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Thread: Roadnav User report - A Free GPS solution for the Mac

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    Roadnav User report - A Free GPS solution for the Mac

    I just returned from a 300 mile trip and decided to give Roadnav, the open source GPS solution a try.

    [Edit: There might be a problem with linking the pictures. Either click on the box with the question mark in it or go here for the album: http://picasaweb.google.com/tberry0916/Roadnav]

    The Conclusion
    I'll cut to the chase and give you the conclusion first. Roadnav works, it is free, and you can actually use it to navigate with. It's slow, doesn't always work correctly, and isn't as advanced as the for purchase Windows software. It shows great promise and I hope it will continue to be developed. Oh yeah, the price can't be beat.

    The conditions
    I used two packages for back to back comparisons of free GPS solutions on the Mac. First, I used Google Earth with the GPS2GE program. This works fine but you can't cache all the maps you need to and you have to preplan the route to cache the data. See my report here for more detail.

    On the return trip, I used Roadnav. My setup is a PPC Mac Mini, 512mb RAM, bluetooth/WiFi, generic Royaltek Sapphire GPS, 8" Xenarc screen.

    The course was from Herndon, VA to Corning, NY, approximately 290 miles and 5-6 hours driving time.

    Setting Up Roadnav
    Below is a screenshot of Roadnav running in the parking lot of a Comfort Inn in Chantilly.



    Why would I be in the parking lot of a Comfort Inn 'borrowing' their net connection? Well, one of the things you must do with Roadnav is download the maps necessary for it to work. If you live in the USA, this is easy. Built in to the Roadnav software are links to the Tiger road mapping data that is maintained by the government and is freely available from a server. All you do is select the data you want (by county) and download it. It takes a few minutes, but it worked easily for me.

    Getting my GPS connected to Roadnav was fairly easy, but there was one trick. My GPS is a generic device. It has a driver for it and it connect via a USB to serial port connection. I've installed a product called GPSD that allows you to share the GPS with several applications, as long as they support GPSD. Since GPSD is open source, products like Roadnav support GPSD. Since I had already configured my GPS to work with GPSD, I checked the box in the preferences that said GPSD.

    As soon as I did that, Roadnav complained to me that my version of GPSD was old and that it had failed a query test with Roadnav. I unchecked the box that said "test compatibility" and Roadnav found the GPS and it showed up on the map! Whatever the issue was, it wasn't fatal. During my test, I shared GPS output with Roadnav and Kismet, a wardriving program that uses GPSD to log locations or hotspots. This worked great, as you can see from the image below. I used Kismet to output a KML file to Google Earth and you can see that a lot of my neighbors need to secure their networks.



    As you can see, Roadnav has an easy to use interface that is set up for touch screen use. Most of what you need is onscreen and you can zoom in and out easily, if you wish.

    However, Roadnav also has a nice auto-zoom feature that will zoom the map out as you go faster, and zoom it in as you slow down. Here's an image of it zoomed in as I refueled at a gas station in Thurmont, MD.



    Note that the detail level is 10 and the location is accurate. The location box is a nice feature of Roadnav that basically lets you know where you are at all times. It's good if you are talking to someone on a cellphone and they ask where you are. Rather than saying, "I'm on route 15," you can say, "I'm near Thurmont."

    Roadnav also has a 3D mode, like the big boys do. It works reasonably well, but after using it for awhile, I preferred the 2D overhead view. As you can also see, the map moves along with the GPS location. It is a little jerky, but it isn't hard to follw or anything.



    Roadnav also has a night skin that you can automatically set to change at sunset. The sun set during my trip and Roadnav switched over to the night skin at 4:57. Nice.



    Roadnav also has a window you can open that shows all of the nearby locations. The image below shows the window in use



    The nearby locations window is cool but it flashes continuously as it updates, so it's a little annoying. However, it has lots of locations and stuff nearby, although there is no search function so you could, for example, set it to show gas stations or restaurants.

