1. ericUT's Avatar
    Part 1:

    With the release of the iPhone 3.0 software update, there has been a flood of turn by turn navigation options popping up in the app store. I will attempt to review some of these apps in a series Im calling Navigation Showdown. The first app reviewed in this series will be Navigon Mobile Navigator North America.

    Intro:

    I want to preface this review by saying that I am a true navigation junkie. Ive owned multiple GPS devices over the years and have recently made the switch from dedicated navigation boxes to mobile phone solutions. I travel quite a bit so Ive come to depend on navigation devices and software on a near daily basis. When I saw that Navigon released an iPhone app, I was ecstatic. So how does the software stack up to their own hardware and other competing navigation solutions for the iPhone? Read on.

    The App:

    There are two basic ways in which iPhone navigation apps load map data. Many apps, such as AT&T Navigator, choose to draw all of their information over the cellular data network. This is an advantage in that all information and map data are updated in real time. However, it is a disadvantage because it requires constant signal, and for many people this is not always an option. Ironically, many of the times I find myself needing directions, Im in an area where the signal is either weak or nonexistent.

    Navigon maps are, instead, loaded onto the iPhone itself. This means that a constant data connection is not necessary. However, there are still a few disadvantages: First, the app size is enormous. I had to clear up 1.5 Gigs of drive space on my iPhone 3G just to install the app. If youre using an 8Gb iPhone, this can put a serious damper on the amount of music and media you can hold. Second is that listings can sometimes be dated, and the size restriction may prohibit how much map information can be stored on the phone. Many times during testing, Points of Interest (or POIs), that I was passing would not show up. I did not feel as confident that map data was current or that I could find every location I needed by simply doing a name search. Often I would search for where I needed to go in Google Maps, copy the address, and then enter it into Navigon. However, if you live in a developing area with lots of new business going in all the time like I do, having dated maps is a way of life, which is why Im still a fan of the internet loaded data solution.

    Interface:

    Navigon has done an incredible job with the interface. The home menu that first comes up has nice big finger-friendly dark-colored buttons on a dark background, which means you wont be blinded when starting the app at night. Towards the bottom there are four different options for navigation. Main Menu gives you the normal options to search for a POI, manually input an address or show your current location on the map. One really nice feature on the Main Menu is the Take Me Home button which will point you right to your home address without having to dig through your favorite locations. The Favorites menu gives you a list of all your bookmarked locations. However, there are no options to sort by category, which is something I personally miss after using Garmin Mobile XT on my HTC Tilt. The Recents menu gives you the option to navigate to any of your recent destinations. All of this is fairly standard. However, Navigon has one very unique feature that I havent seen on other iPhone solutions yet. This feature is the Contacts menu, which will allow you to scroll through your contact list, select a name, and navigate to that persons address. This is VERY handy. I spent a couple of hours loading address information into my contact book just to try this feature out in depth, and I have to say I could see myself using this on a regular basis. Its especially handy if your employer has multiple satellite locations. You can create a contact entry for these locations and load a phone number and address into them. Of course you could always load them into your Favorites menu, but loading the info into the contact card means you can use it with Google Maps as well.

    When searching for a POI, you have the option to look nearby, in a specific city, or in a specific state. The nearby function will scan in a 3-5 miles radius (as best as I can estimate). City and statewide searches are fairly self explanatory. Once you choose your search range, you can type in a business name. There are also three shortcut keys at the bottom for Fuel, Food, and Parking. These are incredibly simple but missing some important features. One glaring omission Navigon made was not including access to live information such as traffic and fuel prices. This is a HUGE loss considering how easy it would be to implement. This also means that you have to wait for App Store releases to get updated information. Its fairly easy to find the fuel station closest to you, but I would love an option to search by price in order to make sure I can keep my expenses down on a business trip, which would mean more mileage reimbursement going into my pocket instead of my gas tank. Navigon, please include this in the next update.
    07-27-2009 07:48 PM
  2. ericUT's Avatar
    Part 2:

    Navigating:

    This is the meat and potatoes function of the software. After having used a Navigon device, I was really excited to hear that Navigon would be implementing Reality View Pro into the device. Basically, this function will pop up a simulated picture of interstate interchanges and exits with an arrow to tell you which lane you need to be in. This is helpful because it keeps you from having to scout out signs to know where you need to be. I really like this feature, however Im concerned that if the map becomes dated and there are changes made you may end up in the wrong lane and have to turn around.

