Updated: November 24, 2010
Generally, I don't like smart phones. They are not my cup of coffee. And I don't even drink coffee. But sometimes, much like flooding can do humanity good, they can be useful.
So it happens that I own a Nokia E71 thingie, full keyboard and whatnot, don't ask how I got it, when, where or why, and so it happens that I had to travel abroad. This travel entailed driving a car around places I've never been before. In the olden days, real men used maps or asked people for directions. Today, we make living by using satellite-positioning navigation, a.k.a. GPS.
In this article, for those of you who happen to own a Nokia smartphone, E5X-E9X models, you can use your phone as a GPS, for free. No need to waste money asking the rental company for one or buying your own piece. Of course, the definition of free here is limited to the fact you did spend money on buying the phone, unless you got it as a gift or for business reasons.
I will be using my E71 as an example here. The phone has a GPS utility already installed. It has its own separate category in the menus. Open the application. Click on Maps. Basically, you're good to go. But wait a second.
You do not want to start using the software just yet! There are several things you want to do first before activating the GPS. These include configuring the GPS for lowest bandwidth usage abroad, downloading the relevant GPS maps offline, and setting the GPS voice navigation and other properties. Let's do this.
Activate Integral GPS only
If you let your phone use all its available GPS positioning methods, which include Bluetooth, Assisted, Integrated, and Network based, you may waste tons of your money downloading map updates and other data. Using your phone in another country can be extremely costly. You definitely want to avoid this.
What you need to do is disable all methods except Integrated GPS. You can customize this setting by going to GPS > GPS Data > Options > Positioning Settings. This is the first step of our setup.
The big plus of using only the Integrated GPS is that you will have zero bandwidth cost. The downside is that you may need to wait for a minute or two until the GPS recalibrates its position on any use.
Download maps offline
Your smart phone has network access, most likely including 3G and Wi-Fi. 3G can be costly and you don't want to use it. Maps can be several hundred MB of data, which might exceed your bandwidth plan. Furthermore, if you're abroad, every little byte of extra data will cost you a fortune. Instead, you should download maps using Wi-Fi, possibly when connected to your home network, or use the Nokia Ovi Suite software to manage your phone assets.
Nokia Ovi Suite is available only for Windows, so this can be a limiting factor to how you can manage your smart phone. On the other hand, you can run the software on a desktop computer, downloading data at virtually no cost. I won't go into details as to how you can use the software, we may have a separate article on that one, we will focus on downloading the relevant maps and then copying them to our phone.
Then, the next time you sync your phone, you will have the maps copied. To be able to sync data between the phone and the computer, you may need to install additional software on your Nokia. Again, preferably, download the relevant packages using your machine, then transfer them to your phone.
Now, let us briefly deviate from the GPS stuff to an extremely short session on how you can download software and install it on your phone. We will need this information later on when I introduce yet another GPS software.
Download & install software
Anyhow, Nokia phones are powered by the Symbian operating system. Not really exciting, except that packages for Nokia can be identified by the .sis extension. Download any program you may need. Next, plug in your phone, preferably using a USB cable. When you plugin the phone, you will be asked what method you want to use to connect the phone.
Choose PC Suite, if you want to use the Ovi Suite. However, for transferring data to your phone, you need the Mass storage option. Then, it will become just another flash memory device, like a USB thumb drive.
On your PC, locate the phone and copy the installation packages to one of the folders. Next, on your phone, locate the uploaded packages. You can browse your phone directories using Office > File Manager.
You may need to shuffle between phone and memory card. Locate the right installation package, choose Options > Install. We will discuss this later on. Let the blue-marked package called WAZE.SIS be a hint for now.
After you install any needed software for syncing the maps between the Ovi Suite and your phone, let them sync. Your maps will be uploaded to your phone. Remember that there is some space limitations after all. World maps can easily add up to hundreds of MB, so make sure you have enough space.
