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Old 07-15-2016, 03:45 PM   #1
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GPS Questions - Looking for a Better Tool

I have avoided using a GPS - never owned one. I've used a few and found they didn't do what I wanted.

We are planning a trip to remote areas that will likely not have cell phone signal. Consequently, I finally decided to buy a GPS. It's been a few years since I've used a GPS (in a friends vehicle) so I figured they've changed with the times. GPS units have improved in recent years but they still don't do what I want.

If I could have a GPS that simply had everything Apple Maps, or Google Earth or even MapQuest shows on their maps I would be fine. Give me that via GPS map data and signal and I'd be happy.

I know there are variations in the Graphic User Interface from brand to brand and even model to model. I'll describe what I hope to find and you tell me if your unit does this or at least comes close. I'm willing to accept some compromises but there are some basic features that are non-negotiable. When you reply don't simply tell me you use Garmin or TomTom or Rand McNally, or ? - I want to know the specific model number you use so when I compare units I will know which models have which features.

So here's a list of features I want in no particular order.

1) the data must be comprehensive. That is, the GPS manufacturer must not omit road information just because they think it's not important - like dirt roads. I want to use this unit to find the local Starbucks and I want to use it to find forest service roads. Don't omit one type of data (commercial or backcountry) just because the particular unit is sold for RV's/trucks/off-roaders, etc. I realize this is a tall order and I'm sure I'll have to compromise. But the same unit must show me where to buy gasoline and still tell me where to turn to find the backcountry campsite in Big Bend National Park. If I can upgrade the street map by adding the backcountry map that's okay as long as I can access both.

2) I want something that resembles the display available on Apple Maps, Google Maps, Google Earth, MapQuest, etc. that allows me to toggle (or otherwise change display) from streets to satellite. This is closely related to item 1. The satellite doesn't have to be true satellite with all the associated data for trees, colors, shading... but at least show a representation of the surrounding area. I'll call this quasi-satellite.

3) When using the map view (or quasi-satellite view if necessary) I want to see a reasonable representation of the area I'm traversing. It doesn't have to be "street view" but it needs to show shopping centers, parking lots, major landmarks, etc. For example, most smart phone mapping apps allow the user to zoom in and see details of the road name and route number, business names, churches, etc. I don't want silly little "flags" or other emblems that indicate a knife & fork, or a gas pump symbol or other such cryptic nomenclature that forces me to drill-in and find the name of a business. The data already exists and online maps display it. If this data is included on the GPS does the required memory become just too large? Is that why more detail is not included? I can insert a microSD card with lots more RAM. Why can't I obtain the information/GUI I want?

When I think of more issues I'll make another post. For now, maybe somebody can offer some alternatives that are better suited than the Garmin RV 760LMT that I purchased.

Thanks.
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Old 07-15-2016, 03:53 PM   #2
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I do not think you will find what you are looking for in a standalone GPS. You have decided that what you want is the equivalent of Google Maps/Google Earth. Perhaps you should invest in internet via satellite phone.
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Old 07-15-2016, 04:38 PM   #3
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Yes, good luck.

The challenge you will face is in part size versus detail. For example, my Ford F250 has a good size display (about the size of an iPad mini), but the detail is woefully lacking. I HATE the Ford maps - for example, it will show you interstates but no lesser roads unless you drill into the lowest levels of magnification, and then you lose your perspective. It is really useless; Ford should be ashamed (I digress).

I am not suggesting you buy a new vehicle. But I am saying that you may want a similar sized screen to display the info you are looking for.

The good news about GPS is that unless you are in a cave, you will get a signal, unlike a smart phone.

I use a Garmin Rhino 650T, but that is used for kayaking and hiking, so again not suggesting this model for you. But what may be important is that Garmin (and probably other mfgs) offer maps that can be downloaded, with more detail than what might initially appear. In this manner, if I know an area I will be in, I can download detailed maps to my computer and then sync to my handheld GPS unit. There may be a road-oriented model that offers similar capabilities.

