Will BMW cause major change for SatNavs?

Friday, May 8th, 2015

BMW have this week announced that from later this year they will be providing free Satellite Navigation with all new cars. Not just will this be free to use, but BMW have said it will also include free traffic rerouting for drivers.

This is a very interesting way forward, and is likely to force other manufacturers (at least within the executive sector) to follow suit. I can, however, see a couple of caveats to the news…

Firstly, the standard screen will be 6.5inches, but you can upgrade to a larger (and easier to read) 8.8 inch screen (with a cost at least £900, with some models costing £1400, though that will also include Head Up Display). Secondly, whilst traffic rerouting will be free, I wonder if map updates will continue to attract a large price tag, at a time when many PNDs (Personal Navigation Devices; TomTom, Garmin etc.) provide free lifetime* map updates. I do note that some car manufacturers have joined the Here Maps free map update programme, where map updates will be available for download free for your car (either forever, or at least for the first few years of ownership) and whilst BMW do offer this, it’s not clear whether this will apply to all models, or just those where you pay extra for the Professional Navigation system with the larger screen.

However, hats off to BMW for being able to offer this. Some models will gain the free satnav within the next month or two, whereas others will not get this until September.

* – Normally the lifetime of the device, not the owner.


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Pioneer announce HUD for SatNavs too

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Pioneer Navgate HUD

After we covered the Garmin HUD a month or so back, it’s interesting to see Pioneer have now announced a very similar principle. However, these two devices can’t be directly compared; as well as offering a much better display, offering much more detail, it has a price to match… Whereas the Garmin unit will be around £150, this is going to sell nearer to £600!

For that though, you will get traffic, navigation instructions, points of interest, road hazards and more (clock, the current speed and speed limits, speed and red light camera warnings, the distance to the destination, as well as the estimated time of arrival) in full colour. The device attaches to the sun visor (meaning you will not be able to actually use it as a sun visor anymore), and for that, I do like it, as well folded up, it will not be as obvious to thieves.

Only just obvious from the picture above is the cable that’s needed to power the device, but the device also has a light sensor to vary the amount of light (and hence power) the device uses.

The Pioneer Navgate HUD will work with iGo Primo (iOS only) and CoPilot Live (both iOS and Android versions as best I can tell), so this does increase the range of options if you don’t want to change your existing navigation app of choice.

More information should be available next month when the device is available.


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Clever little device for displaying road speed

Friday, February 15th, 2013

This, the Snooper My Speed Aura, is a clever little device. Although it’s made by Snooper, a well established speed camera detector company, it actually has a more useful purpose than alerting you to speed camera locations (which it can also do…); it tells you the normal speed limit along a road. By utilising the Navteq road speed database and a GPS signal, it is able to tell you what it thinks is the normal speed for the road for your car (**), and that, to me, is a clever trick.

Actually, it can also detect speed cameras; it has access to the Snooper Aura speed camera database, so using the GPS can also alert you to whether there is a speed camera in the area, but the ability to tell you the speed limit of normal roads would give you confidence over whether you were speeding or not to being with.

Normally £130 (with lifetime updates to the Snooper speed camera database), it’s currently available from Halfords for only £90 (though they don’t keep it in stock, so you need to order it to be delivered to home or to a store which will take a few days, so this deal is not for those who want to buy it straight away.

It only comes with a windscreen suction mount, and I couldn’t find any third party mounts, though it might be possible to modify the mount to be able to mount directly onto the dash, and doesn’t seem to have a battery, so would need power at all times in the car, and the only other downside is that I haven’t tried the Snooper speed camera database to know how accurate it is (of course, you don’t really need to rely upon it with this particular device). In fact, you can buy it without the speed camera database (but the Halfords price with the camera support is still cheaper).

Even better, Snooper have recently updated the software inside the device, and any new devices bought this year have a new trick up their sleeve; you can specify what type of vehicle you have (car, truck, car towing) and it will adjust the speed to reflect your speed on the road, which I think makes the device even more useful, especially for those who occasionally tow, or have caravans, motorhomes etc.

On the screen above you can see it’s displaying a speed camera alert (you can turn off the smiley face if you want a more professional looking device!), when there are no speed cameras around that circle displays the current road speed instead.

