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Archive for the ‘Navigon’ 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

Further Adventures in Navigation Down Along the Boarder!

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Or how CoPilot regained its place on my iPhone.


CoPilot Live 8

Okay…after the disappointing performance of the actual maps on both Navigon and MotionX Drive (see the paragraph in brackets on maps near the end of the previous post) in use along Expressway 83 in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, a certain continuing disappointment in the responsiveness of Navigon in daily use (though I reported it was responding more quickly by the time I got to the Valley it was back, in most cases, to its old sluggish self), and some interesting quirks in MotionX UI, I felt it was only fair to reinstall CoPilot Live and see if they had a map update.


They did.

In addition, I discovered that setting the Language to English UK actually gives you another text-to-speech voice choice: Eleanor, a plummy female computer from GB. I Have yet to test her in actual use, so I am not sure how deep her UK bias goes…but I can’t imagine there are many navigation words that would be different on either side of the Atlantic. We shall see. I will report.

With the latest Map Update (which you can download from within CoPilot 8) as far as I can tell the exits on Expressway 83 are in the right places! and, I was able to enter all of my test addresses from the Rio Grande Valley without any problem. Two of the 4 were even in the POI database.

Though my Freeport ME worst case test address is still wrong, it is now only wrong by a singe house number. The Maine maps have clearly been updated since I last tested it.

I have to say, I missed CoPilot and its winning ways while down on the boarder. I am happy to say it has regained its place on my iPhone, and is once more my recommendation for the best resident map Nav App.

Written by singraham

November 27, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Adventures in Navigation Down Along the Boarder

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Or how CoPilot lost its place on my iPhone.


Mobile Navigator for 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?

Written by singraham

November 16, 2009 at 6:04 am

Navigon Mobile Navigator for iPhone Update

with 3 comments

Navigon hit the ground running, so to speak, with the first turn-by-turn gps app for the iPhone with built in maps for all of North America. My impressions of the app are here, and have only changed for the better with the two updates they have released so far.

The first update gave us the ability to add interim destinations to routes…which actually sounds better than it is…since you still have to add the destinations using the text interface. What we need is the ability to add destination by touching the map…or to change a route by dragging. It also added the ability to set the volume of the app independently from the music player…which is good if you use the iPod app while navigating.

Update two only offers two new features but they are killers. You now have a full set of iPod controls within the app…so you don’t have to boot out to select a new album or playlist, for instance. Nice. Convenient.

But the really improvement (and a first for GPS on the iPhone)  is text-to-speech prompts. Mobile Nav now reads out the street and route names for (just about) every turn. She has a new voice too…on the NA version, slightly less British (way less plummy), and, to my ear, a bit easer to understand. The app does a very good job with English pronunciation, getting close enough to avoid most misunderstandings. And the readings are seamless…you don’t hear any switch from recorded prompts to text-to-speech.

I did notice that on close spaced turns where they are not linked in the data base, on my slower 3G phone, the text-to-speech prompt sometimes comes a second late…but it is there.

So…I continue to be impressed and delighted with the app. I have used it more extensively now, and, except for sending me on a road that I would not have chosen myself in Cape Elizabeth ME, it has not let me down. Highly recommended if you want to use your iPhone as your GPS for travel.

Written by singraham

September 13, 2009 at 5:02 am

Posted in app, GPS, iPhone, navigation, Navigon

Navigon Mobile Navigator iPhone

with 5 comments

Mobile Navigator for iPhone

Mobile Navigator for iPhone

Let’s face it, $69 ($99 after August 15) is a lot to pay for an iPhone app. We are pretty well conditioned to think of a $6.99 app as expensive…when we pay $4.99 we expect something really special, relatively unique, and totally awesome, $2.99 is a bread and butter app, and we really think all apps should be $.99!

And, I have to say, my most expensive app before the Navigon was the $29.99 iBird Explorer Pro…a totally unique, completely awesome, library sized compendium of bird information wedded to super audio-visual field guide and innovative bird id search engine, all compressed into an elegant iPhone interface…that has served (in the Apple TV adds) as a poster child for what is possible on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Of course, I am a birder as well as technophile (polite for geek), so for me, price is no object for an app like iBird Explorer.

But then, I am also a traveler. 300,000 air miles a year, traveling to destinations all over North America, and generally having a 1 to 6 hour drive out of the airport (always conveniently located at the center of an urban traffic snarl) to where ever I am actually going (long story and not the place to tell it). I bought my first GPS, a Magellan Crossover, 4 years ago and it simplified and destressed my travel life to such an extent that I would never willingly travel without one again. I even use it on any drive over 2 hours around home…just to have the distance to the next turn and ETA available. Anything, as far as I am concerned, that removes stress from travel is worth owning and using!