    The Ugly
    This is a FREE software product that is essentially beta. I tried using the 'Get directions' function to map out a route to my house so I could get turn-by-turn directions. Supposedly, Roadnav will pop up a window telling you when a turn is coming up and it can also use the speech generator to verbalize the instructions. Unfortunately, when I tried to route to my street address, it would work on it for awhile with the progress bar getting about 1/3 of the way across the screen, then hang. I tried it several times and at different points in the route, but got the same results.

    Roadnav also has an option for using aerial photos from the USGS online archives. About 2/3 of the way through my trip, I got curious about using this feature and enabled it. I got an immediate syntax error that would reappear the second I clicked "okay". Then it would reappear endlessly, over and over and over so quickly that you couldn't shut off the aerial photo view before the error reappeared. I had to pull over, close the program, and relaunch it. That didn't fix the problem, so I dove into the prefs file and found the AerialPhotos=1 line and set it to zero. That fixed it, but I'm not sure the average user would know how to do that.

    Roadnav is slooooow. But not so much that it isn't worth using. However, the updates to the screen sometimes take the form of a simple road display followed a few seconds later by a full display of the nearby rivers and so forth. Sometimes those details will inextricably disappear for a few seconds, then reappear.

    The interface is pretty ugly and the graphics don't look as nice as some programs I've used. On the other hand, I paid zero for the program and I know this app is a major accomplishment, so I'm not really complaining about the appearance other than to say that it would be nice to be able to set the size of the labels and route signs so you could see them better.

    Also, the zoom feature worked pretty well but sometimes it would zoom way out for no apparent reason other than it may have been busy when I passed one of the speed zoom out thresholds and it was trying to catch up. It just seemed a little inconsistent. However, it wasn't really any worse than my old Delorme Street Atlas program.

    The Verdict
    I'll use Roadnav again. It worked well, particularly in 2D mode and I was able to follow my progress pretty easily with it. I'd recommend allowing users to adjust more of the map display elements, but I'd say it's a usable program right now. If you want a native Mac GPS moving map solution, Roadnav not only does it for you, it does it for free.

    However, Roadnav is not yet competitive with the professional offerings such as iGuidance. Map movement is a bit jerky and the graphics could use improvements. Also, make sure you've downloaded the maps ahead of time or you'll find yourself driving on a black background!

    Roadnav shows great promise. I'll be following its development closely.
    Quote Originally Posted by ghettocruzer View Post
    I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
    Want to:
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    Maximum Bitrate BarryWoods's Avatar
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    Uhh, what pictures??
    Failure is not an option....



    It's installed by default on every version of Windows.

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    Maximum Bitrate pepsibobby's Avatar
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    Cant code cause I dont know how, but give me the paint bucket and my eraser and have at you!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bugbyte View Post
    I just returned from a 300 mile trip and decided to give Roadnav, the open source GPS solution a try.

    However, Roadnav is not yet competitive with the professional offerings such as iGuidance. Map movement is a bit jerky and the graphics could use improvements. Also, make sure you've downloaded the maps ahead of time or you'll find yourself driving on a black background!

    Roadnav shows great promise. I'll be following its development closely.
    Thanks for the review Bugbyte. I've installed it & it's found my bluetooth receiver ok. Now I need to work out how to get a UK map into it :-)

    I'm browsing via Safari 2 here, & where the pic's should be, there's a box with a ? inside, but clicking on those I see the pic's just fine, so not sure why you fellas aren't seeing them.

    john

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    What version of roadnav did you use? 0.16 was supposded to fix a lot of issues. and i think the "slownest" factor could be due to the fact that you have PPC box, on my Intel box seems to work fairly quick, although i still didn't try it on the road with GPS.

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    I actually used roadnav about a year ago when I drove from California to North Carolina during our move out here. The version I used was 0.09something and it was on a Linux box. If you think the slowness is bad now, you should have tried it then. I was actually working with the developer (Richard) back then to help him port it over to Mac. Actually I just did the testing. It was pretty unusable on my G3 700 Mhz iBook (hence the reason I drove across country with a Linux box. The program has actually come a LONG way since then.

