Testing from Android

I recently bought an Android tablet from Portuguese company Thork Racing that includes their own navigation device and software, the DMD-865. As an Apple enthusiast since I first clapped eyes on a Macintosh SE30 in 1989, I find the Android solar system is completely unfamiliar to me. I wanted to try something different from my reliance on Garmin products since my first GPS I bought in 2008 for a first trip out of the UK.

I first heard about the DMD (Drive Mode Dashboard)-865 from the Adventure Spec ‘On Our Radar‘ slot then saw Nomad Sweden enthuse about it in more detail. More to say when I manage to bring the bike down to install it….

Later: Though Thork Racing does not say much about it, the device is their implementation of the Chinese MDT865 8″ Android Tablet (PTCRB) made by Topicon. Thork put their logo on it and load up their DMD software – with a lifetime licence.

I have not been out on the bike much this year, mainly because it has been such a wet Spring and partly because of a new animal in the house, so have only taken it on two journeys since installing the holder and handlebar controller (not difficult) while keeping the Garmin wiring in place in case I decide to change back. I found a number of problems that I needed to sort, some of which don’t seem to be discussed much on the DMD forums. The first is that as a Garmin user I gave no thought to the issue of gloves and touchscreens. The Garmin continues to use an older system of touchscreens meaning that touching Garmin GPS units with gloves is absolutely no problem. Phones and tablets use a different system, that allows use of two fingers for example. That the DMD unit would not recognise my gloved fingers was a major shock on the road. Solution: I have some stick on fingertips from Glovetacts. Here’s a review. I’ve used four of these sticky pads – on the thumb and index finger of both gloves, on the left for using while riding and the right to use when stopped, as I’m right-handed. Its is OK but I will search for some new gloves that work without the sticky pads. Problem 2: the DMD needs a network/phone network connection for mapping software to work and without a SIM, you simply get a message from Google maps saying that you are offline – so tough. The DMD’s own software does work because you download a map for your country or region on installation and the GPS receiver in the device does the work which is good – but other software won’t work – unless I am missing something. Solution: tethering is possible to a phone and works well until you turn off. You need to reconnect when you start the device again, which is annoying, again, unless I am missing something. Problem 3: pairing with my Sena bluetooth headset is good but the default volume is incredibly low. As a newcomer to Android, I will need to work out how to turn the device volume up loud – as well as the headset itself. Problem 4: I bought an OBD2 sensor. At first the DMD software did not connect and display any data from the sensor – but now, for no apparent reason, it does. Result. Problem 5: in bright sunshine the screen is unreadable, even with the anti-glare screen cover I now have. Again, this may just need the brightness turning right up, but its a problem I don’t remember with the Garmin Zumo XT I also own. Many people complain about Garmin being un-user friendly but I now see its features that I took for granted, or perhaps I just have worked out how to use Garmins properly over the years that I have used them and I need to spend more time with the DMD unit.

I have a tendency to swap to some new gadget just when I am getting familiar with how to work what I have so I need to spend much more time exploring the DMD, and not just find a minimal set of things I know work and ignore everything else, possibly missing out on some functionality that I would appreciate. One big advantage of taking this kind of tablet travelling is that I can use it off the bike, to write up trip notes or upload them to a blog for example. I will take it on my trip to Yorkshire and Northumberland later in the summer and get to know it better.