HERE Beta

A couple of days ago we installed and tried the HERE Beta navigation package. The package is available for android devices as well as Windows 8.1 and can be downloaded from http://here.com/.

Our testing to date was limited to an android Samsung phone.

The short verdict is that the application is very good. The maps are recent and accurate and it has a large database of points of interest. The directions can be given in a variety of languages. The U.S. English we tried gave us driving directions with text to speech – street names are clearly pronounced. The application can be used of or on line. Going on line adds traffic information to the maps. The application also seems to know the public transportation routes and will direct you to the closest bus stop and show its route. HERE can also work in either 2D or 3D. In 3D it presents views of landmarks and selected buildings. This can be switched of if so desired.

We found maps for any place we looked for, from all the states in the U.S. to Russia, African countries, all of Europe, Israel and more.

The search engine is good – you just type in the place you are interested in and it will find everything resembling the text you typed in. Didn’t find what you were looking? Try a slightly different name. We tried looking for a cigarette store near Las Vegas NV. The first search came up with no results but rephrasing the terms found it. Which is surprising as this is not normally information you would expect from a navigation program.

The program offers several options for rout selection as well as elimination of the use of toll roads, ferries, etc.

Now to the bad: the map files include all the information about a region and are BIG. The average size of maps for U.S. states is about 270Mb. The program offers an option to install it on an external SD card but it might require a card that can hold more than 4Gb for a European trip that covers several countries or a cross U.S. trip. On the positive side, maps can be downloaded as needed, though a trip that involves several countries will, obviously, need the relevant maps.

We have no idea whether the final version of HERE will be free. The beta could use some improvements. One thing we missed was the ability to simulate a ride. Most navigation programs have this ability and, in our opinion it is useful. It would also be very helpful to make the map files smaller by either separating the maps from the rest of the data or dividing large countries into smaller chunks or both.

Again, this is one of the best navigation programs we found in recent years and we hope that it will remain free.

Be-On-Road

Be-On-Road is a neat navigation program published by Aponia Software, s.r.o. of the Czech Republic. The program is free to download from Google Play, the company’s website and the Apple App Store and runs on android devices, Windows CE, Windows and Apple iPhone and iPad. All versions are also available from the company’s website at BeOnRoad.com

The program can use either free OpenStreetMaps (OSM) or maps by Navteq and others that can be bought from the company’s online store. All maps can be downloaded directly from the application. The Navteq maps can be used free of charge for 7 days.

We tested the android application on a Samsung Galaxy S II phone. The application ran smoothly and with no problems.

Be-On-Road is a fairly conventional turn by turn navigation program. It gives clear directions when approaching a turn and again directly before a turn. It can’t handle text to speech so all directions are of the type “turn left” or “turn right”.

The free Open Street maps are surprisingly accurate and even have a fair number of Points of Interest. The program can calculate two kinds of routes: fast and short. In our tests both routs made sense. It allows establishing way points and simulating driving the route. We did encounter slight display problems with a couple of these simulations.

The Navteq maps we tested are new: Quarter 1 of 2013. These commercial maps include many more points of interest than the free variety and are supposedly more accurate. We were surprised that the Be-On-Road web store had a much smaller selection of maps than were available through the android application. The only Asian country available was India and the only African was South Africa. The android application allowed us to purchase maps for most countries in Asia and Africa. The maps offered on the website are from various vendors though Navteq dominates. There are number of regional map providers, like NavTurk and specialized trucking maps are also available for some countries as well as traffic information licenses for some of the Navteq maps.

To summarize: Be-On-Road is a very good free alternative if you are reluctant to pay for your navigation program or maps. It is somewhat less sophisticated and less customizable than programs like iGO but offers the advantage of being free and capable. If you are not interested in customization and bells and whistles this program will do the job nicely and free maps are a bonus.

Navteq 2012.Q3 iGO Maps

We recently tested the latest edition of Navteq maps for the U.S. The maps are from the fourth quarter of 2012.

We found no significant differences between this edition and the previous one. In the area we tested these maps retain the errors of the previous edition (Q4.2011). We found no significant additions.

