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Palm GPS Navigator Smartphone Edition 2

Tue Mar 18, 2008 - 12:10 PM EDT - By Jay Gross


Some people never know where they’re going or how to get there, and sometimes the rest of us get lost. My father ran a country store two miles from where tourists should have turned left to keep from going out into the boonies. By the time they got to the store, they figured something was wrong and stopped to ask for directions. I can still hear him teasing, “Sorry, you can’t get there from here.”

Now you can. You don’t even have to stop and ask my father the devoted jokester for directions, or buy any Toms Vanilla Cookies or engage in any chit chat before sidling around to pop your question. GPS systems make “a mile down the wrong highway” a thing of the past, and Palm’s GPS Navigator Smartphone Edition brings this joy to your Treo. And your car.

This kit works with Treo 650, 700p, the 700w family, or 680. It will not work with the Centro or the Treo 755p, because the included SD card won’t fit into those devices. For this review, I’ve evaluated only the Palm OS version of the program on my (crimson!) Treo 680. I did go to the trouble of preparing a microSDHC Card to test usability on my Centro. The application reported that it is not compatible with the Centro’s version of Palm OS and then reset the device for the first time since I got it. I conclude the program won’t work on Centro.

What you get

  • SiRFstarIII GPS device – it’s that little silver box in the pictures. This gizmo receives positional information from the GPS satellites. Admirably small, the receiver is this week’s technology, sensitive enough to work in places you wouldn’t expect it to.
  • Charging cable. This octopus look-alike powers your Treo and the GPS receiver using your car’s DC power. Its “Y” cord means it will occupy only one DC outlet, which is all most vehicles have. Thoughtful.
  • USB (to mini USB plug) charging cable for receiver. Also considerate.
  • Gooseneck. This twistable, bendable arm attaches the cradle to your car’s dash or windshield, or whatever other suitable surface. It has a suction cup fitting on one end and grabbers on the other that hold a cradle for your phone.
  • Dashboard mount. This adhesive-pad-equipped, shallow plastic plate glues to the dash and provides a flat surface for the suction cup to grip.
  • Two snap-on, interchangeable cradles. The smaller one works with the Treo 680; the larger one with the spring-loaded side grips fits the Treo 650, 700w|wx, or 700p.
  • Manuals, a DVD-Rom, a quick start guide, and other paperwork.
  • SD card (1 GB capacity) containing maps and points of interest database, plus the TomTom software (v6). You can remove items from this card or customize your own, perhaps larger capacity, SD card with the install program on the included DVD-Rom. The software requires Windows or Macintosh computers, an internet connection, and patience. I tested it only on Windows XP Professional.
  • USB SD Card reader. This fits into a USB port in your computer, so you can update the contents of the maps and points of interest. You don’t need this if you already have a card reader or a slot in your computer for SD Cards.

Installation is simple. Turn Bluetooth on (Prefs > Bluetooth > ON), put the TomTom SD Card into the Treo, and tap the “Navigator” icon. This installs the application and instigates a setup process in which you get to set some preferences – adjustable later if you want and play the program activation and software registration game by TomTom’s rules. Or else.

How it works

The receiver consults the GPS satellites, which fly around broadcasting where they are and what time it is. It figures out where you are on the planet by triangulating their positions relative to where it finds their signals. It then transmits this information over Bluetooth. The TomTom software in your Treo applies the latitude/longitude position to the maps you’ve selected and formulates the display.

You don’t need to know anything about lat/lon or use it. From the maps, the software knows about streets and points of interest. It defaults to issuing turn-by-turn directions by voice for navigating to a destination: “Take the second right.” You can choose from a potload of languages and different voices, or just turn that feature off.

The software gets its map information for U.S.A, Canada, and Guam off a full sized SD card that comes in the kit. Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico maps are also included on the DVD and with the included software can be easily copied to the card. The maps remain available as long as the SD Card is in the Treo. So, the system will work where your cell phone won’t, since it does not have to access any websites or talk to any cell phone towers to obtain the data it needs, even the maps.

This is a great plan. It means you can tell where you are, even if your cell provider can’t – on a hiking trail, for example, far from any cell tower. The device does have to be able to “see” the satellites, so don’t expect too much inside a building or in the subway. After the first acquisition (a few minutes), refreshes are seamlessly fast. You’d have to have a super-lead foot to outstrip the GPS’s performance. The software very kindly warns of impending turns, and even advises occasionally which lane to use.


The highly respected TomTom software comes with the Palm GPS Navigator Kit, and like the SiRFstarIII receiver, it warrants bragging. The feature list is so long, I’m only going to highlight the best stuff. For example:

  • Calculate your arrival time, even considering any delays along the way.
  • Speed limits, so you’ll know how fast to claim you were going when the Smokies get you.
  • Find restaurants, fuel stops, and attractions along the way (points of interest).
  • Safety Lock feature turns off some menu options so you won’t be tempted to use them while driving.
  • Plot routes according to mode of travel. For example, bicycle routing avoids freeways, and foot route ignores traffic restrictions like one-way streets.
  • Night mode display.

