Garmin Mobile PC on an HP Slate and a homebrew car mount

Have been meaning to give my HP Slate and Mobile PC another chance so today I spent awhile rigging a better mount. For one thing, I'm less reluctant to drill a few holes in my car today than I was two years ago when it was new.

I modified my old homebrew mount, making it more secure. It's tilted upwards to reduce screen glare by only reflecting the roof of the car and not the windows. This is also a much more comfortable position to tap the screen. Today was dark and cloudy, so I'll have to see how it looks on a sunny day.

Only thing I don't like about this setup is that I have to look further down. I have mixed feelings about that - it's actually good not to have it in your view while concentrating on the road. Will see how I like this after a few days. The way my car is configured (VW Tiguan), the screen really looks like it "belongs" down here though.

Plugged in my uBlox/Navation GPS (originally from Streets & Trips) and it was immediately recognized and accepted. Got a fix quickly even though it hadn't been used in over a year.

Not crazy about having a USB cable going up to the dashboard, but maybe I just need a longer extension cable that I can route where it won't be seen. Or maybe I'll get a "puck" that has its own long cable? For now I'll just use it as-is until I decide whether I'm going to continue using the Slate.

Also thinking about Bluetooth units to avoid the wire, but don't like having to charge the battery. And speaking of batteries, I never found an acceptable way to power the Slate in the car. I wrote about my issues before when using a power inverter (it made the touchscreen freak out). HP now sells an adaptor that converts the proprietary power connector to something else. Problem is, I'm not sure what that "something else" can connect to. I think it's intended to fit another type of AC charger. Last time I checked, it sounded like trading one proprietary connector for another one. For now, I'll just run the Slate on battery power.

I still like a lot of things with Mobile PC. It makes good use of the screen space, and the big buttons work really well - better than any other software I've tried on the Slate. I've hacked the user interface a bit to suit my tastes (wrote about this a couple years ago). About 90% of the time, I just use GPS as a moving map.

My main requirement is that I want to make my own maps, and Mobile PC supports this nicely. The map rendering style is nicer than the Nuvi but not as nice as the Montana. But I do like that big screen.

I'd like it to be really easy to use - like a dedicated unit. I hate getting messages from Windows about software updates, loss of wifi, etc. while I'm driving. I don't want to deal with Windows at all in fact - you pretty much need a stylus for that on the Slate. Remains to be seen whether this is possible.

Will try to just leave Mobile PC running and put the Slate to sleep when not in use (by sliding the power switch). Tried this once and it worked fine, with Mobile PC finding the GPS immediately on power-up.

So that's my update. I sort of feel like there are only about 10 people left in the world who use Mobile PC. But for the next week or so, there will be 11.
Looks good!

Most of the BT GPS devices will easily last all day - if not several - and charge off any USB port. I find they don't sit on the dash very securely though. They still work when they fall on the floor though!

I thought you modified the Slate 500 cord to run on a standard 12v convertor. Guess I saw that elsewhere. What voltage is it?

Thanks Terry,

I seem to recall 18v but could be wrong. I will look into all this more seriously if I decide to continue using this setup. I had tried using an inverter and it made the screen unusable.

Any thoughts on making the Windows OS as inobstrusive as possible? I have done most of the obvious things like disabling wifi. I would really like to have the Slate behave more like a GPS appliance than a Windows 7 computer.

Went out on some errands and just putting the Slate to sleep with Mobile PC running works fine. Comes right back up and GPS acquires the satellites as quickly as my other devices.
My previous experience with an ASUS UMPC and Mobile PC was it took under 6seconds to reconnect to the USB GPS out of sleep and about 18 for BT. It was one of the reasons I abandoned the Garmin 20x as it would not recover.

As to Windows, I would certainly not allow automatic updates. It always screws up my Fujitsu if the update requires a restart. You have already disabled wifi which can be a biggy. Make sure there are no other programs running in the background you don't need.

I've done short trips with the Fujitsu q550 slate and GMPC but nothing major. It seems ok as long as I don't have to try to close it with the 'x'...definitely not finger friendly. I do have a convertor for it but it has a standard barrel connector. However, mounting has always been an issue. I have 3 different RAM mounts and each is too much of a compromise. Haven't tried it in the mini van yet though.

Ken in Regina
If Garmin doesn't make a StreetPilot for Android pretty soon I might have to go shopping for a cheap Windows tablet of some sort and load Mobile PC on it.

Since Garmin now has a line of truck GPS's on the market, I'd be interested to see if they offer a truck version of StreetPilot.
They don't seem too inclined to offer any new versions of StreetPilot unfortunately. I'm thinking Garmin's putting all their eggs in the Navigon basket since they now own it.

But aside from that, I think the StreetPilot app is just a Nuvi and I don't like what they've done with recent Nuvi's. If I was happy with the Nuvi, I would just get the 2757 which is a 7" device for $250. https://buy.garmin.com/shop/shop.do?cID=449&pID=112202 But I'm pickier than most people, because I want the software to render my own topo maps in the "classic" style.

