Reviews: Software

OnCourse Navigator 5

     One of my favorite new uses for my PDA is to use it as a GPS in the car. As I have said in other reviews of GPS products, using a PDA and GPS software has drastically helped me find where I am trying to go. While I have found other good solutions in the past that I liked, I found OnCourse Navigator 5 extremely impressive while working on the Pocket PC Magazine Software Awards. It is feature rich and is the solution that I am now using day-to-day on my PDA when I need GPS navigation software. OCN5 not only includes voice navigation but also allows you to navigate to a stored location using your own voice.
     The start up screen of OnCourse Navigator 5 is simple, containing only a few buttons all of which can be pressed by a finger to the screen instead of using the stylus. OCN5 is built on the theory that it only matters where you want to go, not where you are leaving from. If you think about it, this makes sense. You should really only ever have enter where you are going and the software should be able to recalculate the map for you based on where you are. Obviously this is harnessing the power of the devices hardware as your last known position might not be your current one. OCN5 is not really built for cruising, it is all about Navigation. Another thing you should never have to do is enter you home address. Ok, you should have to enter it once, but not more than once. This is why OCN5 includes a Home button on the main screen. Launch OCN5, tap Home, and directions are calculated for navigating from where you are to your home location. You can also specify a place by voice. While OCN5 won?t figure out what an address is, you can record voice cues and simply say where you want to go. This solution works pretty well (much like Voice Command) but of course you can also easily navigate to favorites or recent locations all from the home screen.
     For finding an address, OCN5 again has taken a different approach than other solutions. If you don?t know an address you can easily find points of interest that fit in a certain category. You can also browse a city for points of interests as well. Both options are great, very easy to use, and are better options for point of interest navigation than I have seen in some other solutions. But of course you likely know exactly where you want to go where is address searching comes into play. Before search you can specify a state to search in. While you can search all the maps, you might as well keep it local. So far, everything has been able to be inputted into the device via finger press. Actually, the address can be too. Amazingly, OCN5 includes custom input pads. One is like T9 while the other is 6 x 5 grid of letters. While the latter solution does get a little cramped, T9 works pretty well. (You can also use the standard Windows Mobile keyboard if you wish.) You start entering you address by zip code. OCN5 not only returns the zip code but the major city it covers. The next part of the address to search for is the street. This is confusing at first because it is literally only the street. If you live at 123 N Washington Street, only enter Washington. The ?street? part will come into play later. Enter the address number and at that point the direction (N in the above example) and the last part of the street name (street in the above example) will be either automatically selected or available for selection. At this point you can show the place on the map, save the location, or start navigation to the location. Also, if you don?t have a number address, you can also choose an intersection. That?s right, they are listed so you can either type it in or just scroll through a list of cross streets. The address search system wasn?t immediately intuitive to me, but I think it makes a lot of sense and I actually have come to like the street name only search as it seems more powerful for finding exactly what you need without have to worry if you should write out things or abbreviate. Finding the locations also was very fast though also I was using the HP iPAQ hx2410 which is rather a powerful device.
     For toolbars, OCN5 keeps it pretty simple. Throughout the application there is a toolbar on the bottom of the screen. It contains up to six buttons: back one screen, back to the main screen, TMC module, GPS status, log book, and Windows Mobile start menu toggle. The back buttons are self explanatory. The TMC isn't active with the Rikaline GPS-6033 unit I am using and I don?t believe it is available in the US. TMC (Traffic Message Channel) allows for traffic data to be updated into OCN5. The GPS status pop-up shows GMT, longitude, latitude, connected satellites, speed, and current position. The current position can be saved off into OCN5 for navigation. The log book is just that. It allows you to log information about your trip. Finally, the Windows Mobile start menu toggle allows you to access Windows Mobile from within OCN5.
     OnCourse Navigator does two things that I have been missing in other GPS software packages. The first thing OCN5 does is include better graphics than other solutions. When it comes to running on Windows Mobile, I have never really understood why solutions did not package better quality images into the packages as Windows Mobile could handle it. Better graphics not only make it easier to see where you are going but also understand the map at a glance. There are not a lot of colors used in the mapping. Simple colorings for the map surface (whites, grays, and blues). Directions are highlighted in orange with slightly oversized lines for easier navigation. While it might not sound like much the graphics are refined and polished. Other solutions may present things ?simply? but without graphics being rendered in a quality manner like they are in OCN5, it is kind of pointless. Time has been taken to make sure that
     Unlike many solutions, OCN5 keeps additional tools off the map screen. A simple button in the upper right corner turns on a series of buttons. Functions include toggle map dragging ability, toggle for North up or direction up, 3D mode, and zoom control. When the toolbars are toggled off a panel is shown with the expected time of arrival, travel time, and travel distance. At the bottom of the screen above the toolbar is an information panel with distance readings and information on the next turn. At any point, the info button can be pressed on the toolbar to get directions reread. Of course OCN5 has voice navigation so directions are read allowed. This seems pretty common place so I am not going to touch on it very much and I consider it a much needed feature for mobile GPS applications. During the navigation process, a blocked road can easily be entered by indicating how far ahead the road is blocked. This is good because if you are at a light, it is easy to get the map updated before you actually have to make a wrong turn because of a block.
One weird thing about OCN5 is that you have to adept an agreement every time you start the software that you understand you shouldn?t use the system while driving. Obviously OCN5 is built to be used in the car but they mean you shouldn?t be actively using the system but it reading directions for you is ok. Also it notes that you should obey traffic laws. This is fine, but let me get rid of it and move on. Also, you can?t start the software without the maps. This is mildly annoying, but the software is really of no use without the maps. One other thing about OCN5 is that you must load maps by a region. For instance, to load Washington State, the western US (11 states) must be loaded which is over 200 MB. A 512 MB or 1 GB is really a good idea for keeping maps and other data with your device at all times. OCN5 does include a lot of setting options such a signpost information toggling, speed limit information and warning, volume, routing options including direction methods and use of interstates, ferries, and toll ways, GPS configuration, and home address settings. The settings panel is easy to use and control.
     Overall, OnCourse Navigator 5 is a great product. It is a solid solution that includes a lot useful features that I have outlined about. The navigation is solid and has not lead me wrong. The look and feel of OCN5 is great and, again, makes navigation solid and simple. The whole United States will cost you $199 but a region will cost you only $80. Combine with a GPS like the Rikaline GPS-6033, OC5 makes a strong solution for in car or other navigation uses. OnCourse Navigation packs powerful technology into solid software, creating a strong solution than other products on the market.


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