Mobile Navigation Options in India

Best part about driving on chaotic roads of Delhi (and India) is that you will never get lost. Okay you will – but there are so many people out there that you can always stop anywhere and ask for directions. But if like me, you don’t like stopping every 100 meters to ask an auto driver for directions, you  have quite a few options now as the GPS navigation scene has improved quite a bit.

I’ve been using many such options for a while and here’s a summary. If you get lost or are traveling to India, this would be of use.

Google Maps: I’ve used it the most, primarily because till recently, it was the only free option available. The directions are quite accurate although the routes are not always the best (or the shortest) ones. But then who cares as long as you get to your destination? The search is obviously the strongest aspect of Google Maps and it is usually able to search whatever destination i try to find. On my blackberry, it would show my location within 3 meters but on a Nokia handset, it can only show the location within 20 meters. I am not sure if that is a handset issue or something else. 20 meters is also not too bad unless you are on a round about with six exits! There are some other problem as well. If you take a route which is different from what Google shows, it won’t recalculate. So you’ll need to manually do it. Also,  there are no voice  prompts to guide you. Google Maps also integrate with some other google apps like Buzz.

Nokia (Ovi) Maps: Nokia has changed the game by making navigation free (for Nokia handsets). The maps are good and voice navigation is quite helpful. You can even chose to have the voice in Hindi. The problem is that half the time, you’d be unable to search the destination. If you can’t find the destination, you can’t obviously get driving directions. I wish it was possible to search in Google and use Nokia Maps for directions. Maybe it is possible but i’ve not been able to explore that. The other problem is that the directions are sometimes “technically correct” but “impractical” – like it  asks me to turn right when there’s no way you can do that on a flyover. The reason it shows that is that there is a road below the flyover which goes to your right! They don’t support all the handsets and getting maps to work on your handset is like black art – just like Nokia messaging.  The good thing though is that you can transfer maps to your mobile via your computer and so it can be light on your data costs. The other advantage is that if you take a different route, it automatically recalculates  directions from your new location.

SatGuide is another option. The website mentions FREE license for Nokia but i’ve not been able to figure out how to get that. My emails did not get any response from them.

In the past, i’ve also tried mapmyindia. It was pretty good in terms of accuracy and search results but then it’s not free. I actually found it to be much more accurate than others.

Here’s a list of GPS maps (thanks Lokesh) but i’m not sure if they have the ability to show you driving directions as well.

Have you used any of these or something else? what’s been your experience?

Checklist – Setting up Home Office in India

I’ve recently set up my home office and it was quite an experience. There were quite a few checklists on the web but they were really not suitable for Indian conditions (are we the only ones who use a UPS? ). So here’s what worked for me. Your mileage may be different.

  1. Laptop and/or desktop: I use two – a Mac and a PC. What are the challenges I faced in migrating from a PC to Mac and why do i still use both is a topic of another post. I bought my Mac from Unicorn in Malviya Nagar. They gave me a good price.
  2. A printer: There are quite a few out there. I do a lot of research and print quite a bit. I also do a lot of scanning for expense proofs and so on. So I bought a slightly bigger printer – HP Officejet 8500. It’s an all in one MFD. Although I’m not very happy with the performance but i think that’s probably only my piece. It’s also got Ethernet connectivity and so I don’t need to keep my laptop connected to it. I can even print photographs directly from my mobile phone.   This model also has a wireless variation but I didn’t go for that because I figured that unlike my laptop, i’m not going to carry around the printer. I bought it from Nehru Place, which btw is an amazing place for such gadgets.
  3. An Internet connection with unlimited bandwidth and reasonably high speed connection. The maximum speed for a reasonable price I got in Noida was from Airtel.  BSNL is just too much of a pain to get. Again, the connection quality is not too good (skype calls drop, downloads break) but their service is good and I don’t have another option.
  4. A backup internet connection. I’ve been struggling with this but haven’t found anything good yet. I have experimented with mobile broadband cards (Tata photon plus as well as BSNL EVDO). Both of them suck big time and i’ve heard Reliance is not too different. But frankly I haven’t tried that yet and they are not ready to give me a demo at my place. I also took MTNL 3g but that doesn’t work at many places even in Delhi plus recharge coupons for 3g are not available yet. I am not sure what’s up with our 3g policy – private operators are not allowed to offer 3g and public sector operators have no clue in life. So for now,  i’m still experimenting.
  5. Data plan for checking emails or surfing on mobile. You need blackberry services or a GPRS data plan which most operators provide. I use Vodafone (have also experimented with MTNL 3g as mentioned above).
  6. Telephone connection (mobile as well as landline). I use airtel for my land line. For mobile connections, there are just too many options and frankly speaking there’s not much of a difference. I use airtel for my personal mobile and vodafone for my official mobile. I got vodafone primarily because of a good deal i got for an unlimited data plan.
  7. If you have to interact with folks abroad, you need a less expensive way of calling. I use skype as well as Vodafone calling cards. The quality of audio is usually much better with Skype  but as i mentioned above, the connection drops occasionally and so I generally prefer phone calls over skype calls. Most other operators provide these phone cards as well.
  8. A good noise canceling headset
  9. Phones – both land line as well as a mobile phone. There are quite a few options there, especially for mobiles – from blackberry to iphone to cheap chinese imitations. I use a Nokia E71 and a micromax dual SIM phone. My Nokia has a SIP phone built in and so i can make skype calls using that but I think that’s only for academic satisfaction though as the quality is not too good. You can also buy one of those skype phones (some of which can also double up as land line phones) from Nehru Place.
  10. A Wireless router (or modem). I have an old netgear but i’m quite happy with it. I can connect my two laptops, printer as well as mobile phone
  11. Office furniture. If you’re going to spend a reasonable amount of time working, this is probably the most important aspect for your office. I bought a large L-shaped table and a chair from Home Town in Noida. I was very particular about the chair because I wanted something comfortable enough to discourage me from working on my bean bag.
  12. Stationery (printer paper, staplers, pen, file boxes, ……)
  13. An uninterrupted power supply (UPS). Although, my apartment complex has a generator backup but when power goes off, it always takes about 30 seconds for the generator to take over.  You need a UPS so that at least the modem and routers don’t restart in the event of power shutdown.
  14. An external drive to keep your backups. I bought a seagate 1 TB drive (again from Nehru place). I’m also experimenting with online backup and sync services (like dropbox, microsoft live and some others).
  15. A warranty and service plan for all the stuff above – laptop, desktop, printer etc. Don’t underestimate the importance of this and try to get something that covers onsite visits as well.
  16. A coffee/tea maker, AC, heater etc but I guess if you need these you probably already have them.
  17. Lots of different cables!. But don’t worry about it too much as every device you buy will come with required cables.
  18. Next on my list is an external monitor and keyboard. I haven’t bought these yet but since I spend a lot of time on my Mac, I think these will improve my productivity.
  19. I also moved my treadmill to my office in the hope that i’d use it more often for the purpose it was bought for!

Okay so this should be a good start. I will add to it as and when I remember more. If you think i’ve missed out something, please leave a comment and i’ll add that to the list.