Another tool you may want to consider for the purpose of downloading maps and syncing them to your phone is Nokia Maps Loader. This can be an alternative to the full-blown suite. For more details about connecting your phone on Linux, see my cell phone backup howto.
Configure your GPS navigation preferences
The last step is to setup your navigation. Open the GPS application.
Choose Options > Settings. There are several menus available, including Internet, Navigation, Route, Map, and Synchronization. Let's briefly go through each one and see what they offer us.
Here, you can specify your connection method. For abroad, I always use Offline. You can also setup the default access point and have a roaming warning light up, which can be useful to prevent unnecessary costs.
Here you can specify the voice. I always use the English UK RP female voice. Nothing like a posh Brit to spice up your blood. You can also setup walk guidance, home location, zoom, reroute due to traffic, time indicator, speed limit warning, and more. There's also traffic info update, but this requires an Internet connection, so use sparingly if at all when abroad. Reroute due to traffic is a similar feature.
This sub-menu lets you choose the transport mode, route selection and what kinds of roads you want to drive. For example, you may only want motorways, but no toll roads or unpaved roads. By default, all options are selected, including ferries, train ferries and tunnels. The default route selection is the fastest route.
You can specify what kind of colors to use, maximum memory use, the default category, like hotels, hospitals or others, and choose your measurement system. Basically, you have metric and imperial. No screenshot here, you get the idea.
This menu allows you to choose when to update you GPS software and maps, like manually, on startup and shutdown, etc. Login information will be required if you want to do that against the Ovi website. You will need to configure your Internet connection accordingly. Not recommended abroad. And that would be all. Let's drive!
Finally, use your GPS
Now, we're ready. Go somewhere, like Norway or United States, power on your GPS, wait for a few moments until it calibrates properly, select your destination and drive.
I've tested the software in real life, and it works very well. Maps are fairly accurate and the software makes reasonably intelligent choices. The voice choice is wicked. The small screen is clear and visible from 40-50 cm away.
You can search for places of interest, zoom in on the maps, use 2D and 3D projections, save your favorite locations, and much more. It's not fancy, but it works extremely well, especially considering the zero cost.
Searching for places
An important note: when you search for places of interest, make sure you are as detailed as possible. In the Offline mode, the software will look for places only in the vicinity of its last known satellite position, so if you're looking for something 600 km away, you may not find it. But if you specify the city or the country, the searches will be far more successful. This is a small downside of using the program in offline mode, but it compensates for astronomical cell phones fees abroad.
Alternative GPS software: Waze
If you think we're done, you're wrong. Only Dedoimedo provides tutorials so detailed and complete. Not only have I shown you how to use the build-in software, now I'm going to introduce yet another program, in case you don't like the Ovi software, and we will also learn a little more about installations of packages on Nokia phones.
So let me tell you about Waze. It's another cool free GPS software, available in many locations and languages. What makes it useful is that any user can send real-time traffic updates, which makes it for a sort-of community GPS. The program does need network connection to work, though.
Anyhow, if you're interested, read on some more. We saw WAZE.SIS in one of the screenshots earlier. Now, time to install the program. Best of all, here's an exercise in how to install Symbian packages. Believe it or not, it's no different than any other installation you've done. Confirm the installation, choose where to install the program - phone memory or the memory card, let it run.
Next, go to Installations and launch the program.
Next, you will need to create your account. Afterwards, customize your usage options and start running. Once again, the mandatory network connections makes it probably most useful in your own countries of residence. But it's an option worth consideration. And that would be all.
That was long and useful. You now have a plenty of options, all free, to drive around without getting lost in strange foreign locations. If you ask me, the built-in software is the preferred choice, especially because of its offline mode and high customization ability. Plus it works well, its simple to use, it's accurate and detailed. The overall integration is good, even if you resent having Windows software installed on some kind of a computer.
Finally, you may be wondering how I managed all those cute screenshots on my phone? Well, you will have to wait for the next article to learn about that. Take care and happy navigations!