What's the best laptop GPS software for me?
I am a complete ignoramus and just need some basic advice about what the best software is, as well as GPS hardware required. I live in Philadelphia and just need basic voice instructions. Price is the least important criteria for more - reliability, user-friendliness and accuracy the most.

I was about to buy an $800 Garmin handheld GPS, when someone told me using a laptop GPS system is vastly superior. My laptop goes everywhere with me, so is this the best option? I'm a complete *****; what do I need? I live in Philly and do mostly local travel, often at night. So reliability, accuracy and user-friendliness are the most important requirements.

Any advice would be appreciated!
Marvin Hlavac
Hi hwebb01,

Welcome to Laptop GPS World.

Since your laptop goes everywhere with you, you may as well use it for GPS navigation, too. It may indeed be a solution superior to any other navigation device, if you mount your laptop in your vehicle properly. For a couple of hundred dollars you can order a professional vehicle mount by RAM-Mount, or other manufacturers.

We have here a list of reviews of various PC GPS Software. Look though some of the reviews, and feel free to ask further questions.

Laptop GPS receiver is the easiest part. You can choose almost any USB GPS or Bluetooth GPS on the market today. They are quite inexpensive, $30 to $60 for the most part. Anything manufactured in the past two years is very good, and most are compatible with most software.
Ken in Regina
Well, I'm going to play my usual contrarian role here, just for a little advocacy for the devil.

If you just want basic navigation and not a lot of extensive trip planning features, and if you want it to be quick and simple to start up and use, the laptop is not the way to go. For simplicity and flexibility for personal navigation, a handheld personal navigation device is so superior to a laptop that there's no comparison.

Think about the type of vehicle you have and how difficult it may be to position a mount for the laptop so it is in a position where you can see and use it safely and effectively. If you have a vehicle smaller than the average pickup truck or large SUV (and a partner who objects to sharing part of the passenger space with superfluous hardware) you may find it impossible to position a laptop so you can use it safely and effectively.

Think about the time it takes to secure the laptop in its mount, turn it on, wait for it to boot (or resume), make the connection to the GPS receiver (oh yeah, where are you going to place the receiver so it gets a good view of the sky and also easily connects with the laptop?), load and run the navigation software and get it to see the GPS receiver signal so that it's all ready to use.

Think about the user interface of most PC-based navigation programs. They are mostly keyboard based. This is great when you are immobile at a desk. It's not so hot in a moving vehicle. The ones that support a touchscreen interface require a touchscreen. Most programs don't support them. Most laptops aren't equipped with them.

Many of the PC-based programs really aren't personal navigation programs. They are trip planning programs that have had GPS reception and navigation functions grafted on. They work, but still have rough edges. So far I've tried MS Streets&Trips 2008, DeLorme Street Atlas 2008, Garmin Mobile PC and Garmin nroute on my Acer laptop. Only the Garmin programs do the nav functions as well as a personal navigation device. Only Garmin's Mobile PC provides an interface that would be useful in a moving automobile but it requires a touchscreen if you want to use that part of the interface. Otherwise you are still stuck with the keyboard.

On the other hand, you can purchase a very nice personal navigation device for a couple hundred bucks ($800 is w-a-y overkill unless you want a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with navigation). A personal navigation device will have a vehicle mount that will let you position it in exactly the right spot for you, without impinging on the passenger's space. The nav device will clip into the vehicle mount instantly and with one hand.

If you take just a little care in selecting your personal navigation device, it will be one that starts up, gets a satellite lock and is ready to use in seconds (typically a very small number of seconds). And it will have a touchscreen interface that will be quite easy to learn and use.

The bonus is that if you select the right personal navigation device you can also carry it with you in your pocket, ready to pull out and use even while walking or if you need to find the nearest restaurant, gas station or an address. It will be most useful in these situations because of the quickness of startup compared to a laptop.

I'm not knocking the use of laptop GPS programs in general. I'm just not satisfied that they are ready for primetime for quick and simple and versatile personal navigation. At least not yet.

