Navigon Mobile Navigator for iPhone
While Navigon has exited the North America market as far as PND devices are concerned, they are not completely closing up shop with respect to other types of Navigation. Available now you can pickup the Navigon iPhone app and get most of the Navigon experience you’re familiar with, on your iPhone. We’ve taken a few trips with the iPhone using it in Maine, Los Angeles, and points between to give the app a workout. And for the most part we are pretty impressed.
As of press time, the app is on sale for $69 however this is a special price for the initial release and the price will go up to $99 on August 15. Currently, this price doesn’t include any map updates, nor traffic reporting although you can lookup local fuel prices. (Traffic will reportedly come soon.) However it is reasonable to expect other live services might become available in the future for an additional cost. There is no word yet on how much map updates might cost or exactly how the map update process will work.
Navigon puts the maps “on-board” the device. This has benefits and drawbacks. The drawbacks are that they are not automatically updated and more importantly this makes for one huge app weighing in at around 1.2 GB in size. Some people might not want an app that big on their phone and it doesn’t lend well to more spontaneous purchases.
On the plus side you don’t need to have network coverage for the app to work. Stick yourself out in the boonies and the app will be just as happy as sitting within sight of a network tower. The app is also a bit friendlier on battery power when compared to competitive apps that transfer maps gradually over the network. The “map refresh rate” is also faster than the AT&T Navigator application possibly due to the speed of on-board maps.
Entering a Destination
We were very happy to see integration with the Contacts app on the iPhone. After pulling up the Navigon MobileNavigator app you can access your contacts and the addresses within those contacts, then select one as a destination. This is pretty slick most of the time and a huge timesaver for people who frequently drive to locations already in their Address Book. It doesn’t work perfectly all of the time though. I have a few addresses in my contacts list that combine Post Office addressing with physical addressing like this:
POI Box 456
1234 Main St.
Anytown, State, USA
The application seemed to have a difficult time parsing those addresses and I had to enter a few by hand. We also sorely missed the TeleNav feature (AT&T Navigator) where you can go to a website and enter destinations on your computer beforehand. That type of feature isn’t as big of a deal for the iPhone as it is for typical PNDs since most people keep their phone on their person when they might keep their PND in their car.
You can also pick from a variety of POI categories including restaurants broken down by food type. No store ratings are available, however the POI database is fairly complete. The POIs are displayed on the map as you drive along, and many of the bigger chains like Best Buy have branded POI icons.
If you are in a hurry, you might want to pull up the app before you get in the car as the application takes 30 seconds or so to launch, then typically a bit more time to fix onto the GPS signal.
Navigation on the Navigon app is really slick. The interface has a fast refresh rate and the voice is just about as understandable as it could be given the iPhone’s weak speaker. Note it won’t be nearly as loud nor as clear as a PND, however it is much better than the AT&T Navigator app when it comes to voice quality. You do not get text to speech which is a bummer, however at least the voice is reasonably easy to understand.
About the only significant fault we could find with the navigation guidance on the Navigon iPhone app is that it doesn’t zoom in close enough on intersections as you approach them. Even when you are a few hundred feet away the intersection detail is very tiny and sometimes difficult to interpret– even for myself with near perfect vision. But the “next turn arrow” makes up for a little bit of that fault since it is large and easy to read.
You also get a few of the interface features familiar to Navigon owners like big signposts and Reality View. Reality View works really well, and frankly works even better in portrait view where the information seems to fit on the screen better. You can flip-flop the orientation of the iPhone and the app will automatically adjust between portrait and landscape views, however don’t expect it to rotate as fast as the Photos app. Sometimes it took up to 30 seconds for the display to re-orient after rotation.
While perhaps we should have expected it, seeing a nearly full database of speed limit information was really nice to have as well. You can customize speed limit warnings for both highways and more local roads. We did somewhat miss the “progress bar” used to graphically indicate just how close to a turn you are when it can be difficult to judge just how far away 400 feet is.
Navigon Mobile Navigator also offers many of the customizations Navigon owners have grown to love over the years. You can specify the route profile, set preferences for toll roads, highways, HOV lanes, ferries, etc. You can also specify you need a detour and set the distance you need to detour around.
I’m glad Navigon didn’t take a “cram everything on the screen” approach like they did with their PND line. On their PNDs this made many of the fields difficult to read as the font size needed to be so small and most of the information was superfluous to navigation. Not so on the MobileNavigator app which includes just the right amount of information at a reasonable font size.
Other typical PND functions such as day and night modes as well as being able to switch from 2D to 3D mode are also available.
The Final Fix
Navigon did a fantastic job with their first release of a navigation app for the iPhone. They took the best of their interface from their PND line, stripped out what wasn’t important, and put it in a very nice iPhone package. They took advantage of iPhone features like the Contacts application for quick access to addresses as well as being able to use the app in either portrait or landscape modes. While there are a few “would be nice” additions like traffic– we expect some sort of solution will come with time.
If your iPhone is already tight on space the 1.2 GB app might be too much to swallow and it does seem unfortunate to have so much mapping data when 95% of it won’t likely be used. However on-board mapping gives big advantages for the speed of the app and fast screen updates.