Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

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Archive for the ‘Magellan’ Category

iPhone Navigation in an iPhone 4 / iOS 4 Age

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photoAs I have mentioned before, I seem to collect Navigation apps for the iPhone. Back in the days of my 16GB 3G, I only had room for one at a time on my iPhone. With my new 32GB iPhone 4, I have them all loaded on there temporarily, while I sort out which one I like best and will keep on the device. And, since Navigon was slow getting to the iOS 4 upgrade, I seem to have added another paid app, and, oh, I picked up another free one as well (why not?).

iOS 4 has added a whole new dimension to turn by turn GPS. No matter what other app you have open…iPod, Phone, Maps, Around Me, etc, etc. you nav app will continue to keep track of where you are on your route and give you turn by turn instructions. In fact…you can’t shut it off unless you open the App Tray and specifically quit the app. The Home button just puts the app in the background. Sounds simple, but it is truly revolutionary!

So right now I have the following Navigation apps on my iPhone 4 (in the order in which I acquired them).

Navigon North America (iOS4, $79.00 + lifetime traffic subscription charge)
CoPilot Live  (iOS4, $19.99 + yearly traffic subscription charge)
MotionX GPS Drive (iOS4, $.99 + monthly turn by turn and traffic charge)
Magellan RoadMate (not iOS4, $59.99, no traffic )
TomTom USA (iOS4, $39.99 + yearly traffic subscription)
MapQuest (free with free traffic)

Let me say up front that any one of these apps will get you where you are going relatively painlessly, most of the time. With the exception of MapQuest, they all have similar basic feature sets. MapQuest is the odd app out in that it does not have destination up mode, which for me is a deal breaker, no matter how good the rest of the implementation is or how cheap it is. That said, each app brings at least one or two unique, or at least rare, features to the navigation experience…and one app (not, interestingly enough, the most feature rich) has definitely emerged as my favorite for day in day out navigation.

What you can expect from all of them: audible turn by turn instructions with at least one voice that does text to speech and reads street names. Music controls with in the app (though is is far less critical in iOS4). Routing with at least some customization. 2D or 3D map display. Day and Night modes. Navigate to Contacts (the most problematic feature on any Nav app). POIs. All the apps that offer live-traffic (that would be all of them except RoadMate) also offer live local search (generally via Google).

So briefly, app by app.

Navigon Navigator: on-board maps.  The first turn by turn navigation app on the iPhone, and still the clear leader in the features war. Now fully iOS4 able. Not only 3D maps but Panorama View 3D, with elevations (hills, valleys, mountains, etc) mapped in a realistic landscape. You have to see your road wind up a mountain pass. Way cool! The most comprehensive speed limit information with speeding warnings (Caution she says, gently but firmly). Excellent lane assist on major highway intersections. Well implemented traffic and local search. And, very unique, a my route feature that maps 3 routes for you to choose from and learns from your choices. The life time traffic and local search subscription somewhat mitigates the high initial cost of the app.

On the down side, the most complex, awkward, and slow UI of any navigation app. Maxes the processing ability of any phone less able than the iPhone 4, and pushes the limits there. Noticeable lags in typing, choosing, searching, etc. Occasionally, in my experience, makes questionable routing decisions. Only reads one of the possible choices for a street or road name with more than one name on the map…and often not the most logical or helpful. And, another little thing, the text to speech voice has no way of saying “continue on this road” so she is always telling me to keep left when she means go straight ahead.

I pretty much trust this app, and really like the slick Panorama display…but I find that I do not use it due to the slow interface, if I have an alternative available.

CoPilot Live: The second turn by turn app on the iPhone, and always among the most affordable of the apps with on-board maps. I really like the look of the maps…colorful, cartoonish, fun…however this is not an door to door app. It gets you to a section of a local street with a range of numbers and that is as close as it gets. Also, in my experience, the maps are, by a narrow margin, the least accurate of any of the nav apps. And there is no real lane assist for most intersections. The turn by turn voice gives more complete instructions than Navigon. Despite its limitations, the price is right for a app with on-board maps, and it will do a credible job of getting you there.

Motion X GPS Drive: another absolute bargain, even if you pay the monthly subscription fee for turn by turn and traffic. However, this app depends on a live internet connection (wifi or 3G) for maps and routing. No on-board maps.  While in most urban situations, that is not a huge drawback, where I often travel it makes this my back-up app of choice, but not my primary choice.

The UI is among the slickest and quickest, the POIs are, of course, since they are always live, the most up-to-date., address entry is the simplest and most logical of any app…you type in the address naturally…number, street, city, state, zip…rather than the reverse pick one at a time method all the other apps apply. There is a lot to like. The Bing maps as quite good. If you are on a budget and don’t travel where 3G gets thin, then there is really no reason to spend what an on-board map app would cost you. Motion X will get you there just fine.

