PC Miler Navigator 450
From ALK Technologies and Rightway GPS, the same companies behind the previously tested Rightway Spotter 500 and the Rightway 550 portable navigation devices, comes the PC Miler 450 Navigator for Truck Drivers. This unit features many functions and settings that truckers will find useful while navigating from point A to B.
The PC Miler's hardware is similar to that of the Rightway GPS devices that we've tested before. The unit features a 4.3-inch resistive touch display with a resolution of 480x270 pixels. An antiglare matte finish keeps the screen visible in broad daylight and five levels of backlight intensity keep the unit from dazzling your eyes at night.
The chassis features a soft-touch finish that feels a bit like rubber, but without the flex or give. Along the top is a power button that can be held to power the unit on and off, or tapped to simply put the unit to sleep. The right edge is where you'll find a mini-USB charging port, an SD card slot, a headphone jack, and a TMC traffic antenna input. Traffic service is not included in the box, so you'll have to bring your own receiver. The back panel is home to a tiny pinhole reset button, a collapsible stylus for precision touch inputs, and an external GPS antenna input. Our tester arrived with a magnetic GPS antenna, but we're told that retail models will not include this accessory. Of course, the unit features an internal GPS antenna--like any navigator worth its salt--so you don't really need to make use of this option.
The PC Miler 450 ships with a USB-sync cable for connecting to a computer, a 12-volt charging cable, an adhesive dashboard mount, and a suction cup windshield mount. We found a few problems with the windshield mount.
The cradle features two points of rotation--up and down at the base and left to right at the top of the neck--whereas most GPS cradles we've tested utilize a single ball joint. This adds considerable complexity to what should be the simple adjustment of the screen's angle. What's worse is that the poor range of motion afforded by a ball joint means that there are a few glare reducing angles that are simply unachievable.
The cradle also features a pass-through for the external GPS antenna, but the input's position on the back of the unit means that you'll have to put the device into the cradle, then reach around back and blindly make the connection, which can be quite finicky. Of course, this is only an issue for people not using the internal antenna, but it was still annoying.
The PC Miler 450 is powered by Windows Embedded CE 6.0, over which runs a version of the CoPilot 8 software specific for big trucks. Unfortunately, this means that you must wait for the 450 to load software twice every time it's powered on: once for the OS and again when the navigation icon is tapped.
The CoPilot Truck 8 software is how the 450 differentiates itself from other navigation devices. On the first boot, the unit asks the standard question of language, time zone, and units. However, then it goes on to ask questions about the vehicle height, width, length, and weight. You can also input information about your payload (for example, if you're hauling explosive cargo or hazardous materials). Once all of the options have been set, you can save the data to a custom profile. As many custom profiles can be set as the driver needs.
The CoPilot software is preloaded with truck-specific map data for the continental U.S. and Canada and, armed with the information in your profile, can select a route that works best (and is legal) for the truck and its trailer. It will route tall trucks around low overpasses and heavy trucks away from bridges and roads that won't support the weight, as well as avoid unnecessary U-turns and tight twisty roads.
The unit's point-of-interest (POI) database also includes truck-specific destinations, such as truck services stations, truck stops, rest areas, and weigh stations and scales. The standard assortment of non-truck-related POIs is also included, so you'll be able to use the PC Miler to find a place to eat, of course.
On the road, the software features the graphic lane guidance and text-to-speech features that we like to see in our navigators. The interface is extremely customizable, capable of displaying as much or as little information as the driver needs at the touch of a button. From a full-screen map with a bottom info bar to a 50-50 split of text and map data to a full-on text and graphic interface without a map, the CoPilot 8 software will bend to your level of involvement.
However, this complexity comes at the cost of some user friendliness. Basic functions such as volume control are hidden under levels of menus and many of the virtual buttons on the map screen are tiny, hard to see, and even harder to hit at arm's length.
The PC Miler's CoPilot software's main menus structure is a bit easier to navigate from afar, with large buttons and brightly colored icons. However, we have our issues with the destination-entry screen. When entering an address or searching for a POI, the onscreen keyboard is crammed into the right half of the screen, while the left half of the screen is occupied by search result. The tiny buttons were difficult to hit accurately. Having to correct ourselves multiple times per word--combined with the fact that there was no QWERTY keyboard layout option--considerably slowed down our inputs.
The PC Miler 450 can create state mileage logs, organized by year, month, state, and then date, which can be quite useful for billing purposes. We'd like to see a bit more granularity in these logs--perhaps a viewable map or more detailed timestamps would be nice, but what's there is still useful.
We tested the PC Miler 450 with and without the external GPS antenna and found that accuracy was generally good in both configurations from a windshield-mounted position on roads that were wide enough to accommodate a truck and trailer. However, anyone who mounts their PC Miler in a lower position in the cab or other places with limited views of the sky may want to give the external antenna a try if accuracy becomes an issue.
Over a few long trips around the San Francisco Bay, the PC Miler reliably guided us to our destination without issue. Route calculation wasn't what we'd call snappy--perhaps because the length of trips planned during testing were longer than our average routes--but it certainly was within acceptable boundaries.
Routes tended to favor highways, which we expected. However, the unit performed just as well on surface roads in both its truck and automobile modes. If we attempted to turn onto a road that was outside of the boundaries of our selected trucking profile, the unit spoke and displayed a warning (for example, when entering a restricted road for trucks or approaching a low overpass).
On one occasion, the navigation software glitched in truck mode while attempting to navigate to a residence. What should a have been simple instructions to drive six blocks and turn left somehow got warped into instructions to immediately turn right, then drive diagonally across six blocks to our destination. We're sure that this was some sort of logic issue with the destination being unreachable given the trucking instructions and we were still able to get where we wanted by simply watching the map, but such a glitch is noteworthy, if rare.
The PC Miler 450 is a bit rough around the edges (figuratively speaking), with a utilitarian design and a complex interface. We don't like the cradle and we're certainly not fans of the Windows CE core OS. The CoPilot Truck software is flexible, but it also has its flaws, such as the tiny onscreen keyboard and overly complex interface.
In spite of rough edges, the PC Miler is definitely worth consideration by commercial truck drivers. It's a unique product that offers truckers turn-by-turn directions with a specificity unrivaled by other GPS devices we've tested. At the end of the day, there's nothing in our list of "cons" that outweighs the gain offered by the PC Miler's functionality and customization.