Things to watch out for

  • The TomTom manual points out that some states forbid attaching anything to the windshield or side windows, and of course that’s where the attach-to-glass mount wants the Treo to go. Before you follow the examples pictured in the Quick Start Guide, check with your local Powers That Be lest the powers that carry little blue ticketbooks impede your travels.
  • Newer cars put a heat shield in the glass that can prevent the receiver from getting through to the GPS satellites. Apparently my 1991 Honda Accord isn’t one of them. Whew! The manual suggests finding a non-shielded part of the windshield, like behind the rearview mirror, for the receiver to peek out.
  • As always, for things that you use while driving, be careful!. Best not to get where you’re going by way of the nearest emergency room. TomTom makes you agree to safety assurances every time it starts up.
  • The two devices have to stay within Bluetooth range, and real-world functionality for Treo Bluetooth is generally lower than the claimed 30 feet. If you’re getting no readings, it might because the Treo can’t “see” the receiver’s Bluetooth signal. I had no trouble with the receiver in my shirt pocket while the Treo lay on the passenger seat. With the 680 in a case, however, the Bluetooth signal didn’t get through.

I put my home address in and wandered around the city to test the software. I went to much trouble to confuse the thing along the way, and came home impressed with the usefulness and performance of the kit. When I took a wrong turn, the device calmly instructed me to turn, even make a U-turn, to correct the error. Even a circuitous side trip didn’t matter. It picked the next available through street and directed a turn onto it like an uncharacteristically courteous backseat driver. This means it’s recalculating a route to the destination, based on your actual position, not just trying to direct you back to the original route. Excellent.


The TomTom software doesn’t use much of the Treo’s user interface. I wish it did. For example, a simple pull down menu would be much simpler to operate during a trip than having to wade through the screens of icons. In particular, a menu would allow much easier switching from 3-D view to map view. No need to put this in for me. I didn’t like, and couldn’t relate to the 3-D streets – a big feature that’s wasted on me.

I’d also wish for a “suspend” option – nicely accessible from a pull down menu – to permit a quick side trip, like going around a traffic snarl or, in my case, dropping off a friend at her house several blocks off my planned route. This wasn’t a problem, since I didn’t need directions, but I had to put up with “Turn left” and “Make a U-turn” while I strayed from the GPS’s appointed path.

Hints and help

The system includes extensive hints that you can turn off when they’re no longer needed. The included, multi-lingual manuals divide the installation and familiarization processes logically, and cover the basics simply and effectively. Additional support is available from Palm and TomTom. PDF versions of the manuals are available from this page – scroll down till you see “TomTom Navigator 6.”

If you take your Palm GPS with you when you travel outside the United States, you’ll need different maps. Many are available for purchase from TomTom’s website. So says the webpage:

Ever feel the world around you is changing faster than ever? That’s because it is! Each year an average of 15 percent of roads and 20 percent of Points of Interest change…. To give you an idea, the latest map of Western Europe has an additional 80,000 km of road and 2,800 extra POIs, while the new map of Eastern Europe has an additional 174,000 km of road and 20,000 extra POIs.

The kit’s cost is quite reasonable, $199.95, but additional maps are expensive. For example, the map of Western Europe costs 59.95 UK pounds, which converts to around $121.71 US at this writing, besides any currency charges your charge card company imposes. Moreover, it eats 944 megabytes. If you buy more maps, you might have to supply additional SD Cards to put them on. At least you don’t have to figure out how to re-fold them, or read across the worn folds after they’ve been abused.

In the first ten minutes looking around, I found an error in TomTom’s Points of Interest list for my area. The Newberry Opera House, a fabulous venue for entertainment, not just opera, is mistakenly identified as the SC Opera Company. The address is correct, but the name is wrong.

I’ve been touting the device’s usefulness in a car, but don’t forget hiking and biking. You’d also find it handy in an RV, on a boat, or stapled to your riding lawn mower if you’ve opted for one of those huge Montana ranches.


The well chosen parts of Palm GPS Navigator kit comprise a versatile system that is especially friendly to automobiles. The included TomTom software is stellar, and the performance of the receiver is legendary. However, before you depend on the thing to guide your travels, be sure you know how to operate the software, and set it all up in advance, not in traffic. Spend some time learning the program and put in your home address so you can simply use the “Home” button to return.

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Design 4
Usability 4
User Interface 4
Cost/Benefit 5
(not an average)
  • Map information for United States, Canada, and Guam included on a 1-gigabyte SD card.
  • Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico maps supplied on included DVD-Rom; additional world maps available for purchase
  • Data service not required to obtain maps, but traffic and some other features need it
  • Car mount included
  • Fast response
  • Versatile choices for mounting in a vehicle
  • Simultaneous charging of Treo and GPS device with the included cable
  • Cons
  • SD card not as dynamic as OTA for points of interest
  • Treo 680 mounting plate stays a little loose
  • Mounting plates do not have soft lining
  • Arduous software and map registration and activation process requires Internet-capable computer

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