Any comparisons among GPS receivers for laptops?
Hello, new to this site. Looks fantastic.

I'm looking to solve a couple 'GPS' requirement issues.

1. Need a handheld unit while out hiking.
2. Need a unit while driving.

I think I've decided against getting a dedicated unit for both due to cost, and against getting a dedicated one for the car since I can just use my laptop (MacBook w/ Win XP). I'll be running something like MS Streets and Trips and need only the GPS hardware.

So I think I have two options.

Get a dedicated handheld (like the Garmin GPS60Cx) and hook it up to the computer. Or get the handheld in addition to a small bluetooth or USB one. Will one give better/faster satellite access, more consistant reception etc.?

Any suggestions or advice with respect to individual units I should look at, or have other members come up with better solutions to my requirements?

Thanks in advance.
Ken in Regina
The Garmin GPSMAP60CSx is a solid and well-respected unit. The only real issue between using it as a receiver for your laptop versus getting a Bluetooth or USB receiver is size and location.

With a Bluetooth receiver for the car you have total flexibility where you locate the receiver for best reception, without regard for where you place the laptop.

With a USB receiver you might be limited where you can put it by the length of the cable. You can get cable extensions but I don't know of anyone who has had much luck with them.

With the 60CSx or similar handheld you have the limitation of the cable length and also the size and shape of the handheld that will limit where you might be able to place it. With the handheld you might need some sort of holder to keep it in place when cornering and braking. The Bluetooth and USB receivers will come with a nonslip pad on the bottom or you can easily glue one on.

Hope that helps.

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the info. I wasn't exactly quite sure how easy it is to integrate handheld units for use with laptops. I've been looking around at small GPS units, both tethered and bluetooth, but dedicated for laptops.

From what I gather, the newer technology (SiRF Star III) is the best available for the USB/Bluetooth type units. Is reception very good? Will there be 'blindspots' in certain areas/terrain?

Anyone experiences with poor sensitivities with either type (handheld vs. dedicated laptop units)? My guess is the handhelds are better?
Ken in Regina
Originally Posted by ahhbeebee
From what I gather, the newer technology (SiRF Star III) is the best available for the USB/Bluetooth type units. Is reception very good? Will there be 'blindspots' in certain areas/terrain?
SirfstarIII is the minimum you would wish to purchase today. There is a newer technology just beginning to appear but there isn't enough experience in the field to demonstrate whether it's really better or enough better to be worth looking for.

We are talking about radio signals that are extremely weak to begin with. So there are always going to be situations where even the best combination of antenna and receiver chipset and placement will fail to get a fix.

I have a five year old handheld (Garmin iQue 3600), the Pharos 500 USB receiver that comes with Microsoft Streets&Trips and the i.Trek M7 combo Bluetooth/USB receiver. Both of the standalone receivers have SirfStarIII receivers in them. In the field they will both get a fix in situations where the older technology of my handheld (unaided) will not. If I connect an external antenna to my handheld, it will normally get as good a fix in those same situations, but it will still take longer, sometimes much longer, to get a lock on enough satellites to get a fix.

I use my handheld in a dash mount for navigation in the car. I don't have room for my laptop so I have not used it very much for in-car navigation. It happens that today I took a trip out of town about an hour or so each way and since I was running solo I decided to fire up the laptop on the seat beside me as well as the handheld in its usual mount. I ran the laptop with the i.Trek M7 in Bluetooth mode and Garmin's Mobile PC on the laptop going out, and the M7 with Garmin's nroute on the laptop coming home.

I didn't bother to try the Pharos USB receiver because the only place I could put my laptop was on the seat beside me and the cable on the Pharos was not quite long enough to let me put it on the dash.

Based on today's experience, I know that my personal choice, if I was going to be able to use my laptop in the vehicle, would be to get a nice Bluetooth unit, no contest at all. They are not expensive and they give you complete flexibility of placement of both the receiver and laptop, independently from one another. I especially like the M7 combo unit because you don't need any special battery charging arrangements. You can just plug it into the USB port on the laptop any time you are on the computer and the M7 will charge right up.

As for the on-road experience, the M7 got a lock quicker than my older technology handheld. But that turned out to be academic because the time it took to get the laptop booted and the nav software running was orders of magnitude longer. With the handheld I can just start driving and it will soon enough get a lock so it doesn't delay me at all. With the laptop it is not reasonable to do anything with the vehicle at all until the laptop is booted and the nav software is running.