Magellan Road-Mate 2010. Don’t go there. Slick interface, but slow and limited turn by turn (no turn now for instance, just a beep). The least accurate rendering of where you are on the maps. No iOS 4 ability. Just don’t go there. A real disappointment from one of the leaders in stand-alone GPS.

MapQuest: a great app for free. No destination up mode (North is always up, which means you are traveling across the map horizontally much of the time). Not for me.

TomTom USA: So, the last is, imho, the best. This is the app I use 99% of the time, and the more I use it, the more things I find to like. Fast, logical, elegant and attractive UI that is a pleasure to interact with. Excellent maps. Comprehensive lane assist. The most complete turn by turn directions of any app by far: she reads all the names of streets or roads with multiple possible names, just in case…gives audible warning of close second turns, directs you toward signed landmarks, tells you when to go straight on, gives multiple warnings of upcoming turns, gives audible lane guidance (in addition to the excellent lane assist diagrams), etc. etc. The first time she said “at the end of the road, turn left onto Ridge Road, State Route 6 , Maine Street, toward Lancaster College, and keep in the left lane…” it was love. This lady knows how to tell a fella where to go!

Though the speed limit system is not as comprehensive as Navigon’s (less rural roads and village streets), the warning system (visual and audible) is great. The maps are attractive and, in my experience, remarkably accurate…and TelNav (supplier of the map data) maintains and easy site for users to submit updates. I have submitted three and gotten responses confirming my input and promising revisions on the next issue of maps.

Live traffic is handled well. Traffic and time of day is taken into consideration in all routing, and, when a  route slows down enough for there to be a quicker alternative, you are offered the option of taking it.

And routes are highly customizable. The app computes the most logical and fastest route (if that is what you ask for) but you can tell her you want to go via some POI or address (including an address from your Contacts) and she will reroute you that way. You can also call up a map of the route and touch to select an alternative routing, and she will obediently send you that way. This is a great way, by the way, to test alternative routes. Very very cool. (And that is in real time…there is a Planning mode that allows you to do all this at your leisure and save the route for when you need it…amazing!

Finally, like Navigon, TomTom is integrated with Around Me, my favorite alternative to Google search on the iPhone for finding specific types of POIs by category or name…restaurants, convenience stores, drug stores, doctor’s offices, etc. Around Me will often find an obscure POI like a state or regional park when nothing else will, and you can instantly send the destination to TomTom for routing. I use it a lot.

I have now used TomTom in rural Maine and urban California, and it is yet to let me down. I trust it. It gets me where I am going, and makes the trip as stress free as possible.

I have, almost literally, tried them all, and TomTom just does what I need it to…which is, basically, to get me where I am going…better than all the rest. Motion X GPS Drive will stay on my iPhone for backup, but TomTom will be the app I keep on board for all my day to day navigation needs.

There. that is done. Now I can take about 6 Gigs of apps off my iPhone!

Written by singraham

August 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Magellan Roadmate vs Navigon Mobile Navigator vs CoPilot Live 8

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My stand-alone GPS unit is a Magellan. That, plus the positive reviews the new Magellan Roadmate iPhone app is getting, and a perusal of the Magellan web site, inspired me to give it a try. I have to say, right up front though, that Roadmate was a disappointment.

I already own two other on-device-maps nav apps for the iPhone. I bought Navigon’s Mobile Navigator right after it came out, while it was still the only turn-by-turn nav app available. I bought CoPilot Live 8 after one update (when they added the real iPhone keyboard for text entry and Text to Speech for street names on turns) because the price was right, and Navigon on the iPhone 3G, in that early release, had a very sluggish interface (though in all other ways it worked fine).

Along the way I also downloaded XMotion’s GPS Drive, and bought a month’s turn-by-turn voice prompts. Though I would not use a nav app that requires internet connection to download maps as a primary navigation tool, I figured, at the price it was a great back-up option in case whichever on-device-map app I had installed at the moment failed me.

My first hours of playing with the Magellan app at my desk at home were very encouraging. I really like the UI: controls are few and large, text entry is really aided by the enlarged keypads and smart typing (a Magellan feature from past stand-alone units which limits letter choice to as you type to letters that spell possible matching words from the data-base), it is relatively fast and responsive even on a 3G (except on start-up), and it has some unique features in the one touch view. The one touch control on the main map view brings up a new view with shortcut controls for commonly used features. There are several preprogrammed, but there are also more than a dozen that you can program yourself by setting them to search categories for POIs you use often or to favorite destinations. It has a very easy to use in-app music control (very useful on longer trips where you might want to play iPod selections).

One really nice UI enhancement is that, as it predicts locations you might be typing in the Address entry view, it orders them by distance from your current location. This actually, for most trips, speeds up Address entry considerably.