In the interest of full disclosure, I own a Garmin iQue 3600 (Palm PDA with integrated GPS) that I have been using for five years and is still my favorite for navigation, a Garmin eTrex Legend HCx and a variety of PC laptop programs; the ones mentioned above plus I'm about to try out the latest iGuidance program from iNav, Mappoint 2009 and Streets&Trips 2009. I do this as a hobby/personal interest and I have no affiliation of any sort with any company.

Y'er welcome.

Marvin Hlavac
Originally Posted by Ken in Regina
Think about the time it takes to secure the laptop in its mount ...
I do it every morning, 5 days a week. It takes me 3 seconds to place my HP tx2000 into my RAM mount.

But I agree with Ken. If you just need a navigation, buy one of those little thingys. If you need a laptop with you in your car or truck, then definitely do use it for GPS navigation as well. You will love it.
Ken in Regina
That's pretty good for an in-vehicle mount. My brother can't get his locked into his RAM mount in his 3/4T Dodge in anything like 3 seconds. By the time he pulls it out of the carrying case, gets it into the mount and locked, connects the power cord, opens the screen and clamps the screen stay in place, it's probably closer to thirty seconds ..... if he's had his morning coffee. If not, all bets are off. :rofl"

In 10 seconds I can pop my iQue 3600 into it's mount, flip the antenna up, push the power button on it and start the car. The iQue is instant on but it's really old technology so it takes a block or so before it has a lock.

However, in my 1 ton Dodge Diesel, I can't hear the voice navigation of my PDA, UMPC or tablet without a seperate amplifier. I have no difficulty hearing my cheap Garmin PND, at least for the 2 hours the battery lasts.

For quick, cheap and reliable, you can't beat a dedicated GPS device. For flexibilty, a laptop is the way to go.

Marvin Hlavac
Terry, I use my HP tx2000 in tablet mode, so that likely makes it easier for me to place it into the RAM mount. With left hand I pull on the left sliding part of the tray, my right hand places the tablet into place, and that's it. It doesn't take more than 3 seconds.

Would I want my wife to use this for her navigation? No. As Ken suggested, a PND is more suitable for most people. but if a person requires a laptop, a UMPC, a tablet PC, a CarPC for some other reason(s), then as you say, navigation on a PC does offer flexibility.
Great advice, guys, thanks very much. Appreciate your time and expertise!
Using a laptop might present a few minor issues with mounting, booting, and a little waiting, but it's far superior to any self-contained unit available. Simply, the level of detail is astounding. This is of paramount importance when you are looking for an alternate route to avoid traffic or other problems. I can't even count the multitude of times this feature has helped me. I will never use a standalone, unless they design one with far greater detail.
Ken in Regina
Garmin, at least, are firmly committed to the cartoon-style display now. My old Garmin iQue 3600 has roughly the same size display and resolution but it displays nearly twice the amount of detail. I can actually use it like you described using a laptop for visually finding alternate routes. I can't do that with my Nuvi.

But Garmin will never go back to that.

But the screen size is nowhere as big as a laptop, and that alone will limit the available options you can see, as well as not being able to get an accurate idea as to where the different choices will take you. Can't beat the laptop, IMHO.
Ken in Regina
Sorry. I was agreeing with you, not trying to argue.

I wasn't trying to argue either, but your post was a little ambiguous, so I thought I'd clarify things a little. Not a problem, Ken.
Ken in Regina
You're right. I didn't really think through what prompted me to respond other than to bellyache about the recent trend to do "bold" graphics in the latest dumbed down interfaces, including the maps. That even includes Garmin's Mobile PC laptop navigation program. On a 1024x600 netbook screen I can't get much more detail with Mobile PC at any given zoom level than I can with my old iQue 3600 handheld with its 4" diagonal screen.

There is a significant difference between, say, Streets&Trips and Mobile PC in the amount of detail you can get on the screen at any given zoom level, even though they both use the same maps.

So, I guess what I really wanted to say is that even on a laptop or netbook with significantly larger screens than typical personal navigation devices, some manufacturers can manage to reduce the advantage the much larger screen should have. But the bigger screens on laptops are still significantly better for planning and visual navigation. I guess that's why I have six or seven nav programs on my netbook. Or maybe eight.

Only have 2 on mine. S&T, and Street Atlas. About