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G-Map back in action with new nav app

Mel Martin

XRoad gave us one of the first Nav apps for the iPhone. It's still for sale under the name G-Map West or East, and gives users either a Western or Eastern U.S. version. It was pretty basic when it first came out, but there have been many improvements.

Now the folks at XRoad have a new app that covers the whole of the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada, and it's on sale for US$39.99.

The new version of the app brings text to speech to the party, free traffic service for one year, and a claimed update to the Navteq data. Like many of the competitors out there, G-Map offers address book integration, 3D views of the road, detailed renderings of thousands of intersections, trip planning, and it allows the editing of POI information by adding notes or phone numbers.

So how does it work in the world of cars, traffic, and road closures? OK, but it's not wonderful. First, the app is pretty slow. It acquires a GPS signal right away, but then G-Map takes it's own sweet time orienting the maps. For a few seconds, your direction of travel is not at the top. After a bit, G-Map figures it out, but I think if you were launching the app when you were already underway, you'd get some pretty confusing visual cues.

When you get a call, the app stops, and after the call you can go back in. When I did go back into the app, I had to once again acknowledge the legal mumbo-jumbo by tapping on the screen.

The maps were complete, and I couldn't find any missing streets in my area. The app runs in portrait or landscape mode, and makes the switch quite rapidly. The voice is quite good, and not garbled. I did find the app too chatty, and wish there was a way to limit the interruptions to a minimum.

As in the original release of this app, the POI database is troublesome. It is not very deep. Movie theaters that opened last November in my neighborhood are not there. Worse, I wanted directions to the Phoenix Airport and tapped Airports in the POI list. It showed a lot of little airports within a 50 mile radius, but nothing beyond that distance. When I told it to search more widely, it found nothing. When I suggested that we just drive to Phoenix, rather than the airport specifically, G-Map found the destination with no problem. It may be that the app has a limit to the distance it will search for some POIs, but if you are a cross-country driver, fiddling with the app to get the POI is silly and dangerous. This is especially hilarious since when you first log in you are warned to "not operate this application while driving."

I want to like this app, but it stills feels rough and not perfectly thought out from an ease of use perspective. You can listen to music while it is running, but only if you start up the music before launch, and there are no controls within the app to skip ahead or choose something else. If your iPhone is set to get iPod controls when you double tap the menu button, you can control the music that way. I never saw any traffic information. Maybe I live in too small a town, but during a planned trip up to Phoenix, I didn't see any traffic info either. The 3D map views are nice, but no matter which direction you turn, G-Map shows a big city ahead with tall buildings. It's a needless distraction, especially when you are in the middle of nowhere. This is the first app I've seen that induces hallucinations.

This app is reasonably priced (while on sale) and the maps are good. The POI database is very limited, and forces you to fool around with the app while driving, which is downright dangerous. For people who bought the older 'half the country' version, I don't see any information on an upgrade path. I'd hate to have purchased half of the U.S. for $34.99 a few months ago, only to find that I could get the whole country and text to speech for 5 bucks more.

The iPhone navigation race has become very interesting, and all the competition is good for those of us who love nav apps. It seems there are new or updated GPS apps every week, and that can only benefit consumers in the long run.

Here are some screen grabs:

Gallery: X-Road G-Map | 3 Photos

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