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Deluo Routis Review

25th July 2003

 Review by Lutz Bendlin

 

Introduction

Deluo is a relatively new player in the market of Pocket PC navigation systems. The product was available for the American market for a while (developed by Netropa and coming in a variety of OEM versions), but now it looks like Routis becomes a serious competitor, especially with the feverishly awaited addition of Canada maps (all big cities and some areas in between are covered) and the neat double feature of the application being available on both a normal PC and on the Pocket PC.

 

Deluo Routis comes in different versions - either as software only or bundled with a cabled GPS receiver based on the Evermore chipset (which gives average performance and power consumption) or a CF card receiver, but it does also accept any other NMEA based GPS receiver (which is another positive change from the previous version where the program seems to have been tied to the Deluo hardware).

 

Application Installation is easy

The installation of Routis is pretty straight forward and follows the Mobile Navigator model. Well, at least partially. Routis comes with two CD's, one for the eastern part of the US and Canada, and the other one for the western part. Any of those will get the application onto your Pocket PC via the standard ActiveSync process. (I have not seen any description of an application update process - maybe Deluo will offer that later from their website). Once the program is on your Pocket PC (or on the laptop, for that matter), you need to decide how you would like to define the map area to use for the navigation. 

 

Map selection - city radius or trip range

This is accomplished with a separate application called Map Loader and can be done either by specifying a place that is in the center of your area of interest, and the selecting the radius of map data to export, or - and this is where Routis shines - if you plan a trip between two or more US states or Canada provinces then you can specify the states/provinces where you want to have detailed maps, and Routis automatically adds the connecting major roads between those route end points.

 

So for a route from Houston, TX to Phoenix, AZ it is sufficient to load the maps for Eastern Texas and for Arizona, and Routis will automatically include the connecting "barbells" (the highways) in West Texas and New Mexico.

 

One word of caution: Maps tend to get quite big quite fast with this approach, and you should make sure that you have plentiful RAM available for Routis to run. Deluo acknowledge this to be an issue in the current version and have promised to try and limit the memory hungriness  in one of the next releases. In the meantime you can help yourself by putting everything possible onto a memory card such as SD or CF - including the application itself with all its sound files. Note:You will have to be inventive if your Pocket PC has a non-English OS - which is likely when you live in Montreal - because Routis may not find the sound files where it expects them, and again Deluo have promised to fix this path hard coding issue.

 

Map data can be installed onto the Pocket PC (into main memory or on a storage card),  or directly onto one of the PC's hard disks (which could be a card reader with your storage card again). The last option is strongly recommended unless you enjoy torturing ActiveSync and yourself with the transfer of 100 odd Megabytes of data.

 

And yes, for the ones who need to know all the details - Deluo are using Navtech maps, so you can expect about the same level of map accuracy as with Mapopolis - except for the street names and house numbers. Here Deluo Routis sometimes just doesn't know the house number that Mapopolis can easily find and show. Now what about the street names? Well, Americans love their streets, and they give them multiple names. Highway 10 is also going as IH10 or I10 or Katy Freeway or Katy Fwy and so on. Routis does only know one of the street names, and you will have to know how Routis is spelling it. This eventually also affects the contact navigation where you have to specify the contact's address in a way that Routis likes - otherwise it wouldn't navigate there.

 

GPS installation - huh, already done?

This is very straight forward again. Routis has an automatic mode that assumes the GPS receiver to be the standard NMEA 4800 on COM1, which is fine for the average user with a serial GPS. But it also allows for manual setting of COM port and baud rate. Most of the time you will not waste any thought about the GPS setup part - it simply works. It is even difficult at times to understand exactly in what state the GPS reception is - you will have to carefully check the color used in the satellite display or the color of that little arrow showing your position (green is ok while red means no fix) and the height indication (to see if you have a 3D fix or not)

 

Selecting a route - quite a few taps, but lots of choices

Fortunately Routis doesn't require you to select a starting point for your route - it assumes your current GPS position is good enough, which is excellent for the average user. (The route-well-in-advance-planners amongst you can still tap and hold on any location to bring up the context menu where they can specify the location to be the start or destination of the route). You start by tapping the Menu button on the main screen and then tapping on "Destinations".

