Tablet for the car with a bright screen
So my recent work with CompeGPS and TwoNav (see http://www.laptopgpsworld.com/5528-compegps-land-mac-windows) have me thinking about a tablet to use in the car. I think a ~8" screen will be a good size, am currently using a Garmin Dezl 760 with a 7" screen and homebrew mount. Here it is with one of my own maps as well as my hack to the user interface. Would probably mount the tablet in the same spot.

Initially I thought about the iPad Mini (original 16gb version is $250 new or $200 certified Apple refurb). But I'm reading the screen doesn't do well in bright light. I have learned the hard way that screen brightness is really important, and that's one thing that Garmin does well. I struggled with my HP Slate 500 (Windows 7 tablet) and MobilePC for awhile, but that screen was terrible - not very bright and awful touch response.

Have been reading a lot about the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4" Super AMOLED screen. Is this the best screen for bright light? Current price is $300 for the 16gb model at Best Buy.

I have Macs, Windows machines and an iPhone, never owned an Android device before. But it seems like a good match for use in the car. I believe it already has an internal GPS as opposed to the iPad Mini where only the cellular version has the GPS. I have the Garmin GLO, so that's not a big deal however.

If I use the TwoNav app, the platform doesn't matter, it's available on both iOS and Android. But there are a couple other Android apps that might be of interest, like OruxMaps and BackCountry Navigator that are only available on Android. And the ability to add a memory card is also a plus for Android. My main usage will be with maps that I make myself, primarily as a "moving map". I don't care much about other apps, movies, games, mail, web browsers, etc, this would really just be for maps/navigation.

Garmin StreetPilot is only available on iOS, I have the Western Europe version on my iPhone and used it for a trip last year. It is quite similar to the Nuvi, but very limited in that you can't add your own maps and can't even import waypoints. So I don't really think I'll miss it.

Any recommendations for other tablets with bright screens?
Ken in Regina
If any tablet screen is going to work in sunlight it's Samsung's Super AMOLED screen, by all reports. At least it will if it's implemented the same as on their smartphones.

My personal experience with tablets includes:

HP TouchPad (not bright enough)
Nexus 7 (2012) (not bright enough)
Nexus 7 (2013) (not bright enough)
Surface Pro (not bright enough)
Nexus 9 (might get it done)

I sometimes use my Nexus 5 smartphone (in a Garmin generic smartphone dash mount mounted beside my Garmin Nuvi 765T) for navigation if I need to use Google Maps to find a POI that's not in the latest Garmin maps.

I have also used ALK CoPilot on the Nexus 5 for both walking and in the car. This is also serviceable in a pinch but ALK's choice of colours (a bit drab) for the map display don't help. ALK provides some alternate "themes" that look like they might brighten things up but I haven't felt compelled to mess with them yet.

Bottom line is that most reviews suggest that Samsung's Super AMOLED screens on their Galaxy phones just edge out the Nexus 5 and 6 in sunlight. The tradeoff for that is that they tend to be a tad oversaturated when viewing pics and videos.

I have not seen a side by side comparison of the Nexus 9 and the Tab S but I'm sure they're out there. For reference, the Nexus 9 seems about as bright as the Nexus 5 in sunlight. Certainly better than the Nexus 7. If I felt compelled to use a tablet for navigation I would certainly give the Nexus 9 a shot before looking elsewhere. I like the Nexus 9 because it has the same aspect ratio (4:3) as the Apple tablets instead of (what I consider) the dumb and useless "HD" aspect ratio (16:9, 16:10) that most tablet manufacturers insist on using.

If you're literate with iOS and *nix you won't have any difficulty adjusting to Android. Be forewarned that it might ruin you for iOS. I bought my wife an iPad mini a couple of years ago and upgraded it to the mini2 for her for Xmas. She adores it. But whenever she needs some help with something (usually something the grandkids have messed up!) the limitations in some of the basic stuff, like the onscreen keyboard or changing settings, make me crazy. Your mileage may vary.

EDIT: I should be clear that I am not recommending the Nexus 9 over the Tab S. I mention it only as reference in case you decide to check out a side by side review of the two. I was forced to spend extra to get the 32GB version because it does not take an SD card.