    As Bugbyte pointed out, you do need to plan out your route ahead of time and download the appropriate maps. Unfortunately this is a product of using the US Census Tiger data. Another problem is that it can't determine whether a road is one-way or not (also a limitation of the Tiger data). I haven't tried it lately but there was also an issue where you had to be extremely precise when it came to entering a destination address. The Tiger data is quite inconsistant when it comes to naming streets. Sometimes parts of the street names are abbreviated and sometimes they aren't (1234 N. Main St. or 1234 North Main Street). Like I said, I haven't tried this lately so the program my compensate for that now.

    One thing that is nice is the ability to download maps on the fly (if you have an internet connection). If you have a 2 button mouse (or some way of simulating a right click) you can simply right click a blank area and it will download the map for you. It also has a nice on-screen keyboard for entering data. Whenever the keyboard is available simply click the "Keyboard" button at the bottom of the dialog box and the screen pops up (one of my suggestions :-) ).

    All in all it IS a good program. It's biggest downfall is the data source. The Tiger data is usable to a point but is very limited. It only covers the US and it's territories and it doesn't contain road directions (it doesn't see a problem with driving the wrong way down a divided interstate). It would also be nice if the program were skinable but as Bugbyte mentioned, You sure can't beat the price.

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    Quote Originally Posted by metalac View Post
    What version of roadnav did you use? 0.16 was supposded to fix a lot of issues. and i think the "slownest" factor could be due to the fact that you have PPC box, on my Intel box seems to work fairly quick, although i still didn't try it on the road with GPS.
    I'm using version .16. When I say it is slow, it's probably an exaggeration. It's a little sluggish to zoom in and out. When tracking during driving, it wasn't sluggish

    As far as hanging when routing, I've tried several variations using ST, St, St. Street, and so forth with no success. However, I just tried entering the coordinates and it did work! It's a pain to have to know the GPS location of every place you want to go, but at least I can try the routing options out.
    Quote Originally Posted by ghettocruzer View Post
    I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
    Want to:
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    Maximum Bitrate BarryWoods's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bugbyte View Post
    I'm using version .16. When I say it is slow, it's probably an exaggeration. It's a little sluggish to zoom in and out. When tracking during driving, it wasn't sluggish

    As far as hanging when routing, I've tried several variations using ST, St, St. Street, and so forth with no success. However, I just tried entering the coordinates and it did work! It's a pain to have to know the GPS location of every place you want to go, but at least I can try the routing options out.
    Still no pics...
    Failure is not an option....



    It's installed by default on every version of Windows.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bugbyte View Post
    ...However, Roadnav also has a nice auto-zoom feature that will zoom the map out as you go faster, and zoom it in as you slow down. Here's an image of it zoomed in as I refueled at a gas station in Thurmont, MD....
    After using Route66 for a while, I thought that he would be great to have an auto-zoom feature. I suggest this feature to RouteBuddy's team. I thought I had a great idea :-) now I see that it already exist. Still, a very good news.

    Thank you again BugByte, for this very complete report. I will put a link to your report in my web site. You talk about everything I wanted to know.

    Is there another one you are planning to Road test?
    Help me keep my web site up to date.
    Mac-Mini in Passat

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    Is there another one you are planning to Road test?
    I'm not paying money for RouteBuddy until you can use it to get directions from one place to another.

    Roadnav already has more features than RouteBuddy, is more usable in a touch screen environment, and it's free. It's not as good looking, but it is under active development and I'd expect it to improve with time.

    I don't have another GPS solution to test unless you know of one. I'm making another trip over Thanksgiving.
    Quote Originally Posted by ghettocruzer View Post
    I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
    Want to:
    -Find out about the new iBug iPad install?
    -Find out about carPC's in just 5 minutes? View the Car PC 101 video

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