Friday, April 16, 2010

Milestone and MotoNav

I recently got a Motorola Milestone (aka Droid in the US). It's a mobile phone which runs the Android 2.0 O/S from google and like most 'smart' phones these days, does everything (music, GPS, GPRS, Mail, facebook, youtube, you get the idea) except make coffee. One of the nifty applications it has is GPS assisted navigation overlaid on Google Maps. (The Nokia phones have Ovi maps).

So as a test, a colleague and I took it with us for a short drive upto Adyar (just about 3 km from the institute) and back. It dutifully recorded the car speed and to our astonishment, almost all the roads and landmarks (including obscure details like Thiruvanmiyur HIG flats, 'going under the Adyar flyover'). It produced useful information like nearby restaurants (Pizza Hut, Adyar Ananda Bhavan....), and help areas like VHS (Voluntary Health Services) 300 metres down the road from where we were, and a bunch of other clinics we had never heard of. The wealth of detail available is truly impressive -- both regarding roads, as well as nearby landmarks, shops, restaurants and hospitals. Clearly someone, or some people have been at work, entering this information into the google database. Along the way you can even SMS your position to someone who might be waiting for you (it sends a http link to a google map) or you can email it (it uses gmail preferably or some other push mail interface through your GPRS connection).

Overall a very satisfying experience. Perhaps this is all standard for GPS assisted navigation, but since this was my first, I am allowed to get a thrill our of it :-).


N. Sukumar said...

I'll wait for the model that makes coffee :-)

kapil said...

How does it get the data while you are travelling? Presumably using your phone's GPRS connection. In that case, I am also impressed that BSNL's GPRS works fast enough! I would have thought that you would need to upgrade to 3G for such services.

Unfortunately, BSNL GPRS does not work well while roaming (in particular, SIMs from the south do not work in Chandigarh as you found out), which limits the utility of such services. Other GPRS services, like Airtel e.g., may work better but are not pay-per-use.

How well does the system Android+MotoPhone work together? (Interface, battery life, Phone features+OS features) Sounds like an interesting gadget.

Rahul Basu said...

Kapil: No it doesn't use GPRS -- that would be too rough to fix coordinates and speed. It uses GPS (you need to turn on the GPS receiver which is a battery hog). You are right -- BSNL's cell towers are not too good in fixing coordinates at all.

Secondly you need a large windscreen for it to get the signal from the satellites. In fact I was impressed how fast it updates for the speed of the car -- it kept track almost continuously of my speed (and as you know in Chennai speed variations are enormous unlike Chandigarh :( ) .

The Google-Android interface is interesting and has clearly features from gmail and other google services which can be synchronised. Thus it updates my gmail almost continuously so if you are so prone, you can open your phone first thing in the morning and check all your mails which have already been downloaded and kept for you. (Why would anyone wish to subscribe to Blackberry services after this?) Ditto with calendar so you can synchronise your calendar with the google calendar on your desktop if you use it.

Unfortunately it also updated my contact list by appending to my phone contacts the whole contact list on my gmail account. This made it a gargantuan 535 record list which is quite pointless. However you have options by which you can choose to see only those contacts which have a phone number attached. The others are there but not visible and useful when you send a mail from gmail.

Marketplace is the google version of the App Store. Google Sky Map for example shows you your exact sky map at your time and location since it fixes these coordinates using GPS.

One thing I haven't figured is how it decides whether to use GPRS or WiFi to download a page if both are on. Ideally it should use WiFi but I am not sure it does.

Incidentally when GPRS is active it shows 'E' instead of 'G'. Apparently this stands for Edge -- I didn't know we used Edge at all for connectivity.

More as I discover more :) The manual is absolutely pathetic and seems to be a thin slap dash affair put together for Indian customers in a hurry. Or perhaps you are expected to just use google for all questions!

kapil said...

> No it doesn't use GPRS -- that would be too rough to fix coordinates and speed.

I didn't mean GPRS for space-time co-ord. However, to get info like "Pizza Hut is close to the Adyar fly-over" it needs to get data from Google Maps; which it (presumably) connects to using GPRS.

AFAIK satellite positioning data is usually augmented by cell-tower triangulation in such gadgets.

I suspect that the phone has an accelerometer (a la the thinkpad!) which is hooked up to a program which predicts your current velocity reasonably accurately. I would imagine that positioning information provided by GPS satellites is not good enough to predict vehicle velocities.

Venkataraman said...

Along the way you can even SMS your position to someone who might be waiting for you (it sends a http link to a google map) or you can email it (it uses gmail preferably or some other push mail interface through your GPRS connection)

Why all this when there is Google Latitude?

Rahul Basu said...

Google Latitude allows you to find your friends provided they also have GPS enabled phones which track their positions. Without that info, how would you find them, or they you? Here if you have a GPS phone you can send your instantaneous coordinates to your friends by SMS who might be at home and they can connect to the net and check your coordinates on google maps.