This is somewhat disappointing since Tele Atlas maps for the same area, dated 2011.9 have more details.

We decided to keep using the Navteq maps despite minor inaccuracies. The main reason for this is that Tele Atlas still didn’t correct a major deficiency: major freeways that have names appear only as numbered roads. The problem is exacerbated by the way some TTS voices used by iGO pronounce the numbers. For example Road 215 is pronounced as “to fifteen”. This is confusing when the directions to “turn on 215” it sounds like “turn on to fifteen”.

Conclusion: if you’re using the Q4 2011 edition of Navteq maps there’s no real reason to switch to the Q3 2012 one.

P.S. After using the new maps for some time we discovered a strange problem: sometimes when performing a search for a point of interest iGO declares an “Out Of Memory” error. We traced this error to one of the new 2012 Q3 files. The error disappears when the 2012 Q3 Extended POI file is replaced with the older 2011 Q4 file or with a Tele Atlas file. The 2012 Q4 Rich POI files seem to be working fine.

After an error happened we found no way to resolve the problem except by deleting the offending file.

P.P.S. After more research and experimenting we found that the file causing the problem described above was corrupted. Replacing it with a good one resolved the difficulties.

NAVTEQ Q4 2011 Maps and iGO Primo 2

New NAVTEQ maps came out and we had to test them. While at it we also tested the new version of Primo: iGO Primo 2 (iGO 9.xxx).

Primo 2 is an improvement over Primo 1. It has more adjustments that can be made by the user without dealing with the sys.txt file. On our old Mio 310 it finds the GPS satellites in about half the time and it has more routing options. Installing one of the available skins from independent developers will make the program even better. The program runs fine with a minimal sys.txt file and needs no instructions on where all the files are located or where to find the GPS receiver.
Primo 2 has one very useful new feature: it announces the side of the street (left or right) where your destination is. You need a TTS voice for this to work.

The NAVTEQ maps are a different story. In our area the new maps have LESS information than the older Q1 2011 version and about the same as Q3 2011 version. Some roads are missing.

Conclusion:

If you’re in the market for a new navigation program definitely take a look at iGO Primo 2. It’s an improvement on an already good program.

You may as well stay away from the Q4 2011 NAVTEQ maps. They lack some of the detail that the old maps had.

More about TTS for iGO Android

Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is available and has been pushed to some users. This update would disable the current Loquendo TTS engine installed on Android systems. Loquendo hasn’t updated it’s engine to run on ICS.According to their website and upgrade to ICS is coming.

If you are using iGO and want a TTS voice now, your choices are anything but Loquendo. We tried SVOX (engine is a free install from the market) with the British Victoria voice.

To work properly with iGO you also need an iGO version of a voice compatible with ICS installed in the content/voice directory of iGO. We used and Australian voice available on the internet.

The results are interesting: our ICS upgrade came with two TTS engines: Google and Samsung. Surprisingly with the iGO voice chosen as the default in iGO both engines produced a correct rendering of street names. There was no trace of an Australian accent. The choice of an engine influenced the pitch of the voice and the way words were pronounced, but not the accent.

Choosing the SVOX Victoria voice rendered a clear British accent. SVOX has the advantage of being able to correct the pronunciation of specific words directly in the Victoria voice profile. Very handy.

In summary: if you can get any Android 4 TTS voice for iGO and put it in the content/voices folder you will be able to use any TTS engine installed on your device. We didn’t test voices in non-English languages.

Text to Speech for Android version of iGO

Android comes with a default TTS engine: Pico. There are a number of alternatives to Pico of which we tested two: Loquendo and SVOX.

To use any Text to Speech engine on an Android device it has to be installed and enabled.

We could find no special Pico voice for iGO and decided to test it last. The two voices we were able to find were for Loquendo and for SVOX.

We tested SVOX first. The process is fairly simple: first you download and install the SVOX engine (free). After the engine is installed you open it and select a voice. We selected a British female voice. This is a “pay for” download. After the voice was installed we also had to find a separate voice file for iGO. That file goes into the iGO content/voice directory. The last step is to make SVOX the default TTS for Android by going to the TTS menu and selecting the default there.

