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iGo enters the iPhone navigation sweepstakes

Mel Martin
Yet another nav system for the iPhone has hit the market. The latest is called iGo My Way 2009 (iTunes link). It sells for US$79.99 and it probably the closest competitor to the recently released Navigon (iTunes link) which is $10 cheaper.

The software is a large, 970 MB download, but that means everything is on your phone, so it doesn't need to get data from the cellular system. I consider this a big plus. The cost of the system includes software updates and map updates until December, 2010.

I found a lot to like with the iGo software, with one big caveat so stick with me until the end of the review. From a feature standpoint, the iGo is quite complete. Unlike the competition I've reviewed, (AT&T Navigator, Navigon, G-Maps) the iGo lets you select from multiple voices, male and female. The voices are clear and understandable. While navigating to a destination, there is a soft 'gong' before a voice announcement, which helps me focus. iGo uses the Navteq database, which is also found on the Navigon. Like the Navigon, it does not use text to speech, so you will get "turn left in 100 feet" instead of 'turn left at Mission Street".

Address input is easy, but unlike the Navigon, it does not allow you to use your existing iPhone contacts. It does have auto complete, which makes the process pretty fast. The developers say contact input is coming in the next update.

The maps are easy to read. The display can be set to go to night view automatically, something Navigon lacks. The display, like all the nav apps I have tried, lags a bit behind real time, but not distressingly so. It's unlikely the iPhone hardware and nav software will ever run as fast as a dedicated GPS unit, but I think all the apps I've tried have been more than adequate to the task.

I made some trips around town and on the highway while running my built in car nav system, which also has Navteq data. As I expected, the same streets showed up in both systems. There was a surprising discrepancy in estimated times of arrival. The iGo software was more accurate, but as I approached my destination the two systems began to converge in their estimates.

Tapping on the top of the iGo screen gives you a voice announcement of the distance to the next turn. Tapping at the lower left of the screen gives you a display of time to the destination, distance to the destination, and a prediction of what time it will be when you get there.

The app works in either portrait or landscape mode, and switches orientations pretty quickly, less than a second in my tests. Tapping on the map gives you a menu that allows you to select 2D or 3D maps, and control the zoom level.

One nice feature is the display of 3D buildings when you get to downtown areas of larger cities. It really doesn't add much to navigating, but it is clever eye candy. At an intersection or highway ramp the display gives you a nicely detailed look at your options with helpful guidance cues.

One feature I really liked is a 'where am I' mode. You tap the map while en route, and select 'where am I'. It gives you latitude, longitude, altitude and the city, state, and street you are traveling on. In the lower right is another button labeled 'help nearby'. Tapping it gives you links to the closest car repair, police, health facilities, and ATMs. I think this is a terrific feature, and should be on every nav system, but as far as the iPhone goes, I've only seen it on the iGo package. There are some screen shots of this feature in the gallery below.

So what's the big caveat? When I first loaded the app and drove around town it worked very well. When I tried the next day with a highway trip, the app froze at the splash screen. I could exit the app, but every time I launched it, I could not get past the first screen. I did a hard reset to my iPhone, and that didn't help either. I went home, deleted the app, synced, then reloaded it again. It has worked fine ever since, but if I was on a trip it would have been a big pain to reload almost 1 GB of data without my desktop machine to help me. With WiFi I could get it loaded again, but if it happened just as I was leaving for a trip I'd be in the deep weeds.

I haven't seen any customer comments that matched my experience, but it was troubling.

So how does iGo stack up. I would rate it just behind the Navigon app. The iGo has more features, and is more customizable, but it doesn't use the iPhone contacts list as yet. When that happens I'd rate the two as a toss up, depending on your desired features. The developers also say they will add beter iPod control, text to speech, traffic and speed camera info and a quicker startup time. No dates given, but 'in the pipeline'

Next on the list is G-Map. It is a nice app,, but the POI data is very thin, and the screens, at least to my eye, are not as attractive as the Navigon or iGo apps.

Last on the list is the AT&T apps, which requires a data connection, has no contact list integration, and costs 10 dollars a month to use. I just don't think the AT&T app is competitive in price, but it did work very well, except for a consistently distorted voice.

If you are in the market, check out the detailed feature set of all these apps, and read the user comments carefully. Remember also that the TomTom app is on the way, but it is so late to the party that I think people that want nav on their iPhones are already making choices.

I would encourage our readers to share their own experiences with all of these apps because it really helps buyers decide which way to 'navigate' to a good decision.

Here are screen shots: