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Tablet PC for touring / route planning?

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Tablet PC for touring / route planning?

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Old 12-12-12, 04:41 PM
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spinnaker
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Tablet PC for touring / route planning?

I currently have a Garmin GPS that I use on tour. It works great for routing while on on road but just too small for any kind of real route planning.


I am thinking of getting a tablet PC. I doubt I will want to pay for cell access. I understand that mapping apps such as the Google app will allow you to load maps for a given region. Pretty much what I need to do now with the GPS so that should work fine.

First question is which tablet? I was thinking in the sub $300 range.

The most important question is what size screen? A 7 inch screen would seem nice and compact for touring but I am worried that I will be in the same boat when it comes to screen size and route planning.

Any ideas?
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Old 12-12-12, 04:48 PM
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Given the potential elemental exposure, I would get the cheapest Android tablet I could find, and preload it with an offline map app.
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Old 12-13-12, 08:52 AM
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I haven't had any exposure-related problems with mine. My tours are short and infrequent, but this same tablet commutes with me to work and back every day in all weather as well. Just keep it dry like you would anything that is susceptible to water damage.

Size. I have a full-sized iPad. The only time I think that it might be nice to have a smaller tablet is when I take it on a bike trip. I feel like with a smaller tablet, I might find a good way to mount it on the bike so I could have easy access to its info without stopping and removing it from the pannier. I'm sure a smaller tablet would be lighter as well. And, of course, it packs smaller. When I tour, there's always a bag of gear that goes with me when I leave the bike. The size of that bag is determined by the iPad, because it's the largest item. If not for that, I could probably just keep everything in one, medium-small, dry bag. So, I can definitely see the advantages of going smaller. But then there's map reading. I haven't used anything in the 7 inch range, so I can't really say, but I will say that I've used a smart phone on the road, and I've used an iPad, and bigger is definitely better when it comes map reading. I like the idea of a smaller tablet for portability, and for reading pure text. My full-sized iPad seems like overkill when reading ebooks when compared to a smaller ebook reader. Kind of like the difference between carrying a hardcover book or a paperback. But in the end, for pretty much everything else I use it for, the size is good. And I only spend a couple of weeks a year actually traveling places by bike, so when I replace this iPad, it will be with one of the same size. The other issue with size is that I feel like larger devices often have larger batteries and therefore last longer between charges. I don't think this is a hard-and-fast rule, but it's something to look at.

Connectivity and GPS. One of the best things about using the tablet for navigation is the GPS that takes all the guesswork out of figuring out where you are on the map. Some tablets, at least the Apple ones, have a pretty good track record at finding your location based on wifi signals, but you have to be connected to the internet for that to work, and there has to be a wifi signal, even if it's one you can't connect to or maybe even see. But you will still find dead zones, so having something with a GPS chip will still be helpful. I have decided that I can rely on the phone's GPS if necessary, so having it in the tablet isn't essential, but my current device does have a GPS chip, and I find it very useful. Next time, though, I may save the extra expense and go wifi-only. With iPads, if you want GPS, you have to go with a cellular-capable model. You don't have to buy a cellular data plan for the GPS to work, but you do need to get one that has that option. There are Android models which have GPS without cellular data.

As for what to get, I am very happy with my Apple devices, but there seem to be a number of happy Android users, and there is certainly a wider variety of options if you go with Android. I have not heard a lot of great buzz about any 10 inch Android tablets, but maybe someone will chime in otherwise. If I were going to go 10 inch, I'd still be looking at Apple. To come in under $300, I'd be looking at older, 2nd hand models. If you go smaller, and want to stick to that budget, Apple is out of the running. The iPad Mini is too new to get a deal on a used model, and new it comes in a little over $300 with at least an additional $100 if you want GPS. The 7 inch Android tablet that I've heard the most positive buzz about is the Nexus 7. It has GPS, but no cellular option (I think). The base model is around $200. When I think about whether or not I'd rather tour with a smaller tablet, this is the one I think of. Cheaper than an iPad Mini with a better screen and with GPS in all models. The only concern I have is battery life, which I'm pretty sure is far better on the Mini, and which becomes important if you go long periods of time between charging options.
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Old 12-13-12, 10:09 AM
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you made me look up how to run the google map app on my kindle fire. Looks like it's doable but a bit of a thesis. I have seen good reviews of the Nexus tablets, which made me consider one of those
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Old 12-13-12, 11:16 AM
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We thought about going the tablet route, but decided to go with netbooks instead. One of the reasons we made that decision was the keyboard ... we both have very brisk typing speeds on a real keyboard, and just didn't like the onscreen keyboard that the tablets had. The onscreen keyboards would have slowed us down too much. And we didn't want to haul around a tablet and a plug-in keyboard.