 

Mostly all actions in Routis are starting with a tap on the Menu button that is always visible in the navigation window. From here you can enter destinations, change the way things get calculated and displayed, adjust the speaker volume, and check the status of your GPS receiver. The selection of destination types is plentiful, and it even includes the list of the last ten places you had driven to. Surprisingly this feature is well used by many people

 (<humour>maybe a human memory deficiency?</humour>)

Your choice of how to search - this is particularly important when you have multiple states or provinces loaded. Selecting the state (tap the "Change" button) greatly reduces the search time, selecting city first/street first is rather irrelevant and only increases the number of taps to start the calculation.

  

Street names can be entered either with the standard input method or with the slightly more finger friendly (but otherwise inconvenient) special Routis keyboard. Once you selected the street Routis will tell you the house number range that it knows of. Unfortunately this does not yet mean the number you enter (within that range) is actually recognized by Routis. Also, Americans normally enter the house number first and then the street name - Routis would not allow that. You also cannot enter just the street name - it needs a house number. If your destination address exists multiple times in the map data then Routis shows you what it has on record and allows you to choose from the list. Would have been nice if the distance from your current location would be shown as well so you could make a better funded decision.

 

Tuning the Route calculation

You can influence the way a route is calculated. "Quickest" and "Shortest" are pretty much standard, but there are some very nice features that Routis is offering for the American users with their, um, interesting city architecture and the permanently congested roads. "Major" helps to avoid the back roads, which is advisable if you don't know the area and you feel it is safer to stick to areas where many people are gathering, "Local" is for the performance geeks that always expect the navigation program to know the same fancy shortcuts that they have found over the years. Let me tell you, Routis has just that for you. When it is rush hour, all the highways are stuffed, and I really need to get somewhere pretty damn quick then a tap on "Local" solves most of my problems reliably.

 

Toll Roads are quite common over here, and they are not cheap. So it is a good thing to be able to avoid those money-eaters. Now "Carpool" is something funny - these are roads on top of the major highways that have less exits and (supposedly) less traffic jams. You can ride them at certain times (in the morning towards the city, in the afternoon back home), but only if there are two or more people in the car. (And no, the inflatable doll doesn't count). So theoretically Carpool lanes should decrease the travel time considerably. I cannot tell you if that works because whenever I tried the carpool lane was closed for maintenance or open in the wrong direction.

 

 

Now let's actually do some driving, shall we?

Once you started your trip Routis is taking care of your every move. The female voice (some call her "Chatty Cathy") gives you a lot of information (information, as opposed to data, is something that you would not have guessed before). One of her special features is that she announces the next turn not just when you approach it, but also immediately after you have finished the previous turn. At first I found that strange, but I got used to that feature pretty quickly, and now I am missing this pre-announcement feature in the other packages that I am using. It gives you some time to mentally prepare for what you have to do next, and you do not have to perform any stunts to move from the leftmost lane to the rightmost lane because the application just told you to "turn right in 300 feet". At least you don't have any more excuse for performing the stunts.

 

The voice also handles consecutive turns very well, including phrases like "turn left then immediately turn right" so you will not miss any important turns that are close to each other. I still have to see a Pocket PC navigation program that handles the ubiquitous Texas U-turns as U-turns and not as "turn slight lift then turn left" but it is really difficult to implement - sometimes the turns are just far enough apart to be recognized as separate turns.

