Friday, November 22, 2013

App of the Week - TripIt


Keeping track of your travel plans can be a bit of a challenge. While I was at HP I used to travel to Europe at least twice a week and it was always hard having all the right flight, hotel and car rental information with me and to hand, especially as I'm not a paper person. I wish I'd had this app back in those days!

The way Tripit works is that it keeps all your trip information in one place (in the Cloud) and also maintains a copy of your phone so it's there, even if you don't have an internet connection. Nothing special so far. BUT, what makes it so very cool is that you very rarely have to manually type in any of your travel itinerary. All you do is forward your travel or booking confirmation email to Tripit and they post it to your upcoming trip. Plus they'll upload other useful information such as a map of how to find the hotel. How cool is that?

Let me show you an example. My daughter Ally (our Office Manager) is coming over to see us in the UK for Christmas. She recently turned 18 so we're taking her on short 3-day trip to Europe as her birthday present. Normally a trip like this would be private, but here's a link to our travel itinerary so you can get a feel for what TripIt can do (now I've shared this there's no escaping you all right!).

So to summarize, if you have an upcoming trip involving flights, car rental etc, create an account at Tripit and then send your confirmations to plans@tripit.com and away you go. Oh, and don't forget to download the TripIt app for your trusty smartphone. Bon Voyage!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

iPhone vs Android - Navigation (Part 6)

It doesn't seem that long ago that I paid over $500 for a TomTom GPS. Now it seems that there are so many to choose from, including the Rand McNally 7720 RV GPS which we have on special right now. But what are some of the main differences, and how do the dedicated units compare to navigating with your phone? And in particular, are there any differences in navigating with an iPhone vs an Android? We're going to take a look and see if we can answer some of those questions.

Dedicated GPS Units

The first and biggest difference is that these units are dedicated, so they tend to do one thing (i.e. navigate) very well. They don't ring, pop-up with things to download, receive text messages or play music, which is a good thing. The second big advantage is that they contain all of the map data pre-loaded onto the device which means that they work in the middle of nowhere where there is no cell phone signal. A phone still knows where it is because of its GPS chip, but if it can't get a signal it can't download the map data from the server so all you see is a blank screen (there are some exceptions here which we'll talk about later).

The three most popular units for RV'ers are the Rand McNally 7720, the Garmin RV 760LMT and the Magellan RoadMate. These units are designed specifically for the RV. Some of their unique features include being able to enter the height, weight and width of your RV (to avoid low bridges, weight restrictions etc), RV specific points of interest (such as campgrounds, national parks, gas stations etc) and route planning capabilities. We prefer the Rand McNally out of these dedicated units, but these are all good units with slightly different individual features. One thing to look out for is the map updates and make sure that your device has them included. Most offer "Lifetime Maps" although what that means varies. Rand McNally and Magellan define Lifetime as for the [useful] life of that device or until they no longer receiver relevant map data", whereas Magellan limits it to 3-years (then that's 3-years maps Magellan, not lifetime in my humble opinion).

Interestingly, a number of these "dedicated" manufacturers have now released versions of their software for smartphones. These include Rand McNally for iPad, Garmin Street Pilot,  Magellan RoadMate (iPhone only), and TomTom. They differ from "traditional" smartphone navigation apps in that they download all the map data to the phone and so don't require a cell phone signal to navigate. However, none of them are RV specific (to my knowledge) and they tend to be relatively expensive for an app ($40 - $100).

SmartPhone Navigation

There are really three components to this, so lets look at them in turn.

Device

The first thing to think about is the device itself. Because it's a phone and not a dedicated GPS, it has some limitations. Things to think about are:

  1. How large is the screen (I like my Droid MAX HD as it has a very large screen)?
  2. How easy is it to see in sunlight (generally I find phones pretty good)
  3. How are you going to mount it in the car (I use a TireTraker Window Mount which works great with my Motorola MAX HD and iPhone)?
  4. Do you have a car charger because otherwise it will run out of battery?
  5. What are you going to do when you get a call while navigating?
  6. If you're going to use an iPad, does it have in-built GPS (not all of them do)

Navigation Apps

If you type navigation into your iPhone's app store you get 2201 results! Suffice to say that there's a lot of choice of nav-apps on your phone. Some are excellent, and some are rubbish. Some of the tops apps to look at are Waze (excellent integrated traffic and buddy functions), MapQuest, GPS-Drive (great value at $0.99), Co-Pilot Live (does have a basic RV version but requires the Premium version), and TeleNAV (makers of the map data, gas price integration).

