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Tag: car gps

How Does Waze Work without a Cellular Connection?

We all know that navigation apps on your smartphone need to be online to function in your car. Or do they? Even with no bars, Waze can still get you where you’re going. Here’s how…

Yes, I must report that I’m still using my portable Garmin GPS in my Toyota RAV4. It’s admittedly difficult to defend my ongoing allegiance to this expensive older tech. My Garmin simply can’t compete with the more flexible user experience of navigation apps on smartphones.

But the good news is I’ve recently taken a big step forward… These days, I’ve been using Waze on my iPhone. All of the real-time traffic and hazard updates provide a nifty virtual view a few miles up the road. That’s hard to beat.

My Garmin Vs. My Waze
I shouldn’t admit this, but I often have both my Garmin and Waze operating simultaneously to see if they agree on the fastest way to go. And more often than not… they don’t. But that’s another story…

One advantage that I thought my Garmin Drive 50LMT still had over smartphone apps was its almost bullet-proof ability to maintain its GPS connection vs my iPhone’s uncertain cellular data tether while driving through dead zones. Navigation apps can’t survive that kind of hiccup, right?

But on a recent vacation road trip, I experienced what seemed to be impossible…
Waze was working without a cellular connection!

Offline iPhone GPS
My family and I were driving through some backroads in New Hampshire, and I looked at my iPhone, which was mounted to my dash via my Bunker Ring. I realized that while Waze had indeed lost all cellular connectivity, it still appeared to be functioning normally. As we drove, it continued to correctly display our location and the distance to our next turn. But it had no signal!

How was that possible?!

The Little-Known GPS Chip
After doing a little research after we got home, I realized that my iPhone was able to pull off this trick by using its built-in GPS radio. Yes, my iPhone has its own GPS functionality as do other smartphones! Its GPS chip operates independently of cellular data, and that’s why Waze was still able to see in the digital dark.

Sure, my Waze app was hobbled without its connection through AT&T. It couldn’t provide crowd-sourced traffic and hazard updates or recalculate my route. But Waze wasn’t entirely down for the count either.

I imagine at some point, Waze would have needed to connect back to its servers to download more map data, but for the fifteen minutes or so that I was driving offline, Waze was able to keep up with the twisty road ahead!

Impressive… most impressive.

Your Smartphone is at Home with GPS
There are actually lots of folks out there taking advantage of their smartphone’s GPS chip in places where cell coverage is nonexistent. They’re using apps designed to download maps ahead of time, before the trip begins.
(Waze can’t do this.)

But for me, I’m just exceptionally pleased knowing that Waze can survive for a while in a data-free zone using my iPhone’s GPS radio.

And if that can’t reverse my irrational allegiance to my Garmin Drive, I’m not sure what else will!

The Best GPS for Your Car

What a difference a week makes! If you think this is the same photo as last time, look again. This new GPS interface is sweet…

What a difference a week makes! If you think this is the same photo as last time, look again. This new GPS interface is sweet…

Yes, I’ve apparently gone against the general flow of the rest of the planet, and I’ve decided to buy another car GPS to replace my old Garmin. Sure, a smartphone can often handle your navigation. (But not always)

And with social-enhanced traffic and navigation apps like Waze, your phone can suddenly possess a ‘Borg’-like awareness from the “Star Trek” universe.

But I’ve got my six reasons to remain a stick in the mud.
And I’m sticking to them…

I know many of you may already have a GPS bolted into your car’s dashboard. So you’re essentially stuck with what you’ve got.

For the rest of you, let’s go shopping!

Go Garmin
Acknowledging the “Better with the Devil You Know” strategy, I decided to focus on another Garmin…
(By most accounts, Garmin is the leader in this category… so you really can’t go wrong.)

The current Garmin choices divide up mostly between the “DriveSmart” and “Drive” model lines. And then you’ve got to choose between 5, 6 or 7” screens.

