Product Review (June 2005) - TravRoute
CoPilot Live | Laptop 8 GPS Navigation System

GPS (Global Positioning System) technology is an amazing achievement that allows anyone to determine their position, whether they are on a boat, hiking on a trail, driving a car or even flying in an airplane. The system consists of 24 satellites flying just slightly over 20,000 kilometers in altitude. That means if you could to look up in the sky and see one, it would be moving relative to your stationary position, so they are not geosynchronous. This requires the GPS receiving system to constantly determine the nearest satellites to obtain the latest positioning information. GPS navigation is an exciting capability available to consumers and comes in the form of handheld units or as an option on many new vehicles being sold today. The navigation capability entice many potential customers with the idea that they will never get lost again when traveling in unfamiliar places. While GPS systems greatly reduce the probability of getting lost, they are not perfect when mated to road mapping software. Constant changes to roads and streets will require users to update their street database from time to time. For those who lack an integrated system in their vehicle, several options do exist. Many small portable units are available, but are typically limited in functionality and screen size/resolution. Today's vehicle navigation systems look great and blend nicely into the vehicle's interior, but can be costly and offer little flexibility compared to some portable systems. TravRoute has introduced their latest CoPilot Live | Laptop 8, a complete GPS system (Pod and software) designed to provide users with full mapping and POI (Points of Interest) navigation using a computer (sold separately).

The ALK North American mapping database includes over 7 million miles of roadway, including over 6 million street-level miles and over 738,000 highway miles. Over 100 million USA street addresses and more than 3 million POI (Points of Interest) including restaurants, hotels, service stations, golf courses, banks and sports arenas are available. There are county name descriptions for every location in the USA and users can enter any five digit zip code and get their location from the huge 42,500 list database.

The TravRoute CoPilot Live | Laptop 8 system relies on an external GPS antenna pod to provide data to the software. We recently took the system for a test drive on a seven hour road trip. Our Sony K23 Vaio laptop was instantly transformed into a powerful navigation system using the software provided in the package. Our CoPilot Live | Laptop 8 configuration was one of many offered by the company. A Bluetooth version and a software-only version for those who already have a compatible GPS receiver are also available. Our setup included the newly designed WAAS enabled USB GPS receiver. The antenna comes attached to a long 2 meter cord, providing plenty of cable length to the computer. A magnet on the bottom of the GPS pod allows the unit to be attached to the vehicle body, but also includes a suction cup if windshield mounting is preferred. Like all vehicle navigation systems, Alk Technologies urges drivers to watch the road and not to look at the computer screen while driving the vehicle.

Installation
Much like the earlier CoPilot 2003 we reviewed, the new CoPilot Live | Laptop 8 comes with two CDs. The installation CD contains the main program and the data CD contains the mapping database, which in our case was labeled North America. The installation was simple and uneventful, although it does take some time for the full mapping database to be loaded onto the laptop hard drive. Installing the mapping data onto the computer is recommended for quick data access and maximum performance.

The software must be registered within 15 days after installation in order for it to be used beyond this period. Both automatic as well as manual registration can be performed. Automatic registration requires a connection to the Internet along with the Product Key. Manual registration allows users to use a different computer using the Alk website. An email containing the Activation Code will be emailed to the user.

Our laptop immediately recognized the connection of the GPS pod. Once the software is launched, it will try and read the connected device and notify you if the GPS pod is not detected. The new GPS pod is better designed both physically and electrically than the earlier model. We noticed that the GPS pod no longer has a mini-DIN connector that had a tendency to work itself loose over time. A single connection from the USB connector to the pod is certainly a better design. The first time you launch CoPilot with the GPS receiver connected, you will be prompted by the software to enter your nearest city to help speed up the acquisition process. This works well and within a minute or two the GPS will begin tracking your position. If you happen to be away from a GPS signal (inside the office), you can still use the software to plan a trip.

Modes of Operation
There are two basic modes of operation when using the CoPilot software. The Planning mode and Guidance mode. The Planning mode is used to plan a trip. You do not need to have the GPS receiver attached while using this mode. CoPilot's Live messaging can be accessed from within the Planning mode and enables multiple users to communicate with each other. This of course requires a connection to the Internet, which in our case did not happen while we were on the road. If you happen to be lucky enough to have Internet access, it is possible to track others using CoPilot with a similar connection.

The Planning Mode can be accessed at any time and allows the user to plan a trip, set Points of Interests (PIOs), Favorites and Contacts. CoPilot can also optimize the trip by reordering the stops to create a more efficient route. Once the trip is entered, the user can press the Run button and see a complete map of with turn-by-turn instructions including the round trip if selected.

The Guidance mode is for in-vehicle navigation and requires that the GPS receiver be attached to the computer. The CoPilot software will guide you along your way with a simple on-screen instructions, voice commands and updated real-time mapping. The main Guidance screen allows the operator (Not the driver) to zoom in and out, enable disable the microphone and speaker output. Users can simply enter their destination and the software will take you there. Preplanned trips can be recalled and edited if needed. POIs (Points of Interest) can be selected based on the distance from or near the route being taken and are displayed on the map.

