Author Topic: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience  (Read 723 times)

Offline mebgardner

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Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« on: February 11, 2018, 06:36:18 pm »
I started a thread a couple months ago, asking for other opinions and experiences with this idea, with me thinking about doing it.

I desired a tablet that would dispense with my having a dedicated GPS device (Garmin et al), and have a screen large enough and bright enough to see from the saddle with my tired old eyes, sans glasses.

Well, grab a cup and have a seat and I'll relate my experience now.

You can see I decided to go ahead with the idea. Let me say upfront, for those who want the bottomline at the top, that tablets and their related SW, are not ready for this task. Not ready across a number of different points.

OK, here we go, now to the details of why I believe that.

Here's a list of the HW and SW that I mounted up:

HW:

Samsung Tab S2, 8 inch Super AMOLED display, 4000mA Hr battery, 32 GB Internal Flash, 3 GB Internal RAM, Model SM-T713NZKEXAR  with
Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) auto-upgraded to 7.1.2 (Nougat). (BestBuy).
Supcase Unicorn Beetle Pro Heavy Duty case. (Amazon)
Supershieldz tempered glass screen protector (Amazon)
RAM Mount RAP-B-347U 2.0 x 1.7" base with 1" Ball. (Amazon)
RAM Mount RAM-B-408-37-62U 3/8" to 5/8" Mini Rail Base. (Amazon)
Hondo Garage Big Squeeze Tablet Mount. (Hondo Garage).
YonHan SAE to Dual USB, 2.1A & 2.1 A, with Voltmeter, and Fused. (Amazon)

Nav SW:

BackCountry Navigator for Android.
Rever for Android.
HERE WeGo for Android.

Misc SW:
Screen Always On.


I adopted an 8 inch screen device. I considered a 10 inch screen, and decided it took up too much real estate above the cycle instruments. It would not have helped the outcome.

I also decided on a "non-tower" approach. That was apossibility too, but they are very expensive to build, and I am not that interested in Rally with this cycle. So, something simpler than a Rally Tower.

I wanted the device to be capable enough for use off the cycle, not a dedicated GPS nav device. I also wanted the best / brightest and fastest screen update possible, within budget (about $600.00 total for everything).

I was wary of the "ultra thin" Samsung devices, from reading about ease of flexing breakage. There were other cheaper devices in the same size, but when digging in, I found most had reported hardware failures of the SD Card slot, or the power jack (USB-C), or something. It was always something. I really wanted the bright display of the Samsung units, and so I closed the deal on one of those, and bought the insurance for a year.

I looked at the Tab E, the Tab A, and the Tab S2 models. The "E" model was not fast enough (low end), The "A" model did not have the AMOLED screen , and less memory (16 GB .vs 32 GB).

I selected the S2 for the display, the battery life, the memory amounts, and the clocking speed.

I spent time with it in my hands at the store. I had serious doubts about the display glass when I discovered it is polarized. I routinely wear polarized sunglasses while riding, and they could make the S2 screen almost black in some orientations. I said, F It, and bought it anyway. It was a serious mistake come later, but not the only one.

The Hondo Garage mounting cradle hardware is a finely crafted bit. I was warned off several times from the RAM X-Grip. Friends have had their phones lost and / or mangled even with the tether. There's some wrtiteups about this X-Grip as well, they basically all say the same thing.

The Big Squeeze cradle, though, I would take that into *any* off-road situation and trust it would keep my tablet secure. The RAM ball-and-arm is also up to the task. No serious vibration problems.

I'll talk about the use during riding now.

I am disappointed on a few fronts, and I'll describe each:
Screen brightness.
Displayed Nav Stability.
Battery Life.
Software Capability.


Screen Brightness:
Nothing can match a dedicated GPS yet for brightness. Even the best tablet device looks unreadable in even indirect sunlight. I had the device set to "full time uber-bright", and I could see the display only when passing under shade (a tree, a sign, some form of shade onto the screen), or sometimes when the angle of sunlight was "just right" and off the screen face. The rest of the time, I could not see the displayed map. Part of this is related to my use of polarizing sunglasses, and also helmet face shield. Part of it is, the display in direct sunlight is just not that bright.

Possible solutions: Ditch sunglasses. Ditch face shield.

