New Favorite Toy

I’ve been getting into GPS technology recently. I bought a Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS watch for running, which is excellent (recommended by Mike Chambers and Phillip Torrone), and then I bought what I believe is the ultimate GPS device: the Garmin iQue 3600.

The iQue has all the features of a standard hand-held GPS, and then some. First of all, it’s built on top of the Palm 5 platform, so not only do you get all the features of a Palm, but the features of the Palm and the GPS are very well integrated, allowing you automatically look up waypoints from the Address Book, and to associate waypoints with Address Book entries. That means you can basically look up someone’s address like you normally would, then tell the unit to show you how to get to the address, either from the exact spot where you are standing, or from any other waypoint. It won’t just show you, though. It will draw a scalable map, give you MapQuest-like driving directions, and/or literally tell you in a very nice female voice (actually, the voice is configurable) how to get there as you are walking or driving. And, of course, it will track every aspect of your trip along the way.

But that’s not all the iQue can do. Some of the other advantages of combining a GPS with a Palm is that you have much better input than you typically get on a dedicated GPS device. And the screen is much larger with much better resolution than most (if not all) other hand-held GPS units. You also get a much faster processor, and far more memory since you can drop a 256MB SD card into the unit, and load enough detail maps for probably 25% of the entire country (in addition to base maps).

The iQue also has some cool location based features. If you are hungry, you can not only look for restaurants nearby, but you can filter by type of food, get the phone number for making reservations, and, of course, get directions/map/etc. In addition to restaurants, you can quickly look up cities, addresses, intersections, points of interest, and areas associated with lodging, attractions, entertainment, shopping, services, transportation, emergencies, manmade structures, water, land, anchorage, facilities (bathrooms), fishing sites, navigation aids, marine services, restricted areas, wrecks and obstructs, and tides. Whenever you find a place that is noteworthy, simply create a waypoint, give it a custom name and icon, and find your way back with just a few quick taps. This will come in very handy the next time I’m searching for my car at the mall.

The iQue 3600 can track up to 12 satellites at a time, supports WAAS technology, and can accommodate an external antenna. It can show you the positions of all the satellites it can find along with the position of the sun and the moon, and naturally, it has a built-in compas, altimeter, and clock synchronized with the time and date as broadcasted by the GPS satellites. Those are all the major features, I believe, though there are actually several other features I haven’t even gotten a chance to play with yet.

I’m in Newton, MA right now with Scott Fegette, and we spent over an hour out on the lawn behind the hotel playing with this thing, completely amazed by it. Does it actually work? So far, absolutely. I’ve been able to locate every address I’ve looked up so far, and within minutes, created waypoints to all my friends’ and relatives’ houses. Wherever I’ve turned it on, within minutes, I’ve been able to get a detailed map of exactly where I’m standing, and everything that’s around me. Amazing.

Although I believe the iQue is probably one of the very best GPS units available (and is very affordable, by the way), it isn’t perfect. As a PDA, it feels much cheaper than my Clie UX50 (plastic versus metal), however I’m guessing the plastic is better suited to sitting in the sun for long periods of time on my dashboard. The UI is also not as intuitive as it could be. It has actually taken me quite a bit of playing around to feel comfortable with the device, and I have even resorted to consulting the documentation a few times! It also assumes that all the routing you want to do is from your current location to someplace else rather than making it easy to create a route between two arbitrary points while not receiving a GPS signal (it’s possible to do, but not easy). Tracking multiple satellites and using WAAS at the same time also really uses a lot of battery. Scott and I used a little less than half the battery while playing with the unit for a little over an hour. As long as you have the car adapter for trips, however, that’s actually not too bad.

The next GPS device I want to check out: the Suunto x9 GPS watch!