Travel & Technology – Hits & Misses

I thought it would be useful to enumerate some of the things that worked well and didn’t work well during this last trip. Here’s the first ‘hit and miss’ list.

Technology hits:

Data plans: We have two ATT phones on a cheap 4GB shared data plan with about 3GB rollover and a Verizon 8800L MiFi hotspot on a prepaid 8GB plan with 7GB free data add-on. Total data available was 15GB from Verizon, 7GB from ATT. Both plans allow for add-on data. We don’t watch video on either plan and we didn’t upload photos or videos. We used about half of each plan in 25 days on the road.

Unless our habits change, we don’t need unlimited data plans.

Cell coverage was generally good. In most places, both ATT and Verizon had usable coverage. In a few places the coverage was a short walk away. We had a few places where only one carrier had coverage, so having both was worth the cost. The Verizon plan was data only, so if we were outside of ATT coverage we had no texts or voice.

The availability of mapping and smartphone apps is great – a clear hit. But the actual implementation of the technology and apps is hit or miss.

Technology Misses:

Android Auto is a turd miss. On my phone it runs automatically even when it’s clearly set to not automatically start. When its running it makes using other apps annoying and painful. The apps that I really need to use don’t run under Android Auto. It’s a typical Google app – rushed out the door half-baked and then mostly abandoned.

I stopped using it after the first day.

Mapping/Navigation software is a chaotic, pathetic mess. I need offline mapping & navigation both to reduce data usage and so that I have maps available when I need them the most – in remote areas.

Google maps navigates well and is not buggy, but downloading maps is deliberately made painful and clunky. It also focuses on non-travel activities such as entertainment, rather than travel related information such as gas, groceries, wayside rests, parks and campgrounds. I tried Waze for 5 minutes, but because maps are not downloadable I deleted it.

I used to like Here maps, but the current version crashes too often – particularity just before you hit a complex interchange with confusing signage.

I tried really hard to use Sygic for navigation. Maps are downloadable and the user interface has useful features for travelers- for example it can give you a warning on sharp curves, has the ability to list the distance gas stations, groceries, waysides and parks along the route, has a built-in dash cam and many other useful features. It suffers from poor address searching, a weak POI database, and occasional crashes/hangs. And of course thanks to Google 👿, it doesn’t run under Android Auto.

The solution ended up being to run all three. Sygic because it was downloadable and it showed me how far to the next few gas stations and waysides, Here Maps because you can download the entire US map at once and because it often offered different routing, and Google Maps because it often offered the best routing. And as usual, any/all routes had to be vetted against maps and atlases, just in case.

The Kenwood DDX-9704S in-dash stereo installed by Coachmen is a dud. Kenwood spent tons of engineering resources on flashy graphics and next-to-nothing on a usable human interface. The buttons are microscopic and there are no knobs, so to do something simple like change volume without staring at the screen requires feeling for the right button among a row of identical tiny buttons and pressing it dozens of times. Changing stations requires multiple touches, it doesn’t automatically dim at night even though it’s supposed to, and the screen quality is so poor that it is unreadable in bright light or when there is any glare. And it sounds like an $79 radio, not a $700 radio.

I’ll take any of the car manufacturers infotainment systems over this Kenwood.

Camping apps are hit and miss. The most popular (Allstays) isn’t ported to Android anymore, and the others suffer from incomplete databases, clunky interfaces, etc. We used ‘Ultimate Public Campgrounds’ [No longer available] and ‘Park Advisor‘ apps, then went directly to state, BLM, USFS or NPS web sites to find more information.

State & National Park web sites are hit & miss. The states use different 3rd party vendors for registration. The information on their web sites might not be current, particularly related to seasonal updates (water, showers). Even something simple like determining if the campground was reservation-only or first-come first-served was not obvious from some of the web sites. In many cases you couldn’t register for sites unless there was a 2-4 day lead time, so we almost always ended up first-come, first-served – no reservation.

Plan 2-4 days out? That’s not a vacation. 😎

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