Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Finding your way with the Pharos Pocket GPS Navigator


By David Gewirtz

I'll never understand how they do it. For some reason, though you know they're nasty, the hotdogs you eat in Yankee Stadium while the Yanks pulverize the evil Rangers are better than any other hotdog you'll ever eat, anywhere else.

Of course, to be able to chow down from the cheap seats, you've first got to get there. And that brings us to the heart of our story: the Pharos GPS and Ostia in-car navigation software.

If you've never used a GPS, you're in for a treat. A GPS (or Global Positioning System navigator) is truly amazing. This little device, smaller than the palm of your hand, talks to a series of satellites in orbit around the Earth, constantly updating positional information.

That positional information, in the form of latitude and longitude, is fed into the navigation software. The navigation software adds a number of key components to the GPS in-car navigation formula. First, the GPS receiver itself knows where you are on the planet. By recording where you are now... and now ... the computer connected to the GPS receiver can tell which direction you're moving in, and approximately how fast.

Combine speed, location, and direction with a set of good maps, and you've got a ball game.

The best way to describe the Pharos hardware and Ostia software is to say it's both absolutely amazing and an idiot savant. It's really, really smart and really, really stupid, at exactly the same time. It works quite well, but you've got to work hard, along with it. I'll tell you about that in a moment.

The hardware

Let's first talk about the Pharos hardware. I really like the design of this product, even though, at first, it seems clunky. The product consists of the little GPS puck shown in Figure A, as well as a number of cables and connectors.


Amazingly, this little puck can talk to a satellite in orbit. (click for larger image)

One cable plugs into the GPS receiver. One cable, shown in Figure B, plugs into the docking station port of your Pocket PC (providing both comms and power).


This connector provides both data and power. (click for larger image)

These cables plug in together, and then plug into a third cable that's connected to the car's cigarette lighter.

I like this design for a few reasons. First, there's one small cable that's unique to your model of Pocket PC (that's what's shown in the figure above). I tried this on an old Jornada 565, but if I decided to use a different Pocket PC, I could just get the replacement cable for that device and keep the rest of my GPS. That's neat.

I also like it because it connects into my docking station port, leaving my Compact Flash slot open and usable for flash memory. That means I can stick as many maps into the system as my flash card can handle. Using a 256MB card, I was able to get all of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, southern New York (including all of New York City) northern Delaware, and bits of Maryland.