Another really useful feature is the tap anywhere on the map and go there thing. Wherever you tap it reads the location and pops up a control that allows you to instantly enter it as a destination…or, if it is a POI, to call.

I ran some test trips to destinations that have given me trouble in the past on other units, or where I at least knew the routing options, and the Magellan app did very well. It correctly located my own home (still problematic for CoPilot despite putting in 3 map correction requests) and my worst-case-address in Freeport Maine. I searched for POIs that I have had occasion to use in the past, and again, the app did very well, locating obscure hotels in Cape May NJ, state and local parks in TX, and National Wildlife Refuges. The POI list of categories is impressive and it appears to search out quite a ways from the specified location.

So, enough playing around. Time to take the Magellan app out for a drive…

Unfortunately, for all its impressive UI features, the app simply does not perform well on the road (at least on my 3G iPhone). It often falls behind the motion of the vehicle, especially when starting up from a stop. This is disconcerting to say the least. Also, just a practical matter, the voice prompts don’t come until you are already way too close to the turn (IMHO), half a mile or closer, and there is no actual turn now voice…just a little chime which is really easy to miss. It does not display or announce second turns when one follows the other closely. On several occasions, while it showed a turn on the map, there was no announcement at all. It does not display speed limits on local roads and streets, or provide speeding warnings (except on major highways). You have a choice of what it displays in the information corner of the map view, but there is no way to automatically cycle the display. Once you choose a display item it is there until you change it, and you can only display one item at a time. It does not display the road or highway you are currently on. The female TTS voice (text to speech, for announcing street and highway names on upcoming turns) is really annoying (my opinion: vaguely Jersey girl with attitude), while the male TTS voice is somehow slightly British empire. ???

Magellan does provide both a simulation mode (variable speed) and route overviews…both of which are valuable features…however it took me quite a time to find them, and I still have to think way too hard about where they are when I want to access them. They are, needless to say, buried pretty deep in the menu system.

There is not yet any provision for live traffic or for local search.

I would have trouble using this app for navigation, given the alternatives. And that is pretty sad, since, even on sale, $60 is a lot to have wasted on an app I won’t, unless they improve it dramatically in updates, actually end up using.

Which brings us to the alternatives. I have created a table, with what I feel are the best features of three on-device-map turn-by-turn nav apps that I have tried (so far). Just so you can see how they compare. Features are not in any particular order. You may have different priorities, but this should provide a starting point. All three, by the way, offer Contacts integration. Magellan is awkward. The other two easy…and none work well for specifying an address. All fail to find address from Contacts, which they find easily when the address is entered manually. Go figure.

Feature Magellan Navigon CoPilot Live
Map accuracy excellent excellent very good
GPS accuracy fair excellent good-excellent
TTS 1FM AM voice (annoying), 1M AM (acceptable) 1 voice FM (pleasant) 1M AM (acceptable), 1 Brit.FM (UK terminology)
Turn alerts few (dangerously imho) multiple multiple (user adjustable)
Lane assist yes (visual) yes (visual) no
Access to route overview multiple taps to access, hard to find easy (one tap) multiple taps to access, easy to find
On map display      
…2nd turn when close no yes yes
…speed limits no (warning on major hwy) yes no
…time to destination selectable yes selectable (or scrolling)
…distance to dest selectable yes selectable (or scrolling)
…heading selectable no selectable (or scrolling)
…current time yes (header & selectable) yes (header) no
…arrival time selectable selectable selectable (or scrolling)
…next turn name yes yes yes
….current road no selectable yes
Live Traffic no 1 time in-app purchase yearly in-app purchase
Local Search (google) no yes with live traffic sub.
customizable map views no no yes
2D/3D nav view yes (2D not for 3G) yes yes
control responsiveness very good good (latest update) excellent
route logic good excellent good
access to route profiles easy more complex easy
UI (access needed features) easiest, fast complex, sometimes difficult easy, fast
Customizable POI shortcuts 12+ 3 no
iPod controls very good very good excellent


I might point out that the UI features really only differ in how easy the unit is to program while in motion…you can work with any UI while sitting still…and programming while in motion is something all three apps make you agree not to do in their EULA on the start-up screen.

Among these three, Navigon is my current favorite, and the one that spends the most time installed in the finite memory of my iPhone 3G. It is my favorite, because, despite a somewhat complex UI, it just works. In actual navigation Navigon Mobile Navigator consistently and clearly provides the information I need when I need it. It gets me there alive and relatively unstressed. And that is what I demand of any GPS, stand-alone device, or iPhone app. I should also say that I keep reinstalling CoPilot Live. Even though it has some mapping issues, it has the fastest, most responsive UI of any of these apps, and I find that almost as important as house number accuracy. I keep hoping one of these frequent CoPilot map updates will cure the mapping issues!

Written by singraham

December 28, 2009 at 9:11 am