Like I said at the outset, good luck.
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Old 07-15-2016, 04:57 PM   #4
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You may find a Delorme inReach Explorer fits your needs. It will give you two-way text satellite communication ability even out of cell or amateur radio reception. In addition it will link to your smart phone or tablet which has free, but excellent topographic or NOAA maps that you pre-load. It is not great for turn-by-turn directions, but you don't need that for the functionality that you need.

The device is reasonable in price, but there is a monthly subscription fee. I can suspend the subscription when I'm not traveling and only pay for when I am using it.

It is great for letting others know you are OK when out of communication and could be a life saver as there is an SOS function to summon rescue if needed.
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Old 07-15-2016, 06:21 PM   #5
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Thanks for the comments. I looked at DeLorme and the InReach is an interesting product.

I've considered a different type of GPS - one for more outdoor use but they are much smaller. The size is not the major issue with those units - it's the lack of suitable maps. By suitable I mean they have to be loaded by region and going in and out of a region is problematic. In addition, each map is an extra cost and must be updated (at additional cost) when it becomes out of date. Granted, not much changes in any given year(s) but that's an annoying "feature."

As I'm thinking and typing and searching the internet I wonder if a map loaded on a computer - perhaps a tablet or similar - can utilize some sort of plug-in GPS receiver. That kind of a system would allow plenty of storage space for the map on the hard drive and all the GPS thingy has to do is receive the location coordinates and drive the map.

Keep the comments coming. Maybe I'll stumble onto something that suits me.
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Old 07-15-2016, 07:04 PM   #6
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Some More Thoughts

I've looked at DeLorme and see they sell mapping software for less than $50. Other suppliers have similar offers. Some of these can be operated on a PC or Mac based computer in conjunction with a GPS receiver. In some cases the GPS receiver can be as simple as a small saucer sized antenna or it can be a handheld GPS unit.

I'm beginning to see a solution to my problem. Accurate, detailed mapping that may even include high resolution satellite imagery combined with GPS which allows me to use the tool where cell phone signals don't exist.

It sounds like I'm into some ultimate boondocking experience but that's not the case. I have found myself in a campground where a cell phone signal is nonexistent and WiFi is nowhere to be found but I need to plan the next day or week of travel. A computer based map on a tablet or laptop using a GPS receiver (handheld unit or antenna) may be just the ticket.

Similarly, we've been on stretches of interstate where cell phones don't work reliably. Yes, conventional vehicle GPS works but they have the limitations lamented in the earlier post.
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2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 07-15-2016, 07:25 PM   #7
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Have you taken a look at the app, "CoPilot USA"? I have used it for years and keep coming back to it as my "go to" app for getting around with our trailer and TV or just the TV. All of the maps reside on your phone so it will work just fine when there is no cell service, or you can keep the data turned off and simply make sure you conserve your data usage. I have found the detail showing stores, parking lots, etc. to be acceptable in almost all cases. Although I don't go off road often, I have also found that to be acceptable for my use. It does not have a "street view" mode. It allows many customizations (average speeds, preferences, routing options (RV/bike/car, etc) and quite a few others. Optionally you can add live traffic info and fuel price/location info (both require usage of data and a subscription). It may be worth your taking a look. I have tried quite a few other gps/mapping apps, but have always come back to this one as the overall most reliable one for my use even though it is not perfect (I don't think any are)--your mileage may vary!
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Old 07-15-2016, 07:34 PM   #8
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I always like the "I'm willing to compromise" part, that being I want everything and if the map colors aren't exactly correct I suppose I can live with it.... As stated, Delorme makes excellent navigation materials, be it electronic or print. With Delorme your best bet is old school, when my cell phone was a 3 watt bag phone, I used a stand alone GPS receiver connected to the serial port on my 18 lb Toshiba laptop, as far as I know they still make all the components and they have standard and topo maps (don't know about good satellite views) that it would all connect to and run offline.

