the East-West plane, so my decision was made. Portrait it shall be:

It doesn't encroach too much on the passenger area, so that is a good thing too:

And I can easily turn it out of the way to gain full access to radio and climate controls when needed:

With a world of apps available to download, it makes the Tab a much better proposition to a hema or the like IMO.

But that said, I already own my maps. If I had to go buy them from scratch, the Hema or the like may well represent better value for money. So this is where I'm at at the moment. A total outlay (excluding maps) of $400 has me up and running. Now I just need to get out there and use it and see if I can cope not having the functions full blown OziPc had.

EDIT: 11/08/17

I mentioned the internal GPS seemed a bit flakey. By that, I mean I could see the speed box on Ozi didn't seem accurate at times and even sitting on a constant speed it would show speeds that obviously were not correct. So I decided to see how an external GPS would fix that issue.

So enter the Globalsat BT-821 bluetooth module. I went the BT-821 route over the others for a couple of reasons. 

1. It was about the cheapest and I didn't want to spend a motza proving a concept
2. it wont work with Apple products. I have none anyway and don't plan on ever owning such
3. It has excellent battery life over the others if I don't want to power it on the go

I feel if money wasn't an option, I would have been keen on the Garmin  GLO. Although only having about 1/2 the battery life, it also connects with Glosnass. More sat's to connect with should mean greater accuracy?? But its also twice the price.

garmin GLO

The BT-821 only connects to the GPS sat's and a major downer is the only charger supplied is a car charger. Due to it having a 4.0 x 1.7mm jack plug, it wont accept standard usb cables. However cheap solutions for that can be found and I will be able to charge it inside once this cable arrives.

It was very easy to connect it to the tab and to ozi  android. So I took it on a run for about 100Km's on a route I initially tested it on where I found that "wobbly" speed issue. Wow, what a difference the BT GPS made. The speed function was now so much smoother and accurate and it held fix for longer in places where the internal one just dropped out. So I think I will be running the BT module as a permanent set up now. Whilst viewing the sat page on ozi didn't seem to show any increase in the number of sats or HDop between internal and BT gps, field results show it to be much more stable. I believe the recorded track will be much more accurate now.

Which leads to a question: do you need to buy a tab with internal GPS if you can just connect an external BT unit?  I suppose the additional cost of a BT unit would have to be taken into account to answer that question.

 One reservation I had about running ozi android over the pc version was compatibility of all my recorded logs over the years. I save them in .gpx format as this allows me to save both the track and waypoints in the one file. Unfortunately Ozi Android doesn't support this function in full.

You can load waypoints from a gpx file, but not tracks. So I was given a lead about a converter program. Thanks Maurice!

Ozi track converter 

I downloaded this program and gave it a trial. It is very easy to use and will extract a track from a .gpx file and save it as a .plt file, which then can be used in ozi android. So to save me some work extracting tracks from my .gpx inventory, I will just leave this app in place and should I ever need to view an old track log, I will just convert it in the field as required.


Watch this space. 

So with the first trip now under the belt (squeezing in at Sandy): some observations.

The Tab and ozi android seemed to do all I needed. My tracklog was recorded fine and I was able to put this into the PC version to combine all daily logs as a complete trip and saved as a .GPX file.

The biggest drama was trying to export the one waypoint I had saved and then finding it. Playing around with the config menu, I set the saving folder to default. Eventually, I could find the file. I'm not sure if this was an issue with coms between tab and PC or I just screwed something up. I guess I need to have another play on my next trip.


  1. Hi Shane, I've gone down the same road you have with navigation. I started with a Hema navigator but was never overly happy with it and when it died got a Samsung tab running Ozi Andriod. I to had a bugger of a time trying to make sure the tab had a real GPS, and the salesman had no idea what I was asking. After the "confirm for me it has a GPS or I walk away" threat came out, he did some research and yes it did have a GPS. I loaded up all the maps from my old Hema, plus others I have acquired over the years onto the tablet and it works great. I also have the same set up on my phone which I can use as a back up if required. As far as city/ town navigation goes I just use Google navigator. It does it for me.

    1. Nice work Steve. I still haven't got away for a decent trip to see if the tablet variant will work for me, but I'm feeling more confident as time goes bye. Like I say though, surely a tab with its multi functional use, has to be a better option than an expensive off road nav with limited functions????