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AT&T Navigator for iPhone by TeleNav


With the release of AT&T Navigator, powered by TeleNav, we saw the first release of a true street navigation application for the iPhone. Sure– there were a few other attempts ahead of TeleNav, however those lacked important critical navigation features such as voice prompts or required jailbreaking your phone. So is AT&T Navigator up to the task, and is it worth the $9.99 per month subscription fee? We’ve been putting the app to the test over the past few weeks letting it guide us through several hundred miles of destinations.

Network Based Maps

att-navigator-telenav-menuWhen comparing the TeleNav based app with its current and future competitors, one important fact to keep in mind is that the full set of maps (via NAVTEQ) are not stored on your iPhone– rather they come “over the air” to your phone as necessary. Network based maps versus “on-board” maps has positives and negatives. On the plus side the app is extremely quick to download at only 2.3 MB. So if you find yourself spontaneously in need of directions AT&T Navigator is a quick download away. Installation time is lightning fast, and so are sync times to iTunes. Once you’ve downloaded the app you activate your subscription through SMS.

On the other hand this means that the application relies on network availability for the app to work. Should you find yourself starting a trip in an area without network coverage you are simply out of luck until you drive to an area with network coverage. However I didn’t experience any issues while driving into an area with in and out network coverage– the app downloads maps ahead of time to help prevent that type of issue. Also your phone will spend more time using the network downloading maps as you drive along. This also seems to have a negative impact on battery life. Not only does the iPhone have an appetite for battery power when using the GPS chip, it also seems to drain the battery faster than other GPS applications which use the network less often.


att-navigator-telenav-trafficThe price of $9.99 per month may sound steep to iPhone owners who are used to a plethora of free and $0.99 apps on the app store. However if you compare similarly designed navigation applications for other phone platforms, including those built by TeleNav, you will find that the price is the same. At $119.88 per year that is double the price of the least expensive PND devices like the Garmin Nuvi 200, however you do get a number of goodies included with that price.

Want a map update with a typical PND? That might set you back $50-$80 per year, but map updates are “included” with AT&T Navigator since the maps are not on-board and are downloaded to your phone as needed. Want live traffic reporting on your PND? While there are free options that are advertising based, other paid options can cost around $60 per year. Traffic updates are included by INRIX through TeleNav. How about fuel prices? Those subscriptions can also cost extra on a typical PND but are included in the AT&T package. So all in all the price is outstanding for the features you get.

Entering a Destination

You can tap out destinations on the iPhone through the applications interface, and this works reasonably well. What is amazingly missing with the app is integration with the Contacts app. I’m dumbfounded that you can’t pull up a contact from your Address Book on the phone and select it as a destination. That is just crazy and makes no sense.

att-navigator-telenav-call-addressThere is however a really cool voice input method. You tap a button which initiates a phone call to the TeleNav service. The service asks you for the destination, disconnects the call, and sends the destination to your device. I was skeptical at first thinking both the voice recognition technology and the speed of the service might deteriorate the convenience however I was pleasantly surprised. The service was very fast and accurate and not the gimmick I thought it might be.

You can also go to a TeleNav based website, navpreplan.com to enter in your destinations. This is smart, easy to do, and a must for pre-planning trips. Enter in all of your destinations ahead of time and they will get loaded into the app for quick access. Note that this isn’t for route planning per se, but rather to speed up entering destinations.


att-navigator-telenav-mapWhile driving along following a route a few things become readily apparent. First, the screen refresh rate (map update rage) is very choppy compared to both typical PNDs as well as other iPhone based navigation systems. It isn’t slow enough to impact navigation, but people who are more demanding of the app’s aesthetics might take issue.

Second, while the speaker of the iPhone is weak to begin with the voice prompts are terrible. At full volume it isn’t loud enough to hear above 45 mph and even under that speed the voice is difficult to understand. You can turn on and of text to speech it doesn’t change the quality of the voice. While some of this can be blamed on the iPhone’s speaker, other navigation applications I’ve tried on the iPhone have voice that is a bit easier to understand.

The voice prompts are timely, and plenty frequent if you can hear them. They are almost too frequent. When traveling on a local road with numerous intersections the app kept telling me to stay on the road, seemingly with every intersection I passed.

att-navigator-telenav-navigationWhat is very nice is the huge “next turn arrow” at the top left of the screen. This critical piece of information is easy to read due to the color choice of yellow on black and is large enough to digest in a glance. You can tap on the next turn icon to repeat the last voice prompt– something you won’t need to do based on frequency as the app is very chatty but something you will likely need to do in order to understand the voice.