Your other option is, if you have a fairly new Android cell phone, I don't know about iPhone capability, then the latest version of Google maps let's you download areas for use offline as the GPS receiver in the phone still works it's the maps that don't. I just did this while hiking in Zion and it worked really well except in the Narrows. The limitation is that you can't download satellite views, but then your only request for that was parking lots and malls so you should still be in coverage for those anyways. The BEST part to doing it this way is you keep your map colors.

So if you have an iPhone and find that it doesn't work the same, buy a used Samsung Note 4, replaceable battery upgradeable storage, cheap on Amazon with no service contract and when on wifi download maps for where you'll be out of coverage and it will all work smoothly and when your in coverage you can just keep using your iPhone or whatever.

This is what I do to compliment my Garmin RV 760LMT

Hope this helps.
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Old 07-15-2016, 09:12 PM   #9
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I'm definitely at the low end of the technology scale when it comes to understanding smart phones.

Which smart phones have an actual GPS receiver? You indicated relatively new Androids. I seem to recall discussions about iPhones having a GPS receiver but I thought it was a pseudo-GPS - could be wrong about that.

I took time to look at DeLorme software for smart phones and it looks appealing. Their web site indicated it still works when you don't have a cell phone signal because the map is loaded on the phone. I was unclear if they were also referring to a GPS locator signal the phone might be providing.

I am definitely willing to make compromises and as I said some of my "requirements" can be adjusted. However, roads missing from National Parks is not acceptable. Missing roads is not even a matter of it takes up too much memory. Omitting topographic information, omitting satellite imagery - I can understand that. Roads that have forest service numbers and park road numbers should be on the map!
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Old 07-15-2016, 09:17 PM   #10
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It is probably more difficult to find a smartphone that does not have a gps receiver. Almost any that you might choose has one.
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Old 07-15-2016, 09:40 PM   #11
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The inReach provides the GPS signal for your laptop (which has all of your Delorme maps) and does so wirelessly and at the same time gives you peace of mind knowing that you can communicate with family and friends or summon help on an emergency when there is no cell coverage (which is very common when away from cities or interstates.) I always use it when traveling for texting position reports. You can even send them to FaceBook or Twitter.
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Old 07-15-2016, 09:52 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edistobob View Post
It is probably more difficult to find a smartphone that does not have a gps receiver. Almost any that you might choose has one.
After doing some web searching I realize that's the case. I heard the iPhone receiver referred to as Assisted GPS and didn't realize what that means. Bottom line, the built-in GPS should work fine if I'm using pre-loaded maps.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adventure.AS View Post
The inReach provides the GPS signal for your laptop (which has all of your Delorme maps) and does so wirelessly and at the same time gives you peace of mind knowing that you can communicate with family and friends or summon help on an emergency when there is no cell coverage (which is very common when away from cities or interstates.) I always use it when traveling for texting position reports. You can even send them to FaceBook or Twitter.
I like the safety aspect of the inReach. I took some time to look at the web page and will likely contact technical support next week when the office opens on Monday.
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1992 29' Excella Classic
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2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 07-16-2016, 05:05 AM   #13
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Lucius,

I just checked, the Google maps version for iPhone does indeed allow for downloading areas for offline use. I'm don't know which phone/operating system you have but it should work. You can test it wherever you are by opening the map saving/downloading where you are and then placing your phone in airplane mode, the GPS should stay on and test driving around with it tracking you.

The InReach is a good system, pay attention to the pricing plans though. If just looking for a GPS receiver to work with PC maps those can be purchased without the same costs. For tracking ability, another option is SPOT Gen 3 or they make a communication one, again the pricing can add up quickly when taking about 2-way ability and satellite connectivity.

Good luck, find the pieces you think will work and ask the questions, you can always bet someone's tried it already before you put out the cash.
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Old 07-16-2016, 07:16 AM   #14
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If you end up going in the PC based map direction, just be aware there are (or were) almost no map programs built for a Mac. All of them were built for pc's, like Delorme just as an example. And you can buy very inexpensively (I don't know, maybe $50??) a gps device that attaches to your pc via a usb connection to provide you gps connection while using your pc-based map program.
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