Gizmo PAN, adventures in Bluetooth #1
Good times: I spent most of yesterday testing electronics on Gizmo and visiting around Camden Harbor. One system I was mostly pleased with is this little wireless communications and navigation PAN (Personal Area Network), if I may apply a long name for what’s a fairly doable setup these days (bigger picture here). The Palm Centro is running ActiveCaptain Mobile and has the Region 101 raster portfolio loaded on its 1gb micro SD card. That’s a single 353 mg file containing all charts from the Canadian border to Block Island, which scale, zoom, and pan very quickly, and look good. Better than the photo(s) actually, if you put the Centro’s transflective screen in direct sunlight or use its full blast backlighting in heavy overcast conditions.
ACM is getting GPS data from that i-Blue solar bluetooth unit, which was quite easy to setup. Which is good, because due to limitations of the Centro’s Palm OS (I think), ACM shuts down whenever you make/take a call or use another app (like the great freeware Tide Tool). But when you start it again, it finds the GPS automatically and quickly. Note how I’ve tried to label the i-Blue (now available at Amazon) with hints about what its three multi-color, sometimes-flashing LEDs are trying to tell me, which is something that should have done at the factory! (A lot of us have way too many flashing LEDs trying to communicate something or other to us.)
At any rate, ACM as a little-screen plotter is quite cool, but it really shines when you ask it to query the ActiveCaptain site for user-generated info on marinas, anchorages, etc. I seemed to have a decent EVDO connection on Gizmo (unlike my office), and ACM quickly snatched whatever category (or “all”) I requested for whatever area was on screen. Then as I selected individual icon details, reviews, etc. with the stylus, it did successive downloads; in other words, it sips data—good if, like me, you’re on a limited plan—but it’s quick about it. I couldn’t update the Camden Public Landing transient docks as having AC power now, but ACM told me that the function is coming. Finally, I am testing a pair of Dragon V2 headsets, and used one yesterday in my PAN. I’ll have lots more on Dragon performance later, but for now will note that it’s exceptionally comfortable to wear, at least in my ear, and works well in regular cell mode. I could be using ACM or have the Centro tucked it away while I drove and would still be informed of a call via Dragon chirps, and could take it with a tap. But I did get nervous that someone on the USS Whidbey, arriving to help us celebrate Windjammer Weekend, might think I was something other than a geek in a ridiculously over-equipped 14′ skiff.
This is the way to go for the sailor who needs to consult digital charts / GPS in the cockpit on a small sailboat. I use a Garmin IQue 3600 GPS w/ Bluecharts PDA and find that this is more than adequate. I think ACM would be even better.
Best few hundred bucks I spent for nav gear.
Not to dis ACM but…
NavX on the iphone is $50, and you’re done. No extra gps needed. In addition, it can get all of your instrument data via NMEA, or in my case bluetooth.
Just another option, you do have to get AT&T which sucks a little bit but is pretty painless overall. 🙂
How are you getting Bluetooth data into an iphone? I was not aware of any profiles being available other than the headset one? The wifi instruments work quite well though. I am interested in seeing the iphone ACM when it comes out.
The iPhone does not support the Bluetooth serial packet profile so you can’t currently connect to other devices. Building in a GPS to the 3G iPhone was the only practical way to get NMEA/marine data into an iPhone (although there are some issue with its GPS performance). Sure, there are WiFi bridges but most boats just don’t have those types of things installed, especially smaller boats.
There are a variety of Windows Mobile devices today that have excellent GPS chipsets built in so the need to have an external GPS goes away. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to all of the different phone platforms and operating systems. There is no one perfect solution – all of them have tradeoffs (just like all boats).
On my boat, I have a ShipModul Bluetooth repeater for all NMEA data at my helm. That gives me connectivity to all of my non-GPS-integrated devices/phones while on the boat. When I jump into the dinghy, I have to put a tiny Bluetooth GPS into my pocket for those devices. It isn’t a big deal.
I just cruised for a week in Maine by only navigating with my AT&T Tilt. It has an integrated GPS, WiFi, 3G, keyboard, kitchen sink, etc. It also has an antenna jack for our installed cellular amplifier and easily connects to our laptops giving us internet connectivity for them – even in downeast Maine! We had a continuous internet connection anchored at Roque Island for 2 days (it’s not the end of the world but you can see it from there). That’s a real Swiss-Army-knife of capabilities in one phone providing capabilities that Apple doesn’t have today.
Of course, with all things cellular, wait a month and the world will be different. I really like Palm, Windows Mobile, and the Apple iPhone. And in a couple of months, Google Android will appear providing another platform to compare and contrast.
It’s a wonderful time to be a geek.
Yes, the iPhone’s bluetooth support is very limited, they don’t even support the A2DP (stereo headphone) profile which is something you would expect from an iPod… I believe that Apple will fix this in the very near future, many things were left out of the iPhone as it was rushed to market but there will be updated software very soon… (a new version is already available to developers with many improvements)
The AT&T Tilt (HTC 8925) is a really nice device but it runs Windows Mobile and Active Captain is only available on the (dying) Palm platform. I bet that wasn’t a problem for Jeffrey though, who I am sure had a nice beta version running on his Tilt…
When I first started Panbo I used panbo.com simply because it was left over from another venture around Personal Area Networks and Bluetooth, hence the name PANbo. Bo are the two first letters of my last name.
So now you know why Panbo is called Panbo;-)