To test SVOX we programmed a route in iGO and simulated driving it with the SVOX voice set as default from the iGO Regional settings menu.

The results were mixed: street names were pronounced correctly, but the voice isn’t of high quality and isn’t clear.

Next we tested Loquendo. Loquendo for Android is available in two voices: Susan in American English and Paolo in Italian. We chose Susan.

You can download the file from the Android market. Install it and make Loquendo the default TTS engine (through the Android menu.

To use it in iGO you will need to put the Loquendo voice for iGO in the content/voice directory. Any Susan voice will do, including versions that came with the Win CE versions of iGO.

In our test Susan was clear and easily understandable. Since there are a number of versions of this voice available for iGO we tried several different ones and all of them worked – with different accents, loudness and enunciation.

Our last test was of Pico, the TTS engine that comes bundled with Android. Pico doesn’t have a voice tailored for iGO, so we tried using Susan. To our surprise it worked, sort of. The introductory phrase sounded clear and loud but things got strange during our simulated navigation. Susan announce, for example,: “Turn left on back space back space…”. In other words it couldn’t correctly interpret the text on our map. Apparently for TTS to work correctly in iGO you need a voice that is tailored for iGO.

Just out of curiosity we tried the Susan voice with SVOX TTS. The results were very similar to the Pico test, though from time to time it announced some of the names correctly.

In our opinion the Loquendo Text To Speech engine and voice performed best with iGO. It also worked quite well reading aloud several normal text files.

iGO for Android

We have been testing the iGO GPS program in its Android form.
It works OK, but is somewhat disappointing. For whatever reason Nav N Go (http://igomyway.com/) decided to use the old Amigo interface for the Android. It works, but if you tried the Primo version you will wish you waited. There is now a Primo version for the iPhone so an Android version couldn’t be very far away.
On the other hand, iGO updated the Android version to 8.4.3 from 8.4.2. The differences between the versions are invisible, so we assume that it was a fix for minor bugs. It’s also a possible indication that Primo fro Android is not going to be released imminently.

My Phone Explorer

We were looking for a way to sync an Android phone with Outlook. Android provides a way to sync – sort of. To do so you have to upload the information (phone-book and calendar in our case) to Google and from there to the phone.

Like many people, we are reluctant to give Google a list of our acquaintances and our calendar. After all Google is not known for it’s regard for privacy and even if they were, putting your private information on the internet is asking for trouble. So what should one do? Why, simple: scour the web for a solution.

Look and thou shall find: MyPhoneExplorer

The program is free and installed with no problems. MyPhoneExplorer can connect to both Android and Sony-Ericsson phones. We tried both and it worked flawlessly. There is a catch though: you need to install your phone’s USB drivers (which are not part of the program) and without which the program can’t communicate with the phone. These shouldn’t be too hard to find.

Our Android is a Samsung GalaxyS Vibrant and the Sony-Ericsson is an old Z525. We tried connecting the Samsung using Kies – a program that Samsung lets you download from their website. It worked after a fashion but had several bugs and was VERY slow even on a fast machine. It never properly synchronized the calendar and added items to the phone-book every time we synchronized leaving us with multiples of the same contacts.

In contrast MyPhoneExplorer worked flawlessly: it synchronized the phone-book and no matter how many times we ran it never added anything unnecessary to it. It also synchronized the calendar very well. When you synchronize repeatedly it offers to remove events that have expired and lets you review what is going to be deleted and what is going to be added to the phone. You can also decide to synchronize Outlook with the phone, the phone with Outlook or both.

The program has other useful features: it allows the user to look at and manipulate phone-book on both the phone and the SIM (if you have one), look at your call history and manipulate it, set the calendar notes and alarms, manipulate messages and look and manipulate flies on the phone.

If you have a Sony-Ericsson phone and are using the program that Sony supplies for free consider moving to MyPhoneExplorer. It is much faster than the Sony program, takes up much less disk space and is not as intrusive as Sony’s.

All in all a great little program that will come handy to all privacy fans. Highly recommended.