Displayed Nav Stability:
Worded strangely, huh? Small backstory: The tablet is WiFi Only, no telecom streaming. Also, one of my requirements for this system is "Unaided GPS Nav Only". That is, no internet for position or guidance: satellite nav only. So, my use case is: Download maps, then turn off WiFi, then begin ride and nav. Well, the device displays the map in a wildly swinging arc about a quarter of the time. That is, The compass (direction) bearing, and the map, being shown will swing through up to 90 degrees, back and forth, while the nav algorithm tries to arrive at the bearing solution. Sometimes it's stable and not swinging. In those cases, the compass direction bearing is generally accurate. Otherwise, it's impossible to figure out what direction I was  headed. The position point info was always good though. That placed me on the correct road, at the correct position on the road. Remember, this is only when I can actually *see* the display.

Possible solutions: Change device / cradle position orientation to be "more horizontal", less vertical (would have screen pointing more "up").

Battery Life:
From testing around the house, I was estimating 10-12 hrs. of "GPS Only" navigation time per charge. Nope! I got 3 hrs, then the device quit mid-ride. Would not reboot (uh-oh!). Battery died. Apparently, I did not invoke GPS system heavily enough walking around the house.

Possible solutions: Connect to cycle power (in work, maybe issues related to vibration on the power connector later).

Software Capability:
I had to go looking for a SW application that would allow me to:
Download maps for offline use,
Accept (Download) a Track from a GPX file type, and display it for Track Nav during Use,
Provide GPS Like Navigation when using the App,
Not Charge an Arm / Leg for the App.

Apparently, I was asking a lot. I looked at numerous SW apps for Android. Most wanted on-line access to network during use. Some would do off-line, but charged monthly fees for the privilege (cough, Rever, cough). Here's the kicker: None of them will use the other's mapping files. They each want their unique map files, in their unique formats. These files are huge, *enormous*. If you choose more than one app, which I had to do because no one package would do all that I wanted, then for off-line use, it means doubling / tripling up on the map data files. All that GB of device memory? Poof! Consumed!


OK, well, that's the long of it.

The short of it? I'm discouraged. I've sunk a bundle into sorting through all the issues: Selection, mounting, power, apps, etc ad nauseum.

I'm not much closer to having something usable, from the saddle, off-line, out in the boonies mode.

My .02?

For Now, Get a dedicated GPS, don't look back.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2018, 06:43:53 pm by mebgardner »
2016 ST, Non-ES, Power Commander PCFC, Seat Concepts, Rox 2" Risers w/ OEM lines, Aux: ADVMonster 44W LEDS and Dimmer, HL: NightEye H7 50W LEDs, Eastern Beaver CS3, Givi TN355 crash bars, Skene Designs Photon Blaster LEDs, Knight Design Wide Hunter lowering pegs, Denali SoundBlaster w/ Twisted Throttle horn mount, SW Motech Evo Side Racks, Saddleman X-Jumbo Cruiser Soft Bags, Hepco Becker Rear Rack, Hepco Becker Junior 45 Rear Top Case, MRA X-creen Tour, OEM reg. shield and bracket, OEM side wind deflectors, RideOn Tire additive, 0.55 in. LED eBay Voltmeter, Battery tender. Hit-Air Airbag Vest, Motoport 3/4 Length 3 Layer Jacket with Quad Armor Upgrade, EVS G6 Mesh Armor (summer), Revit 2 Layer Mesh Pants, A* Corozal Boots, Shoei Hornet X2, Garmin Zumo 550 GPS.

Offline terrysig

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2018, 12:19:08 pm »
Pics of the set up when/if you get a chance please?
DoD #1225 - Denizens Forever

Offline mebgardner

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2018, 04:41:52 pm »
You're right, but I'm not taking any, sorry.

I gave the 8" Samsung back to Best Buy today. No questions asked, they gave me the refund.

I'm on to look for two different devices: A 10" tablet for use off-bike, and a dedicated GPS for use on-bike.

Oh Well...
2016 ST, Non-ES, Power Commander PCFC, Seat Concepts, Rox 2" Risers w/ OEM lines, Aux: ADVMonster 44W LEDS and Dimmer, HL: NightEye H7 50W LEDs, Eastern Beaver CS3, Givi TN355 crash bars, Skene Designs Photon Blaster LEDs, Knight Design Wide Hunter lowering pegs, Denali SoundBlaster w/ Twisted Throttle horn mount, SW Motech Evo Side Racks, Saddleman X-Jumbo Cruiser Soft Bags, Hepco Becker Rear Rack, Hepco Becker Junior 45 Rear Top Case, MRA X-creen Tour, OEM reg. shield and bracket, OEM side wind deflectors, RideOn Tire additive, 0.55 in. LED eBay Voltmeter, Battery tender. Hit-Air Airbag Vest, Motoport 3/4 Length 3 Layer Jacket with Quad Armor Upgrade, EVS G6 Mesh Armor (summer), Revit 2 Layer Mesh Pants, A* Corozal Boots, Shoei Hornet X2, Garmin Zumo 550 GPS.

