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Wayfinder and a Blackberry: GPS on the Cheap

GPS systems can be really handy.  When you’re travelling, and driving around a city that you really don’t know, there’s nothing better than that mechanical voice telling you where to turn left, turn right, and how far you are from your destination. The only downside is that at $15 or so per day with your rental car, they’re pricey.

Several people I know have gone out and purchased GPS systems in order to avoid this expense.  You can get a nice TomTom, or Magellan unit for under $1000 now.  Again, pricy, unless you’re a very frequent traveller.  But, if you travel more than 60 days in a year, it would be worth it for you.

For those of us who travel, but not as frequently, there are nice alternatives.  Pictured at the right is the Nokia LD-1W Bluetooth GPS receiver.  It’s about $100 on EBay, and comes with a 3 month trial of Wayfinder Navigator, a GPS package for Smartphones, including the Blackberry 8700, and the Nokia N70, both of which have.  Wayfinder Navigator will set you back about $200, if you decide keep it. 

To use it, you just turn the GPS unit on, throw it on the dashboard of the car, and run the Wayfinder Navigator software on your mobile.  Once you’ve typed in a destination, it does the rest, guiding you turn by turn to where you need to be going. 

WayfinderThe UI, especially on the very bright Blackberry 8700 screen, is nice. This image shows a typical Wayfinder screen, navigating from my home to my office.  On the left you can see an image of a satellite, with three spheres below to show GPS strength.  None, when the picture was taken.  The GPS was inside.

Beside that there is a right turn arrow to signify that the next turn will be a right and that it will be in 290 metres.  The whole thing is overlaid on a nice clear map, with the route laid out as a red line.

So how good is the combination?  Well, surprisingly excellent. 

  • On both the Blackberry 8700 and Nokia N70, the GPS module is easily found by the Wayfinder software. 
  • Searching for a particular address is a nuisance on the N70 because of its T9 keypad, but it’s a breeze on the 8700.  In both cases, it’s easier than the dedicated GPS units car rental companies give you. 
  • The software can be easily configured for either metric or imperial units.
  • The turn by turn directions are clearly articulated, although in a very crisp female English accent.  She quickly earned the nickname “the Bionic Bitch” at our house.
  • The maps are easily viewed and read on the screen. 

Downsides?  There are a few:

  • It can be a little slow to respond.  Maps are downloaded over the air, and if the system is loading a map it can take a few seconds.  This has the advantage, however, of allowing traffic information to be sent to the mobile as well, but I was unable to test this.  Not available where I am. 
  • If you receive a phone call while navigating, the Bionic Bitch can’t vocalize new directions to you.  that’s not the case with a dedicated unit.
  • And finally, if you wilfully ignore it, and deliberately drive off route for prolonged periods of time (as I did, to see what would happen), Wayfinder continuously loads new maps, and eventually will crash. It was hardly fair to the poor thing, though, to confuse it like that.

There are few differences between the Nokia and Blackberry versions of the software. It can be difficult to find your way back to the Wayfinder application if you receive a telephone call on the Nokia version, for instance, while it automatically resumes on the Blackberry.   The Nokia software is prettier to look at, however, and has a nicer user experience. In contrast, the Blackberry software is a little more usable, and a little more stable. 

All in all, Wayfinder and a Bluetooth GPS unit gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me.  For $300, it’s a helluva fine navigation tool.

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Andrew November 3, 2006, 7:03 am

    Alec, doesn't the 8100 and the 8800 (upcoming) with it built in Bluetooth GPS support create a much better user experience? I have been trying to find a review of the GPS solutions somewhere on the web, but I haven't been able to find one.

    Can someone at RIM possibly clear this up?

  • Alec November 5, 2006, 2:40 am

    I've used some early Blackberry GPS software briefly, and will have more to say when I can get my hands on it for a longer period of time. My first impression was "not ready for prime time", so I'd still buy a more mature product over using the built in stuff. It didn't support a navigation mode at all, for instance –> no "tell me how to get from where I am to my destination".

  • Andrew November 6, 2006, 7:33 pm

    If the 8800 could rival the basic "tell me how to get from where I am" of the entry level GPS solutions from Garmin or TomTom, it will be a massive hit with biz set. Combined with a vehicle charger/FM broadcaster, mounting gizmo – people would line up to get one.

  • Alec November 7, 2006, 2:51 am

    I agree, Andrew. I haven't seen that though.

  • Catalin November 18, 2006, 8:42 am

    Alec, where can one find this package for $300. I have a 8700g. Thanks in advance. Catalin

  • Alec November 20, 2006, 2:55 am

    Hi Catalin,

    I found the wayfinder software at their site — http://www.wayfinder.com. You want Wayfinder Navigator, which is £99 — depending on the exchange that could be as much as $200. The Nokia LD-1W is easily found at numerous EBay merchants for about $100.


  • Peter January 23, 2007, 2:52 am

    I have used GPS navigation softwares both for my old Blackberry 8700 and also my new one 8100. One of the best that I have encountered has been Wisepilot (www.wisepilot.com). It is similar to the Wayfinder one but much quicker. I think that the last one year a lot has happened with the GPS programs for cell phones! To test wisepilot download it from http://download.wisepilot.com or I also found it on getjar.com.

  • Julia February 21, 2007, 3:14 pm

    I posted a link to the website for buying Wayfinder in the US. The software is $99 but I am unsure how much shipping will run you. They may not even charge shipping since you can download it from http://www.mywayfinder.com (http://wayfinder.car-kit.com/store/services.asp)

  • Alex April 23, 2007, 6:04 am

    Hi, nobody mentions the massive traffic of WAP you will use for downloading maps all the way… big bucks!! Am I wrong?

  • Alec April 23, 2007, 6:18 am

    Hey Alex, I never really noticed a big impact, but I am on a 200M per month data plan.

  • kl2u July 8, 2008, 5:35 pm

    Hi Alec….

    I think mostly nowday people going to get handphone with built in GPS cheaper and easy to use. But of course not practical when you are driving, just like you wrote:-

    "If you receive a phone call while navigating, the Bionic Bitch can’t vocalize new directions to you. that’s not the case with a dedicated unit. "

    Well buy dedicated is the right choice.

    Car Gps Navigation Systems

  • GPS Units October 10, 2008, 7:23 am

    Actually, you can get a good GPS for under 500 dollars these days. I tested Tom Tom, Magellan and Garmin and for the money, I like the Garmin Nuvi series. Great gadgets!

  • Witson January 29, 2010, 9:35 pm

    If you want to save money and get the best GPS there is out there then you have to understand that a GPS is a GPS. What I mean by this is what makes one brand better than another is features, and features appeal differently for various people. Garmin, Tom Tom, and other brands you see around work decently, but there are other brands out there that can perform the same features and have the same quality.

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