    The layout is the normal navigation view found on many GPS devices, but I really like the details of Navigons set up. For instance, you can switch from portrait to landscape view using the accelerometer. This is handy if you use a dash or window mount like I do, or if you want to throw it into a cup holder in the portrait position. Before starting navigation, Navigon will give you an overhead map to confirm the final destination. The bottom of the screen shows the next street you will be turning onto so you can confirm with street signs. There is a small square in the lower left of the screen that will show you the next maneuver and the time until that maneuver. The top bar shows your ETA but if you click on it will also show you the distance left. There are Cancel and Option buttons on the top left and right respectively. The Options menu allows you to turn 3D navigation on and off, Night Mode on and off (very handy if youre a night owl like me), as well as routing options. You can also tell Navigon to add POIs or addresses as an interim point without changing your final destination. This is a function I use fairly often because I can literally plan out all my stops along the way. There are a few other self explanatory options within that menu that let you turn off audio warnings and other standard features. Also, on certain roads, there is an icon that will show the speed limit. Whats clever about this is that Navigon will alert you when you are speeding with a spoken warning. (I turned this off within two minutes of using the app).

    Voice alerts are given as you are driving, however this does not feature spoken street names with the exception of interstates. There are also no options to turn on an alert tone before directions are given. This is a feature I use on other devices because I can hear the tone over music in my car and it will alert me to turn the mute button on when a direction is about to be given. Most of the time I missed the audible directions in Navigon because the voice is not clear enough to cut through music. If you rely on audible directions and rarely use the screen when navigating, this is not the solution for you. The 3D map view is nice with soft colors that are easy on the eyes. Moving maps are very smooth, however sometimes during turns the map will stutter and that can be disorienting. Your position is displayed by a simple yellow arrow, and POIs have icons assigned to them which will show up along your route. Certain POIs even have branded icons next to them (Starbucks, Walgreens, and Circle K were some that I noticed). Interstates and highways are clearly labeled and Reality View Pro pops up automatically when entering, exiting, or merging on interstates. One problem I noticed was the app will not let you start navigating without a decent GPS signal, it will only give you the option to simulate. This is a problem because it means you cant enter an address indoors, tell it to start, and then walk outside and place it in your car. It also seems to forget your location a lot as well. GPS acquisition times are top notch though, so it doesnt really become a problem, although I will give the credit there to Apple.

    Price:

    Right now the price of Navigon Mobile Navigator North America is $69.99 in the iTunes store, which is a great deal. However, after August 15th the price will be $99.99. This is where I have some problems. I can handle $70 for navigation software, but $100 is a little high when all youre really paying for is the software. Dedicated navigation devices can be had for the same price so I have trouble justifying the high cost. Im hoping that the purchase price will include free lifetime updates. It is handy as a pocket solution but for $100 Id rather buy a dedicated machine, which would leave my iPhone free to do other handy things, like using the iPod or Pandora Radio while Im driving. Another problem I have is that this will drain your battery really quickly. Of course I expected this, so I had my car charger handy. If you plan to use this software, a car charger is a must, otherwise dont plan on having any useful battery life left. The software does include options to change what type of vehicle you are using, which opens this product up to cyclists. This could justify the $100 cost because most dedicated devices are going to be too large to mount easily on a bicycle.

    Conclusion:

    This is a very polished, very elegant solution for navigation on your iPhone. Could it be better? Sure! I have trouble with the previously mentioned lack of internet updates, which could have been so easily implemented and add a ton of functionality to the software. This is almost unforgivable given how easy it would be to add. There a few bugs here and there as well that come and go with no order, but I can forgive this considering how much data the app is trying to sift through. I also find it really hard to justify the high cost of the app, as well as having to give up a very sizeable chunk of your iPhones memory for one app that you may or may not use regularly.