The netbooks give us the option to do whatever planning we want with Google maps, to connect to the internet, to process photos, to use the office products, etc. etc. etc.

We don't, however, have a GPS, but that's OK. We haven't needed one.
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Old 12-13-12, 05:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
We thought about going the tablet route, but decided to go with netbooks instead. One of the reasons we made that decision was the keyboard ... we both have very brisk typing speeds on a real keyboard, and just didn't like the onscreen keyboard that the tablets had. The onscreen keyboards would have slowed us down too much. And we didn't want to haul around a tablet and a plug-in keyboard.

The netbooks give us the option to do whatever planning we want with Google maps, to connect to the internet, to process photos, to use the office products, etc. etc. etc.

We don't, however, have a GPS, but that's OK. We haven't needed one.
This is what makes the new MS tablets very interesting. They come with a keyboard that doubles as the tablet cover. I suspect other manufacturers will follow.
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Old 12-13-12, 05:40 PM
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I use a Blackberry Playbook and access the free wifi that seems to be pretty much everywhere here in North America.
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Old 12-13-12, 11:33 PM
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I picked up a used Asus Transformer tablet while on tour, and I'm very happy with it. It's a 10.1" android tablet with a keyboard dock that in addition to being a very functional keyboard, prolonges the battery life to approx 16 hours and lets you run an external hard drive. I replaced my netbook with the tablet, and I've had no real loss of functionality. It's true I can't edit photos as well on this machine, but I almost never had time to do it anyway. For journaling, I like the tablet much better because it's easier to pull out on the fly - super long batter life means I can just keep it on sleep mode all the time and not have a long start-up.

New, it'll cost you around $550 for the tablet and dock, but I paid $400 for mine, in almost-new condition(only used once, packed in original box, ect). Wouldn't be hard to find a better deal on ebay, I imagine.
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Old 12-15-12, 07:16 AM
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FWIW - I'm taking the Sony Ericsson Xperia Acros S with me rather than a tablet. It's only 4.3" in size, but it's waterproof (IP7). Therefore, I figure I can have it easily in a bento or jersey pocket - especially as it's monsoon season where I'm headed! ;-)
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Old 12-15-12, 08:01 AM
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I picked up a nexus 7 when they came out as an email device for on tour. I like paper for maps. . . never run out of battery. Really a computer isn't even needed on shorter tours. (i.e. all of the ones I've done) I just got it in anticipation for cross country ; )

I like the 7 inch for the size, and if you really wanted to get spiffy, you could get a folding keyboard and use the microusb jack. Swipe works quite well for typing reasonably long messages though.
Cases for the nexus are about 8 bucks for something that will fully cover the device. I have mine in a neopreme case as well as a flip cover. Short of dunking it in water it'll be fine.
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Old 12-15-12, 09:20 AM
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Could you explain how the tablet woud work with the Garmin?

At home I will create a route using something like "ride with gps" and then load the route on the Garmin. However the ridewithgps program is web based. So, if you do not have web access, is there program you can download to the tablet, plan a route, then upload to the Garmin?

Does Google maps create a route that is Garmin compatable, and can you use Google maps without web access?

Sorry more questions than answers.
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Old 12-15-12, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by tastest View Post
Could you explain how the tablet woud work with the Garmin?

At home I will create a route using something like "ride with gps" and then load the route on the Garmin. However the ridewithgps program is web based. So, if you do not have web access, is there program you can download to the tablet, plan a route, then upload to the Garmin?

Does Google maps create a route that is Garmin compatable, and can you use Google maps without web access?

Sorry more questions than answers.
I've been looking into it since I got a Nexus 7 tablet during Thanksgiving. I've never previously had a smartphone or anything else with GPS.

You can download maps from Google Maps for offline use, but it won't provide turn by turn instructions based on your position without web access. It does track your current position using GPS. I think the google maps app is worthwhile just to have the maps available.

There are several android apps which will download maps for off-line use and also supply the gps-based directions in real time. The one I'm playing with is called "navfree". It isn't as sophisticated as Google Maps but it does have the basic navigation functionality.
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Old 12-15-12, 04:07 PM
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I think the Nexus 7 would be a great option - big enough to use, small enough to not need to also carry a laptop style charger. Get the 16GB or 32GB version, they don't have a microSD slot. For work travels I use CoPilot Live Premium. You pay a one-time $10 price, and you have offline mapping and navigation. And they update the maps and app every couple of months or so, free. If you have other android devices that are set up with your google account for apps, you can load the app on those too. Money well spent.
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Old 12-15-12, 04:29 PM
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I used the Nexus 7 exclusively with the Locus Pro app for the first 300 mile leg of the tour I'm on. Kept it in the map section of my handlebar bag and would turn the screen on every now and then to make sure I was on the right road. Battery lasted for a couple days like this, GPS would only turn on when the screen was on. I downloaded some vector maps and overlaid my planned route onto those maps, didn't need any data connection.

