When navigation apps first began appearing in the App Store, people were weary of dropping upwards of $100 for an application they hadn’t tested. As the more popular names like TomTom, Magellan, and Navigon entered the market, competition grew stiff and choosing the best application became vastly more complex than any $1 impulse purchase. Follow along as we review one of the most popular navigation apps, Navigon.
We tested out the North American version that currently runs $89.99 with the in-app purchasable Traffic Live expansion that’ll set you back an additional $24.99. The application itself takes 10 to 15 seconds on a 3GS to boot which is unsurprising as the app weighs in at nearly 1.5 GB. These long boot times mean you should minimize usage that requires exiting the application. If you do find yourself leaving the application, Navigon thankfully remembers your destination and resets from the new position. All maps are preloaded meaning navigation doesn’t depend on a data connection, which is great if you find any AT&T dead zones.
After you’ve booted the app, you’ll find four options at the starting screen. You can enter an address, search for a point of interest (POI), take yourself home, or show the map. The first time you enter an address, it’ll ask for the destination state and set that as its default state for future destinations until you change it, in which case that becomes the new default state. All of the input that Navigon requires shows up as you type, which is an immense relief for your fingers. If you choose to search by POI, Navigon will offer a host of categories like gas stations, rest areas, restaurants, lodging, etc. Take me home will take you to the address you’ve reserved as ‘home’. Show map will display your current location, the same as you’d find within the Maps application. If you’re without service, this will still display roads since the maps are preloaded.
Navigation will begin provided you’ve got a GPS signal. If your GPS signal isn’t sufficient, you’ll see a red bar across the top and it will start a simulation of the route you’re taking. Oddly, it’ll start the simulation in the city you’ve chosen, even if it’s not anywhere relatively near your current location. For example, if your destination is in Chicago and you’re in Milwaukee, the simulation will put you in Chicago. Once you’ve obtained a strong enough GPS signal, the simulation will end and it will automatically begin routing you correctly. If anything, it’s a small quirk that may become a little annoying at times.
Once you’re on your way, you’ll find a lovely woman’s voice guiding you through your route. Although she’s no Snoop Dog or Homer Simpson, she’s may be a little monotone but it’s hardly annoying. She does an OK job with pronunciation of street names but I’ve run into a few names that left me guessing what she said. Thankfully, you’ve also got the option to run your iPod music in the background. The music will fade out when Mrs. Navigon has some directions for you and fade back in when she’s finished. You can access your iPod controls at anytime by touching the iPod icon in the lower right. If no touch input is detected after a few seconds the map will automatically return – a nice touch if nothing else. The only downside to the integration is that you can’t select certain playlists that you’ve setup ahead of time. Navigon seems to have it’s own hidden playlist that requires you to add songs with the ‘+’ button, much like you’d find in the creation of an on-the-go playlist. You can add a whole playlist itself, but you can’t remove songs from the list once you’ve added them.
I was quite surprised with the accuracy of the navigation. In fact, the device performed nearly as well as a stand-alone GPS unit. For the most part, the routes it chose matched those on the dedicated unit and it announced turns well before they had to be made. When you’re coming up on a freeway exit, the display changes to show you which side and lane to exit on. Navigon also knew how fast I was going within 1 mph, something I found extremely impressive. By default, the application is set to warn you when you’re speeding. She’ll repeat the word “Caution” over and over until you lower your speed. At first, I had no idea what she was talking about. In fact, I thought she would say caution as I neared every intersection with a light. Repeating “Caution” isn’t entirely helpful, sorry Ma’am.
I can count on one hand how many mistakes Navigon made, a number I expected to be much higher seeing as this is a phone we’re using. Twice, after I made a turn, the device thought I was on a parallel street and recalculated based on that mistake. To its credit, within a block it had me pinpointed back in the right position. One hiccup that, had I not been familiar with the area, would have had me make a wrong turn. In another instance, the route had me taking an unnecessary detour off the highway, into downtown, only to end up on the same highway where I had exited.
Although I didn’t encounter a route with traffic congestion or construction, the Traffic Live feature is supposed to warn you of nearby slow downs. It’ll show you the distance of the congested area along with the average speed therein so you know if you want to navigate around it. You can also set Navigon to automatically navigate around congestions or on request if you find one in your way. The Traffic Live function seems best for holiday traveling or if you do a lot of traveling on usually congested freeways. At its high cost of $24.99, you wouldn’t catch me springing for a feature that’s so rarely used.
Ultimately, Navigon delivers exactly what it should. Despite its high cost, you’re getting an excellent navigation app, turning your phone into a dedicated GPS that easily competes with stand-alone devices. Remember that by using these navigation apps, you’re losing some of the functionality of the phone itself (calling, texting, etc). If you’re going to take the plunge and spring for one of these expensive navigation apps, Navigon won’t disappoint. Navigon also offers the same app for South Africa ($79.99), Australia ($54.99), Russia ($69.99), Europe ($94.99), Brazil ($69.99), Turkey ($69.99) and the Gulf ($99.99). Check out Navigon in the iTunes Store. With any GPS app, be sure you’re using a car adapter and mount.