Crappy GPS Applications

I have recently acquired a Nokia N810 Internet Tablet and a N95 8GB mobile phone. Both have GPS capability but both have quite awful maps applications. It feels like a checkbox feature – a way to list GPS as a feature on the box, but not a way to do something useful, and not something that’s been thoroughly tested or thought-through. They suffer in comparison to the Garmin device that I already had.

Both take a while to make a connection to the satellites, which is normal with this generation of GPS chips, though I’d expect the N95 to at least get an approximate position from the mobile phone network (Update: I now know that this AGPS feature is in the N95 but it requires a network connection, which requires paying for a GPS/UMTS data connection, which I try to avoid, because I know the telecommunications company will screw me). More significantly, when they actually get a lock on the satellite, they do nothing. Well, the N95 turns some circles green. They don’t show where you are, or even ask if you’d like to see where you are. And neither seem to have any way to do so even by choosing from a menu.

N810 says I am in Antwerp

The N810 has a “Show Current Location” menu item, but it just shows me its default location – a street in Antwerp, NetherlandsBelgium. I’m sure I’m in Munich, Germany. I notice now that I can change its map to “Germany-Alps”, which has Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and I guess that would work if I tried it again. But it should not just silently fail. My Garmin Nüvi 350 shows the map of your current location as soon as it has locked on to a satellite, and has all of western Europe at once without any fiddling.

N95 says I am in Antarctica

The N95 8GB has a “Find GPS Location[0]” (or similar. It was in German when I tried it, and the menu item isn’t there when there’s no satellite connection indoors, so I can’t see now). But it just showed a white screen instead of the map. I tried zooming out and then understood that it had placed me on the south pole at the bottom of the world. This doesn’t seem like a useful feature. I later found that it does put a cross over your real location, but doesn’t take you there. If you search for your location by address then you’ll be able to scroll to see the cross. Again, not very helpful.

Can’t find my way around the GPS UI

Both the N810 and the N95 show that a menu system is not a great UI for this kind of application, regardless of concerns about application consistency. There are very few things I need to do with a map and they need to be immediately available. The menus in Maemo (on the N810) are a particularly small target on an otherwise generous screen and I hate using them in any Maemo application. My Garmin Nüvi 350 has wonderfully simple button-driven menus, presumably the result of long experience making these kinds of applications. People love it.

N95 surprisingly uncoordinated

The N95 generally seems to be a mish-mash of applications thrown together with very little overview. There are even two similar, but subtly different, main menus, with their own dedicated buttons. The video player has no back/forward feature. You are repeatedly asked whether you want to connect to your wi-fi network instead of it happening automatically. The N95 can do some incredible things, it just does them in strangely arbitrary ways and hides its capabilities well. For instance, the camera’s direct upload to Flickr is wonderfully simple once you’ve set it up. The N810 isn’t perfect but you could make a far nicer device than the N95 just by adding mobile phone capabilities to the N810.

22 thoughts on “Crappy GPS Applications

  1. This was my feeling on the n810 also — the app was really mashed together to add a checkbox on the box. I wish the map data and app was open so we could make a better app out of it, but the tools were licensed from wayfinder so they could leverage selling navigation services. I used the maps when I was in boston recently and the navigation tools simply fail UI tests compared to a TomTom, too. Just trying to do an intersection search for destination is impossible.

    I decided to use maemo-mapper and help development of that app for now, as it seems to be the best alternative to this complete brokenness. Plus maemo-mapper keeps tracks, so I can use those with geotagging my photos. :)

  2. Does it really say Antwerp, Netherlands?
    Because if it does the N810 is even buggier than your post implies, Antwerp lies in Belgium.

  3. Just imagine how bad the N95 was before v20 software…
    Have you tried the Google Maps downloadable app? It works great with the N95’s GPS.

  4. Agreeing with RichB on the N95 thing. You are running the latest v20 firmware on it? Early versions don’t come with the A-GPS speedup and the Maps application has been streamlined quite significantly. Still, google maps is much better and uses the gps too.

    On the n810 side, totally agree about the default software, I found Maemo Mapper to be much better, even with the OpenStreetmap datasource (but then again I live in South East England, which is excellent for OSM.

  5. I’m pretty sure that the N95 software is up to date. But is there some way to see the current installed version without using the Windows-only Nokia software updater?

  6. Murray: you can find the software version via the menus (I have the phone speaking Finnish so I’m not sure what the menus are in English, but if I try to guess the terminology, it’d be Menu -> Tools -> Device Management.

    Faster is to just type *#0000#, it’ll pop up the software version.

  7. Oh and to clarify, you can use Maemo Mapper with other datasources, like google maps or MS Live Earth but obviously that’s slightly unlicenced and we like OSM.

  8. I’ve the N95 and since it is a vodafone locked device, it is still at v11 for the firmware, but I am not seeing what you are seeing. The GPS locks slowly but works flawless from there on and I’ve never been shown elsewhere than where I really am.

  9. Murrayc: I guess the N95 8Gb has different firmware version numbering than the classic N95.
    Bart: I unlocked my Vodafone N95 and upgraded from v11 to v20 – it becomes a different phone with v20 software.

  10. on the n95 8gb the latest is v15, although if you have a network customised phone it may not be available without changing your product code

  11. I have a nokia e90, and its gps application although not as crappy as what you describe is still increadibly crappy – the navigation app is almost useful but it only lets you navigate to places you’ve been (and got gps reception ther and remembered to “save location”) or places you know the coordinates of (who here knows the long/lat coordinates of their home raise your hands… No one? How unsurprising).
    The nokia maps app is better but it takes it a million years with direct sky view to get a fix and even then the only maps it has of my locality (Israel) has only the 3 most major rooads and even those are not positioned correctly – you guys in europe are lucky :)

    As other people mentioned, installing google apps is a much better idea, but do note that it eats up your dataplan for downloading those maps (and it doesn’t cache them adequately) I had to extend mine to support it.

  12. I don’t understand why Nokia didn’t integrate better GPS chipsets, like the Sirfstar III. I’m not buying a new phone until it comes with a faster GPS and Xenon flash.

    As many have suggeste, on the N810, MaemoMapper looks to be a better solution. Hell even Google Maps.

  13. N800 and N810 would be the best (only ones worth buying really) devices made by Nokia if they just added that 3G data capability… Now they are just brainfarts.

  14. I have a bluetooth gps purchased for about £25 and my trustworthy 770 tablet (£80 last summer) and I use my favourite open source program, maemo-mapper. The combination is just great! I get an accurate gps fix in less than a minute & I use the ‘track’ options during country walks. I can recommend this much cheaper combination of hardware and software to anyone who is fed up with their expensive toys!

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