Adventures in Navigation Down Along the Boarder
Or how CoPilot lost its place on my iPhone.
Let this serve as a kind of Public Service Announcement for any of you who have been following my reviews of turn-by-turn navigaion apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I have own three at this point: Navigon MobileNavigator, CoPilot Live 8, and MotionX GPS Drive.
MotionX is a great little app. I may do a full fledged review one of these days, but suffice it to say here that it does an excellent job of getting me where I want to go, has what I consider an very good UI, and is certainly a bargain with it’s purchase as you need it voice guidance (which includes live traffic info for routing). It has, at least were I have traveled so far, the most accruate and up-to-date map set of any of the apps I have tried (an opinion only slightly modified by my recent experience: see below). However, given that AT&T is my provider, and that I travel extensivley at the fringes of cell phone coverage, I would not want to to totally rely on a navigation app that requires an internet connection to download maps or calculate routes (especially not to recalculate routes…something my GPS has occasion to do at least once a trip in my experience (I do sometimes miss a turn or think I know better than the machine…). MotionX’s Drive does cache maps and routes (with a user selectable cache allotment), which is good…but I still have a trust issue when the maps are not resident on my machine. I consider it my back up nav app, and I do use it from time to time, especially for really difficult addresses (see below)…often enough to keep my voice guidance subscription up to date (at least until Google Nav hits the iPhone), but it will never be my full time nav app while AT&T still has the iPhone locked in.
Now, I only have a 16gig iPhone 3G, and I do have an extensive music collection, and quite a few other apps, so I only have room for one resident map nav app on my device at a time. I was using CoPilot Live, for all the reasons outlined in the review. I really like it, and it has some features that are still pretty unique among the iPhone nav apps: return routing, extended poi search, touch map addition of interum destinations, etc. etc. And they are right on the verge of adding live traffic. It is a good solid app, and I enjoy it.
However, this past week I was preparing for a trip to the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, right along the Mexican Boarder. I have been there before often enough to know that the area is a real challenge for GPS navigation. I don’t know why, maybe because it is barely in the US at all, but even by dedicated Magellian struggles there, and often provides inaccurate turn info, especially along the perpetually under reconstruction main valley route, Expressway 83, through Harlingen, McAllen, Mission, etc. Also, I am a birder, and I frequent some locations that are pretty far out, and do not really have complete addresses (PO Boxes don’t help). So…just to be safe, I decided to preprogram some of my destinations in before I left. I had 4 in mind: Bensten Rio Grande State Park, Estero Lano Grande State Park, Edinburg Senic Wetlands, and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. I have been to each before, several times, so I do kind of know where they are, but, I am only there once a year and I do forget…and as I am often on a tight schedule, I like to use the GPS to gage drive times, etc. I always find that having the GPS on makes for less stress on the road anyway.
It saddens me to report that CoPilot Live could not find a single one of my destinations. In most cases it could not even get me close. Some of the roads/streets were simply not on the map, or in the data base, so there was no way to enter the address. And even roads that were there, did not have address numbers for the areas I wanted to go. In one case the CoPilot street numbers ended in the 700s and my address was in the 2800s. Not close enough to matter. Add this to the fact that, despite my submitting corrections three times, CoPilot Live is still off a full block on my home address, and totally misses my worst case test in Freeport Maine, and I decided to reinstall Navigon to see if it could do better.
It could. It found, with a little effort, all my target destinations and placed them correctly on the map. I had to enter the nearest intersection for one, since it too lacked street numbers for that section of road, but it got me close enough to see the intersection. And, I was totally amazed that my fresh install showed little of the sluggish behavior I had noted in my CoPilot review. It is not as snappy as CoPilot, but is usable. I have since upgraded to v1.3 (which introduces in app purchase of live traffic ($24.99 lifetime), and that is behaving just as well. What is more, my home is correctly placed, and Navigon found and correctly placed my Freeport wct. So, there you have it. CoPilot fail. Navigon as regained it’s place on my iPhone! I will miss the features that are still unique to CoPilot, and computer Frank’s helpful instructions, but, in the end, a nav app is all about getting you there!
(I discovered an interesting Navigon feature while trying to program a really remote location…if you can get close using road intersections Navigon opens a small map view with a tack at your programed destination. You can pick the tack up and replace it on the map! This makes really precise nav possible even when you can’t directly enter the address. I like it!)
Let me say that MotionX Drive was the only nav app to find and correctly place all 4 locations without any intervention or help on my part. I intend to test it on the perpeptually under construction valley route too. I will report.
[Report: unbelievably, the live download maps that MotionX uses are at least 2, maybe 3 years out of date on Expressway 83. Exits are placed incorrectly the majority of the time. Exits are pre-reconstruction. That means they are sometimes off by as much as a mile! During the reconstruction of the route, they switched on and off ramps, for one thing. Off ramps are beyond the overpass now…but MotionX has them where they used to be…before the overpasses. Ramps that are still before the overpasses were moved well back, sometimes as much as 2 miles, from the exit road, so that you go a ways on the frontage road. MotionX totally misses those ramps and exits. Not good. Unfortunately the Navigon maps are no better. They are also considerably out of date. In fact the only exits between Harlingen and McAllen that they have right are the few that did not change in the past 3 years. I find this hard to understand, and even harder to forgive. Major fail…not so much of any given nav app, since they all seem to have the same errors…but of the main mapping data bases all the apps use. Conclusion: If you are driving using GPS nav in South Texas…keep your wits about you!]
One general observation on iPhone nav apps. All the apps that I have tested have Contacts integration…and none of them work reliably to find an address from your contacts list. Even if you find a location and add it to your contacts from Google Maps, very often all three of my nav apps will fail to find it if I select it in Contacts from within the app. I suspect, in all cases, that it is something in the routine that translates the Contacts address to the fields the nav app needs, since, in all cases, the nav app is likely to dump you somewhere on the correct road, or at least somewhere in the correct city…but not at the location you expect. In every case so far, manually inputing the same address in the nav app has allowed the app to find the correct location and place it on the map. Very strange. However it makes me very hesitant to use the Contacts integration on any iPhone nav app, especially since, when the location does fail, none of them give you any indication that they are routing you to a compromise location. This can be very disconcerting in actual use! I know this from experience.
And, second general observation: I really like having a reliable turn-by-turn nav app on my phone. One less thing to carry. Relatively easy intergration with other apps on the device. Just a good experience, for me, all around.
I have no problem recommending Navigon MobileNavigator. Great app. I have no problem recommending MotionX Drive. Great app, and such a bargain! I would really like to be able to recommend CoPilot…but until they upgrade the maps a few more times…I just can’t do it. I will continue to test it with each map upgrade…unless of course Navigon works in those few really unique features and removes the temptation.
Are you listening Navigon…are you listening CoPilot?
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