The satellite signals were much stronger on the M7 with its newer technology but that turns out to be mostly academic in my situation. As long as the signal is good enough for a lock on enough satellites to give you a good fix, any stronger signal strength is mostly irrelevant. I say "mostly" because I live out on the prairies where satellite visibility is rarely an issue. In situations where satellite visibility is an issue, the stronger signal reception gives a wider margin for dealing with more difficult situations. It will also usually mean you can get a lock on more satellites in more difficult situations. That normally means better accuracy.

It turns out that, in normal road navigation, accuracy is also a somewhat overrated issue, within reasonable limits. As long as the device is able to keep you on the correct roadway and gets you within visual distance of your destination you don't need any more accuracy than that. However, if you are going to do serious geocaching, accuracy is a much bigger issue. Handhelds are great for geocaching; laptops not so much.

Sorry for rambling. I hope some of that is useful, or at least interesting. It's mostly obfuscation to hide the fact that although I'm keenly interested in laptop navigation software I really don't find the laptop very useful for on-road navigation in my personal situation, so I don't have a lot of practical usage experience. Don't get me wrong; I would dearly love to be able to have Garmin Mobile PC's drop-dead gorgeous nav display on that gigantic 15" screen hanging somewhere in easy view. It's just not going to happen in my mini-SUV or my wife's Mazda3. So I'll keep nursing the iQue 3600 along until it dies, in hopes that someone will get around to building something equally competent before it does.

Just a clarification. Per Semsons site, the iTrek M7 actually uses the newer MTK chipset. I compared it to a GPSlim236 using SirfStar III and the iTrek seems a little faster in obtaining lock.

Ken in Regina
Thanks for the clarification, Terry. The new technology sure gets a fix quicker than the old technology. This makes a big difference in the newer handhelds I've looked at versus my older one. And it's a useful difference.

As I mentioned above, with laptop use the time to achieve a fix is pretty much irrelevant because startup of the laptop and nav software takes so long.

When I got in the car, the first thing I did was to turn the M7 on and set it on the dash. Then I set the laptop on the seat beside me, opened the lid and hit the power button. I had been using it inside before I headed for the car so I had simply closed the lid and did not shut down Windows so it just had to resume. While it was doing that, I got out my handheld, put it in the dash holder, opened the flip-up antenna and hit the power switch. By the time it had a fix and was operating in 3D Differential mode (WAAS on and locked in) the laptop was still resuming Windows. It took a few more minutes for Windows to get going and then to launch Mobile PC. All this time the M7 had been sitting, turned on, on the dash, so it was ready and waiting for Mobile PC to grab and lock.

I would say that getting the laptop going to the point I could drive the car took me nearly five minutes longer than turning on the handheld and driving away. In that context, time to fix simply doesn't matter. That's not something I had given much thought to previously. It was the first time I had used the handheld and the laptop simultaneously and I was in just enough of a hurry that I was impatient to get rolling, so that sort of thing became quite noticable.

Great info Ken.

Detailed responses are exactly what I'm after.

Sounds like although you haven't used your laptop much in car, you already have spotted the potential problems. I'm driving a Nissan Rogue, and there really isn't much room for a laptop. I simply thought my wife could hold it while we were driving. With the GPS, she won't be able not to find our position on the map (not like the paper maps we currently use )

I guess I'm just trying to come up with a one-stop fix for multiple problems. If only I weren't so cheap I could buy a dedicated handheld for geocaching, and then something for the car.

Have you much experience with the GPS unit that comes with Streets and Trips? Bundled with the software, seems like a good deal if the receiver is good.

Obvious you are in Regina, any experience in the mountains? Living in Cowtown, we are in and out of mountains often and most our road trips will be in the Rockies both North and South of the border.

Marvin Hlavac
ahhbeebee, the USB GPS receivers that Microsoft has been including with the product over the past couple of versions, has been very good. It is based on the SiRFstarIII chipset, as mentioned above, and it compares very favorably with other options on the market. Many users have reported they can get a usable GPS signal even indoor, at home, in their basement, etc.
Ken in Regina
You're in much the same boat I'm in ... I'm in a Honda CR-V, the vehicle the Rogue design was aimed directly at, near as I can tell. I'm also looking at getting a new handheld for geocaching. I won't tell you what my wife is likely to tell me to do with my laptop if I asked her to hold it in her lap for navigation purposes while I drive.