Hard Drive Backup Imaging

Recently we tested two backup programs that can create full hard drive images: Acronis True Image 2011 and Macrium Reflect Free Edition 4.2.

Of the two Acronis has more options and capabilities. There are a number of functions both programs perform well:

1. Backup a hard drive partition to a file on a different drive, external drive or a DVD.
2. Backup only the used sectors of a drive or the whole drive (create a clone).
3. Restore an image from a file.

Acronis has a number of options that Macrium lacks: it can create one file containing several drives with the ability to restore them separately; backup files and folders – only the paid version of Macrium can do that. Acronis also has the option of monitoring chosen files and directories and backing them up automatically when they change.

Macrium has some advantages over Acronis: the program opens quickly whereas Acronis is slow. Acronis True Image 10 is as fast as Macrium but when started from its emergency boot disk lacks the ability to recognize SATA drives. When started from its emergency disk Macrium is MUCH faster than Acronis True Image 11 and somewhat faster than 10.

In our tests both programs created files of comparable size and took about the same time to create them. We noticed that Macrium was about 15% slower than Acronis in restoring a 200GB drive image. If you don’t do this every day it shouldn’t be very important.

After using both programs for a while we lean toward Macrium Reflect Free Edition. It lacks the incremental backup capabilities of both the paid for edition and of Acronis but it’s difficult to beat the price. Free is free. We also liked the fact that the program opens and responds quickly as well as the fact that it runs only one process in the background whereas Acronis runs three. A benchmark test showed that Macrium has a negligible load on the system while Acronis uses about 1% of system resources when not in use. Our future backups will rely on Macrium Reflect Free edition.

iGO Primo

 

iGO Primo was published several months ago. It took us a while to lay hands on a copy and test it on two different devices: Mio MOOV and a Chinese made Nextar. Here are the results:

Primo looks a lot like Amigo. The opening screen is nearly identical to Amigo’s and it uses a very similar graphic interface. This is about the limit of similarity. In general we found Primo to be better than both version 8.3 and Amigo that it replaces.

Those familiar with Amigo know that it has very limited customization options. This is not true for Primo. There are numerous adjustments available through both the menus and the sys.txt file. Primo seems to be as customizable as iGO 8.3. We highly recommend the gurjon skins which make customization even easier. As an aside: these skins used to be easily found at gurjon.com. Not anymore. Apparently Nav’nGo pressured gurjon’s internet host to take the site down. It is back up again but offers no downloads. Nav’nGo’s action is completely inexplicable seeing as the skins enhance the Nav’nGo product and add value to it without costing the company a dime.

In our tests Primo proved superior to version 8.3 at least in one respect: it is much more stable when run from an external memory card. Our Mio MOOV rebooted once in approximately every 5-6 power downs with iGO 8.3. Meaning that after power is disconnected and iGO shuts itself down and than power is reconnected and iGO powers up again the Mio will reboot on the 5th or 6th cycle. Primo doesn’t do that and keeps working. According to Nav’nGo this was one of the improvements in the program introduced in Primo.

Primo’s interface and graphics are much better than iGO8.3 resulting in an more readable map display and a very convenient menu structure.

Primo can use Text To Speech (TTS) files and voices from both Loquendo (the original TTS used by iGO versions up to Primo) and a new one made by Nuance. We found the Nuance version much better than Loquendo. It requires much less memory and processing power to run and is easier to customize.

Primo has also much improved traffic radio detection and interface. It easily discovered the TMC receiver in our Mio and also discovered that the two available broadcasts are pay for use. Previous versions of iGO couldn’t find the receiver. To actually use the broadcast traffic data one needs a subscription to either of the two providers’ services.

Nav’nGo also introduced an intelligent routing option. We had no opportunity to test it as it is supposed to work best with TMC active and with TeleAtlas maps that have a database of past average speeds at different times of day on specific roads.

Since Primo uses the same maps and other information as iGO 8.3 it is easy to transition to for anybody who already owns version 8.3 maps.

In summary: we highly recommend Primo. The stability and improved graphic interface are worth the switch.

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