I'm heading back out in January and plan on doing the same thing for the approximately 1400 mile section I'm doing next. Snagged a map route of the Southern Tier that I will use over my vector maps to figure out how to get to Austin.

I also had one battery pack that I used to charge the nexus and my phone up, I'm planning on having two of them now. Well, maybe, I have a solar panel as well. Bad time of the year to get daylight power, though...

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Old 12-15-12, 04:39 PM
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The CoPilot Live looks super! Can you tell, does it have the bike-path capability like Google Maps, or is it street only?
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Old 12-15-12, 08:01 PM
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Originally Posted by mobilemail View Post
I think the Nexus 7 would be a great option - big enough to use, small enough to not need to also carry a laptop style charger. Get the 16GB or 32GB version, they don't have a microSD slot. For work travels I use CoPilot Live Premium. You pay a one-time $10 price, and you have offline mapping and navigation. And they update the maps and app every couple of months or so, free. If you have other android devices that are set up with your google account for apps, you can load the app on those too. Money well spent.
Will Nexus 7 give you the ability to download apps that you have previously used on your phone? For example, I have a camping app on my phone that I like. Can that also be downloaded and used with the nexus?
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Old 12-15-12, 11:46 PM
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I use a Garmin 800 which reads maps and routes from a Micro SD card. I prepare .TCX routes ahead of time, breaking the tour into sections of 100k-200k. I usually use BikeRouteToaster, but RideWithGPS works well too. I use OSM maps. I put one TCX file and the OSM map on each SD card, along with the Garmin's required file structure. IME the 800 doesn't like having more than one route on an SD card. So I have a baggie with SD cards in their fitted containers. That's it. I take no paper maps, no computer, no iPhone, none of that time-consuming, distracting, heavy stuff that always needs a plug or can't get wet. Charging the Garmin is plenty of a PITA for me.

Of course if you're doing a trans-Siberian or something you would need a different system.

I should say that I practiced creating, saving, and riding routes for weeks before touring, so I knew how to do it and what worked and didn't work.
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Old 12-16-12, 03:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
I use a Garmin 800 which reads maps and routes from a Micro SD card. I prepare .TCX routes ahead of time, breaking the tour into sections of 100k-200k. I usually use BikeRouteToaster, but RideWithGPS works well too. I use OSM maps. I put one TCX file and the OSM map on each SD card, along with the Garmin's required file structure. IME the 800 doesn't like having more than one route on an SD card. So I have a baggie with SD cards in their fitted containers. That's it. I take no paper maps, no computer, no iPhone, none of that time-consuming, distracting, heavy stuff that always needs a plug or can't get wet. Charging the Garmin is plenty of a PITA for me.

Of course if you're doing a trans-Siberian or something you would need a different system.

I should say that I practiced creating, saving, and riding routes for weeks before touring, so I knew how to do it and what worked and didn't work.
Interesting that you use separate SD cards for each leg of the route. I use the 800 too all the time. Not for touring yet but for my long distance rides and I love it. I map the route with ridewithgps, download it to the computer in the tcx format and then transfer to the garmin. I love the 800! I did notice though, I would never delete any routes from the garmin and then one day it started having some major issues so I cleaned out all of the routes and that seemed to help. Have you ever used the map feature that you can plug in an address and it will take you there? How does that work? I have not used that maps feature yet.
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Old 12-16-12, 07:24 AM
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Originally Posted by wphamilton View Post
The CoPilot Live looks super! Can you tell, does it have the bike-path capability like Google Maps, or is it street only?
Copilot only does street routing...come to think of it, we should put in the bike specific suggestion! It will save your GPS track, however, and I believe you can upload that into google earth or similar. So if you do a path once you have it. Not great for you, but good for the next guy.
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Old 12-16-12, 07:27 AM
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Originally Posted by chefisaac View Post
Will Nexus 7 give you the ability to download apps that you have previously used on your phone? For example, I have a camping app on my phone that I like. Can that also be downloaded and used with the nexus?
If you have an android smartphone now, you can download the apps you have on it to your nexus 7. Just put in your google account info, go to the play store and click the little download arrow, then look under "all". Voila, everything you have previously downloaded (free or paid). You will, of course be subject to any operational differences between the different OS versions and phone vs. tablet. Many apps will run on everything, but some won't.
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Old 12-16-12, 07:31 AM
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For bike speed and navigation tools I have been using a Garmin legend for years, and it works great. Actually, I'm on my third Legend now, the HcX version. For less than $200 I get all the speed and location stuff and the ability to plot my ride ahead of time, then save the track afterward. My ride database goes back about 6 years, and I frequently get out routes that I haven't done for several months and reride them. It's a great tool to avoid dogs and shoddy roads, and remember cool landmarks. Oh wait, shoddy roads is a new pasttime now, called "gravel grinding"...
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Old 12-17-12, 09:25 AM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
This is what makes the new MS tablets very interesting. They come with a keyboard that doubles as the tablet cover. I suspect other manufacturers will follow.
I know there are 3rd party options like that for Apple products, but they rely on bluetooth rather than plugging in, and, as a result, the keyboard does nothing for battery life, and just gives you one more device where you might need to keep extra batteries on hand. For my part, I don't mind the on-screen keyboard for limited typing, but if I'm typing something longer, I really appreciate having a full-sized keyboard, so the mini keyboard in the lid things hold little appeal.