** – sometimes it doesn’t know the exact speed for the road, so provides a suggested advisory speed. Also, when speed limits change the device may not know about the change, so you should always used devices like this as a secondary aide, and still pay attention to the road signs!

Although the device comes with lifetime speed camera updates, the updates for the road speed information does cost; it’s currently £10 per year, which seems not too bad, especially when you realise that covers the whole of Europe (where data is available), and not just the UK. I’ve no idea how often Snooper update their data though; their website says the £10 charge allows you to update “once per year”, which does sound a little infrequent to me.

Overall, a clever little device that concentrates on doing one thing, and seems to do it quite well. My only problem with it is the price; for the same price (actually slightly less), you could buy a device such as the Garmin Nuvi 30, with full European navigation as well as the facility for displaying the road speed limit (a function of most recent models from both Garmin and TomTom). In my mind, there are only two situations where the Snooper My Speed really shines; when you drive a truck or tow, so the ability to select vehicle type is important (satnavs that offer that facility are normally much more money), or where you have a built in satnav in your car already, and don’t need a second device, but would like to benefit from knowing the road speed limit at all times.


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Roaming; how to keep costs down

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

The last article was about Vodafone European roaming rates for PAYG customers, so I thought I would jot down some of the techniques I use to try to minimise my roaming costs when going abroad. I should note for my last trip abroad I used 30MB of data (over 4 days), and a handful of texts, yet kept my total spend below £10, and could not have spent more than £20, yet that spend actually got me a bundle of texts, calls and data for the UK leg of the journey, and whilst abroad I could have used upto 100MB without spending any more money!

So, what techniques do I use:

Firstly, I carried my primary UK phone number in a phone where I turned off roaming data whilst still in the UK. In fact, as I left the UK, I turned off mobile data completely. This phone I only use for emergencies, being contacted if needed. This limited usage kept the battery going for 2 days without a charge.

I then carried a second phone, in my case, an old Android phone from a year or so ago. This had been wiped clean and just had the apps needed, with most of the sync functions turned off (actually, I kept calendar / contacts syncing, and ran a couple of Social Network clients). Although I kept the syncing turned on, to minimise usage even further, I would turn this off, as it only adds to the usage, and most changes could wait until I returned. Again, roaming data was initially turned off.

This phone carried a Vodafone PAYG SIM, which I topped up with £20 before I set off. This topup gave me minutes, texts and 500MB of data in the UK. As I’m already opted in to Vodafone Passport, I knew that if I kept data to less than 25MB per day, my data costs would be £2 per day.

Before I left the UK, I used those bundled texts that came with the topup to alert a few key people that if they needed me over the next few days to use this number in preference to my normal number.

Once I arrived, I was greeted with text messages to both phones informing me of the rates (which, given it was before the new 1 July 2012 roaming limits are imposed, were somewhat of a shock (eg £3.07/MB for data!). I then turned on roaming data on the Vodafone SIM, and then used the normal data on/off functions to control my usage. I had a data counter installed (I use 3G Watchdog Pro, which included the ability to create a widget on the homescreen which monitored and reported my roaming usage) to ensure I was kept aware of my usage.

So, with careful use of data, I kept within the 25MB daily limit Vodafone include with the Passport option, sent and receive a few texts (11p per text, but coming out of the £20 credit), and spent under £10 all in. Given the phone only had a £20 credit, even if something went wrong with the Passport data options, or I suddenly started making lots of calls (or my phone had been stolen; though I’m not sure a two year old Android phone would have been that worthy), my absolute roaming spend was limited to that £20 topup. I appreciate the UK networks have now introduced roaming cost caps to limit bill shock, but this method truely limited my costs to a fixed amount.

In addition, I ran mapping software which allowed me to download the maps beforehand, so I wasn’t paying for Google Maps type data transfers of map data all the time (and in fact, since travelling, Google Maps on Android now has a formal offline feature for downloading the maps, but not the turn-by-turn navigation). I didn’t need to drive / travel any great distance, but if I had, Nokia Drive on Windows Phone (or Symbian) still makes a lot of sense as it provides true offline navigation.

