Apple

Review: NAVIGON MobileNavigator iPhone app

NAVIGON MobileNavigator turns an ordinary iPhone into a full-fledged turn-by-turn GPS device. Scott Lowe says the $60 app is worth the money.

NAVIGON MobileNavigator for the iPhone turns an ordinary iPhone into a full-fledged turn-by-turn GPS device. I've used the mobile app on the iPhone 4, the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 3GS, and my iPad. (The app is also available for Windows phones, and it will soon be available for Android devices.)

Specifications

  • Cost: $59.99 (+$9.99 for the Panorama View 3D module, which is available as an in-app purchase.)
  • Download size: 1.5 GB (Panorama View 3D is an additional 580 MB.)

What I like

NAVIGON MobileNavigator has some great features and can easily replace dedicated GPS units; in fact, in my case, it has replaced my GPS device. I've used my iPhone's MobileNavigator app in many U.S. states — from Florida to Virginia to Kansas to California — and I even used it when I visited Alberta and very northern British Columbia. In all cases, the maps were accurate, and I have yet to be led over a cliff.

MobileNavigator is a real GPS tool that makes use of the iPhone's built-in GPS antenna and locally downloaded maps. The initial 1.5 GB NAVIGON download is pretty hefty, but by allowing immediate access to maps, the tool can be more robust than solutions that download maps on-demand. It can also be faster and actually work even when the iPhone is well out of a cellular service area.

I particularly like MobileNavigator's easy-to-read display, which includes the current speed limit (although it is not always 100% accurate), destination time, and a host of other information depending on where I am in my journey. When it's time to make a lane change, MobileNavigator provides me with a look at all of the lanes on the road with arrows in the lanes that will keep me on course (Figures A and B). In particularly busy times, this is a life saver! When nearing the interstate exit I need to take, MobileNavigator shows me the full sign text so I can make sure that I'm heading in the right direction (Figure C). It also provides a graphic showing me what side of the road my exit is so that I can make appropriate lane adjustments (Figure D). Figure A

The orange arrows show me that the three left lanes are safe.
Figure B

In this case, the right lane is off limits if I want to stay on course.
Figure C

The full text of the sign on the road is shown in green.
Figure D

The graphic is very clear on what I should do.
When it comes time to refuel — either the car or my body — MobileNavigator makes that pretty easy, too. The app includes icons for restaurants and gas stations along my path (Figures E and F) so that I can decide, for example, if I'm in the mood for Denny's, or if I'd rather drive to a different restaurant. I haven't used this particular feature much, however, as I've gotten used to using the AroundMe app for that sort of thing. Figure E

Look! A Denny's!
Figure F

Another look at services along a particular route.

The MobileNavigator software also speaks to me — literally. Included in the app are full turn-by-turn spoken directions that allow me to keep my eyes on the road as much as possible. When I use NAVIGON on my iPhone, I usually run it through my car's Bluetooth system so that I can hear the directions over my radio since my iPhone speakers aren't very loud. However, when I use MobileNavigator on my iPad, the sound is generally loud enough to hear everything.

The MobileNavigation app also includes the ability to control my iPhone's iPod functionality so that music can continue to play while the GPS software is running. When it comes time for the GPS to provide an update, NAVIGON automatically reduces the iPod volume and then provides the voice update, ensuring that I hear it. It's a minor feature, but it demonstrates the thought that has gone into the app.

Speeding is never a good thing. Although I tend to obey the posted speed limit and use cruise control, there are times when I'm surprised that the speed limit went down for a particular stretch of highway. The MobileNavigator app, relying on its vast database of speed limits, warns me by saying "caution" and by placing a little yellow exclamation point on the displayed speed limit sign on the app. It's a nice audible and visual cue that has probably saved me money.

The whole point of a GPS unit is to get somewhere; MobileNavigator helps you plan ahead, too. In Figures G and H, you'll see details for two destinations. In both figures, you can see the current temperature (you can switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit), parking options, fuel options, and even some food choices. Figure G

Here's what's near the T-Rex.
Figure H

And here are some things near the Winston Churchill Museum.

What I don't like

Frankly, this is one of my favorite apps, and there's not a whole lot I would change. Early on, reviews for the app were negative on a couple of fronts that have since been addressed:

  • Hefty download size. People have complained that having all of the maps downloaded takes up a lot of space, particularly since a lot of the maps won't get used. To address this issue, NAVIGON now sells slimmed down regional editions of the app with the ability to add more maps via an in-app purchase. These regional apps also cost less than the full North America map set. This was a good move on NAVIGON's part.
  • Live traffic. MobileNavigator didn't always include the ability to add live traffic information to the software; however, for a $19.99 in-app upgrade, you can add this feature to your existing app.

My main complaint with the app revolves around the iPod integration. When I connect my iPhone directly to my car's iPod port, I sometimes have trouble figuring out exactly how to stop music from playing so that I can concentrate on driving. While it's not really NAVIGON's fault, perhaps a simple "stop playing music" option would be helpful.

Bottom line

At first glance, you may wonder why you would ever spend $60 on an iPhone app. However, consider these points:

  • MobileNavigator replaces a full GPS unit that can cost a lot more and might even have fewer features.
  • You already drag your iPhone with you wherever you go.
  • When was the last time you actually updated your GPS device's maps? With a tool like MobileNavigator, the update process is much easier.

As you can probably tell, I really like this app. It was a fantastic replacement for my GPS device, and it has helped me navigate many a highway and city.

About Scott Lowe

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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