Which GPS navigation software for law enforcement vehicle laptop?
I'm looking at either the Garmin Mobile PC 20X, Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008, or the Delorme Earthmate LT 40.

What I need it for is for a law enforcement vehicle computer. I need one which will show city roads as well as the smallest country roads by name. I will definately get one with a high sensitivity receiver due to a lot of areas which have overhanging trees on each side of the road.

I need to be able to just type in the street address and get a fast route without a lot of extra steps.

I have a Panasonic Toughbook CF-29 with a touch screen. I would like the touch screen to be a useable option within the program.

I know a little about handheld GPS but I'm clueless to laptop GPS.

I don't think I would need a bluetooth model.

Any advise???
Marvin Hlavac
Hi THP1156,

Welcome to Laptop GPS World.

I think we are at a point that any laptop GPS navigation software could be potentially usable for the job. If a user learns a particular program well, he/she will be able to achieve what's needed.

Having said that, I lean towards products based on Navteq map data. Navteq still seems to have a slight edge (at least in USA and Canada) over navigation products that use map data by Tele Atlas. Navteq-based solutions, in my experience, are also superior to products that use proprietary map data.

That leaves us with three products (if you live in USA/Canada): Microsoft Streets and Trips, Garmin Mobile PC, and iNav iGuidance.

* Microsoft Streets and Trips may take a bit longer to master. If it is for you personally, this may be excellent software for the purpose. However, if you want to subject many people on your team to learning some GPS navigation software, I'd suggest opting for Garmin Mobile PC or iNav iGuidance instead. The two will not require as much training, as they are much more intuitive, with fewer user options.

* Garmin Mobile PC and iNav iGuidance are simple to use, very efficient programs. There are a few tasks in iGuidance that I can perform faster, than in Mobile PC. There are a few features in GMPC that I may like a bit better than in iGuidance. I'm 50/50 on these two products. Honestly I don't know which one to suggest. They are equally very good.
I appreciate the info. I havent seen the inav before. I took a look at it and it looks like a pretty good program. It probably has a little more features than I need.

Here are the four main things I would use GPS for:

1. On a traffic stop, You can quickly identify a cross street without having to look around for street signs.

2. During a vehicle pursuit, if you cannot notify your dispatcher of your current location, you will be ordered to terminate. A lot of the country roads do not have road signs. With GPS you always know your roads.

3. When the Sheriffs Dept gets a call, you can type in the address to see if you are close enough to back them up without having to flip through a map.

4. On certain mountian roads, there are no turn off roads. I could enter each mile marker into the computer as waypoints on those long stretches of roadway to keep track of where I am or how much farther I have to go.

Other than those four functions, I probably would not use any other functions. I also want to stay under $100 if I can.

Does that narrow it down a little more?
Ken in Regina
Hi THP1156,

In addition to all of the things you mentioned, you could give the dispatcher access to a computer with internet connection to Google Maps and just give them your coordinates and they will know precisely where you are, regardless of the existance of cross streets/roads or mile markers.

With a cellular aircard plugged into your laptop there are also inexpensive solutions that would allow the dispatcher to track you in realtime, or near realtime, any time it was useful. But that's probably going a little farther than you want to at this time. Maybe next year, eh?

Now, back here on Planet Earth, there are some cautions you should be aware of. Even with Navteq's data, the data is almost never more current than two to five years old. The farther away from a large urban centre you are, the more likely it is that data will be out of date or missing entirely. For the most part that won't be an issue because you will most likely be dealing with locations like major intersections and other sorts of things that have been around for long enough that they'll be on the map.

Where you will encounter problems will be in newer subdivisions or anywhere there have been major changes in roads and streets in the past few years. Another place you may encounter problems will be outside the city, on side roads and gravel roads. In some cases you have to zoom in quite tightly for them to show up. In other cases they simply won't be there at all (this mostly applies to sparsely populated rural areas).

Before committing, you need to take a look at the map data for your area to see what it shows you and see if it has enough of what you need to solve your problem. You can get a look at the latest Garmin North America product on their online map viewer. The data is supplied by Navteq so you can be confident that if you see what you want in the online viewer at Garmin, it will be there in any other product that uses Navteq's data of that same vintage.

To use the map viewer, go to this page. About a third of the way down the page there is a grey legend that says "MapSource Map Viewer" and just below it is a dropdown box that says "Select a map product". Click the dropdown box and select "City Navigator North America NT 2009". That's the mapset that comes with Mobile PC. It's a little slow navigating around in the online viewer and the display is a little crude compared to how the maps will display in Mobile PC. Well, it's really crude compared to how beautifully Mobile PC displays the same data. But it's free and will let you see what you need in order to decide whether the map data contains what you require.

You can select more or less detail. If the detail you want to see doesn't show up, keep zooming until you can't zoom in any more. Certain details do not show up until you are zoomed in to a certain level. I like to click for the Large version of the display and click for More detail. That slows things down and can make the map really cluttered in certain situations, but it's easy to click for less detail or simply zoom out a bit.

I hope that's helpful.

Marvin Hlavac
Ken you have a point, and actually several police departments do use GPS for monitoring where their cars are. But I wonder how well this works. Is it real time, or does it just update the map once every 5 or 10 minutes? Unless it updates map once per second, or at least once each 5 seconds, I think it may not be good enough.

But to answer the questions:

1. Any of the above mentioned laptop GPS software will show street names on the map. So when you are at an intersection for example, you may glance at the map and read the street names. It is quicker than searching for street signs outside the car (especially in rain, dark, etc).

