Sunday, 21 June 2009

Navigon Mobile Navigator for iPhone

This is my first ever review of anything, apart from a book at school when I was 10, so please be gentle with me.
For this review, I used an iPhone 3GS 16GB running the latest 3.0 firmware as came with the device. I have also tested Navigon on my (old?) iPhone 3G 8GB and the results were pretty much the same. I didnt see any real speed decrease from using the older device.

I have been an avid user of the iPhone since the day it was released. From that first day, I have firmly believed that it offers the best user experience by a very large margin.

Unfortunately, we all know that Apple have held back on some key features. I never really needed a 5 megapixel camera on my phone, or MMS picture messaging. Of course, they would have been nice to have, but not essential. The key things I have always needed in a phone were there; SMS, phone calls, a decent email client, and fantastic access to the internet. One thing that really did grate though was the lack of Satellite Navigation. I have to carry a Blackberry for work, my own phone, and a laptop. The last thing I wanted to do was have a TomTom to carry around as well.

As of last night, I discovered that Navigon have released a Sat Nav application for the iPhone. This came as a bit of a shock as I had heard that TomTom was coming, but had heard nothing about Navigon's announcement. Obviousely, I wasnt looking hard enough. I proceeded to download it immediately having read good things about their other Sat Nav devices. So here is a brief review of my experience with it today.

Purchase and Installation

The application is just as easy to purchase as any other iPhone app in the store. I chose to download it straight to the device. On firing up the App Store program on the iPhone, I searched for Navigon, and within 20 seconds had kicked off the download. This is a huge application! At near enough 1.6GB, it took an age to download. I left the phone charging in its cradle and after about an hour the app had installed.

I would like to say something about the cost. A lot of people have said that £55 is a lot for the application. Although it is massively more expensive than the average app in the store, I dont think the price is out of line for a sat nav application. TomTom 7 for Windows Smartphone is currently £89.99 for the Western Europe version and requires you to buy it as a boxed item, you cant yet download it. I fully appreciate that TomTom 7 is a far more mature product, but overall, they do pretty much the same basic job.

First Impressions

On opening MobileNavigator for the first time, my thoughts were that it looked a little basic but quiet well polished. There arent currently the multitude of buttons and features available on other platforms, but the application looks clean and well thought out.

The initial screen has four buttons across the bottom - Main Menu, Favourites, Recents, and Contacts. The Main Menu pops up first of all and contains some basic functions. You can choose to enter an address to navigate to, search for a point of interest, click a button that navigates you home, or show the map so you can set your destination visually.

With other applications, you can set waypoints to plan routes in advance, add POI's yourself, amongst a multitude of other possible settings and customisations. Unfortunately, many of these options are unavailable, but this does lead to one distinct advantage. With only 4 main options on the screen, I imagine it is pretty much impossible to select the wrong one if you so choose to set your route whilst driving, and yes, I know that you shouldn't do this :-)

Under Favourites, you can view the favourites that you have created. To create a favourite seems a little complicated. You must go to the main menu, select show map, the press the set destination button and drop a pin on the map. Once you have the pin, you can select it, click the more button on the next page, and finally you have a button that lets you add that location as a favourite. You can also add your current location as a favourite by going to the map, selecting options, and then selecting Save Position. This is much easier, but you probably dont want to drive to each of your favourite locations just so you can add them easily. I think it would be nice to be able to click on favourites, then add a favourite by post code or street address.

On that note, postcodes are not full 7 digits in the UK. I dont know about other countries, but as and when you use a postcode in the app, you will only see the first five digits. I imagine this will change as the application gets updated. I understand that these updates to add additional features will be free, if only for a short time.

The recents menu is fairly self explanatory. It comes up with a list of your last6 or so destinations and you can select one of them as a new route from your current location. You can delete one or all of your recent destinations as you see fit.

The final menu is Contacts. I havent actually tried this as yet, so maybe people could give some feedback in the comments. From what I can see, it should be as simple as selecting a contact, and their street address becomes your destination. I never keep peoples addresses on my phone, hence why I havent attempted to use it, but this may be a good time for me to put all of my freinds and families addresses in, plus birthdays, favourite colours, names of the kids and pets...

Driving Around

Driving around with Navigon is much the same as you would expect from any other system. This is of course a good thing, as all the other systems have got the display, commands, and behaviours pretty much tuned to how they need to be.

The display is clear and looks fantastic on the iPhones screen. I was a little concerned about glare from the sun, but as easily able to adjust the screen to a good viewing angle without any problems.

Route planning was very quick. I think it is the quickest I have ever seen a system choose a route. Once you have the route set up, you can get going.

In its 1.0 version, updating of the screen seemed a little slow. This was by no means a problem as it kept up whilst doing 70mph, it just felt like it was running on an old PDA rather than a brand new iphone. This is completely opposite to the interface which felt snappy and responsive whilst planning a route.

One thing that did bug me a bit was the responsiveness of the screen when the GPS signal was week. Occasionally when turning at a junction, the software would show me as going straight on for a few seconds until it rechecked the GPS and saw that I was in a different location. This seemed a little odd to me as I would think that if the software had asked me to turn right (for instance) and had a GPS signal problem, it would assume that I had in fact made the correct turn so as not to interrupt the directions. I think it probably didn't help that my phone was in a cup holder low down in the dash. When I asked my darling wife to hold the iPhone higher up, I didn't notice the issue at all. It is however one thing I will keep my eye on.

