It’s been a long wait, but iPhone users now have a number of GPS navigation apps to choose from. To some degree, these GPS apps offer the same capabilities. However, there are factors that differentiate them, particularly in terms of price and user experience.
This article reviews a number of onboard GPS solutions for the iPhone, including Navigon MobileNavigator, G-Maps, Mobil Maps, iGO My Way, CoPilot Live, and TomTom. The benefits of onboard solutions are many. First of all, the software and maps are stored on the iPhone. This means that there are no subscription fees and no long waits for maps to be downloaded over a cellular data connection. Finally, if you are in an area where cellular data coverage is unavailable, you can still use the app to navigate to your destination.
Which Way Do I Go?
All the apps I tested performed well, but some of them have more options than others. Which one should you choose? The answer depends on the options you need and the price you are willing to pay. If you need general guidance for trips around town or yearly family vacations, you might prefer a simple and less expensive solution like iGo My Way. If you are a professional who is constantly on the road, you may want a more feature-rich application that includes maps for all of North America, such as CoPilot Live, Mobile Navigator, or TomTom.
Whatever you choose, these apps will let you take better advantage of the iPhone’s GPS capabilities and help you stay on course and on time.
$89.99 (N. America), $139.99 (Europe), $79.99 (Australia) navigon.com/iphone
Navigon has offered GPS solutions to consumers since 1991 and is one of most important suppliers of navigation software in Europe. MobileNavigator for the iPhone includes many of the notable features found in other Navigon offerings, including Speed Assist, Day & Night Mode, Lane Assist, and Reality View.
The user interface is clean and simple, so much so that it’s a bit boring. The menu screens are black and white so it is easy to read albeit a tad dull. Navigon utilizes the iPhone accelerometer so it can be viewed in either portrait or landscape mode.
The navigation screen provides information that is extremely useful when making your way to your destination. At the top of the screen, the speed limit may be displayed, which works in conjunction with the Speed Assist option to alert you when you are going over the speed limit. This option is customizable and can be set to alert you when you are going 5, 10, 15 or 20 mph over the speed limit. (Or you can throw caution to the wind and turn it off.) Your arrival time is shown at the top of the screen while your next turn is located in the lower left corner.
Other notable options are Reality View and Lane Assist. Both of these features give the driver a visual aid at highway interchanges and exits, complete with arrows and actual road geometry. A really nice feature is the Contacts option, which lets you navigate to an address in your contact list instead of having to enter the address manually. Finally, the Text-to-Speech option gives you audio instructions with the name of the road on which to turn instead of simply visual prompts.
Navigon was on target most of the time. It was occasionally off by about a block when I was approaching a gas station or restaurant. I had one annoying issue with the app—it kept telling me my house was on the other side of the street.
$34.99 (USA East or West), $19.99 (select areas)xroadgps.com
XROAD specializes in the making of navigational systems for the automobile industry. Established in South Korea in 2000, it was one of the first companies to have their GPS app available in the iTunes App Store.
The G-Map user interface has a bright, readable menu that is easy to see during the day and at night. Most of the sub menus for entering your destination work well, although the Zip Code, City Name, and Phone Number options were not very intuitive. For example, when the Zip Code option is selected, you are prompted to either choose a zip code or enter one. Then it asks you to enter the street name and house number. It’s a lot easier to just go to the address menu.
What really impresses me about G-Map are its super clean maps and easy to read POI icons. Sometimes less is more, especially when you are driving and navigating at the same time. In addition, the function that allows you to create custom routes and have multiple destinations works impeccably. Finally, the real 3D lane assist will either pop up in full screen or half screen depending on the type of junction you are approaching and shows realistic signage.
The primary issue with G-Map is its inability to be viewed in landscape mode. The developer has mentioned to me that the next update will correct this issue, but as of this writing, this is a major drawback.
G-Map accuracy was on target in my tests. I tested in both Northern California and Northern Nevada and it was spot on within a few hundred feet.
$39.99 (U.S.), $49.99-$99.99 (various other countries) sygic.com
Sygic entered the consumer market in 2006 with GPS navigation solutions that offered rich 3D scene rendering. They entered the world of mobile devices in 2008 and released their iPhone navigational app in August of 2009.
Mobile Maps has one of the most impressive user interfaces and menu systems I’ve seen. The layout and feel of the app is very similar to that of a standalone navigational unit, especially when it is in landscape mode.
The app has the usual options for entering destinations, including manually entering an address or selecting a favorite, POI, or your home. Mobile Maps also has the ability to select a destination from your contacts list by simply scrolling to your desired contact or begin entering the destination and the app’s predictive keyboard will find the address in your contacts.
When entering an address manually, the user must enter the state, city, street, and house number. It would be more efficient if the app would let you set a default city and state since most people mainly navigate within their own area. The app has a convenient sliding bar that lets you zoom in and out on maps. When you see your destination on the map, tap on it and Mobile Maps will navigate to that particular spot.
The main navigational screen is highly customizable; options such as time remaining and distance to your destination, time of arrival, average speed, and more are available. The app also implements a lane assist feature that marks the lane you should stay in with green arrows. The official speed limit is also displayed and an audible signal can alert you when you are over the speed limit. The main screen displays a lot of information, but some of the text is a bit small and hard to see while driving.
Based on my tests, Mobile Maps was reasonably accurate. For example, some of the banks and gas stations listed had been acquired by another company and/or renamed—but they were gas stations and banks nonetheless. The one issue I did have was that the app tried to direct me the wrong way down a one-way street. In fairness, I did test this exact location with other navigational apps, and at least one other instructed me to do the same.
$79.99 (North America), $89.99 (Western Europe), $119.99 (European Edition), igomyway.com/en
NNG Global Services develops 3D satellite navigational systems and mobile solutions for a variety of platforms. The debut of their first product was in 2006. iGO My Way for the iPhone was released on August 4th, 2009.
When I first looked at this app, I wondered if it was a GPS app or a video game. It has a very simple user interface, and the 3D buildings and vehicle graphics give it a playful feel. The app does not have a ton of options and lacks traffic avoidance or the ability to navigate to a contact, but it does get you to your destination effectively. The main menu screen has only three options: Destination, My Route, and Settings. There were a couple of things—both good and bad—that got my attention
Let’s start with the good. iGO lets you specify a default country, state, and city for origin and destination. This saves input time when you live and travel within a single state or large city. The app also has a predictive keyboard, which makes it easier and quicker to enter addresses. For example, when you are inputting a street name, iGO eliminates (grays out) any letters that do not apply after the first letters are entered. iGO has a very easy to read main navigation screen with streets clearly labeled. A Lane Assist graphic appears as needed in the top middle of the screen, to help you with turns and freeway on/off ramps.
As mentioned, the app has a playful feel to it. You can choose how your vehicle is represented to suit your mood. For example, you can choose an Indy car, a taxi, or even a tank. (I recommend the tank when you’re driving through a big city.) Unfortunately, there are some things missing from the app that make me scratch my head. For example, there’s no Home option when you are choosing a destination. The workaround is to create a Home listing in your favorites list and push a few extra buttons to select that. This is a glaring omission—wherever you go, you always return home. In addition, the speed limit warnings are limited. You can turn them on and you’ll be notified when you exceed the posted limit. But everyone drives 5-10 mph over the posted limits, and you cannot adjust the warnings to take that into account. I found the warnings annoying and just turned them off completely.
iGO was very reliable and accurate in finding specific addresses and points of interest. It performed well on the country roads of the northern California and equally well in the urban, San Francisco Bay area. There were two issues I encountered. Sometimes the unit would think I was on a surface (frontage) road when I was actually on the freeway.
The other issue occurred when I got a phone call and tried to use the app simultaneously. Occasionally, the app would hang up in the startup screen and I wouldn't be able to go any further. The developer’s notes state that this is a problem with “jailbroken” iPhones. My iPhone is NOT jailbroken.
