I fooled around a little bit with the mapping application built into the N810, but wasn’t too impressed. Sure, it could be useful for when I get lost and need to find out where the hell I’ve ended up. A situation which I admit isn’t all too uncommon. But it did seem pretty much like a teaser application, bare bones functionality with the desire being to upsell me on some navigation package so that I could get access to the rest of the features. No thanks.
So I also downloaded the Maemo Mapper application and gave it a shot at one point. Unfortunately the first time I tried it I was actually trying to do something with it. Riding along in a friend’s car trying to figure out where we were. It didn’t want to sync with the GPS and then I was struggling trying to figure out how to download map data over my phone’s data connection out in a spot where connectivity was spotty at best. I missed a few options and didn’t quite understand how the thing worked. Ended up just using GMaps on my phone to figure it out, with the intention of coming back to the N810 setup and poking at it later.
Today was later as it ends up, partially cause I was at home and wanted to familiarize myself with it before I was on the road again. But also because I saw a few things on the Maemo Mapper homepage which made me think I had missed some major functions. The first and most important part is to make sure that map auto-downloading is on. Otherwise you might end up like me, trying to figure out how to use the manage maps dialog to define an area to download at different zoom levels. Furrowing your brow over and over at the confirmation dialog telling you the system is about to download -2078382 maps for a total of 15678.6 meg of map data. WTF? You don’t need to worry about that though, just turn on Auto-Download. Thing is it’s on the top level maps submemu, not within the manage maps dialog where I was looking for it. Once I turned that on I was able to start seeing map info and finally got to understand what was going on.
Personally I have trouble with the GPS in my N810 every once in a while. I’ll pop up any of the map applications (built in maps, Maemo Mapper, or even the configuration panel dialog for the GPS) and there isn’t any info at all. No satellites, no fix, no updates, nothing. Turn the GPS off and back on, still nothing. Restart the device, GPS works. Just a note to others out there who might be seeing similar things, if you see no updates to the GPS info after a minute, don’t assume that restarting the device is a useless procedure.
Other thing I realized once I was past the basic setup was that you can actually route live using the software. Go into Route/Download… and you can create a new route on the fly with the assistance of a web service. I created a route from my current home to my old home just to see how sane it was. Simple route, but there are some backroads that could confuse it. Worked quite well! The route info didn’t completely sync up with the OpenStreet map source I’m using, so the route seemed to be slightly off from the road. But more than good enough. And to my surprise it picked up my Festival Lite (flite package) install and started speaking the first steps of the directions to me. There are all sorts of settings in there about how long of a warning distance to give for turns and how to lead the auto-centering on the map. Really amazing setup, I’m impressed all that stuff is in there. And yet I don’t hear people raving about it more often.
With the 3G phone downloading map data in realtime as I’m driving down the road seems to be no problem either. If I were taking a trip through the middle of nowhere I might try to download the map data in advance. But for most of the stuff I do I think I can assume I’ll have decent cellular coverage. It even seems to have support for layering in your own points of interest data and recording routes, stuff I haven’t played around with yet. Unfortunately all this location stuff still seems to be pretty niche activity. Would be great if Nokia would embrace this part of the open source effort and concentrate on getting Maemo Mapper and like apps up the capability curve instead of trying to pimp some commercial app for mapping on top of a perfectly good open source device.