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AvMap Geosat 5 APRS - first impressions

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Joined: Sep 04, 2005
Posts: 18
Location: St.Albans, Hertfordshire

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 8:26 pm    Post subject: AvMap Geosat 5 APRS - first impressions Reply with quote

I'd been wondering about getting an AvMap G5 because of its ability to pick up APRS position reports from a Kenwood amateur radio transceiver. This means the radio receives an Automatic Packet Reporting System message from another "Ham", and passes it to the AvMap, which uses it to create a Contact entry in the APRS folder and plot its position, using the correct icon as received. I got what looked like a good deal, and went for it.

It's to replace my ancient Garmin StreetPilot III, which has been all over the World with me, and whose quirks I've come to know (throwing its rattle out of the pram and locking up when trying to recalculate a route and you've given it too much to do, being one of them! :-) The Garmin will accept APRS and create a Waypoint entry, but it fills the waypoint memory too quickly for my liking, and will only use the default "Waypoint" icon.

So, how does the AvMap compare?

I was rather shocked to find that there is no PC software to speak of - nothing like Garmin's Mapsource, which allows you to save and restore routes, waypoints, and so on, and means you can use the PC to plan routes then send them to the GPS - much quicker and more convenient than doing it on the unit itself. On the AvMap there's no choice, it's touch-screen all the way :-(

The map it has immediately showed a problem - it said my house was in Waltham Cross - that's about 20 miles away! I walked up and down the road, and there's about 100 yards of "Waltham Cross" in the middle of St.Albans! I've reported the error online - let's see what happens about it.

I don't know where they get their POI data, but searching for a pub in St.Albans gave no results... this is the city that's the home of CAMRA, and at one time had more pubs per head of population than anywhere else in England... maybe they don't want you to drink and drive? :-)

It has rather a "flakey" feel about it - some functions seem not to work as they should. It was showing an hour ahead of the correct clock time, but switching Daylight Saving off didn't seem to affect it. Loading the download-software (downloaded from the AvMap.IT web site) took several attempts before it would see the AvMap connected by USB - among other things it turns out that the AvMap must be turned OFF for it to work! If it said so in the manual, I missed it. The version of firmware listed on the site seemed to be much younger than the device reports, but the software says they're the same, and won't update it as a result.

I absolutely hate the mounting system and the connections - the former produces broken thumbnails when trying to disconnect the unit (suddenly gives way when the critical force is reached) and the cables all seem to have non-standard plugs for their tasks. if you want an external antenna it's connected via a jack plug, for heaven's sake, as if there weren't enough with MMCX, MCX, BNC, SMA, SMB and the rest! They obviously want you to pay a hundred quid for theirs... No Chance! I'll work out how to connect a BNC-equipped antenna to it, when I get time. The DC input is a normal concentric plug, but in a weird size. The only one I could get to fit was 3.5 x1.35mm (Maplin call it "H") but it's not tight enough and breaks contact if you move it at all. Again, an extortionate price for AvMap's own cable if you want more than the one they supply. The connection to the Kenwood Radio (cable supplied, luckily) is a 4-way 2.5mm jack plug at the AvMap end, stereo 2.5mm at the Kenwood end, so you must make sure you have it the right way round. As there's only one serial-socket, you can connect the Kenwood radio and do the APRS thing, or you can connect a TMC receiver and find and navigate around traffic - but not both. I think this is a serious disadvantage as on long trips you really want both!

When will someone come up with a mounting that with one hand and not much force will release the GPS and all its connections, and will just plug back in the same way? It's desperately needed, and nobody seems to have thought of it. Surely I'm not the only one who wants to remove and replace it in the car without having to do a rewiring job every time I go into Sainsbury's???

The choice of voices is between just one Male and Female "English" - actually American - unless you're from elsewhere in Europe, and there doesn't seem to be a way to upload any others - unless anyone knows different? I don't like his voice at all, and hers has a strange sibilant hang-on with words that end in "T". So it sounds like she's tutting at me when she says "Off Route"...

Its navigation instructions seem to overestimate the distance to a turn, sometimes greatly. I had the Garmin and the AvMap running together, and at one point the Garmin told me it was 400 feet to the turn, the AvMap said 200 yards (fifty percent further)... and this seems to be common. I wonder if it's telling you the distance to the final turn, which on a big roundabout can be a really long way from the entry, and when it's an exit from a motorway it's just daft to do it that way.

It has a strange way of phrasing roundabouts: "go over the roundabout, second exit" for example. I wouldn't mind the extra information if it didn't space the words out so much and make the relevant bit so late - there isn't time to choose a lane before she says which exit. I find I have to look at the screen a lot more than with the Garmin because the voice prompting isn't given as early, or as often. Granted the Garmin is sometimes too chatty, but this is too far the other way. The Garmin would tell you what's next after each junction, even if it's "continue for 85 miles..." whereas the AvMap only tells you about it when you're nearly there. There doesn't seem to be an equivalent of the Garmin "Speak" button, to get it to tell you what's next. Shame!

The APRS function seems to work well, harvesting other Radio Amateurs and filing them away as it goes, but for some weird reason beneath their callsign it lists their speed, course, and altitude (for crying out loud!) but not how far away or in which direction - the very things you want to know! I presume that's because it has read the first three from the data it has received, but needs to calculate the other two, and maybe it doesn't have time...

Doing a side-by-side comparison on a route from St.Albans to Huntingdon, the AvMap favoured small roads much more than the Garmin - I can't imagine why, both giving the same ETA, so they were both "right" on the fastest route, but by different means. When I ignored its instructions the AvMap re-calculated very fast (*much* faster than the Garmin) and without asking - for some reason I like the quaint Garmin idea of asking if it should recalculate.

I like to have the route displayed North-Up, and the junction detail Course-Up, which is what the Garmin does, but the AvMap does them both the same, so you have to choose which way to set it. I chose North-Up because I always use maps like that, but it is a nuisance when there's a tricky junction and you have to mentally rotate it.

The camera warning seems to work well, although it took two goes before the upload of the database files from here worked (using .OV2 format, the software converts it on the fly), and it reliably told me about the cameras and mobile sites near here with an attention-grabbing pingy noise, but you have to choose how far ahead it warns you, and the resolution is 0.1 miles. 0.1mile is enough notice for 30mph Gatso or traffic light cameras, and just enough for a 30mph Truvelo, but it's marginal for a 30mph mobile site, and nowhere near enough for anything faster. 0.2miles is too far for Gatso or Traffic Light, but getting better for the others. A shame it can't be set for each type, but it can't (and it makes no difference what speed you're doing - it isn't really a camera warning, it's a User POI warning).

I haven't tried the video connection, for watching your rear as you reverse or DVDs while you're parked, or whatever, so I can't comment on that feature.

Overall, I'm not convinced I did the right thing. I'm not going to send it back, but I have a nasty feeling I'll have it and the Garmin in the car together for a while - I just don't want to lose all the niceties that I'm used to - but for APRS it's really the only kid on the block, so I "need" the AvMap! A lot of my niggles could be solved by software changes, but I don't know how receptive AvMap would be to my trying to get things to work "my" way... I'll report back if I do succeed in any of that! I'll also give a further report when I've got used to it and used it for a while.

And I may try to make my own "Quick Release" mounting! :-)


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