2. Again, a glance at the screen should tell you the road name(s)

3. With a little bit of practice you will be able to enter address (or intersection) much faster than locating it in a map book

4. I don't know how to enter, or search for, mile markers. This may not be possible. These products may contain no data for mile markers, I suspect.

Highway exits are marked by exit numbers, which is as far as I know the actual mile (or kilometer) distance from the beginning of the highway. So for example, here in Toronto, Canada, if someone tells me they are near a mile marker 370 on Hwy-401, I could look at the map (e.g. Microsoft Streets and Trips) and look up on Hwy-401 an exit number similar to number 370. I would find that exit 369 is Yonge Street, so mile marker 370 would be a kilometer east of there.

The under $100 requirement is easy to meet. A USB GPS receiver, such as very good Globalsat BU-353, can be ordered nowadays for only about $35.

Garmin Mobile PC MSRP for the software-only version is $59.99 - distributors may sell for less. Soon to be released iNav iGuidance 2009 (new version) will have MSRP $99, but will likely sell for less. Microsoft Streets and Trips is MSRP $39.95. These are all prices of software-only versions. They all work with most USB GPS receivers on the market today.

I think I would lean towards suggesting you to try (a trial version of) iGuidance first. I like that most functions can be accessed via keyboard shortcuts. But this may just be my personal preference. I think all the three mentioned products can do the job. It's just a matter of getting familiar with your software.
I will put in my 2 cents worth.
The amount of money you will put into the laptop, internet access and the mount are the major costs. All the products discussed here are consumer level at best. In your position, I would be more likely to look for a solution tailored for your needs and costing much more than $100. Discuss your needs with other communities that may have already gone down this path.

Unless you are just trying this out to see if it is a viable process, you will be disappointed.

Of course, I already have the computer and a vehicle mount so those won't be a money issue.

As far as the mile markers, what I did on that particular mountain road with no turnoffs was, I took my Garmin Colorado 400T and entered a waypoint at every milemarker and named it for whatever the marker said. It is appx 20 miles of mountain road and it is easy to forget exactly where you are at when you looking for a vehicle crash. I can look on my handheld GPS and see the nearest milemarker which is wonderful, but, I have to worry about powering it up when I need it. With the laptop system, it will already be on.

I would think one of the mentioned laptop programs would let you enter waypoints in the same manner.

As far as the maps being up to date, the county I work in has a population of over 100,000, so I think they should be close to up to date.

A couple of guys bought the Microsoft S&T 2008. They had the problem of some of the newer subdivisions not being in the program.

I am kind of leaning towards the Garmin Mobile PC. Garmin has been in the GPS business for a while and I figured it would be better than S&T. But the iNav looks pretty good too. Still haven't heard much about Delorme Earthmate LT40. I just don't have any use for downloading aerial and satellite maps.
The advantage goes to Mobile PC then because - with the use of MapSource - you can transfer the waypoints you have already set up from the Colorado.

In fact, if you have the cable to connect your Colorado to you laptop, you can do the whole test for free. Download nRoute (assuming you already have MapSource) and use the Colorado as the GPS device for nRoute on your laptop. The maps you have are locked to the GPS you have so it should work fine.

Ken in Regina
Terry has some good suggestions for testing a basically free Garmin solution. That will let you test the concept. The interface and display for the Garmin nRoute program aren't as pretty as the others but the price is right for testing purposes.

The maps for Streets&Trips USA 2008 are the same as Garmin's City Navigator North America 2008.

Why don't you have the Colorado turned on all the time? You can get an automobile kit for it that includes a mount on a pivoting arm and a 12V power cable. Part No. : 010-10851-00, $49.99, or just the 12V vehicle power cable alone for $29.99. That won't solve all your problems but at least you could leave it on all the time and use it to its maximum capability while you are sorting out the laptop nav software decisions.

Marvin Hlavac
To place your own mile markers on the map would not be possible in iGuidance, but the rest of the programs (Streets and Trips, Garmin Mobile PC, Garmin nRoute, and others) will allow you to do it.

Next version of Microsoft Streets and Trips 2009 is expected to be available at the end of summer. It should include approximately the same version Navteq map data as the recently released Garmin Mobile PC.

Other than the slightly out of date map data, how did the couple of guys like Streets and Trips? Could they do the tasks you listed in your first post? Could they achieve it with relative ease? Are they still using Streets and Trips?

The Garmin nRoute suggestion is a good one, too. However, I just re-read your original post, and one of your requirements is touch-screen friendliness. Neither Garmin nRoute nor Microsoft Streets and Trips is touch-screen friendly. I personally prefer keyboard to touch-screen, and having used Streets and Trips for a long time I learned how to perform most tasks with just keyboard shortcuts.

I'm now leaning towards suggesting you to try Garmin Mobile PC.

Terry said: "All the products discussed here are consumer level at best.". I agree, but unfortunately, as far as I know there are no better GPS navigation and mapping products designed specifically for emergency services.

DeLorme Street Atlas may be a viable solution, too, but I personally have hard time recommending it because DeLorme uses its own map data, which (at least in my area) is just not good enough (many errors and omissions of roads even 20, 30 years old). I have not yet seen anything better than Navteq maps (at least in my geographical area).
Ken in Regina
Originally Posted by Marvin Hlavac
..... I have not yet seen anything better than Navteq maps (at least in my geographical area).
Well, in your geographical area DMTI maps are infinitely better than Navteq maps. But that's Canada-only and since Garmin stopped supplying updates for their DMTI-based products even we can't get them.

I know that's a little off the topic but I had to toss it in just in case someone from Garmin ever bothers to drop by here.

...ken... About