$34.99 (North America), $42.99 (United Kingdom), $99.99 (European Edition), alk.com/copilot/iphone
The developer of CoPilot Live, ALK Technologies, has been helping companies with their logistics and navigation needs for over 28 years. More than 22,000 companies, including the US Department of Defense, rely on ALK mapping and routing systems. They recently released CoPilot Life for the iPhone 3G and 3GS.
The main navigation screen is simple and straightforward, displaying a variety of information including your next turn (or the next two turns if they are relatively close together) along with arrival time and total trip distance. There are other icons on the screen that I believe are irrelevant during navigation. It would be nice if there was an option to eliminate them to clean up the screen a bit.
CoPilot gives you a variety of ways to enter your destination. Of course, you can do so manually. But you can also access addresses stored in Contacts directly from the app, select recent destinations, and grab destination info from the apps Favorites list. You can also set Home and Work addresses in My Places. CoPilot lets you call the phone number of a Point of Interest directly from the app, eliminating the need to memorize or write down a phone number and exit the application.
CoPilot differentiates itself from other GPS applications with its Live Services, which includes a number of features. First, it allows you to do a Live Search from the app, to find and get directions to businesses, restaurants, and other points of interest in your area. You can search for a specific business, a type of business, a brand name, a food category, and more. I searched for “pizza” and icons for all the nearby pizza places appeared on the screen. The Live Link feature connects CoPilot users and allows them to send messages to each other or share their location (with permission of course). Live Weather and Live Fuel Prices provides you with that information for your current location or for another city. There is also a Live Traffic placeholder which will eventually offer current traffic conditions. This will cost another $20 a year on top of the initial $35 for the app.
CoPilot Live had spot-on accuracy in both rural and city areas, and to my surprise was up to date with roads and neighborhoods that had been recently completed. The Live Services features were extremely useful on our weekend road-trip, especially the local search option.
The only inaccuracies I experienced were with the Live Fuel Prices feature. Prices were not available for some gas stations and were inaccurate for others. But overall, Live Services was accurate and very useful for my needs.
$99.99 (US & Canada), $139.99 (Western Europe), additional countries available, tomtom.com
TomTom was founded in 1991 and until 1998 focused on developing business apps for PDAs. They switched their focus to in-car navigation in 2001, and their iPhone app has been much anticipated since they announced it in June 2009.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much the app looked and functioned like TomTom’s portable GPS units. The simple, visually friendly main menu is extremely intuitive; you won’t spend much time learning it or how to set your destination. I particularly liked the ability to dial a POI phone number from within the app, which makes it easy to book a hotel room, make reservations at a restaurant, and more. The app lets you set a predetermined address as your “home” address. The latter makes it easy to set up return trips, since home is the place we return to most often. TomTom also gives you the ability to select destinations from your Contacts address book. In addition, you can enter an address manually or select one from a favorites list, recent destinations, POIs, and a specific point on the map.
The main navigation screen is visually appealing and displays the information you need at the bottom of the screen, including the total mileage of the trip, current speed, distance to next turn (along with an arrow indicating the direction of your next turn), estimated time the trip will take, and your estimated time of arrival.
TomTom has rudimentary text-to-speech capability. It will tell you to turn and give you the remaining distance until the turn, but it does not announce the street you will turn on. In addition, the POI icons left a bit to be desired. In contrast to the vivid colors throughout the rest of the app, the POI’s appear as small black and white icons on the navigation screen. They could be more distinctive and easier to interpret.
I tested TomTom in Northern California and was extremely pleased with its accuracy. In addition, I compared it to a friend’s stand alone TomTom GPS unit; the accuracy of both units was spot-on.
One final app that deserves a mention is called Waze (free; waze.com). Waze integrates GPS navigation with social networking, allowing users to “build and use live maps with real-time traffic updates to improve their daily commute. Drivers can also use the app/network to post info about traffic conditions, accidents, road work, map inaccuracies, and more. That information is then shared with other users and map corrections are relayed to Waze so maps can be updated and made more accurate.
We did not include NDrive in this review because they had not yet released a U.S. version of the app. It will probably be available by the time you read this review. In addition, we did not review AT&T’s Navigator, which is a subscription-based app that does not store maps on the iPhone and which requires a cellular connection to use.