You can have both in a handheld if you're willing to live with a smaller screen. I have been using my iQue 3600 for in-car nav for nearly five years with much joy. It's basically a Palm with built-in GPS. I wish the screen was as bright as the new technology but it is so competent otherwise that I am still having difficulty finding anything to replace it.

The Garmin GPSMAP60Csx is rated to be an excellent unit for geocaching if geocaching was your primary interest. You can add detail maps to it on microSD card and it will do routing, find points of interest, addresses, waypoints, etc. You can dash mount it. Or it's of a size that your wife might not mind holding it and using it for in-car navigation purposes. That's only one option. There are many more. From Garmin there are the Colorado and Oregon lines, the GPSMAP76Csx, and some people even use specific models of Nuvi for geocaching, even though it is mainly used for personal and in-car navigation. And there are lots of handheld models from other companies.

I know this is a laptop forum so to bring it back on topic, I agree with Marvin about the USB receiver that comes with Streets&Trips. I wanted a USB receiver in order to play with nav software on my laptop. I already had Garmin's nroute program and I own a bunch of Garmin's map products (Topo Canada, Metroguide Canada, City Navigator North America) but I needed a receiver. I caught a deal on Streets&Trips 2008 that was as cheap as buying a seperate receiver so I grabbed it because it also gave me a copy of Streets&Trips to play with. It's a good one. It seems to grab a fix every bit as quickly and solidly as the i.Trek M7. The only drawback, as I mentioned in my previous post, is that the cable length of a USB receiver will restrict the placement of receiver and laptop.

I consider the Kootenays my home away from home. I have lots of experience driving in the mountains with my iQue 3600 handheld, hiking with a GPS not so much. As I mentioned above, the older technology has some problems in deep steep canyons and thick stands of tall trees. Even with an external antenna I usually lose signal for a little while driving through Three Valley Gap, for instance. Based on the playing around I've done with the Pharos 500 and i.Trek M7 I would not expect that to happen with them. And that's the only place on the road that I've had difficulties with my older unit.

If you are willing to explore the possibility of one unit for both purposes, you should go over to GPSCentral and talk to them about your needs and see what they suggest. They carry all of the major brands. I'm sure they can come up with a suggestion or two for you to consider. Check their web site before you go. They are primarily an internet company so their office hours are somewhat restricted.

If you want to also do a little homework on what works for geocaching before you talk to them, you should drop by geocaching.com. They have a section on the technology, a section on getting started and a section for us Canucks to hang out. Lots of good stuff to read there. I just started reading there a few days ago. I've just bought a new mountain bike and want something to use for navigation on it out in the Rockies plus some casual geocaching.

Ken in Regina
Originally Posted by Marvin Hlavac
... Many users have reported they can get a usable GPS signal even indoor, at home, in their basement, etc.
I definitely resemble that remark. I've had as many as five birds with it in my basement office right under the cold air return. But it takes patience ... lots of patience. Fortunately I have lots of forum reading to do and a TV tuner in my other PC.

Gordon Kerr
Streets and trips Pharos receiver can be a problem until you've run out of ideas and contact Pharos directly. Apparently if you are running Vista you'll need different drivers for 32 or 64 bit computers. I've been struggling for months and finally did the above and got some success on my Dell 1720. I still have to install the driver on my HP1420 touch screen and road test it.
What has really grated my cheese is the fact that I purchased computers with 'Microsoft' Vista in late 2007 and early 2008, and 'Microsft' Streets and Trips 2008 in early 2008 (with Pharos) and 'Microsoft' didn't include or provide upgrades for the necessary drivers to accommodate the Vista OS, which they are supposedly promoting. Same - same with Powerpoint reader 2003 shipped w/ Vista and 2007 update not included.

I am a neophyte computer user (Nov. 28/07) and am apalled that these kind of screw ups are so prevalent in today's supposedly 'leading corporations'.

There - - - spleen vented.

Just need to find more time to get out in the bush w/ the proper drivers - no pun intended.

Enjoying forum re: Ontario legislation - but must add a warning of somehing else NOT to do w/ your laptop. Do not get a cassette adapter that plugs into your headphone jack and play a DVD movie as you will get Sound Surround Theatre in your vehicle!
Although I have no access to any 64 bit operating systems, I found the Pharos installed drivers easily in XP and Vista(32) just using the 'Windows Update' option.

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