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Navigon scores with MobileNavigator

Mel Martin

While many have been waiting for the TomTom hardware/software combo for the iPhone, Navigon has delivered a very appealing app for the iPhone running version 3.0 of the OS.

MobileNavigator [App Store] has a striking on-screen display, with many features lacking in some of the other products that are out there. Unlike the AT&T Navigator and the G-Map apps, MobileNavigator allows you to access your address book for destinations. It works in landscape or portrait mode, and can warn you if you are speeding. It does not have any traffic info, and you can't call any phone numbers that are in the POI (points of interest) data base. A take me home function is done with a single click.

All the maps are loaded on your device (1.29 GB) so going out of range of an AT&T cell site is not a worry. If you get a call, the guidance stops, but resumes automatically when you conclude the call.

Maps can be 3D or 2D, and the 3D maps look great and closely mimic what is on the road in front of you. The voice directions are quite clear, in contrast with the AT&T app, which is garbled and pretty much a waste.

So how is it on the road? Pretty nice. I got a quick GPS lock. If for any reason you lose GPS, in a tunnel for example, you get a red bar across the top of the screen.

You can display POIs along your route, and many of the icons have company logos like Best Buy, most of the gas station logos, even Quiznos.

If you are navigating the next street to turn on is at the bottom of the screen. If you are not navigating, you see the street you are on. At the top of the screen you get the arrival time if you are navigating. Touching that part of the display will give you your speed, and another touch gives you the distance. Many streets alert you to the speed limit, and if you go go over, you can set a warning.

Intersections on highways are handled very well, with nice big road signs and clear directions of where to go. The voice directions come at the opportune times, and do not nag, the way the AT&T app does.

At my location, southern Arizona, the maps were complete and there were far more POIs than provided on the G-Map application.

Here are some of the negatives:

While the software gives both a day and night view, it is not automatic. It would be nice for the app to figure out approximate local sunset and sunrise, and adjust the display accordingly.

The time estimates vary wildly in accuracy. I suspect that they are based on a simple calculation of distance and the speed limit. If you are stopped at a long light, or are stuck in bad traffic, the time estimates do not seem to update.

If you are in 3D mode, the only way to zoom in or out of the map is to go to 2D mode and use the usual iPhone finger pinch or stretch. That seems nuts. I should be able to zoom a map in any mode.

You can't call a POI phone number as none are listed, but that is being fixed in an update.

Using the contacts in the iPhone address book is a bit of a train wreck. It works fine on some addresses, but on many it simply fails for inexplicable reasons. I have a friend who is on Valley View in Las Vegas. It's an old address, yet the Navigon software suggested dozens of streets that had absolutely no relation to where I was trying to go. I'm sure this can be fixed, but clearly address book access is something the other nav products don't have, so it would be nice if this one worked more consistently. Check in the gallery of images to see how Navigon interpreted my request.

The MobileNavigator is feature rich, and while there is an FAQ on the Navigon website, a PDF or built in help screen would be more appropriate.

So what should a person do who wants turn by turn nav today? At this point, the TomTom is not yet released. The AT&T app works fine, but has an unintelligible voice, and is a monthly fee. The G-Map app is a bit rough, and is very weak in POI count. If you get both the east and west coast version of G-Map, it costs the same as the Navigon.

Knowing that more things are coming, and there is always the free built-in Google Map app (no turn by turn voice). There's also Mapquest, and we've heard rumors of "very competitive" features coming in an update. If I had to choose today I would go with the Navigon knowing that an update is coming soon and already detailed. Navigon has been in the GPS game for a long time, and has a great track record. The Navteq maps are solid, and are current. If I had the AT&T app, which is paid for month to month, I'd think seriously about switching to the Navigon app. It's selling for 69.99 until August 15 when it goes to $100.00. At that price, it gets closer to standalone navigators, but you are carrying another device.

The Navigon MobileNavigator also includes all of Canada, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which is a nice bonus if you need it. For today, with what is available now, the Navigon is the way to go. I don't have any hesitation about using it for long or short trips. I'd like to see traffic info and gas prices added, but those will require a data connection. With a few tweaks and fixes, the Navigon goes a long way toward keeping the promise of having a full featured turn by turn navigator on my iPhone.

Check the gallery of screen shots:

Gallery: Navigon MobileNavigator | 6 Photos

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