Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

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Archive for the ‘Roadmate’ Category

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