    This app is going to be a good solution for those who might need a navigation option on a fairly frequent basis, although I might still recommend a dedicated device for heavy users. If you rarely use GPS, I would avoid this app because of its price and rely on either Google Maps, which is free with your data plan, or AT&T Navigator which costs $10 a month but can be switched on or off at any time (such as for impending vacations). This would also be an excellent option for those using their iPhones on T-Mobile who do not have the option of using AT&T Navigator, users that may travel frequently to areas where you cannot get a signal, or cyclists who dont have a lot of room for a large bulky GPS device.

    iTunes Link
    Last edited by postalUT; 07-27-2009 at 07:57 PM.
    07-27-2009 07:49 PM
  3. Tunnelrunner's Avatar
    Nice review! I think I agree with well over 90% of what you posted here.
    07-29-2009 10:08 PM
  4. capucci's Avatar
    Thank you for the great review. It had a lot of great information in it. I am VERY interested in turning off the turn by turn audio. I use the audio output of the phone for music, and then the turn by turn is SHOUTING at me. Is there a way to turn of this audio, or change the level of audio output? You said that it was in the options, but I don't see it.

    Thanks,

    Justin
    08-02-2009 10:10 PM
  5. mattgibstein's Avatar
    Awesome review! Engadget also has an indepth review that complements yours
    08-03-2009 01:12 PM
  6. DainBramage1's Avatar
    Part 1:

    The App:
    Navigon maps are, instead, loaded onto the iPhone itself. This means that a constant data connection is not necessary. However, there are still a few disadvantages: First, the app size is enormous. I had to clear up 1.5 Gigs of drive space on my iPhone 3G just to install the app. If youre using an 8Gb iPhone, this can put a serious damper on the amount of music and media you can hold.

    Interface:
    However, Navigon has one very unique feature that I havent seen on other iPhone solutions yet. This feature is the Contacts menu, which will allow you to scroll through your contact list, select a name, and navigate to that persons address. This is VERY handy.

    One glaring omission Navigon made was not including access to live information such as traffic and fuel prices. This is a HUGE loss considering how easy it would be to implement. This also means that you have to wait for App Store releases to get updated information. Its fairly easy to find the fuel station closest to you, but I would love an option to search by price in order to make sure I can keep my expenses down on a business trip, which would mean more mileage reimbursement going into my pocket instead of my gas tank. Navigon, please include this in the next update.
    Part 2:

    Navigating:
    There are also no options to turn on an alert tone before directions are given. This is a feature I use on other devices because I can hear the tone over music in my car and it will alert me to turn the mute button on when a direction is about to be given. Most of the time I missed the audible directions in Navigon because the voice is not clear enough to cut through music.
    Great review... thanks! Since the time of the original post, the app has been been updated four times (I just upgraded to 1.4).

    Aside from having to free up space just to update (the app is HUGE... currently 1.46 GB!), I've been really pleased with each update... you can tell the company is actually paying attention to whatever feedback and reviews they are getting... they have made significant additions since the initial release:

    * full text-to-speech
    * text-to-speech volume control (relative to iPhone volume)
    * iPod control
    * automatic day/night mode option
    * turn-by-turn listing (something I really wanted, but it would be nice if it weren't nested so deeply into the Options menu)

    While I look forward to the improvements that each update brings, I don't enjoy actually updating... this latest time, the App Store app didn't allow me to install the update until I got to 3.9 GB free on my iPhone! In the past, so I didn't have to remove a bunch of music to update, I've deleted the app then reinstalled it from the iTunes store, but that seemed like it took twice as long, because I had to download the new app through iTunes, then go through a LONG sync. Is it me, or does it see ridiculous to have to free up more than twice the space required for the app to update?!? Keep in mind, that it's already taking up that space because it's installed, so it's as if the update process requires more than THREE times the space of the app!! Unless the app and all the data is in one giant file, it seems like they should work on a way to do an incremental update, that just updates the files that need updating. As it was, by doing the App Store app update, it forgot my data (Home address, favorites, recents...).

