Why buy a navigation system when you’ve got an iPhone? You’ve already got a very powerful device with a gorgeous screen… so take advantage of it! There are a bunch of navigation apps already out there for the iPhone, and NAVIGON’s MobileNavigator is one of the best fully functional turn-by-turn navigation systems we’ve used on iPhone. Plus, there are no monthly fees involved like with some of the competitors, it’s just a one time purchase from the app store. You can enjoy all of the app’s future updates, free of charge. Great visuals, 3D maps, ease-of-use, text-to-speech, and customization are a few of the features that make MobileNavigator a great navigation system. The advanced features like social network integration, iPod integration, and Google local search make it even that much better. The app has also already confirmed to be working on iOS 4.0 with full multitasking.
Navigon’s MobileNavigator is compatible with iPhone 3G and 3GS. There are a few different versions of the apps available from the app store. They vary by territory. We are reviewing North America (All of USA & Canada). There are many other territories and countries available. The North America app weighs in at 1.5gb and requires wifi. You will need more than 2gb free to install it. The download process varies by Internet connection, it took me about twenty minutes. Once it’s installed you’re ready to start navigating.
Upon launching MobileNavigator, you’re greeted with a very simple screen with four buttons. It’s familiar to the experience you’ve likely had with other navigation systems. Enter an Address, Search for POI, Take Me Home, or Show Map…the essentials for a navigation system. This is another reason we love MobileNavigator, they keep it very simple, but enable us to get much more advanced if we choose. Along the bottom are more options including Favorites, Recents, Contacts, and “More”. The previous three options will allow you to route your desired destination within seconds of launch. If you’re going to a new address just follow the step by step input process.
Finding an Address
As with most navigation systems you need to enter your address step by step. Start with state (if not the default state), then city or zip, then street, and finally number or intersection. As you start typing a list will populate with options (i.e. city names) very quickly. You can scroll down after typing a few letters to find the appropriate entry.
If you’re looking for a point of interest you can search by city, state, or nearby. You can also take advantage of Google local search, which would probably be the quickest way to find what you’re looking for. Simply type “Pizza” or “Hookah Bar, Brooklyn” or “The Gap”‘ a list will populate with matches, addresses and even ratings (although I question the accuracy of the ratings). This is easy breezy. Also on the POI screen are three category icons; the default being gas stations, parking/rest areas, and restaurants. These are customizable (and are mentioned below in ‘features’). Point of Interest is narrowed down by location, then category, then subcategory or just destination. Matches are sorted by location.
Mapping Your Destination
Once your address has been input, you’re ready to start moving. MobileNavigator will locate you and give you up to three different routes to choose from. If GPS signal is not strong enough (that may take a little moving around to catch on) then a simulation is to be run from a point not too far from the destination. Actual navigation will begin once GPS is locked on. Fortunately, if GPS is lost mid-navigation, the application will use continue navigating to your destination based on the speed you have been traveling.
Navigating and Maps
The maps and the ease of use are key features of a good navigation system. MobileNavigator’s 3D and 2D maps do a very good job of eliminating uncertainty and confusion. The app works in both landscape and portrait orientations. By default, maps are displayed in 3D. Tapping anywhere on the map will immediately give you a 2D view. This is especially helpful in confirming you’re going to make the correct turn. Voice guidance is very descriptive and helpful; text-to-speech enables MobileNavigator to pronounce street names during guidance. You can always find a graphic on the bottom left illustrating your next turn and how far you are from it. Tapping this icon will repeat the voice guidance message. Another helpful graphic, which pops up on the bottom right, is a lane indicator which will alert you of the proper lane you should be in for an upcoming turn. Other information which can be found in your navigating view is the current street name and current speed limit. You can then toggle between time until arrival, distance to destination, and the speed you’re traveling. As you near your exit on the highway, a beautiful graphic of the exit will replace your maps, and a big virtual version of the exit sign is displayed. The exit sign includes the exit number and the exit name. This was the nicest, most helpful, graphic I have ever seen on a navigation system.