Most importantly, as I was travelling with my family, by having an old phone without every latest bit of software installed, and a need to keep data usage down, I mainly had the phone for emergencies, and enjoyed the holiday.

If you are travelling abroad this summer, you will firstly benefit from lower roaming rates within the EU, but either way, spend some time thinking about the costs and researching it before you leave, and make sure you plan a way that works best for you; this is even more key when you leave the EU, where the caps and new low rates won’t apply. With many of the networks now offering bundles and good rates on PAYG SIMs, it’s well worth considering taking a second phone (or simply an old phone in the cupboard) to best save money and keep down the risk of bill shock.


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New Ovi Maps v3.08 (Beta)

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Keeping with the Maps theme, Nokia have released (through the Nokia Beta Labs programme) another beta update to Ovi Maps.  v3.08 brings a number of new features (over the earlier v3.07 beta):

Drive Enhancements:

  • Live traffic routing takes traffic information into account to avoid traffic jams automatically (available in Germany, France, US, UK and Russia).
  • Turn on “Avoid traffic” in your “Route settings” to take traffic conditions into account while you drive. Always get the best route for right now.
  • New Drive look & feel – home screen now has buttons for “Set destination,” “Drive home” and “Just drive.”
  • “Just drive” or Drive assistance shows your accurate speed, gives speed warnings, the distance driven and real time traffic.
  • New information bar on Drive navigation and Drive assistance screens.
  • Also easily toggle between Estimated Time of Arrival in minutes or distance to your destination – just tap the icon on the screen.
  • New option menus in Drive.
  • Set a contact as a destination.
  • Easily change your settings during Drive navigation. Changes in settings are immediate and can been seen instantly.

Additional improvements

  • Long tap is now available to give quick access to “Drive to,” “Walk to,” “Share” and various lists.
  • Settings reorganized to “General” “Maps & Walk” and “Drive.”

One key point; this is a Symbian^3 only product, so if you are a Symbian S60 5th Edition (aka Symbian^1) user, then you won’t be able to get this update.  We’ve already seen S60 v3 devices limited to v3.04 Ovi Maps, and now S60 v5 device are unlikely to progress beyond v3.06; what’s not so clear is whether and for how long we’ll see map updates for these elder clients.

I believe the latest maps available for v3.04 are from 2010, whereas the maps for v3.06 haven’t been updated since Feb 2011


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Samsung Galaxy Tab updates

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Whilst Mobile World Congress is going this week, many manufacturers will be launching new phones and devices, and Samsung is no exception.  Along with the Samsung Galaxy S2 (Android phone), they have announced their new tablet; the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. This has a large 10.1″ 1280 x 800 screen, and runs Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). The features include:

  • 1GHz Dual Core Processor
  • Dual surround sound speakers
  • HD recording and Full HD playback
  • 8 megapixel rear and 2 megapixel front cameras
  • 599g
  • Google Services (including Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google Latitude, Google Books and Google Talk video chat)
  • Flash support
  • A-GPS (Google Turn-by-turn navigation)
  • WiFi (802.111 b/g/n)

This is a nice high tech device.  Of course, for many, a 10.1″ device is just too big to carry around, and for those, the existing Samsung Galaxy Tab should suit just fine (with the smaller, but still impressive 7.0″ 1024 x 600 screen).  The smaller Tab is also lighter (380g), but is “only” running Android 2.2 (Froyo).

If you are interested in the existing 7″ Galaxy Tab, then 3UK announced on Friday that they are now selling the device with a very competitive data contract; for £25 per month (24-month contract), you’ll get 15GB of data each month to use on the device (there is also an upfront cost of £199); however, compare that to say, Vodafone, who would charge £25 per month (18-month contract) plus £499 upfront, and you just get 3GB of data each month.

Also, if you are looking to buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000 (the 7″ device) soon; you might want to hurry up; Samsung UK is offering a promotion whereby they will provide you with 50 MP3s (from emusic.com), 15 movies (from Samsung Movies), 7 Games (from Gameloft, although 2 are pre-installed), and £25 worth of eBooks (from W H Smith); however, you need to register your device’s details with Samsung before the end of this month (28 February 2011). I should point out terms and conditions apply to this promotion, which do need checking before you commit to the device solely on the basis of this offer.