I have carried my keyboard with me on trips, and generally found that I didn't do enough typing to justify its presence. If I did plan on doing more typing, I wouldn't mind bringing the keyboard, but lately I haven't missed it when it stayed behind. It really just depends on what you plan to do with the tablet.

Personally, I find the idea of having a physical keyboard mounted to my tablet unappealing. So much of what I use it for does not require a keyboard, I feel like it would just be in the way.
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Old 12-17-12, 10:38 AM
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Originally Posted by tastest View Post
Could you explain how the tablet woud work with the Garmin?
I may have misunderstood, but I thought the OP wanted to use a tablet as the navigation device. There would be no need to transfer info the Garmin because there would be no Garmin.

That said, even moving information around a single device can be an issue at least for Apple's iOS. With no navigable file system, it can be tricky to move information between apps. For instance, I like to plan my routes using Google Maps, or Maps +, but I like to save my routes in MotionX GPS.

I can convert a Google route into something that MotionX can digest but it requires both a "real" computer and internet access. There are probably ways around the "real" computer requirement, but I don't know of any way to create route info on the iPad and move that data to MotionX.

So far my method has been to plan out routes and alternate routes in advance and put them into MotionX. This only works because my tours are short, and even then I often deviate from the planned route. In situations where I deviate, I either use my cellular data connection to plan a new route using Maps+, or I just eyeball it, old school, using the maps I downloaded into MotionX. You can add waypoints to MotionX without internet, but I don't know a way to trace out a whole route (although it may be possible).

In the end, in spite of all of my techy toys, I often find myself transferring my route into a handwritten cue sheet stuck to my front rack.
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Old 12-17-12, 11:25 AM
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Originally Posted by chefisaac View Post
Interesting that you use separate SD cards for each leg of the route. I use the 800 too all the time. Not for touring yet but for my long distance rides and I love it. I map the route with ridewithgps, download it to the computer in the tcx format and then transfer to the garmin. I love the 800! I did notice though, I would never delete any routes from the garmin and then one day it started having some major issues so I cleaned out all of the routes and that seemed to help. Have you ever used the map feature that you can plug in an address and it will take you there? How does that work? I have not used that maps feature yet.
I was having trouble with weird navigation messages and errors. One of my riding buddies told me to only have one route at a time on the device. As soon as I started doing that, my problems went away. I never plug my 800 into the computer, I just charge it with a charger - actually the charger for my Kindle and the Garmin cord. I take the SD cards out of the Garmin and put them in a reader. Much faster and more reliable. Thus I have no risk of the computer messing with the Garmin's innards. So in daily riding, I'll do a route, put it on the card, etc. After the ride, I'll put the card in the reader, upload the track or info, erase the FIT files and put on a new route for the next ride, etc.

I have tried putting in an address. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Was not impressed. However, that doesn't control the route anyway, which is the most important thing to me, so I just don't use it. The poor zoom performance when trying to ride secondary roads without a preplanned route is a major drawback of the tiny screen.

I like having both the TCX in the Garmin and a printed cue sheet. If one thing don't work, the other one will. I do take cue sheets on tour, just one Ziploc bag to store them and a cue sheet holder to read them. The Garmin settles any mental arguments about which way to go. And needs no Internet access to do so.
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Old 12-17-12, 12:05 PM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
This is what makes the new MS tablets very interesting. They come with a keyboard that doubles as the tablet cover. I suspect other manufacturers will follow.
You can get a full size waterproof soft flexible rubber bluetooth keyboard for like $20 to $30 that will roll like a Thermarest to store and unroll when you need it for any tablet. No need netbook as it is heavy.
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