My experience with the GPS was overall pretty positive. When the GPS had a strong signal my location was very accurate. It does sometimes take bit of movement to get locked on to a strong signal and eliminate any pinpointing confusion. Also, there were infrequent times where I lost a GPS signal mid-route. The system will keep navigating based on the speed you’ve been traveling. After a few seconds, GPS will lock back on. I was also very surprised that my phone maintained a GPS signal when driving through a dead-zone with no service.
There are a few drawbacks to using your navigation system on your iPhone, some of which are fixed with iOS 4. The first major drawback is lack of multitasking. If you receive a phone call, or need to make one, the app will close down. This means you’ll have to relaunch and this could take 30 seconds or longer before MobileNavigator is navigating again. This also applies to using any other functions on your phone aside from listening to music. Luckily, iOS 4.0 allows MobileNavigator to run in the background (this can also be accomplished on a jailbroken iPhone). The other main drawback is battery consumption. Navigation systems on iPhone are power hungry. A car charger would be a wise investment. Additionally you will need a method of mounting your iPhone in your car for easy and safe viewing access. You can also get creative with velcro.
Google’s local search is one of my favorite features of MobileNavigator. It allows you to very easily and accurately find a point of interest. You can search for something general like “Indian food” or “Indian Food, Boston” or you can get more specific like “Joey’s Pizza Shack”. Google is the best at figuring out what you’re looking for. This feature is very rare for physical navigation systems, as they do not have Internet access.
On the POI screen are three user-defined category icons. There are a bunch of categories to choose from like lodging, shopping, ATMs, banks, bus stops, entertainment and so on. You can then customize the results in each category. For example, you can set the ATM category to only display Chase and Citibank ATMs which are nearby, or have Gas Stations just display Exxon and Mobil.
Text to speech is another feature that allows you to safely and accurately navigate to your destination. Rather than “in 200 feet turn right” MobileNavigator’s female voice will say “in 200 feet turn right on to Green Street.” This feature can be turned off, but is very helpful. It allows you to focus more on the road and less on the screen.
iPod controls are integrated into MobileNavigator and can be easily accessed from the maps. The music volume will lower when turn directions are being spoken. Another unique integration is Social Networking. You can easily publish your location on your Facebook or Twitter accounts. MobileNavigator can also update these statuses upon arrival at your destination.
MobileNavigator knows how fast you’re traveling and will alert you if you are driving above the speed limit. The speed limit monitor is set with a default threshold of 10mph over the speed limit for non-urban areas and 5mph for urban areas. This can be adjusted, or it can be eliminated altogether which is good, because it can get pretty annoying. The navigation lady will simply say “caution” as you surpass the threshold.
One of the benefits to having your navigation system on your iPhone is the ease of expandability. In addition to being able to easily update the MobileNavigator app for free, you can choose from a couple of paid add-ons to add even more value to the navigation system. The two “extras,” which can be found under “more,” are Traffic Live and Panorama View 3D. Traffic Live incorporates traffic updates into MobileNavigator. Routes will be created and changed based on real-time updates. Panorama View 3D adds a landscape view to your maps, including mountains and valleys. Maps won’t appear flat. Traffic Live costs $24.99 and Panorama View 3D costs $9.99.
NAVIGON MobileNavigator is one of the best turn-by-turn navigation systems we’ve used. It makes a lot of sense to combine your navigation system with your phone, rather than having two devices. Most importantly, you will always have your iPhone with you, so you and your friends will never get lost again. The downfalls to using your iPhone as a navigation system is the lack of multitasking (which has been fixed with iOS 4!) and the battery consumption. Also, if you’re the one driving, you will need to make or buy a car dock. Google Local Search, awesome 3D maps, and text-to-speech are just a few of the features that really puts MobileNavigator above the competition. It costs $79.99 for the North America version, which is definitely pricey for an app, but not pricey for such a fully functional turn-by-turn navigation system. For those outside of North America, or anyone planning on travelling outside of North America, the NAVIGON MobileNavigator app is also available for Europe for $119, Australia for $64.99, Mexico for $59.99, and the British Isles for $32.99.
Good: Multitasks with iOS 4, great features, great maps, ease of use, expandability
Bad: Battery hungry, doesn’t find GPS signal immediately and occasionally loses signal, runs very slowly with lag on an iPhone 3G – so best suited for iPhone 3G s and iPhone 4 only