If you already own the Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000, 3UK are now offering PAYG Pre-loaded Tablet SIMs, which have from 1GB to 12GB of data pre-loaded onto them for use with a tablet.


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T-Mobile reduce Internet usage across all tariffs

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Although it’s not 100% clear, it looks like T-Mobile has decided to reduce the amount of Internet data allowance each handset has to quite a low level (in fact, one of the low levels available from the main networks).  Whereas before T-Mobile had a high fair usage limit (often 3-4GB before they got upset and warned users), or stated a limit around 1GB (but without enforcing it), they have just published this information (here) stating that the limit is now 500MB across all contracts (old and new) as from 1 Feb 2011.  When other networks have tried this in the past, they have often accepted that it warrants a change in the T&Cs, and allowed people to cancel contracts early, however, we are hearing that T-Mobile are not letting people out of contracts over this change.

Let’s be clear, for many users this simply won’t be a problem; 3UK recently told me that over two thirds of their users use some of the 150MB data allowance provided whenever you topup, but most did not exceed that limit, nor needed to buy any additional internet allowances, so it may well equally be that many T-Mobile users will never reach the new lower limits, however, there will be some who use devices such as Android phones, which are constantly syncing data (email, calendars etc.) and using online navigation solutions (such as Google Maps), and uploading photos or videos directly from the handset who will find the new lower limit a struggle.

Other networks seem to offer 500MB on their lower tariffs, moving up to 750MB and then 1GB for the higher tariffs (or specific tariffs, such as for the iPhone), so this does seem to be a rather low limit across all tariffs, and there are still statements on the T-Mobile website implying that there are a range of allowance for Apple iPhone devices.

In fact, if you head to the Fair Use Policy pages (here), these still list figures of up to 3GB as applying to new contracts, so it’s definitely not clear what rates will apply for someone taking out a contract today, but it’s fair to say that it looks like T-Mobile may be reducing everyone’s allowances from next month.

T-Mobile have privately let me know that even if you go through the 500MB limit (and they’ve said very few customers do use more than that on a monthly basis), you should still be able to browse the web and read email even at the limit.  It’s ironic that T-Mobile have introduced these new lower limits only a few weeks after 3UK started to remove limits from some of their high end iPhone tariffs…


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New phones on 3UK

Friday, July 9th, 2010

3UK have announced this week that they now have two new Android smartphones that you can purchase on 3UK, and not just that, but you can get them on the new One Plan we covered here which offers fantastic value for money if you are a heavy mobile user.

Firstly, they are now offering the HTC Wildfire, which is a cut down version of the HTC Desire.  Although cut down might imply “cheap”, and it’s fair to say it doesn’t have the spec (or the price) of the HTC Desire, but it’s actually still a very capable Android device; in fact the only compliant I’ve heard about it is that moving forward over the next year or two, the screen maybe too small to allow major OS upgrades, as Google has now specified a minimum spec (including display resolution) for the future, and the HTC Wildfire falls a little short.

Having said that, it still rivals many other phones, and is still a better display than many other phones of last year! The 3.2″ screen is still a good size, and the 5 megapixel camera is still better than many, and it offers Android v2.1 with HTC’s Sense UI too.  All the usual Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. are there too.  Also interestingly, although it’s available now in “Metal Mocha” colour, it will also be available on 3UK in Red from August, and the Red colour will be exclusive to 3UK.

If you aren’t an HTC fan, then there’s always the Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro, which again, is a smaller smartphone (the “X10 Mini” part), but features quite a key differentiator; the “Pro” means it also features a QWERTY keyboard!  This is a slide out keyboard (in the same way as the Nokia E75, Nokia C6 or Nokia N900), and although it blatantly doesn’t feature the HTC Sense UI, it does feature some key Sony Ericsson UI customisations instead.  These include the ability to specify 4 corner navigation and 3 homescreens, and it also features Sony Ericsson’s Timescape, which brings together your Facebook, Twitter, email, text messages and calls into one place.  This sounds an interesting feature, although with many of these manufacturer applications, it may be a little limiting to the “serious” social networker, especially if it can’t be expanded to support other social networks.

The Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro is available in Black from 3UK, and also in White, which will (like the Red HTC Wildfire) be a colour exclusive to 3UK.

If you want either of these phones on the new One Plan, they are available for £30 per month (24-month contract), and remember that comes with 2000 cross network minutes, 5000 3UK3UK minutes, 5000 texts and 1GB data; if you want to buy them on PAYG, the HTC Wildfire is £199 and the Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro is £249, both very competitive prices in their own right!

I like the way that whilst historically 3UK were not able to arrange model exclusivity agreements, they are now sufficiently recognised by the manufacturers to at least able to negotiate colour exclusives, and you never know, maybe this time next year, we’ll see a worthy smartphone launch exclusively on 3UK


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Nokia release new firmwares

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Last week Nokia released 3 key new firmwares.  Firstly, the Nokia E71 (and I suspect the Nokia E66 and Nokia E63, as they seem to share a common base and seem to get updates at the same time) was updated to v500, although at the time of writing, this was not yet available for either the generic EURO1 codes nor the operator branded versions in the UK, but hopefully it will become available over the coming weeks.

v500 contains the following updates:

  • Maps v3.03 Lite which has Free Navigation support
  • Music Player upgrade
  • Quick Office v6.2 which has Office 2007 support
  • Ovi Store upgraded to 1.6.0.18 and Download! Removed
  • Ovi Suite included in Memory card
  • Functionality improvements in E-mail configuration
  • Qwerty keypad improvements
  • Emergency call termination with RSK key corrected
  • Corrected Bluetooth link drop when an outgoing call is made in a carkit
  • Corrected localization issues in world clock
  • Fix provided for selecting desired mailbox when multiple mailboxes are configured

Probably more important is the Nokia N97 firmware update to v22, and the Nokia N97 Mini firmware update to v12.  Given the Nokia N97 is always accused of not having enough memory and space on the internal C: drive, then having to install Ovi Maps (over 10MB) to that area is always a burden. Well, this new firmware at least includes v3.03 Ovi Maps within the firmware, removing the need to have that additional 10MB application install (although we note that v3.04 is now out with the added cell ID and Wi-Fi based positioning, so without using a third party app such as Maps Booster, there is still, ironically, a need to install Ovi Maps in addition to the version in firmware for some of us).

The other new features include:

  • Ovi Maps v3.03 with free Navigation built-in
  • Nokia Messaging stub built-in
  • Default screen brightness raised to 75%
  • Default theme now the jet black ‘Nseries 2’, giving longer battery life than the previous ‘Nseries 3’
  • RAM optimisations
  • Miscellaneous bug fixes, including “Default Nokia tune is played as ringing tone for incoming calls instead of the one user has defined in Profile settings. Also sometimes device has stopped alerting for incoming calls. Both issues are now fixed” which has plagued a good few users.

As with all firmwares, you will need to decide between the impact of applying a new firmware (and the need to wipe the phone and start again with all your contacts, bookmarks, application and settings) against the fixes provided by the new firmware.  As always, expect to wait longer (and potentially forever) for operator branded versions to arrive; for example a 3UK Nokia E71 is still on v300, having never released v400 (or v410) for their devices, so the chance of v500 being released is quite small (it’s not all 3UK; an Orange N97 will still be stuck on v10, as they have never released v11, v20 or v21, let alone the new v22).

Nokia E71 firmware information courtesy of Symbian World, Nokia N97 Firmware information courtesy of All About Symbian.


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Looking for an Android UK Traffic App?

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

This application (“UK Traffic Checker”) is now available in the Android Market for free. It’s been developed by Dale Lane, who has produced small programs which we’ve covered before, and this one is no exception.  It’s main job is to not just provide you with access to UK road traffic data, but it also allows you to enter details of a regularly performed journey (such as the daily commute to work), and you can then schedule the program to update, so you can see an accurate traffic picture before you set off sitting there ready for you.

This is a nice little application, and worthy of a look at.  Although other application provide traffic data (if only the well used Google Maps), the ability to have the data ready for immediate access seems worth it to me.  If you want to try the application, either search for “UK Traffic Checker” or “Dale Lane” in the Android Market.

Photo courtesy of Dale Lane on Flickr.


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