Though this is not Garmin’s top of the line, it’s more expensive than the Drive models. For sixty dollars more, you’re essentially getting:

  • Bluetooth hands-free calling
  • Voice Activate navigation
  • Pinch to zoom display

For my needs…

  • I already have a Bluetooth connection from my iPhone to my RAV4’s sound system.
  • Voice navigation sounds exceptionally cool, but I don’t believe it’s so agile that you can speak an entire address. I think it’s more like saying… “Gas Station!”
    (If I’m wrong on that, someone please let me know…)
  • And pinch to zoom is also not a ‘must.’

The Drive model line hits the sweet spot for me.

The base 5” model is a ‘reasonable’ $129.99. For that…you’re getting all that you really need to get you where you’re going. You don’t have to ask it where the nearest cappuccino is!
(Though you can still tap in your restaurant urges.)

Lifetime Map and Traffic Alert Updates
Garmin also packages in some after-purchase subscription services into the pricing of their units. Where as once upon a time you had to buy your map updates or shell out more money each year for Garmin’s traffic-alert service, now you only have to pay a ‘little’ more when you buy the GPS.

I highly recommend you take advantage of this packaging.

The hard part is figuring out the acronyms attached to the model names.
Here’s how it works…

It’s Lifetime Maps and Traffic.

So LM = Lifetime Maps
And LMT = Lifetime Maps and Traffic

Okay, maybe that’s not so complicated!

Garmin Drive 50LMT
The last time around, I was wooed by some of the optional features and then didn’t end up using them.
So think about what you’ll actually use…

Considering all of above, the Garmin Drive 50LMT really stood out for me.

It doesn’t have the extras that may be ‘cutting edge,’ but I probably won’t use.
And it does come with the lifetime maps map updates and traffic.

Plus it’s got Foursquare functionality baked in to help my wife and me find a good restaurant for dinner when we’re driving back from a day trip.

This Garmin Drive sports a 5” screen, which is actually a tad larger than my old Nuvi’s 4.3” screen.

It lists for $169.99 at Garmin’s site.

And Amazon’s got it at the same price point… $169.99.

For an extra ten bucks, you can also get Canadian maps integrated into the unit’s memory.
(Can you say family road trip?!)

What’s not to like?


The Right Choice for Me
For those of you out there who still think I’m crazy for spending so much, remember
the base Garmin Drive 50 model goes for only $129.99 on Amazon. No you don’t get any lifetime updates… but you’re if you’re into living in the moment, you’ll be in really good shape… for a while.

And don’t forget…“Lifetime” is a relative term in the technology world. It’s certainly not forever, but if you get three to four years out of it, I say you’re doing okay…
(My old Garmin lasted a lot longer than that.)

But other than the “LMT” upgrade, I think I held the line pretty well this time around.

“Best” doesn’t always mean having the “most.”

For me, this is the best Garmin GPS unit available today.

Six Reasons to Buy Another Car GPS

This is what happens when you drop your car’s GPS navigation unit on the pavement. The cracked glass is the least of its problems. So now what…?

This is what happens when you drop your car’s GPS navigation unit on the pavement. The cracked glass is the least of its problems. So now what…?

I’m on the record proclaiming that I’d given up on my car’s old Garmin GPS a while back, when smartphone apps developed their own talking directions. With my iPhone Maps app and Google Maps app, why would you need anything else?

Truth be told, I secretly kept using my Garmin Nuvi, which my wife and I spontaneously named “Jane” quite a few years ago. Sure we’ve more recently also been using our smartphone map apps, but our GPS Jane remained a constant presence while we were driving in my RAV4.

I found it helpful to see the digital road ahead, and Jane often offered a second opinion on the best way to go.
(I’m not saying it ended up being the faster way.)

So I didn’t actually retire Jane like I said I would. Instead, I left the Nuvi on my car’s dash with an upgraded Garmin friction mount that magically prevented it from sliding about.