The Magellan is still going strong, and the only reason I have been avidly waiting a turn by turn, audible GPS app for the iPhone ever since the possibility was announced with OS 3.0 (and I have been eager) is that I travel 300,000 miles a year by air. The less I have to carry…the fewer gadgets…one less power supply (2 less counting the auto adapter) can make a real difference…not huge…but real, and with that much travel, any difference at all is worth a reasonable price.

So what is reasonable? To put things in perspective, I paid more for my Magellan Crossroads (at employee price through a friend in the company) than I paid for my iPhone (by quite a bit) and I paid more for the last Magellan map update than Navigon is asking for the complete Mobile Navigator app. So even $99 is not looking unreasonable to me.

Of course the GPS market has changed dramatically in the past 4 years too. Today you can buy a GPS at least as good as my Magellan for less than $150, $129 on occasional discounts…even sometimes the most basic models at  $99 on a holiday sale. That is making the Navigon app look expensive again…if…and for me it is a big if…you are willing to carry a second device for navigation. That is, if you remember, how I got here in the first place.

One cravat in what follows. My only GPS reference for comparison to the Navigon app is my 4 year old Magellan, state of the art at the time, but it is quite possible that many of the features that so impressed me in the Navigon are now common place in even an entry level GPS…I wouldn’t know. I am sure some reader will be at pains to tell me if this is so.

And, yes, I am indeed impressed with the Mobile Navigator for the iPhone. Impressed and happy. Tested on an extensive road trip out of a midwestern airport from one city to the far side of  a smaller city 2 hours west and into deep industrial suburbia, it performed flawlessly and delighted me with its many intelligent aids to navigation, ease of use, and accuracy. As far as I am concerned it is worth every penny of the $99, and more.

It has only one quirk that I noticed…it is not as fast in set up as it might be due to operational delays…lags between touching a button and the action called mostly. This is on a 3G iPhone. I suspect that performance is snappier on a 3GS (bound to be, and if someone wants to donate one I will be happy to test it), but this is still a massively complex piece of programing for the tiny iPhone processor to handle, especially while part of its little mind is tending to Apple’s apps that are allowed background operations (mail, SMS, iPod, and now any app that uses Push).

What impressed me?

Options Screen

Options Screen

1) General accuracy. After TomTom’s take on the abilities of the built in iPhone GPS (they will provide an optional booster unit/car mount with their app), I had to wonder if the iPhone was up to the task unaided. It is. No problem. It acquired an initial position faster than my Magellan by far (probably because it cheats and takes a ball-park position from the cell system), and it never lost tract of where it was no matter how dense the city around it. (I have not, you understand, tested it in NYC, LA, Chicago, or Boston…) Turn info was timely and spot on.

2) An intelligent and very usable 3D mode. I never used 3D on the Magellan because it made me a little queasy to watch it, but the Navigon worked fine, perhaps because of the possibility of using the iPhone in Portrait mode with the screen long and thin, giving the 3D effect room to stretch out ahead of the little moving arrow (note: current version does not display street names on the map in 3D. Update with name display, and a few other refinements, promised soon).

Perhaps the best feature of the 3D view is the lane assist at major intersections (especially on interstates). As you approach a junction, the view shifts to a stylized depiction of the actual lane layout, looking from your position down the lanes ahead, with the traffic signs hanging over the lanes just as you see them in real time through the windshield, and bright orange arrows following the lanes showing your flow through the junction. If there are two possible lanes of exit, it shows two arrows: If only one, then only one arrow. It is simple, elegant, and effective. (see the illustration above)

3) Along the same lines, the Navigon both tells and displays multiple turns. When you exit a freeway, for instance, if the exit is to the right and then you have to turn right off the exit, it gives you an audible instruction, and it displays the second turn in a smaller turn box above the first turn box. I hated that about the Magellan. It never told what the next turn was until you completed the first, even when they followed close on each other.

4) Posted speed limit display and audible speeding waring. On any major highway (even on Route 1 through downtown Kennebunk ME (population 20,000)) a little speed sign in the upper right corner of the screen displays the posted speed limit. It is very accurate and changes when the posted limits change. You can set the app to different levels of alert, but a pleasant voice cautions you when you are too far in excess of the limit.

Route Profile

Route Profile

5) The ability to tailor the route profile that builds your route in any number of interesting and useful ways. You want to walk or take a bike?…Navigon has you covered. Do you want to include residential only streets (often the best shortcuts, known only to true locals) or exclude them. Do you want to allow or avoid toll roads, or outlaw them outright? More



6) An excellent POI system that provided accurate lists of local every things…even including, where appropriate, corporate logos (Burger Kings are shown in the list with their logo…MickyDs…Staples stores…WalMarts…etc.) As a stranger in a lot of strange cities with general business (eating, shopping, mailing, parking, auto renting, occasional medical emergencies, etc.) I am really dependent on the POI system. I am sure I am going to discover the limits of the Navigon POIs. As much as I travel I always do, but so far I am impressed.