    I see that they've added Traffic Live as an in-app purchase ($24.99), but I'm not planning on getting it. I have it on my handheld, and when traffic is jammed up one place around here, it's generally jammed up everywhere! Yes, fuel prices would be great, but don't appear to be in the 1.4 release.

    Agreed, it would be useful to be able to turn on a tone to signal that it's going to say something, which I would prefer to have separate from the text-to-speech directions. There are times when I'm listening to an audiobook or seminar, and would prefer to just be alerted that I should look at the screen, rather than having the voice come on.

    I'd also LOVE to see the ability to email or text turn-by-turn directions, so if a call comes in, you can still have something to help you to your destination.

    According to iTunes, the North American version is $59.99 until January 11th. I bought 1.0 in August, for $69.99, and have been VERY happy. While it doesn't work quite as well as the handheld Navigon that I already had, the fact that it is integrated with the contacts list is HUGE! Programming something that I already have in my iPhone into the clunky handheld sucks.

    In all, this is a great app. Sure, it could be better, but from what I've seen in each of the past four updates, Navigon is really putting effort into making this an even greater app than it already is!!
    12-30-2009 06:12 PM
  7. DainBramage1's Avatar
    Thank you for the great review. It had a lot of great information in it. I am VERY interested in turning off the turn by turn audio. I use the audio output of the phone for music, and then the turn by turn is SHOUTING at me. Is there a way to turn of this audio, or change the level of audio output? You said that it was in the options, but I don't see it.
    It is an option as of 1.1 or 1.2.
    12-30-2009 06:13 PM
  8. taroliw's Avatar
    I'd also LOVE to see the ability to email or text turn-by-turn directions, so if a call comes in, you can still have something to help you to your destination.
    I love this review, BTW!

    I've actually had several phone conversations whilst navigating with this app. I just accept my call (or place one) and restart the app. The only annoying thing is that the audio for voice prompts follows the audio for the call -- probably an iPhone limitation. What this means, though, is that when a prompt plays I can't hear what the caller is saying. No matter what mode the audio is in (speaker, bluetooth, handsfree) the other party never hears the prompts, which is good.

    As opposed to some car-integrated systems I've used (and love), I would like some form of audio muting/mixing so that I don't have to sort out who's saying what... it can get very aggravating.
    01-07-2010 02:58 AM
  9. DainBramage1's Avatar
    I've actually had several phone conversations whilst navigating with this app. I just accept my call (or place one) and restart the app. The only annoying thing is that the audio for voice prompts follows the audio for the call -- probably an iPhone limitation. What this means, though, is that when a prompt plays I can't hear what the caller is saying. No matter what mode the audio is in (speaker, bluetooth, handsfree) the other party never hears the prompts, which is good.
    I just got back from a trip where I had a chance to test v1.4 more. Yes, I made and took several calls and then started or restarted the app and that worked OK. On my iPhone 3G, the Navigon app takes longer than I care for to get up and running (probably close to a minute). I did appreciate the fact that the person I was speaking with couldn't hear my GPS instructions, but agree that it can be annoying when the GPS gives rather long instructions over your caller. Especially during those times, I'd like the option to have a separate "instructions coming" tone with no or low volume TTS.

    I found that playing the iPod at the same time causes occasional stuttering on either the TTS (more often) or the music (less often). For the most part, the Audiobook iPod mode worked well, but there were a couple times when the music would be interrupted by the TTS, then not resume. Trying to use the iPod control from within the app was an exercise in futility... more often than not it would come up with an iPod control screen that was either incredibly sluggish or dead.

    Despite the challenges, I'll happily stick with it as Navigon continues to improve this beautiful, functional app. While I didn't test it by itself, I think the biggest challenges have to do with running the app concurrently with other native apps on an iPhone 3G.
    01-13-2010 04:08 AM
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