Jane still worked well enough…

Until fate finally intervened.
Last week, I somehow pulled Jane’s power cable with my briefcase as I stepped out of my car. Jane went flying out of my driver door and… smash… onto the pavement.

Yep. And that finally ended the relationship.
(A big crack was now front and center.)

When I plugged Jane back in, her typing interface no longer worked. Sure, the navigation was still functional, but I could no longer set a destination.
(And that’s no way to travel through life.)

So now what?
It was time to replace Jane with something newer. But with what….?

Time to Buy Another GPS
Can you believe I’ve decided to go with another GPS navigation unit?
I bet you’re thinking that doesn’t make any sense at all.
I didn’t think so either.

But here are six reasons why…

It Takes Too Long to Power and Mount Your Phone
No, I’m not ready to go it alone with just my iPhone and it’s native Maps app or the Google Maps app. Sure, both of these apps work great in the car, and for many are GPS killers. But the truth is I’ve realized I prefer having a dedicated device set up in the car.
(Assuming your car doesn’t have its own built-in GPS)

Otherwise, you’ve got to take out your smartphone… Plug it in for power… (unless you’re okay draining the battery) Attach it to its dash mount… and then open up the appropriate app.

That probably ends up taking only about a minute to do… But several times a day? Then multiply that by a week… you’re at close to thirty minutes now. Now look at the monthly commitment… two hours.

Annually, that becomes a whopping 24 hours.

Yes, you’d spend a whole day of your life over the next year plugging in your smartphone into your car to handle GPS duty.

No, thank you.

Multitasking between Different Dialogues is Confusing
I say just let your phone be your phone. It’s already working hard for you in the car. Don’t give it too much to do.

When you’re paying attention to which exit to take on the highway, you don’t want the same device to handle a phone call from your spouse regarding what to pick up for dinner that night. The audio exchange can get a little confusing as the app interrupts your conversation with its audible directions.
(Then who knows what dinner’s going to look like!)

The same dynamic occurs if you’re playing music on your smartphone and your Maps app is trying to talk to you. While that doesn’t create the same confusion, it can really mess up the best parts of any song you’re trying to enjoy…

Multitasking between Different Visuals is Usually Impossible
A similar problem occurs with you’re sharing your GPS’ screen real estate. When a call comes in, that ‘next turn’ prompt disappears!
(And so may your chance to get to that meeting on time!)

Your Smartphone Can’t Tell You Where to Go if You Lose Your Signal Bars
So if you venture out into the middle of nowhere, you might find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere scrambling to find that old map you threw in the trunk years ago.

GPS units that use satellite reception are more reliable in this regard. Period.

Using Your Smartphone to Navigate Eats into Your Data Plan
While that’s not a problem for me, (I’ve held onto an old all-you-can-eat plan from AT&T) most folks have to worry about that.

I say why not use your precious data elsewhere…?

Available HUD displays are More Fiction than Fact
I really thought this was my next step…
Head Up Displays (HUDs) project driving directions
right onto your windshield.

How cool is that?

But when I started shopping around, there really wasn’t anything out there other than glorified reflector systems for your smartphone. And I really wasn’t into mounting my iPhone onto the back of my dash. (See reason #1.)

Garmin came out with a HUD device a few years back, but the interface just isn’t as robust as a typical GPS unit.

Navdy is a HUD in development that looks really cool. But as far as I can tell, it’s not on the market yet.

If someone knows of a real-life Head Up Display unit that’s out there, please let me know…

Assuming you can actually find a HUD (at an affordable price point), yes, it’s cool that the display shows up on your windshield. That can certainly help maintain your focus on the road ahead. But driving with a dedicated car GPS mounted in front of you also approximates the same experience.

The Shopping Begins
So as I’ve already suggested, I’ve come full circle. It’s time to buy another GPS navigation unit.

Which way to go?

I’ll let you know… Next time on At Home with Tech

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