Thanks for your thoughts Ken. Most of the screen comparison articles I could find were too old to include the Galaxy super AMOLED. I think the Galaxy is 16:10, isn't it? That probably wouldn't bother me too much, although I suppose something closer to a square makes sense for viewing a map.

But I like my Nuvi 3550 in portrait view, and that's a 16:10 screen. It shows a lot of the road ahead. Of course, that is only a 5" screen.

Looks like the Nexus 9 goes for $400. Why would it be so much more expensive than the Galaxy 8.4? Is it just that the Samsung happens to be on sale at Best Buy now? Screen is 1/2" larger but with less pixels. Dual core 64 bit CPU - is that faster than the quad core in the Samsung? Don't think I want to spend quite that much.
Ken in Regina
Hey Boyd,

Not sure if you caught my edit in the previous note re not specifically recommending the Nexus 9. I bought it for some very specific personal reasons. And I caught a bit of a sale before Xmas.

For tablets I hate the "HD" format. I mean that it makes the entire experience completely unsatisfactory for me. When Google released the Nexus 9 they were really singing my song. A perfect 4:3 aspect ratio combined with top of the line hardware specs. And the bonus of pure Android without any of the bloatware and customizations that come from the other vendors. And which keep them from getting the latest releases of Android as soon as they are available.

It wasn't cheap but it's exactly what I wanted. That's worth a few bucks to me.

Originally Posted by Ken in Regina
Not sure if you caught my edit in the previous note re not specifically recommending the Nexus 9.
Yes, thanks, I did see that. Was just checking it out since I'm interested in all the options. Really haven't kept up with what's happening in the Android world.
Just spent awhile comparing tablets at Best Buy. As a benchmark, I turned my iPhone 5s screen up to 100% and used it with TwoNav in the car in the midday sun. One thing I learned; the iPhone screen is really bright and very visible in the sun! Noticeably brighter than my Garmin Dezl 760 and much brighter than my Nuvi 3550. And it also plays nice with polaroid sunglasses. It seems that Apple has oriented the screen so that the "dim spot" is when you hold it at a 45 degree angle. This makes it look good in both landscape and portrait mode.

In the store I used the phone running google maps satellite for comparison with Google maps on the tablets. I was actually surprised that it seemed brighter than any of the 8" tablets. The Samsung Galaxy S 8.4 screen is certainly beautiful and only slightly dimmer than the iPhone. Worked well with sunglasses too. Aside from that, I was not convinced that it's good enough to justify the $300 price. At the normal viewing distance in a car, I think these very high resolution "retina" screens are not much advantage.

I thought the $200 Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 looked fine and almost as bright. Also fine with sunglasses. It would certainly be brighter than my Garmin devices.

But the one that really surprised me was the Dell Venue 8 which is on sale for $108. Nice screen at 1920 x 1200 that was comparable in brightness to the Galaxy 4 8.0 but a bit dimmer than the Galaxy S 8.4. It looked great in portrait view with polaroid glasses, but brightness dropped way down in landscape mode. This was a disappointment, however I think I would want to use portait mode in the car most of the time. Reviews are generally good: http://www.laptopmag.com/reviews/tablets/dell-venue-8-2014

I also looked at the iPad Mini. I do like the 4:3 screen, and it's pretty bright - I would say similar to the Dell. Looked good in both landscape and portrait mode with sunglasses. I would be tempted to get one except for additional apps available on Android and lack of a memory card slot. The regular mini only comes in a 16gb model and I think that might get crowed with big maps. This morning I converted one of my own maps covering the Southern half of NJ at 3 meters/pixel to the TwoNav format and it was a 1GB file.

Didn't see much else that interested me at Best Buy. So I'm going to seriously consider the Dell… I don't think the Galaxy S 8.4 is worth $200 more and the Galaxy 4 8.0 is probably not worth $100 more (although the screen is better with sunglasses). At $108 along with Best Buy's return/exchange policy, I don't think there's a lot to lose.
Ken in Regina
My HP Touchpad was 1024 x 768. My Nexus 9 is double that (2048x1536). For my uses there are no advantages to all the increased resolution and one disadvantage. When devices have all that resolution the manufacturers can't resist using tiny spindly fonts. I'm at an age where the default fonts on these high res devices are mostly unusable. I always have to change the default font size to something much larger.