View Menu
Using the View button, the user can select the Driver Safety, Next Turn, Destination, Where Am I, 3D View or Itinerary. The
Driver Safety mode is designed to provide simple feedback to the user when driving alone. Large text is displayed on the top of the screen with the distance to the next routing instruction. Three general information lines are displayed that are user-defined (current speed, next street, etc.). When no motion is detected, the screen displays the normal guidance mode until the vehicle begins to move again. The Next Turn mode displays the distance and name of the next turn.
The 3D View gives the user a three dimensional forward looking view instead of the traditional top view of the street map. The Itinerary option shows the complete trip details. To find a destination, the user simply enters in the state, city and the address (optional) and the software will display the location on the map. The user also has options to recall a saved trip, enter their current location based on latitude/longitude or nearest intersection, or change the points of interest. The Night Mode automatically darkens the map during evening hours to reduce glare and eye strain at night.

The Live mode allows acces to real-time messaging and tracking of other CoPilot users. This requires access to the internet while you are driving, so not everyone will be able to use this feature. Unfortunately, we were not able to use this feature because we did not have internet access in our vehicle.

Options Menu
The Options menu alows users to specify the different options available in the software.
Users can choose from GPS Status, POI Alerts, Map, Guidance, Routing, Speech and Speed Warning.

GPS Status
Users can determine the quality of the antenna reception using the GPS Status selection. All twelve GPS receiver channels are displayed with the corresponding satellite number and signal strength. We found this new antenna included with the Laptop 8 version to be much more sensitive than the previous model. In fact, it actually worked indoors for us on many occasions. The PC communications port and baud rate is also selectable by the user, but we did not change the default values. Other information provided to the user includes Message numer, Fix (2-D or 3-D based on the number of satellites being tracked), Latitude, Logitude, Heading, Speed, Elevation and UTC time and date. Messages can also be logged for future reference if desired. The real-time status screen worked well and updated rapidly during our tests.

POI (Points of Interests) Alerts allow the user to select specific places such as airports, restaurants, gas stations, lodging and parks. The user can choose to hear male or female voice commands in either TTS or WAV formats. We preferred the WAV selection as it provided us with a much clearer sound with the heavy background noise in the vehicle. The Speed Warning feature lets you know when you have exceeded the maximum speed limit set by the user.

Performance
We took the
CoPilot Live | Laptop 8 system to several parts of the USA to see how well it worked. First and foremost we were amazed how easy it was to use the software. The interface is intuitive and navigating through the menus were logical. We also liked the software's ability to automatically reroute our directions in the event we missed a turn along the trip. Sometimes road construction or traffic congestion caused us to deviate from the original itinerary and the software would immediately reroute our path to our destination.

Even in the more rural parts of the country, the CoPilot Live | Laptop 8 software found small streets where one might be surprised to have any mapping information at all. The ability to jump between the Guidance mode and Planning mode also made it easy to look at a map of the area and then see the exact current position. Placing the cursor over any street shows the numeric address range and the street name. The pan and zoom functions are very user friendly making it simple to move anywhere on the map. Finding local restaurants and gas stations using the POIs were also handy during our trips.

The voice instructions are particularly useful to the driver who cannot look at the computer while operating the vehicle. The 2-mile, 1-mile and 300-feet warnings before a turn worked well, yet can be disabled through the Option menu if so desired. The software is also designed to respond to simple voice commands such as "Where am I". We encountered several one-way streets in San Francisco and the mapping software took this into account when determining our route. So whether you are planning a trip into a densly populated area or in rural America, this system should prove effective.

Conclusion
The CoPilot Live | Laptop 8 software combined with their USB GPS antenna offers users a user-friendly and powerful GPS system. The GPS software is easy to configure and the capabilities are powerful, yet intuitive and easy to operate. We didn't encounter any major problems during the many hours we spent with the system. The software worked well on our Sony Vaio K23 laptop and never crashed. The mapping database had excellent resolution, far better than what's available in most GPS systems we've seen and provided as much or little detail as specified by the user.
The only downside is the system requires a laptop and possibly a passenger to operate the user interface. In virtually all cases we needed to use a power inverter for our laptop's AC adapter to give us unlimited run-time.

Alk Technologies offers free software patches that can be downloaded from the TravRoute website to fix current and future problems found in the application. The company continues to offer a full refund (minus shipping) within 30 days for any TravRoute product you purchase directly from them. This should give many people confidence that the company stands behind their product. We certainly do.

- Kevin Nakano

Review - At a Glance


TravRoute CoPilot | Live Laptop 8
GPS Navigation System


FEATURES

  • RV-Friendly Routing provides safe and convenient routes for RVs.
  • Incorporates height and weight restrictions
  • Discourages sharp turns and avoids U-turns.
  • Contact Integration allows you to quickly enter an Outlook contact as your destination.
  • Save Current Location remembers your position and gets you back there with a simple click.
  • Points-of-Interest Import lets you add your favorite people and places to CoPilot's database.
  • Side-of-Street Address Detail tells you which side of the road your destination is on.
  • Lane Change Warnings let you know in advance which lane you need to be in.

    Source: Manufacture supplied
    MSRP: $299
    Warranty: 1 year parts and labor

    Company Information
    TravRoute
    1000 Herrontown Road
    Princeton, NJ 08540
    Web Orders: 800-656-5426
    URL: www.travroute.com

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