7) Ease of address entry. Multiple taps and multiple inputs of course, but each tap and each input calls up an indexed list of possible locations, including all major intersections. I have always wondered why GPS apps don’t work like Google maps, and let you type in the whole address and then go find it, but given that failing, the Navigon system works well (again, on the 3G iPhone there can be lags as Navigon builds the lists. Probably better on the 3GS…any donors yet?)

The Navigon app is also integrated with your address book/contacts app on the iPhone, so you can enter the full address there, and then call it up from within the navigation app. Just be careful entering data in your contacts app. I made a simple mistake, and it cost me 15 minutes on the way to an appointment. User error.

8 ) a feature that looks good, but that I have not used yet, is the ability to look for POIs along your route (restaurants, gas stations, rest areas, etc.) while the route is running, and add them to your route. I can see how, on longer trips than 2 hours, this might be very useful.

Along those lines, the next update is supposed to have the ability to route multiple destinations. This is something I have always missed in my Magellan. Sometimes I want to go by way of, but I still want to go, if you know what I mean. I do not want to go to the by the way, and then have to reprogram the GPS for my true destination. And if there is more than one by the way, well…that gets tedious. I don’t know how often I will actually use the multiple destinations feature, but I am eager to see how it works.

So, what about the practical side of using the app on the iPhone. It is after all a phone. And it is, after all, an iPhone. What happens when calls come in. What happens when Pushes interrupt your route? What about iPoding? How do you mount the thing?

Phone and Push seems well integrated. If a phone call comes in, you can answer it using the speaker phone mode and navigation picks up where you are when you finish. If you are anywhere tricky, of course, the best course is to get off the road to talk anyway. Pushes appear in the screen, but have a dismiss button, so that is easy. You can play music using the iPod app while navigation is running, but see the volume concern below.

As for mounting, I am using an inexpensive,l $25 windshield suction mount from Walmart, and it works just fine. It even came with a heater vent adapter for CA cars (no window mounts allowed). I also have a Kensington mount that goes in the lighter socket for cars with sockets appropriately placed. The iPhone is light compared to my Magellan, so it is relatively easy to mount. The suction on my inexpensive windshield mount held for 3 days and showed no signs of coming loose. I used a separate lighter powered power supply, and the phone was well positioned for speaker phone use if needed. Works.

Navigon recommends running your iPhone naked for best GPS reception but I kept mine in its plastic case and it worked fine.

So what is not to like?

My only issue is, as other reviewers have noted, the voice prompts. The voice is pleasant, polite, clear and crisp and unlikely to be  misunderstood…but it is not loud enough, especially if you are listening to music. The coming update will have separate volume controls for music and voice…but unless they also boost the volume of the voice in the navigation app, that just means that you will be turning your music down to hear the navigation better. Not ideal. (With the 3G, she also stutters occasionally…not enough to bother…probably cured in the 3GS…what, still no donors? I really want to test this.)

To be fair, you need to compare the Navigon Mobile Navigator for the iPhone to the AT&T navigation app, and the X-Road apps…and of course the soon to be released TomTom app (the TomTom has been soon to be released for several months now, which is certainly one reason I have the Navigon.)

I don’t want to pay AT&T $9.99 a month to use their app, no matter how good it is, and early reports have not been wildly enthusiastic. Even if map upgrades for the Navigon are expensive, they are not going to $120, and they are not likely to come every year. I prefer an app that has the maps installed. The X-Road apps might be good, but since I am all over NA, I would have to own and install both East and West…not an ideal solution as far as I am concerned, and putting the cost right up there with the Navigon.

And the TomTom? I don’t like the idea of the separate booster…one more thing to carry and power…and, having used the Navigon without a booster, I am not sure it is needed. TomTom would have to have a significant price or feature advantage to make me look at it (unlikely in my opinion). (Of course, if TomTom wants me to review their app, I am always open to that…though I bought the Navigon with my own hard earned $$…you think all that travel is easy on a person?)

For the moment, I am certainly a happy Navigon Mobile Navigator for the iPhone user. Great app. Good use of the iPhone interface. Works well. Eliminates one gadget from my packing. Win win win, and one more win.

I am happy. And I am especially happy to have gotten the Navigon at its introductory price of $69. Go get yours before August 15th and save yourself some cash.

Written by singraham

August 3, 2009 at 5:44 am