Offline Checkswrecks

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2018, 04:48:33 pm »
Totally understand and feel for you. Thanks for the lesson.
Damascus, MD
XTZ1200, KTM 690R

Offline terrysig

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2018, 06:44:23 pm »
Thanks for the reply. I was thinking your setup sounded solid but the technology is not there yet. It may be some day.
DoD #1225 - Denizens Forever

Offline Heresjeff

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2018, 06:59:14 pm »
Pics or it never happened..... well maybe that's how you want it to be.


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Offline Checkswrecks

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2018, 08:37:57 pm »
Hard for him to take pix when he returned the device.

Damascus, MD
XTZ1200, KTM 690R

Offline Hfjeff

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2018, 10:05:35 pm »
Thanks for the in depth testing and post.  I was looking at doing this exact same thing, but have not purchased any mounts yet.  I have an older LG tablet with cellular that I use in the car all the time as a GPS and it works great.  But based on your testing I will pass on using it on the bike.  Thanks for the info.
2016 Yamaha Super Tenere ES
2007 Yamaha Zuma (wifes ride but I maintain)

Online Wallkeeper

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2018, 08:44:42 am »
GREAT write up, Thank you!  I have been considering going down the same road and I can now save myself the effort

General comment on Polarized lenses.....I hate them.  I have worn prescriptions since I was 7.   When I got my first pair of polarized lenses I was seeing patterns in tempered glass, rainbows when doubled down on other polarized lenses and color distortion like crazy.  My first MC windshield made me think I was on LSD.   The solution?   Actually fairly simple, order custom lenses non-polarized.  With non prescription glasses it takes a bit more effort but if you go to some one like Coastal Contacts, you can order prescription lenses with ZERO correction and non polarized tinting.  Additionally, the clarity of the zero prescription lenses is better than 95% of the commercial sunglasses sold

Thanks again
Wally
2015 Super Ten
1974 Yamaha DT 360
1972 Suzuki GT 550

Offline mebgardner

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2018, 06:36:01 pm »
I was still jonesing for a GPS Nav system, and started digging into dedicated GPS devices. I was looking for an off road (ADV+DualSport) and off-grid (no cell tower connection) capability as a prime requirement. That meant a mechanically robust housing, and cradle, and connector for power support. Most of the newer ones get fair reviews, but not rave reviews. I can not decide if that's the same fractured splintering going on with what seems like every other detail of life around America, or if it's really just a matter of fair opinion. I can't tell.

I focused on the "heavies": Garmin and TomTom. But, there is another that did not surface until much later in my searches: TrailTech. I think maybe they don't get much press because their only GPS offering to date is soooo primitive. That's about to change with the Vapor Pro model, but at $600.00 and too many unknowns about the system details at this date, I decided to pass on it. I did ask them, and never received a reply.

Back to TomTom. The model 400 seems well received, but too many reviews of water leaky screens, "per capita". Not many details available about their SW tools. Overall fair to good reviews on the portals I looked through. It (the GPS / mount / power connection system) did not / does not appear to be robust enough to support off road conditions, and I was not getting the impression that anyone was using them in that manner. At the system price, I kept moving along...

On to Garmin. They have an enormous GPS model line, everything from handhelds to aviation tablets. I focused on two variants: The Nuvi line, which motorcycle folks have been making waterproof for years (this is not difficult. a couple hours effort, and it would be good to go), and their motorcycle GPS line. Garmin has a "Love Them or Hate Them" aura. Folks despise that they do not routinely upgrade their product line, and that they drop previous features that folks have grown to love, from the new models. I can understand this sentiment. I react the same way when learning a new cell phone and it's complicated feature set. For the motorcycle GPS line, the latest is the Montana.

Many are buying old Nuvi as disposable units and carry two or three when heading off into the bush. At $20-30 each, this is outstanding value. Break one, pop in the next. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. However, they do not handle Route or Track management with a SW tools line (AKA Basecamp). There's no Software planning suite. No track or route management. No way to share those lovely off road track files with friends. I thought about it, and passed on this Nuvi idea.