If you don't like the way Cathy talks to you you can shut her off (see the speaker icon on the main screen) or adjust the volume with the speaker icon on the menu bar. Fortunately Routis used pre-recorded WAV files for the announcements, so if you are into audio processing then you can craft your own voice snippets pretty much like you can do for TomTom. Since I am easily annoyed with redundancy I have replaced the in.wav and feet.wav files with an empty wav file (zero length files won't do here) so instead of "In 300 feet turn right" she now says "300 turn right". A bit of a rallye feeling, isn't it?

 

One thing worth mentioning is that Routis even tries to tell you the street numbers. While this works only with the major highways it adds a nice touch and makes you forget that you might  have wanted to have a true Text-to-speach (TTS) engine this time. Personally I am not overwhelmed by the currently available TTS systems.

 

While driving Routis shows you what street you are on, and what house number range you are currently passing. That's  very nice when you are just curious, or when Routis wasn't accepting that odd house number of your destination address. The street display is transparent so you can still see the map through it. This neatly improves the screen real estate usage.

 

The top left corner will have a pictogram of your next turn, and the top right corner shows where North is. If you tap that arrow the display changes and shows you what direction you are heading. You can switch map view between Heading Up and North Up by tapping the "N" symbol in the menu bar.

 

The Menu and Speaker buttons were already covered. In the center just above the current street name you see these tiny little +/- icons. These are supposed to  be used to change the scale. But they are so hard to hit that it nearly doesn't make sense to do this while driving. Fortunately the rocker pad up/down on your Pocket PC does about the same thing. Finally, the right bottom corner shows either distance to destination, ETA, remaining time, or your speed. It doesn't change like in the above animation - you will have to do that yourself by tapping that area.

 

The Guidance Screen

When you approach your next turn a special guidance screen pops in. It will show you the name of the street into which to turn (even tries to mimic a street sign - how cute) as well as the yellow bar on the right that turns more blue the closer you get to the turning point. You can control the way the guidance screen works, either automatic or manual (there's a menu item under "View" for that), but it still left me looking for a "real" guidance screen. We all know that operating the navigation application while driving is not recommended (Routis even puts a big legal disclaimer up that jumps into your face whenever you start the application), and I would think the Guidance screen could have made a pretty good driving safety feature if the map display were replaced by the turn arrow and the street names would appear in bold white font. More on that later.

 

Rerouting

If you chose not to follow the advice that Routis gave, it will nearly instantly recalculate the route. It does that with a little trick. For the first few moments Routis tries to get you back onto the original track, which involves a number of U-turn proposals. Only if you persistently fail to follow that advice Routis will then recalculate the route based on your current destination. Nothing to complain about here - eventually it was your fault, so you cannot blame the application for trying to get you back on track. Calculation speed is decent, but it also depends on the amount of map data that needs to be considered.

 

Sometimes Routis (as many other navigation applications) is not really sure what road you are on. Routis does automatically lock to the nearest road, but that may not be the right one. There's no way to disable the locking, so you are always advised to verify the directions against the real world outside your car window.

 

Stopover? Can do

Many navigation programs for the Pocket PC lack the ability to specify stopover locations - that is bad if you want to do a round trip and would like to plan it in one go, or if you have to go via a certain place. While Routis doesn't allow you to enter a stopover when you plan the route it does help you after you started your trip and then want to pass by another place en route to the final destination. Whenever you enter the "Destinations" selection and a destination had already been set Routis presents you with the choice to clear the original destination (which takes you back to the map screen), to select a new destination or to enter a stopover location. The original destination will be saved until you have reached the stopover location, and then Routis asks you if you now want to proceed to the original destination. At this point you could confirm and then enter yet another stopover...

 

Detour - Certainly!

When you see a traffic jam or another obstacle ahead in your driving path you can try and ask Routis for a detour. It will give you up to three choices of distances to avoid (based on the actual map data) and then it recalculates the route accordingly. This works very well, especially because you don't need to think about how much of a distance to avoid - Routis will tell you what it can do for you. Routis does not allow you to enter permanent avoids (one of the big features in TomTom Navigator). My home street recently got dug up (side kick at NavTech: that was three years ago!) , and now there's a water channel between me and the highway and I always have to go a different way to get there. And still every time Routis suggests I drive through the water.  That's a bit annoying, to put it mildly.