One of the few "Windows things" that I do need to do is adjust the screen brightness between day and night. There are a couple hardware buttons on the slate for adjusting volume. I found a program that allows these to be re-mapped and had changed them to be + and - so I could use them for zooming. But now I'll re-visit this and see if there's a way to use them to change brightness.

Pretty happy with the homebrew mount, the Slate slips in and out easily. I need to find a way to quickly remove the whole thing when parking however. It is currently bolted to a small angle iron that is screwed into the center console.
Does the Slate have a webcam built in? I found a program a while back that will use the webcam to monitor the surrounding brightness and adjust the monitor for it automatically. I really can't remember the name of it, but I found it by doing a google search for something like 'windows webcam adjust backlight'.

Edit: here's one (I didn't try it):
Cool, I will have to check that out.
Ken in Regina
That's something the manufacturers of Windows tablets will have to pick up on. All the other mobile (tablet, phone) operating systems have had that capability built right in for a long time now.

Windows 7 added the 'sensors' and some of the google hits are for how to use the webcam as an ambient light sensor so it'll auto-adjust
I found this little program, and it works - I can now use the volume buttons to make the screen brighter and dimmer (I just used the settings menu to choose the hotkeys and pressed the desired buttons).


While it does work, it's really just a hack to set the brightness control and does not change the actual LCD backlight level. So it won't help conserve battery life.

BTW, when I use the control panel for the Intel Graphics Media Driver, there's a button for Power settings. There's a checkbox to automatically set brightness based on ambient lighting and it is checked. As far as I can tell, it doesn't do anything though.
Good work, Boyd.

Are you sure you need the GPS receiver near the windscreen? In other words, if you up-grade to a better unit such as a BU-353-S4 you might find it works near the Slate satisfactorily without snaking wires all over the place.
Thanks, but I think that might be problem. When I had the Slate mounted higher up, I just plugged the receiver into the USB port on the top of the device - see http://www.laptopgpsworld.com/4432-hp-slate-500-a-p2#post39368

That worked OK, but was sometimes a little flakey. It seems to get a better/quicker fix when I use the extension cable and put the receiver on the dashboard. There has been some discussion of the Navation device (originally included with S&T) elsewhere on the forum, and people felt that the antenna is not so great.

If I can find a long enough USB extension cable, I think it can be mounted very inconspicuously. Will look into this soon.

Work continues... The mount is a bit sturdier and I have tilted the screen to what seems like the optimum angle for maximum brightness and least reflections. I'm really surprised how much of a difference it makes keeping the Slate down low, away from the bright windows and tilted up to reflect the ceiling. I was out in the bright sun today and the Slate was always readable, even when a bit of sun hit the face. Of course, brighter would be better, but this is better than I ever expected based on previous experience.

Here you can see the cradle that was originally from a 3.5" HP iPaq. It now easily slides off the mount itself for storage. The mount has a locking ball joint to allow precise adjustment. There's a rubber mat that originally fit inside the console compartment, so I'll be able to hide all the holes I drilled if I sell the car (drilled 5 holes, only used 2).

In the picture above you can see the power brick and cord, which fits nicely behind the Slate. Stopped by Radio Shack this morning to see if they had a USB extension (got a 10 footer) and saw that they had a small inverter on sale for $30 (regularly $40). http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3812863 Figured there wasn't much to lose since it was returnable. It doesn't cause the touch screen to freak out like my Duracell inverter, however I *think* the screen is a bit less responsive when running on the inverter. Still, it's not bad.

I even had to mod the inverter - I cut out the plastic cover so that it would tilt down at a 90 degree angle (originally it would only go to 45 degrees). It's plugged into the socket on the rear end of the center console with the AC line cord running beside the passenger seat and into the compartment behind the Slate. DC power plugs into the bottom of the Slate and USB into the top.

The Navation GPS receiver is near the center of the windshield, next to a plug that covers an opening for some accessory that I don't have. Experimenting around and looking at the signal strength bars, I found it worked best when the side with the glowing "Microsoft" logo faced the sky. That lights up way too bright, so I have covered it with some heavy gaffers tape. Not sure how permanent this will be, still thinking about other possibilities for gps receivers. When I first fired it up this morning it took about 2 minutes to get a fix. But that was before I finished the install.

So it is all working pretty well. As I mentioned elsewhere, I have hacked the resources used by Mobile PC to create more screen space for the map itself. I completely removed the top banner that contains the driving directions because I felt it was way too large. Navigation still works fine and the pink route line is shown on the screen. Tapping the data fields takes you to the manuever list where you can view the directions.

I make my own maps such that they overlay City Navigator, which is also active. This allows City Navigator to compute the routes while my own (non routable) topo map and pink route line are shown on-screen. Doubt that I'll use Mobile PC for any "serious" routing. For one thing, I really miss the Lane Assist feature on the newer devices. Might take a look at ALK, but am a little put off by the $100 price tag and lack of a demo version that I can try first.

I'll still use my Montana in the car sometimes. For example, going to my grand daughter's birthday party in Central Park (NYC) soon, and I don't want to leave all this stuff in my car when I park in the City.

But all in all, I'm pretty happy with the way this is shaping up. Will continue to tweak it for awhile I'm sure.

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