With the iOS 6, Apple dumped Google in favor of their own navigation app Apple Maps. Personally, I think it's hopeless. I know it's a new product, but most of the times I try to use it, it can't find what I'm looking for. For me (as well as 35% of other iPhone users in a 2012 survey) I prefer Google Maps. In fact, I love Google Maps. There I said. I prefer Google Maps over Apple. I love the voice integration (Siri steadfastly ignores everything I say), the fact that it finds literally everything, and the tight integration with my other apps such as Yelp, Trip Advisor etc.

In December last year, Apple admitted defeat and allowed Google Maps back to the iPhone.  It's generally the same as on the Android although the interface has been re-designed for the iPhone. It also lacks voice-guidance when walking, Wikipedia integration and quite importantly, the ability to download a section of Google Maps for offline use. I used this very effectively when we visited Mexico earlier this year. We flew into Guadalajara and drive to Puerto Vallarta. I knew that finding our hotel was going to be a challenge, but didn't have data as I'm with Verizon (don't get me going on this), so I downloaded the Google Map data for Guadalajara on my Droid before I left. The only downside I found (and it's quite a big one) is that you have to be online to build a route. Once it's built, you can navigate along that route offline. Alternatively, don't be a cheapskate like me and buy a Navigation Map for Mexico such as TomTom's.

Other Apps

There's one thing that I haven't mentioned and it's an important point if you're comparing navigating with a dedicated unit or a Smartphone, and that's the other apps that you have available. This last summer I was traveling the US with Murphy (my border collie cross). He's as smart as mustard, but quite frankly, he's not much of a navigator. So I used my Rand McNally as my main navigation system with it's RV specific routing and points of interest. BUT, I also had my Droid running Google Maps as a "second opinion" mounted in a holder by the side. Normally when I travel with Tracey, I get a second opinion whether I ask for it or not, and I guess after 25 years of marriage I've come to expect it. This way I can quickly compare routes, and look for cheap gas using GasBuddy, look for places to boondock with AllStays and check the weather with TWC. Having said that, I'm looking forward to getting my "real" co-pilot back next year. And she can drive!

Summary

If you do a lot of RV driving, I'd seriously consider a dedicated RV GPS such as the Rand McNally. In addition, I'd recommend having a smartphone with your favorite navigation app, It's great as a second opinion, toad or walking navigation, and gives you access to great features not yet available on the dedicated units. For the phone, my favorite is Google Maps but feel free to experiment and tell us which is your favorite and why.

Above all, if you do use your phone for navigation, please be extremely careful not to get distracted, especially when driving an RV. If possible I would have your co-pilot interact with the phone leaving you to concentrate on getting there safely.


Came across this while researching for my article and had to include it.
What the heck, it made me laugh!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gadget of the Week - LED Emergency Triangles



We've been RV'ing for almost 7 years now, but one of the things that I've never thought about is something that could potentially avert disaster, and that's a roadside emergency triangle.

Breaking down is one thing, but breaking down at night in an RV is a whole different matter, and thankfully something I've never had to experience. Normally I try and avoid driving the RV at night, but sometimes it can't be avoided.

As soon as I saw this product it occurred to me just what a huge difference it could make to RV safety. In fact, this is probably the reason why ALL commercial vehicles are required by law to carry 3 emergency triangles (US DOT Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association Regulation 393.95) and the California DMV Recreation Vehicles and Trailers Handbook recommends that all RV's carry emergency triangles.

What makes these Emergency Triangles different is that they have 21 high-visibility LED's which can be either steady or flashing. These LED's extend the visibility of your triangle to more than 2/3 of a mile and are even more effective in bad weather. All the LED triangles can be operated either off 4x AA batteries or via a 19' long 12v power cord.

The DOT recommends three triangles and we carry a set of 3 LED Triangles in a carrying case on our website for $89.95. If budget is tight, then we also carry a single LED Triangle for $34.95. While we're on the subject of safety, you might want to think about a high-viz jacket. I didn't realize it, but in planning to take Ally over to France when she visits us for Christmas, I discovered that since 1st July, 2008, it's law in France that all motorists must carry an emergency triangle and a high-viz jacket in their vehicle.

If you were wondering what to ask Santa for at Christmas, maybe this is just the ticket.