GPS navigation is morphing from a cool luxury to just one more thing you expect out of a decent smart phone. But different phones approach the issue in different ways.
Garmin's new Nuvifone G60 is essentially a GPS device with a somewhat crummy but expensive 3G phone tacked on, whereas Apple's iPhone is thriving on a steady diet of different downloadable GPS apps.
First, the Garmin failure.
Technically, there's nothing wrong with the G60 as a navigation tool.
It locked on to a satellite several seconds faster than an iPhone 3G during a wandering tour of downtown Dallas. It has a fairly intuitive touch screen button layout and had no trouble giving me accurate on-screen and audible directions.
But then everything fell apart.
At a whopping $299 (after a $10 mail-in rebate) with a two-year contract at a minimum of $69 a month, the G60 is laughably overpriced. Like, $200 overpriced.
It's even more absurd when you realize this is an AT&T phone, which means customers are going to be choosing between this simple machine with a locked operating system and no App Store vs. a new iPhone 3GS that costs $100 less and comes with all the downloadable goodness you could want.
If the G60 were an Android phone (heck, even a Windows Mobile phone) with all the expandability and versatility those operating systems offer, then Garmin might at least be able to try to justify the price tag with a straight face.
So let's move on to something more reasonable.
We caught some flak from readers for not including Navigon Mobile Navigator a few weeks ago in a review of two other iPhone GPS apps.
So we contacted Navigon for a review copy, and they were kind enough to also arrange for us to get a nice Kensington Windshield Mount with sound amplified cradle for iPhone ($39.99, kensington.com).
A word to the wise -- if you're going to use a GPS app for the iPhone, you need to get a mount to keep it steady and under the windshield where it can stay locked on the GPS signal.
There aren't any electronics in the mount; it simply directs the sound out of the iPhone's speaker and reflects it off a large plastic surface, which did make the sound noticeably louder.
The Navigon app ($89, in the iTunes App Store) takes a good 30 seconds to start up and at least 30 seconds to find a good GPS signal. You can use that GPS search time to begin entering your destination.
In our test, we started downtown and tried to locate Taco Joint in the point-of-interest listings. Although it has been open over a year, we couldn't find it listed.
Luckily, the iPhone has Safari and Google, and it took only a few seconds to find the address.
There is also a link to access your contacts list on the main screen, allowing you to easily navigate to any contact with a saved address. Most of my contacts are phone number only -- so I'm finding I wish I had taken the time to enter addresses as well.
I think the best thing I can say about Navigon Mobile Navigator is that it does everything I would ask of a stand-alone GPS unit.
Maps are provided by NAVTEQ and they really look great on the iPhone's screen. In a side-by-side comparison with the Nuvifone, the Navigon maps look much more refined. The Garmin maps looked like something out of South Park.
Navigon has also announced it is offering real-time traffic updates as an in-app purchase for $24.99.
Pros: Excellent screen visibility, locks on to a satellite signal quickly, gets you where you want to go
Cons: High price for such an otherwise limited 3G phone.
Bottom line: Even hard-core Garmin fans with money to burn will probably feel ripped off.
Pros: Clean interface, great-looking maps, speaks street names.
Cons: None that we could find.
Bottom line: Of the iPhone GPS apps, this one moves to the top of the list.
(c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News.
Visit The Dallas Morning News on the World Wide Web at www.dallasnews.com
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Explore further: Pebble smartwatch nears Kickstarter record