Should you miss a turn, we found the time it takes to re-route a bit slower than we would have liked– perhaps due to the time it takes to send the request up to the network and receive a response. There could be times when you “double miss” a turn due to the slowness, but that is the price you pay to get some of the advantages of network based navigation.

Another feature we found missing was speed limit data. This is available on many PNDs and even competitive iPhone apps but not on the TeleNav offering.


att-navigator-telenav-preferencesThere were a few times when AT&T Navigator seemed to (unfortunately) abide by my iPhone’s sleep preferences. If I didn’t touch the screen every few minutes the screen would eventually dim and then turn off. I expect this is some sort of bug as there is a setting to not allow the iPhone to sleep within the app– but the app didn’t seem to honor that request.

You can play music from the iPod app, enter the AT&T Navigator app, and the music will continue to play. The music will be interrupted by voice prompts as they come in. However I’m not really sure why you would want to do this anyway unless you have some sort of external audio hookup in your car as the iPhone’s speaker isn’t adequate for playing music in the car.

Finally, it was somewhat strange to see that there wasn’t a landscape mode– the app operates in portrait mode only. This didn’t bother me at all and I grew to really like portrait mode for iPhone based navigation both with this app and others. However those of you who are thinking about ditching your widescreen PND for this app might need some time to adjust. You can switch between 2D and 3D maps. There isn’t an option for night-mode nor did I see any night mode switching.

The Final Fix

att-navigator-telenav-fuel-pricesOverall the AT&T Navigator is an okay application. If you rely on voice prompts you will likely be disappointed. However if you place the iPhone in the vehicle where you can easily catch quick glances of the next turn arrow you will be more impressed. The lack of integration with the contacts app is a big disappointment as well. However if you want the full monty of features like map updates, life traffic, finding the cheapest price fuel (shown right) all in a simple package that is quick to install, then TeleNav might have built a great app for you with AT&T Navigator.

8 Responses

  1. Any idea how this compares to Verizon’s VZ Navigator? I used this when I was still with Verizon and it worked quite well for me, on a phone with a much smaller screen than an iPhone! And no possible option for landscape mode.

    John - July 22nd, 2009
    • NOTHING beats VZ navigator. I traveled all over the usA for 3 years and it only failed once, in OKlahoma city.It has voice and in a 325 cellphone the volume is fine. I have an Iphone and the maps are a pain in the ass; worthless and difficult to use. The new IPHONE navigator still doesn’t compare with VZ. The people who write these applications evidently don’t try to travel with them or they would find out they are junk.

      PATRICK - August 18th, 2009
  2. I haven’t used VZNavigator often so I can’t say for sure. But I liked the TeleNav app better than VZ Navigator. VZ just seemed more cumbersome and stripped down in comparison. You can also check out the Navigon app for the iPhone which I think currently has an edge over the TeleNav app.

    Tim - July 22nd, 2009
  3. I used AT&T Navigator on my PPC based phone (AT&T “Tilt” aka HTC TYTN II) for almost two years and I had no major problem with it. I do think that the iPhone version is severely inferior, and interestingly I could not find this in any major review.

    Maybe the worst aspect is that the iPhone version “gets confused” for lack of better wording. It either does not update my position fast enough, or somehow “forgets” the route and starts giving inappropriate directions (like making unnecessary u-turns).

    As you mentioned the lack of landscape mode in the iPhone app — it is worth mentioning that the PPC version has a landscape mode.

    Oddly enough, the iPhone app starts up way faster than the PPC one. This does come in handy, given that iPhone has this 1960s feels to it (i.e. no multitasking) and whenever you need to do anything else with the phone, the Navigator shuts down and you need to restart it.

    I hope somebody will be able to pin down if all these are system limitations on the iPhone, or just bad programming when Telenav was ported to this platform, and if the latter, maybe there will be some pressure for improvement

    Dan - August 9th, 2009
  4. While using the nav. with 3GS iphone and car charger on a long trip , i find battery useage drains fast and charger can’t keep up with need for batttery power.

    Ron - May 17th, 2010
    • I haven’t seen that happen to mine– it will always charge up even when using navigation apps.

      Tim - May 18th, 2010
  5. Once upon a time, this app worked intermittently, but these last few months I haven’t been able to get a GPS signal. They suggest using it in an open area, so I took it outside while I watered my plants. Still no GPS. They suggest I put it on the dash of my car if I’m driving. It’s SUMMER in Dallas!!! Plus, I can’t see my phone when it’s laying on the dash and I’m not going to get an attachment device so I can bake my iPhone. This app is a worthless POS. Definitely not worth the ten bucks every month.

    Melody - June 23rd, 2010
    • That is odd Melody since all of the GPS related apps use the same API to access your location from the phone. Sounds like something might not be running right on your phone.

      Tim - June 24th, 2010

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