My search for handheld Car Dash Unit (CDU)

Thrifty? is not the word that I’d use right now. I’d say pragmatic. My problem this time was about getting a GPS unit for Oz (that’s the name of the vehicle I drive – small, green-ish wonder machine for travelling). Oz doesn’t have in-built GPS unit with fancy touch screen. I needed a GPS unit, and a smart scan through respectable retail outlets gave me rigid options. On top of my head there were GPS unit from Garmin, Magellan and Tom Tom. Then there was Navigon, but I always associated it with Nokia and Navteq – all of them started with “N”.

My requirements

  • Simple GPS Unit with 4 inch display
  • Capacitive display preferred
  • Maps which can be updated – once in a while
  • — would be great if I could – – connect it online.

In the Market

Most of the (new) units had a price range above 100$, and some were with resistive screen with limited expansion options. Garmin Nuvi 3597 LMT HD was awesome with voice recognition and great size of 5 inch capacitive screen, but with a price above 350$ (as of November 2014) it was out of my league. A quick Bing referred me to PC World comparison from September 2014. There was also How to Buy a GPS that referred the most respectable unit – Garmin nüvi 2350LMT that is now sells for 104$ in Amazon. Magellan offered with Magellan RoadMae 9055 is commendable, but again, its expensive for its price (personal remarks). There were many more, and plenty have great personalized YouTube reviews as well. However, none came closure to my requirement at my budget. Hence, I went ahead, and got something unusual.

My Alternate

  • Wait for a mobile deal – Windows Nokia Lumia 521 – I got it for less than 65$. Ebay deals are sometimes even cheaper.
  • Get a mobile Car Dash – iOttie Easy – from Ebay – about 19$
  • Vehicle Power Adapter – for micro-USB phone  – got this from Ebay as well – about 10$
  • Micro SD Card – average speed (Class 4) – 16 GB – around 9$
  • TOTAL – Around 110$ [and there is no SIM Card]

What I gained?

Windows Phone, again, is a platform I am very comfortable with. Nokia Here Map can be offloaded for offline use and currently there is a 300+ MB worth of maps downloaded for state of Virginia, which is regularly updated. Micro SD Card – 11GB worth of Playlist Music – most of which is Nepali Folk songs, Nepali songs, Bollywood and 80s and 90s English Rock Music. There is also App support in Windows Phone Market for Waze (free) and MapQuest (free). Not that I use them, but its nice to have them, even if its crippled for WP platform as well as does not work well without SIM Card. Nokia Lumia 521 has capacitative screen, and 1400 mAh worth battery which is replaceable. A 2013 affordable smartphone, this device does everything a GPS unit would do and more. On top of this, with Here Map from Nokia, I can save the bookmarks on my web browser before syncing it with the phone, whose wi-fi range is just enough to reach my router at home.

Working

It works. My setup for Handheld Car Dash Unit works as

  • Capacitive Screen, with Nokia Screen Touch Sensitivity
  • Weather Forecast (through wi-fi)
  • Mapping Device – offline maps, with maximum speed warning. Nokia Here Map works good, and there is always offline maps from Open Street if I want a free alternate or a payed Windows Phone App.
  • Music Player with loads of music.
  • Important phone numbers and addresses of friends and family. (although I had to make one more outlook.com account)
  • Calendar and Reminder with Cortana function
  • A 5MP emergency camera
  • PLUS  – I can always replace the unit with my own personal mobile phone. The iOttie thing holds pretty well.

But there are few complains here. I haven’t put in any SIM, and hence GPS takes some time to lock. It usually takes around 30-45 seconds for it to lock in to my position when I am away from my home. I wonder if old non functional SIM from T-mobile / AT&T can better its positioning capabilities? Not sure of it, though I have put in my Nepal’s NCell SIM this morning. Have yet to conclude, although theoretically, this SIM should also be able to locate the Mobile Towers and in return boost up the GPS capabilities. I do not know if the battery life is good or bad, as I usually do not turn off the Unit when I am out of the vehicle. There always seems to be very less battery juice in it.

Conclusion

I would definitely recommend this setup for any person who is comfortable with Windows Phone UI. This arrangement has many perks for its price point. Despite its quirky locking capabilities, its handy for many other stuff (mentioned above), For the same matter, I would also recommend a cheap Android phone as In-Vehicle GPS unit as Here Map is now available for Android also (albeit in beta for now). That being said, for the price, I personally feel Windows Phone is much better an option when compared with Android devices with Kit Kat (4,4,4 and below). At present Google Maps does not provide offline map solution as wide as Here Map. It would have been an amazing device if it also had a compass and LED light built on to this handheld device.

Recommendation

Well there are few recommendations here, as a general anticipation for future requirement.

  1. I would love to see a good OBD-II hardware compatible mobile Applications. There is OBD Auto Doctor and few others, but its not Automatic, which is absolutely gorgeous and limited to iOS and Android.
  2. Moreover, if Automatic can do it, why can’t there be a simple, affordable alternate to it. Most of the Vehicles in USA, already have OBDII ports, and most smartphones have Bluetooth built in, with a strong underlying operating system, that can act as one stop hub for Car Diagnostics.
  3. Like NEST, why doesn’t Microsoft, Google, Apple, or even Blackberry built a Smart Car Dash Unit, which can be put in any car. Each already have a strong operating system with GPS capabilities and Bluetooth/NFC  connectivity. Online search for OBDII Bluetooth Adapter Scanner from Ebay has adapters prices from 10$ upward.
  4. A simple setup like Lumia 521 smartphone capable hardware (minus the SIM card) and OBDII adapter with NFC and Bluetooth connectivity with a very strong software suite – and sell it for say – 200$. Obviously this should also have wi-fi, GPS, an extra SIM port, 2000 mAh battery, preferably a Qi-charging cradle, and a minimum of 4 inch display with 16gb storage capabilities. It would be a better option than Carplay or Google Android Auto. Selling it through Car Dealers would be a first (I guess) and It would work with most vehicles on the road today.
  5. One could give it to your children for parenting their driving habits. The data would be stored in cloud, and available for either ones mechanics and/or insurance agent. I think Progressive has the OBDII Adapter, but this would be email accounts, and facebook/twitter accounts but for Vehicles. May be IFTTT would be built in for more wider automation. Kind of like what Microsoft is doing with Microsoft Band – Cloud Based Service and Multi Platform together with Cortana like solution.
  6. Whatever, it becomes, its UI should be more akin to Windows Phone UI – few big tiles with big buttons, for old age, and anti glare, anti reflective screen for better driving experience.

Okay, got to go, please excuse my grammatical errors, if any. Oz is waiting.

PS – I wonder if T-mobile would give me that 200MB monthly internet SIM quota for my Car Dash Unit free?