But I didn't have that problem on the Touchpad.

I think Terry has the Dell and seems quite pleased with it.

Checked my Amex rewards points; there were enough to get the Dell and still have plenty left over. So it's free! On my way to pick it up at the store now. I don't think the screen polarization is much of an issue, I'm way overdue for new glasses and had already decided against getting polarized this time because of this kind of issue.

I thought twice about getting the Samsung Galaxy 4 8.0 but the reviews aren't that great and 800x1280 does seem a little low res (although my 7" Garmin is onluy 800x480). Anyway, it didn't seem worth the extra hundred bucks.

Another nice feature of the Dell is the fast 802.11ac wifi. I use this on my MacBook Air and have been really impressed by the speed, about 60MB/sec from a server on the LAN. This will be nice for transfering big map files.
Got the Dell tablet and it looks good, but apparently I have a lot to learn about Android. It is running Android 4.4.4. But when I go to Google Play, it says that TwoNav is not compatible with my device.


Why is this? The app says it requires Android 1.7 and up. Is the software too old to run on the current version of Android? The other tablets I looked at were also running Android 4.4.
Originally Posted by Boyd
apparently I have a lot to learn about Android.
So true. It appears this tablet doesn't have a GPS chip. This is the kind of detail that seems lacking from the various reviews I read. No problem, I'm sure the GLO will be better, but that wasn't as easy as I thought. This FAQ from Garmin got me up and running though


I downloaded OruxMaps, which looks like another nice app and it's free. According to the specs, it can also use .rmap files like the one I created for TwoNav. Just need to figure out how to install. It also has some compatibility with Garmin .img files.

Maybe this should be the subject of another thread though.
OruxMaps is installed and running now. Was able to load my .rmap file using a utility program called Droid NAS that allows the tablet to appear like a network disk on my Mac.

Actually, I think I like the OruxMaps app better than TwoNav but it is another very complex program that will take awhile to learn. The user interface seems more configurable however. One feature I really like is that you can use the entire screen for the map, hiding the Android status bar and other toolbars.

I will start another thread in the software forum about OruxMaps after I learn a bit more.
Ken in Regina
Originally Posted by Boyd
So true. It appears this tablet doesn't have a GPS chip. This is the kind of detail that seems lacking from the various reviews I read. ...
Yeah, with any prebuilt system you have to check the detailed specs, especially if there is a specific feature you want.

None of Apple's tablets have GPS chips except maybe the ones with cellular modems in them. Most Android tablets have GPS chips but just enough of them don't that you need to check.

The reviews don't often have the detailed specs. You usually have to search for them separately.

Seems to work fine with the GLO and automatically connects when I start OruxMaps. For a hundred bucks… I can't complain. Might as well put the GLO to good use, it's been gathering dust for quite some time now.

Got a Bracketron tablet mount and modified it for the homemade plate I use with my Garmins. Will see if I can refine this later, but I'm all set for now.
Went for a drive this bright sunny morning, not a cloud in the sky. Really happy with screen brightness on the Dell, it is WAY brighter than the Nuvi. Also liking the OruxMaps software - I think it has the most customizable user interface I've ever seen.

Things are mostly good with the GLO although I was having problems connecting last night (unpairing/pairing fixed these). Today I noticed a setting for OruxMaps to read directly from the bluetooth GPS (was using the "Bluetooth GPS" app for this yesterday). Seems like letting Orux read the data directly is more stable, no problem reconnecting after putting the tablet to sleep

I may tinker with the mount position a bit more, but this isn't bad. However I think a tablet this large will only be for driving around my rural area or for road trips on back roads. It would be too big and awkward for driving around New York City, but my 5" Nuvi 3550 is well suited to that.

All things considered, this setup is exponentially better than my Windows tablet. Hard to believe such a nice screen and this level of performance is coming from a $100 tablet.

Aargh, as I posted in another thread, it seems that a number of navigation (and other) apps are not compatible with this tablet due to the lack of an internal GPS chip. So in spite of how happy I've been with it, looks like I'm heading back to Best Buy to exchange for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0, which does have a GPS (according to Samsung's site).

Very annoying, especially because I like the screen so much on the Dell and the Samsung is almost $100 more. But in the long run, I think this compatability issue is going to be a pain.
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