2 weeks trip passed; back to the real world with tons of work needed to be done. Anyway, I really want to tell how I feel when using Garmin Mobile PC with as GPS navigation system and just so you know only navigation system I really use is TomTom 5 and 6 on Palm devices: Treo 650/700p and Tapwave Zodiac. Thus, that would be like the reference for this review.

First thing first, installation process both Mobile PC and map were easy as it should be. What I expected to get from Garmin Mobile PC is definitely large screen estates. Speed and extra features are what I think it should be improved also. Garmin, comparing to Tomtom, is far superior in term of GUI, Graphic User Interface. I don’t think anyone would argue about this. Cuter road and all icons sometimes don’t say that functionality will be better though. You’ll see how it is momentarily.

Storage Information

Garmin Mobile PC: <57MB
USA: 970MB (or USA+Canada: 1.3GB)
Windows XP: <1.5GB (or very small with nLite)
Page file: 1-2GB

Basically, you will need around 4GB of storage space; 4GB SSD might work, but I couldn’t guarantee. I can say that nLite would be you life saver here or spend $70 more for RunCore 16GB SSD

Before anything, I need to go through main interface. I honestly don’t remember what Tomtom was like; it’s like Garmin is a brainwasher with 2 simple icons: ‘Where to’ and ‘Map’ along with few buttons on the bottom. I couldn’t tell whether this is the better way to do so. Somehow I feel it’s more natural to show map with GPS location at the first page like Tomtom, but it’s just a click away, so I don’t mind that. I forget to mention that Mobile PC interface is about the size of Eee PC screen. That’s the minimum Mobile PC could work on—probably the size Garmin designs to work on. Nevertheless, Mobile PC can work on larger/higher resolution without any problem.

Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC --  Trip info
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Main Page

Next, menu, Garmin takes a different step by putting ‘setting’ at the first level – easy to access anytime – while Tomtom put similar menu at the 2nd level. Tomtom just prefer to put all routing features and favorite (POI) manager in the first level. With very different approach, it’s kind of awkward when I first had Garmin. It was like I got lost in Garmin menu maze. It might not be a fair game here since I was long time Tomtom user, but I think Tomtom does better job here.

Menu structure comparion

Additionally, ‘tools’ menu was like duplicate link from ‘view map’ page. In other words, you can click on the icons in map page to access every single option in tools, but ‘manage my data.’ I think clicking on icon is just more intuitive and would have been better to have only one way to do so. Then putting ‘manage my data’ in ‘settings’ this way I think user will not have to think of which one (tools or settings) has what he wants. That’s just confusing/too complex menu structure and wasting screen estate by using too big button rather than big enough to touch + more buttons each page is bad interface design in my opinion. Each page it could fit up to 8 buttons easily and 3 sub menus per page are just plain dump—at least it should be 6 sub menus (3 rows and 2 cols) to utilize more screen estate such as 800px*480px or 1024*728px. Just remember that Mobile PC is designed to use on UMPC/PC and smallest screen should be around 6” with at least 800px*480px. That’s is big enough to consider changing fundamental design from only GPS device. Unfortunately Garmin doesn’t think so. As you see above, TomTom has such a concise menu structure; first page is what you are regularly using; second page is to tweak/view the route and the last page is what we rarely care about. It’s just 2 taps on the screen, you can see almost everything you want for navigation system while altering route in Garmin Mobile needs tons of effort to do so as you will see later on. Tomtom 1 Garmin 0

The most important page for GPS navigation system is map. All modern GPS this day has 3D view and some has 3D building shown on the moving map too. I am not sure how different between Garmin GPS device like StreetPilot or nuvi and Mobile PC, but for map detail Garmin Mobile PC has a lot of feature to tweak; probably too many for GPS which you know? people just want it to work. No need to tweak that much. As my experience, I change almost every categories to normal or small. Then all road name, which closes to us, will be shown on the map which is the most important thing to me while driving. Well I don’t have to do a thing in Tomtom. Options are good, but there is only one optimal point anyway. The real advantage of Mobile PC is screen size & very clear, processor speed and beautiful user interface. You just couldn’t expected anything more than map showing up in a flash, finger dragging naturally, and such a big screen size comparing to all GPS devices or PDA/PDA phone. Thus, this round, Garmin Mobile PC win absolutely. TomTom 1 Garmin 1

Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC --  Trip info
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Moving map
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC --  Trip info
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Browse Map

This is what you will see on 7” screen; however, if you have larger screen or screen resolution, it will be much bigger than this. I have tried on X61T on the way back after unfortunate incident—Eee PC was dead; SSD just died; stuck at boot POST. I had to format and reinstalled everything to get in work again. I couldn’t find what caused this though. For your information, if you are using Eee PC 7” like me, you probably turn off page file. In this case you have to turn it back on or map won’t be loaded properly or in appropriate time.

Navigation:

I could say that I'm not impressed, how come?

  • In this trip, I have no car mount. As a result I need my GF to look and tell me when we were approaching any junction. Is there anything worse than always-lost-girl as a navigator? Just kidding; it’s just like you didn’t see in person, so you couldn’t be sure of where to go.
  • Garmin Mobile PC (I’m not sure if it’s the same as other types) tells us so little when approach the turn. It’s like only 2 times regularly: first when it’s about 0.3 mile away and 0 mile away from turn while Tomtom says this like a million times. Actually it says like 3 times 500 yards, then around 100-200 yards before turn and at turning point which are pretty good. I didn’t have to glance at the screen at all this way and I hope Garmin would offer the same as Tomtom.  That would be great. Even ‘Hertz Never lost’’ system reminds me zillion times before arrive the turn—it’s sometimes annoying, but better than leave driver confused. Oh one more thing, I am not sure why but sometimes I heard Garmin used “yard” and sometimes “0.x mile.” That bugs me really.
  • Altering route is such a pain. I will talk about that later.

From above complaint, I didn’t say that Garmin has pretty bad navigation. It’s quite good, but I just expect to have better than this—more intuitive basically. No one likes to have learning curve for using GPS indeed. If they want to have that, they would use ‘map’ instead. Don’t you think so?

Basically, we just start with ‘Where to?’

Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC --  Where to?
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Where to?
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC --  Where to?
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Where to?

It would have been nice if there is one more thing extra—point on the map!! Why in the world doesn’t Garmin include that in Mobile PC which is supposed to have the best map due to performance & screen size. For your information, Tomtom added this since version 6 which was about 2 years ago already. If you left this point out, it will do the job as well as you expected.

Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Setting | Route
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Setting | Route

What I missed really pop-up question like ‘Do you want to avoid toll road?' or something since Garmin won’t ask or have any option to have this anytime you create the route. You have to dig down in Settings | Routing | Avoidance Setup (which is the last option) It’s just too deep down.

Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Setting | Routing | Avoidance Setup
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Setting | Routing | Avoidance Setup
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Setting | Routing | Avoidance Setup
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Setting | Routing | Avoidance Setup

Although it is so hard to reach, it in fact does have something interesting such as avoid area or avoid road, totally customizable, and after changing something in this, it is kind enough if you want to recalculate the route. At least, it asks finally. This feature works as advertised.

Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing w/o avoidance area
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing w/o avoidance area
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing w/o avoidance area
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing w/ avoidance area

On the left is what normally happens—go by car with the fastest route, but if there is an avoid area, then it will find the fastest way but not go through avoid areas/roads. However, altering route by edit shape (forcing a route to go) or add more destination could override avoid area.

Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Routing

Above is an example of screenshot while driving. I would love to have options for changing travelling and arrival time on 2 right boxes to something like estimated mileage for whole trip or even speed odometer. It could be good with one bad thing. Auto zoom might not as good as it should be sometimes when you are on the road with strange turn or something. As I show below:-

Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Zoom Level
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Zoom Level
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Zoom Level
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Zoom Level

Zoom level does help distinguish the roads, but don’t expect auto-zoom will be automatically all the times. On the left, by looking at the screen, you have no idea where you are really—look like plain 2-lane road. One on the right, at the right zoom level, you can see clearly which road you are on (or suppose to be on, according to navigation software.) For navigation, both have weaknesses and strength, but by the fact that Tomtom does a bit better about signaling to turn, that’s just what I prefer. Tomtom 2 Garmin 1

Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Odometer
Garmin Mobile PC with Eee PC -- Odometer

Tracking feature is another feature I like on Garmin unit. Practically it just is a dot line tracking your location at all time. It’s very useful, when you are in unfamiliar place. You can take a glance and know how you get there or where you haven’t gone. Also the odometer with trip information: highest speed, mileage, drive time, or stoppage time. With all these features, I would give them +1; I do like to look all those info. Tomtom 2 Garmin 2

Besides navigation, one thing I have high hope on the system is favorite. I would love to mark somewhere along the road or edit the restaurant by adding some keywords or *, so that I would know if I should or should not be back. Overall is fine; not as good as I expected since Garmin doesn’t seem to do anything with their program. It’s just like the same program on every device/product they offer, such a waste on powerful general-purpose machine like PC!! Nothing is better than only GPS device or Tomtom software.

Conclusion Mobile PC on Eee PC experience:

After having Eee PC 702 for a year or so, this would be the best addition to my Eee since touch screen mod. 7” 800px*480px is big enough to use as navigation system. Unfortunately Mobile PC wastes too much vertical space for top+bottom bar. I had tried to move taskbar to the side, but it doesn’t work as expected since 800px width is the minimum of Mobile PC interface, so if have anything else on the side you will lose some area in the program. Auto-hide taskbar is not an option considering using touch as a main controller. Well, if you have full screen laptop, you will see much clearly and much further since map area will be huge. Just remember that you have to enable ‘page file’ to be able to use ‘browse map’ feature properly or you will have to wait for > 5 min to get map load [veeery unpredictably]

Everything seemed to work flawlessly. Corrupted data in SSD, however, occurred at almost very last of the trip. I closed the lid and left in car to grab something in the market basket. When we came back and opened the lid, it somehow froze for couple minutes. So I decided to restart by turning off and on. Unluckily it stuck in reboot loop and couldn’t get into even Windows splash screen. I booted up with Fedora on USB flash drive and checked in gParted. The paritition on SSD was unreadable and only to solve was formatting. I couldn’t imagine if this happened back when I was in NC and I had no other device. It must be very bad. So far, I have tested the same routine for weeks; my Eee after reinstall everything seems to work just fine. How odd!?!? If I have anything on this, I will post for more detail.

Without this unfortunate incident, I would say Eee PC does the job pretty good. Nonetheless, Garmin Mobile PC doesn’t give you any extra over GPS device or Tomtom Navigator 6, besides bigger screen and faster operation. If you’re already pleased with your GPS device, this might not be a good additional gadget for you, but if you never have  it before Eee PC (<$200 as of Jan, 2009) + GPS + Mobile PC (<$100) package would be such a versatile tool on the road indeed.

In short, by the fact that I have to rely on rental car, I just don’t think I ever have a nice car mount for Eee. It, however, might be a better way to do so for next trip. I really like this one though.

Pros:

+ Large screen
+ Faster operation
+ Be able to do something else, MP3, web browser, etc, in the same machine. Yes! it’s a PC.

Cons:

- Garmin should have better (suitable) interface for PC
- SSD reliability for Eee PC is still questionable.
- Zoom in/out button is too close to the edge which my touch screen starts unable to register correctly, Ouch!
- I still couldn’t find the right Eee PC car mount; I don’t like cup holder and seat bolt one.

Note: you guys may like to see how it is when it's working on Thinkpad X61 tablet -- 12" 1024px*768px. Most of them are in portrait mode, so you get an idea if you have very tall screen. It works very well, but it's just too big for the job in my opinion.

Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet
Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet
Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet
Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet
Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet
Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet
Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet
Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet
Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet
Garmin Mobile PC on Thinkpad X61 Tablet