The newer models are a mixed bag. It seems everyone is crying for their favorite smart phone feature to be included, and whine when it's not included. Or, a favorite feature is dropped. Mostly, though, it was a mixed bag of quality control on them. You and I know these devices are gonna see more abuse than the typical auto use-case. They need to be rugged, and waterproof when they claim waterproof. They need to have stone reliable connector systems. Bright, direct daylight readable screens, with polarization from glasses or visor a "don't care". Touch screens that don't go nuts if you have to brush off the dust from the screen. For the folks who need route planning services, a suite of software tools that allows it. Maps that fit in memory. Good maps that have sufficient detail, yet file size not so large as to be unwieldy.

Believe it or not, I had to step back to a model almost 10 years old now, to find this system. I bought it used, and I'm pleased to discover that it was in excellent condition. But, I'm a bit of a dinosaur. I can live without turn-by-turn Bluetooth paired headsets for directions. I use a separate Bluetooth device for music and / or pillion comms., so I don't need it via the GPS. The software tools are cumbersome, and a steep but thankfully short (for me) learning curve. I can do without the cell tower GPS-A (Assisted GPS) nav solution, standalone GPS works fine for me. Tricky map file management is required because of track and / or route import conversion, by the GPS, into the GPS memory. It performs a "neutering" of the imported track files, under the hood. Tracks with nav resolution of 1000's of "breadcrumb" points, become coarse resolution "custom" routes with a max of 250 points per route upon track import. Think of a 10 MB JPEG picture at 600 DPI becoming a 30 KB JPEG at 17 DPI, that kind of idea. Horrible.

Anyway, with all these limitations, it has an incredible robust mount and power connector system. It has a daylight readable 5 inch color touch screen with very good display resolution. That display does not care about the polarization of my glasses. It is waterproof enough that folks don't talk about it. It has an SDHC expansion memory card slot, that works with large (I think 32 GB max, not sure) format. I can adjust the screen sensitivity so that I can swipe the dirt off the screen, and not change anything. Everybody who uses one of these seems to love it for our particular niche. I have a niche in a niche, because I insist on off road and off grid capability. So, I'm that purple squirrel that sweated the details and arrived at something that will work. For Me.

Fortunately, I found a good unit from a reliable seller. It's 10 years old thereabouts, and looks ready to go another 10. After 3 days of just about all day experimentation with the software tools for map and track file management and display, I'm up 'n over the learning curve, and I've written a two page tutorial so that I don't forget.

Garmin Zumo 550.

Snap!
« Last Edit: March 01, 2018, 06:37:46 pm by mebgardner »
2016 ST, Non-ES, Power Commander PCFC, Seat Concepts, Rox 2" Risers w/ OEM lines, Aux: ADVMonster 44W LEDS and Dimmer, HL: NightEye H7 50W LEDs, Eastern Beaver CS3, Givi TN355 crash bars, Skene Designs Photon Blaster LEDs, Knight Design Wide Hunter lowering pegs, Denali SoundBlaster w/ Twisted Throttle horn mount, SW Motech Evo Side Racks, Saddleman X-Jumbo Cruiser Soft Bags, Hepco Becker Rear Rack, Hepco Becker Junior 45 Rear Top Case, MRA X-creen Tour, OEM reg. shield and bracket, OEM side wind deflectors, RideOn Tire additive, 0.55 in. LED eBay Voltmeter, Battery tender. Hit-Air Airbag Vest, Motoport 3/4 Length 3 Layer Jacket with Quad Armor Upgrade, EVS G6 Mesh Armor (summer), Revit 2 Layer Mesh Pants, A* Corozal Boots, Shoei Hornet X2, Garmin Zumo 550 GPS.

Offline terrysig

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2018, 07:08:15 pm »
Great to hear you got something that will work for you after the tablet experiment. Also there is plenty of online support for everything Garmin and Zumo.
DoD #1225 - Denizens Forever

Offline 14kmtnman

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Re: Android Tablet as GPS - My Experience
« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2018, 07:20:41 pm »
Have any of you tried something like the Garmin Glo or GlobalSat USB GPS Receivers? They are supposed to blue tooth into the tablet (MS or Mac) & interface directly with Google earth, after you download the offline version. My zumo detached from the mount on my AK trip at 70 mph. It survived, but the case is now coming apart so I'm looking at figuring out something with a small tablet too. I'm also looking to do the same basic set up in my truck, use the remote gps reciever with a surface pro tablet & Google Earth. Any thoughts or ideas along these lines?

 

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