 

Ergonomics and Usability 

One thing I liked about Routis is how the application is hiding the complexity of some of the features it offers from the user's view. Routis may not be as powerful as TomTom Navigator with their abundance of features and personalization options, but it certainly equals in ease of use and intuitiveness. There is a user's guide and a readme file, but I haven't touched those yet, simply because there was no need for that. The average user will find that most of the features are where they expect them to be, and some even show up in a way that makes you think "That's kind of neat, why didn't I come up with that idea?" Want an example? You can chose to have Routis control the switch between day and night display. It calculates the Almanac at your location, so it knows when the sun is setting at the place where you are. Shortly after that it switches between the lighter colored day view and the darker night view. Seamlessly, without any user interaction.  It also tells you all kinds of stuff about the moon, but I didn't really understand what that has to do with navigation - maybe you shouldn't drive at full moon? Next thing they may also include a biorhythm calculator. Don't blink.

 

Besides that, there is the already mentioned option to replace the voice files with your own creations, the convenient switch between English and metric system, and a very pleasant way the application handles the voice commands in the English systems. It doesn't try to talk in "three quarters of a mile" but instead says "point seven miles". At least to me who is used to the metric system that approach is much easier to cope with. (Unfortunately it doesn't help with the real life street direction signs - those are still showing that "3/4 mile" distance. You could probable initiate a heated argument about which system is better, but eventually I think the navigation program should help the user to match the information to the one he/she is getting from the eyes. Which also reminds me of the differences in street names between applications and real street signs - but that's another story)

 

So about the only thing that is missing is a real safety screen. There is a safety speed warning, and a "fog driving mode" which makes the program beep whenever you approach an intersection (a bit of a scary feature come to think of it - just imagine everybody using it), but that's not it. I wanted a screen that would pop in at a certain speed, and would only have the essential data to show, so I don't get distracted from watching the traffic around me.

 

The Good

- Safety warning splash screen at program start

- Voice commands come in plenty, they are timely, easy to understand and unambiguous

- voice files can be exchanged

- Smart reduction of user accessible features

- Good usage of screen real estate

- mostly tappable UI - no need for a stylus unless you have really big fingers

- connecting highway maps are loaded with start and destination state or province

- allows for stopovers and detours

 

The Not Yet Perfect

- some taps could be saved by combining screens, especially when selecting destinations

- essential information like ETA, time to destination, distance to destination cannot be viewed at same time

- zoom controls are too small - use rocker pad instead

- no personalization (colour schemes, road type speeds, POIs, permanent avoids etc)

- memory-loving. Make sure you have plenty available

 

Summary

Deluo Routis is an excellent program for the people among us that want to have an application that is easy to use and does not overwhelm the user with functionality.  Many of the more complex things that Routis actually does are nicely hidden from the user's view. I would place Routis in between Mapopolis and TomTom Navigator. Routis shares the excellent NavTech map base with Mapopolis and even manages to add one or two extra map functions (like the display of the house number range on your current location), but Routis easily avoids many of the usability quirks of Mapopolis. It is nearly as powerful as TomTom, even though it doesn't allow for custom color schemes or custom road type speeds. The ease of use of Routis is certainly on par with TomTom and - as said before - many users will be happy that they do not need to acquire a masters degree in TomTom configuration to get satisfying results from their navigation system. Well done, Deluo!

 

A good introduction to Deluo Routis can also be found on the Deluo website.

 

 

References

Manufacturers Website

http://www.deluo.com/

Pocket GPS Reviewer

Lutz Bendlin

Pocket GPS Reviewer Website

n/a

Rating

 

Ability to plot route and follow

Voice Navigation Quality

Re-routing Quality

Map Detail

Overall Rating 80%

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