When MobileNavigator saw that I had taken a wrong turn (on purpose I might add, I really new where I was going) it was very quick to react and almost instantaneously gave me a re-route to get back on track. This is nothing more than I would expect from a navigation aid, but it is a good sign that I was not underwhelmed by the response to my error.

Voice Directions and Music

I can say this much, MobileNavigator is well spoken and polite. The voice directions are clear and concise, and told me exactly what I needed to know. It was especially nice that the young lady inside my phone told me which road I needed to take as well. This may not seem like a big thing, but when your trying to gawk at the menu bar on the phone trying to read a road number, it can be a little dangerous.

I have a bluetooth car kit in my car and a Kenwood iPod compatible headunit. This gave me the opportunity to play with a few different scenarios.

When using the iPhone as a standalone unit, the speaker was quiet loud, but not amazing. I certainly wouldn't have been able to hear it with guns and roses blazing out of the stereo, but its more than adequate when it counts and when your paying attention at the start or end of your journey.

With the iPhone plugged in to the USB port on my Kenwood stereo, I was able to play music through the iPod application and then set up my route. This was very nice and all, but I encountered an unfortunate problem. When the spoken directions came through, they were played straight over the music at approximately the same volume as the music. This made it hard to make out the directions. I could not find any way to increase the volume of the directions further, and the iPod app's volume is disabled when using the doc connector.

Finally, I tried routing the iPod application and MobileNavigator's audio to my Stereo Bluetooth car kit (Nokia CK300). This is plugged in to the Kenwood stereo through an auxiliary input. The music came through the stereo loud and clear, and to my very pleasant surprise, the directions from MobileNavigator were significantly louder than the music. This kind of made my point about the dock connector mute. I can now have my music and my sat nav instructions coming through my stereo and all I have to do is feed power to the iPhone. All the other audio is wireless. This makes me very happy. I'll be ordering either a Brodit or Griffin mount for the iPhone next week.

Phone Calls are a pain

This is really the only place where I encountered an issue with MobileNavigator. I don't like talking on the phone in the car as it can be a distraction, but sometimes it is necessary to hold a conversation whilst driving.

I tested what would happen when I received a call and was using the Navigon software. The simple answer is "bad stuff happens"

On receiving a call, the iPhone quits the Navigon application and launches the Phone application. You heard that correctly. For the whole time that you are on the phone, you lose your satellite navigation. This could range from irrelevant to dangerous depending on your location. If your on the motorway/interstate then its unlikely to be a huge issue, but if your travelling in the middle of a city full of junctions, you will be lost very quickly. This may make you irate and your driving could get very bad, especially whilst your phone call distracts you further.

Once your phone call is finished, MobileNavigator will relaunch. It seems to take the software around 20 seconds to acquire a GPS signal, so you can still be without navigation for a little while after the application quits.

Please don't think that I am having a go at you, Navigon, as I'm fairly certain that this is a limitation that Apple have put in place. I do hope however that this gets a workaround or resolution soon though, as it really could be a pain in the ****.

The Summary

Well, this little write up took a lot longer than I expected. It was only supposed to be a quick overview, not an in depth review.

Basically, I am impressed with MobileNavigator. It works pretty much the same as any other satellite navigation system. Most of the time it is fantastic and you would never imagine that this is the first version of one of the first navigation apps on the iTunes Store. There are however a couple of important things that need improvement:

  • Firstly, we need a way of increasing the volume of the voice directions above the volume on music from the iPhone. This may not affect everybody, but for those who have an iPod dock in their dash, it will be a minor niggling annoyance that should be easy to fix.
  • Apple, TomTom, Navigon, and the other developers need to find a way of controlling phone calls from within an application. This may already be one of th "1000 new api's" in iPhone OS 3.0 - This would prevent the need to lose navigation as and when you receive (or make) a phone call.
Once these little quirks are sorted, I am absolutely confident in saying that MobileNavigator will be a worthy replacement for your standalone sat nav device.

If you are on the lookout for a sat nav unit now and have an iPhone, why not save yourself a few quid on a standalone unit and get yourself MobileNavigator. It looks pretty good and does the job fairly well.

Please note that the current price of £55 is an introductory offer that will end on June 30th. After this date, the price will increase. It is stated in the App Store that further features will be added to the app and the update will be free for current owners.


Grovsnus said...

Thanks for the review!
Good job!


Rami said...

Did you do this review usinf iPhone 3G or 3G S?
Sincerely yours, R

The Editor said...

Nice review, just one suggestion -
It would be helpful to know from the beginning what kit you have (ie. what version of OS you're running).

If, as appears to be the case, you're still running 2.2.1, then I'm impressed it runs well without the new OS 3.0 GPS APIs.

Once again, nice review, thanks.

Terry said...

Top review very informative thank sure this is your first review since school????:)

Simeon said...

He said this at the beginning.

"For this review, I used an iPhone 3GS 16GB running the latest 3.0 firmware as came with the device. I have also tested Navigon on my (old?) iPhone 3G 8GB and the results were pretty much the same. I didnt see any real speed decrease from using the older device."

SimbaK2K said...

Nice review, I'm very tempted to buy this however hope they release a UK map only version to save on download/store space. I'm going to see what comes up in the next week or so and may get it at the special price if tomtom doesn't come up with something sharp (the place holder page on the tomtom iphone website makes me suspicious its going to take a while to come out!)

MikeDoubleU said...

Hi all,

Thanks for the positive feedback.


I added that paragraph after The Editor's suggestion :-)

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