January 03, 2008

Nokia N82 – GPS stuff

Follow-up to Nokia N82 from Steve's blog

The Nokia N82 has a GPS receiver built in. It comes with a typical SatNav application that shows you where you are, does route finding, has a Points of Interest database, etc. The usual stuff. There are a couple of differences from a regular SatNav, though:
  1. The route finding is only visual by default. You have to pay extra for a voice-prompt service, on a subscription basis I believe. I’m not sure I like that model much. As an in-car navigational aid it is pretty useless without voice prompts. To navigate on foot, though, in a strange city, it is perfect. Having such a facility always on your person “just in case” would be really useful. However, see below…
  2. The maps are downloadable. The phone comes with very little, and when you browse to a new location it downloads the maps it needs. It can do this over WiFi, which is good because the maps are going to be quite large and it would be expensive to ship them over GPRS (or 3G?). So, if you know you are going somewhere, you’ll want to browse there in advance to make sure you’ve got the maps. If you don’t know you’ll need it until you find yourself lost, then I’m afraid you’re stuck with downloading a few MB of maps. It seems to download in smallish chunks, which is either good or bad depending on your point of view. I’ve just gone browsing around Manchester, which I’ve never looked at before, and pulled down about 2MB of data. On the plus side, I guess this means you can get map updates for free…?

One interesting point is that the N82 managed to get a satellite lock while I was playing with it at home. That’s the only time I’ve ever had a GPS device find satellites while indoors. I was sitting near a window at the time, but still nothing else I’ve tried (Garmin handheld and SatNav devices) has done so well.

So, basic SatNav functionality works as you’d expect, but with a couple of potentially irritating quirks.

Now to the main reason I was sent this phone in the first place – Sports Tracker. This came pre-installed on the phone I was sent, but it is freely downloadable. It works with any phone with built-in GPS, and also with bluetooth GPS receivers. There’s a list of compatible devices on the website.

Sports Tracker uses the GPS receiver to record what it calls “workouts”. Basically this is what regular GPS receivers would call a tracklog. From this is calculates a bunch of statistics – max/min/ave speed, etc. and produces pretty graphs of speed against altitude and similar. All of this is done on the phone itself, which is quite neat. Additionally, it is linked to a web service and will upload the information to the web where you can add comments and share route. For example, here is my lunchtime cycle from yesterday. You can see the usual stats, plus the route overlaid on Google Maps so others can scroll around it and see where you went. You can download a KML file too, so you can put it in a GPS receiver to follow. I haven’t been able to find a way to import a route into Sports Tracker itself though, to allow me to follow somebody else’s route. That seems a bit of an oversight.

Then again, I’m not sure how well the device would work mounted on the handlebars. I don’t have a handlebar mount for it so I can’t be sure. Would it survive the vibration? It isn’t waterproof, so it wouldn’t survive being rained on. I’m not sure the phone is really designed for that sort of use. I’ve been carrying it in the back pocket of my jersey. But that could get it quite damp on a long/hard ride.

I like Sports Tracker. It combines a lot of the stuff I’ve tried to do on this blog – cycling stats, route maps, etc. – in a way that’s quite easy to use. There’s quite a lot of stuff missing though. I need cumulative statistics – miles per month/year, average speed per month/year, etc. If I could just record every journey with Sports Tracker, upload it to the web site, and have everything I need calculated for me (it has the necessary data after all) that would be great. But I’m going to have to record everything elsewhere too. Nokia could do worse that look at My Cycling Log for inspiration.

Overall, then, Sports Tracker is a good start but it needs more work, not on the phone-based app but on the companion web site. The phone itself would probably work well enough for running/walking activities, but I’m not sure how useful it is as a cycling aid. It doesn’t seem rugged enough. I’d be worried about shaking it to bits if it was handlebar mounted.

- 5 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Robin

    When I ride I put my phone in an Aquapac (which will keep the phone dry even after total immersion) and put in in a back pocket. But an Aquapac doesn’t help with wanting to have the phone on the handlebars.

    You might be better off getting a Garmin Edge.

    06 Jan 2008, 10:27

  2. Nokia N82

    Mini bracket with shock absorbers? I can’t see the flimsy N82 holding up on your handlebars for even one day – a couple of shakes and shudders and I imagine that would be the end of it.
    I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of having a phone mounted on handlebars – you just never know when you may turn a corner and run through a puddle – you know those days when you cycle all teh way to work in dry conditions only to find a big muddy stain up you back!

    16 Jan 2008, 14:06

  3. Steve Rumsby

    I’m told there is a 3rd-party handlebar mount for the N82, but I haven’t found it mentioned anywhere. I think it would need shock absorbing of some sort to avoid shaking the phone to pieces. My tyres run at 110psi, so they transmit most of the road’s nastiness straight through to the bars! I have seen mention of some people mounting an N95 on handlebars. That’s heavier than an N82 and you’d think more likely to suffer.

    I have mudguards on my bike for the wet season (all year in the UK:-) so don’t suffer from black-stripe syndrome…

    All-in-all, I wouldn’t risk it myself, but that does reduce the usefulness of the device somewhat.

    16 Jan 2008, 15:27

  4. Carl

    I just stick my N82 in my back pack job done!

    11 Feb 2008, 02:10

  5. Lee

    James Cracknell is currently using a bike mounted N82 on his trek through France and Spain. There is a picture of it at http://www.challengecracknell.com/blog/day5/index.html

    Fairly bulky looking though.

    03 Mar 2008, 17:20

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