Sunday, March 23, 2014

Garmin Monterra Review Part 4: Garmin Legacy Software

Let me start off by saying that, in general, I have been quite pleased with the software that Garmin puts on their GPSr devices.  I have very few complaints with how my personal GPSr devices work, and all of them are minor.

Going into this review of the Monterra I suspected that the Garmin side of things would remain as useful as it always has.  There did turn out to be a few problems.

UI Issues And Schisms

I ran into some serious user interface issues that nearly caused me to pull my hair out, for it is amazingly annoying.  The issue comes down to changes in how the geocache dashboard works.

On other Garmin GPSrs that I have used (namely the Montana 600) during navigation to a geocache I am presented with a map. On top of that map is a dashboard that has basic information: cache name, direction, distance etc.  When one touches the dashboard one is presented with details about that cache. Simple interface, and exactly the result I expect.

On the Monterra the navigation is, essentially, the same setup. Map screen with a dashboard on the top showing cache name, direction and distance.  However when one touches the dashboard one gets presented with a list of caches, sorted by distance.  This means that I have to then select the cache I want again before I can view its details. I already selected it once, which is the reason why the dashboard is navigating to it, so this extra step really grinds my gears.  It is made doubly annoying if the cache is not the closest cache as one has to scroll the list to find the cache first, they touch the entry to get the details.  Every time this happens I keep mentally screaming "Just show me the bloody cache!"

Update(2014-03-29): Apparently the above issue has been fixed in the latest Garmin Outdoor Apps update, 1.18.  Click here to get details on updating.  This does bring up a question tho:  Why the crazy update scheme, Garmin?  In a world that already has an app store, why force users to side-load your APK?

There is a third annoyance in that selecting caches from the list seems to require an extra hard touch, which doesn't happen at any other time.  Not sure if the Garmin engineers intended this bizarre behaviour, but its definitely a bug, and an annoying one at that.  This all may seem minor, but since selecting caches and viewing their descriptions is 50% of what I do with a GPSr, this is a serious black eye on the device.

Legacy Vs New

Another issue is more a result of the cross between the way Garmin traditionally loads data onto the device and the new modern world.

In an Android world, if an app wants to use a compass, it can provide its own, or use a signal called an intent to prompt the use of any other compass or compass like apps that may be installed on the device. This way a user can pick and choose which compass or map they prefer, and use it for most things.

I sort of expected this same function sharing from Garmins software as well. However I could not find a way for Android geocaching apps to be able to share Maps or cache listings.  I am not sure if this is a true limitation of Garmins software, or simply that the Android apps are not set up to share such data, but if any Garmin engineers read this: Making your compass and maps apps shared via an intent would be awesome.

This also means that if one wants custom maps one has to load them multiple times. Once for the Garmin side, and another for whatever Android device is being used.  This rapidly takes up space. Hardly ideal.

Data Loading

Loading data (GPX or custom map data) is also different, but not necessarily in a bad way, and it is Androids fault.  When plugged into a computer via USB, most other modern Garmin GPSrs mount their drives as USB drives, and data can simply be copied back and forth as it can on any other drive on the computer.  Since Android does not allow its drives to be mounted in this way, one has the additional step of having to install an app called Android File Transfer to copy data directly to/from the GPSr. Android File Transfer is free, and available here.  Use of Android File Transfer is standard fair for Android, so it shouldn't really come as a surprise, except that it now applies to your GPSr as well.

Of course one can simply use a program like Dropbox to copy data onto the device.  The Monterra still expects the data used by its apps to be under the /Garmin directory so one can simply save GPX or map files there and the GPSr will make use of them.  Bizarrely tho, it still requires the device be rebooted before the Garmin apps will see the new data.

Garmin Desktop Apps

Both MapInstall and BaseCamp seemed to work with the Monterra. I actually used MapInstall to put a set of OpenStreetMaps onto the device for testing purposes.  The one catch I had was that Android File Transfer started up as soon as I plugged in the Monterra to my computer, which caused the Garmin apps to not see the device.  The solution is to simply close Android File Transfer before using the Garmin apps, but it is one more thing that gets in the way, and may not be intuitive for the new user.  These problems were seen on an iMac, so Windows users may get different results.  Just something to watch out for.

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