Tech review: Navigating iPhone GPS applications

October 8th, 2009 in Technology / Software

Since Apple Inc. announced it would support turn-by-turn GPS applications for the iPhone, a slew of GPS apps have appeared in the iTunes app store.

I've been trying out the first entry, Gokivo Navigator, and the biggest name in the field, TomTom.

Both are very capable of helping you navigate to your destination, but they have very different business models.

TomTom is a $99 download, while Gokivo Navigator is a $9.99 download for 30 days of service and $9.99 for each additional month. Gokivo requires no contract -- you pay as you go.

TomTom's download is over a gigabyte, and all the included maps are loaded into the phone. Gokivo is only a 2.7-megabyte download, and maps are downloaded as you plan a route.

You'll find the is a capable GPS, but neither app performs as fast or reliably as a standalone GPS unit. The GPS chip and antenna on the iPhone are tucked inside the phone, and the inside of a car is not ideal for GPS reception.

Both programs took more than a minute to acquire a GPS signal at the start of a trip. I also lost the GPS signal occasionally during use of both apps.

Anyone who uses a GPS app for an iPhone will need a mount to keep the phone in the driver's field of vision. You'll also need to keep the phone on the dashboard or attached to the windshield so the GPS antenna can "see" as much of the sky as possible.

TOMTOM

I've been a fan of TomTom GPS devices for a long time, and I was excited to see the company jump on the iPhone development bandwagon.

The app is easy to learn. It's very intuitive. Simply touch the to bring up navigation options.

The main menu allows the user to choose a destination, mute the sound, change the map display from 2D to 3D, plan routes in advance, search for and make phone calls to points of interest, and save favorite locations.

TomTom also interfaces nicely with your iPhone's contact list to allow easy navigation to any address on the list.

Included maps cover the entire United States, plus Canada and Puerto Rico. Other versions are available for England, Ireland, France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and more.

I really like the voice selection. For English-speaking prompts, you can choose from male or female voices with American, English or even Australian accents.

The app doesn't speak street names, and there is no traffic information available to help you avoid traffic jams.

TomTom is marketing a car kit that powers the iPhone and allows hands-free use with an included speaker. The $120 kit also has its own GPS chip to allow increased GPS reception and give navigation functionality to original iPhone users whose phones lack GPS.

Pros: Slick interface, smooth operation, browsable maps.

Cons: Expensive.

Bottom line: TomTom brings much of the standalone GPS experience to the iPhone.

GOKIVO

The current app from Gokivo is the second release since the company was first to the app store with turn-by-turn. The first version lacked the polish of the new release.

Gokivo uses a variety of data sources. It searches for destinations using Yahoo!, while search results show up on Google maps.

Touch a search result and you're presented with a page showing the exact address and the routing choices. Then the turn-by-turn info is downloaded.

A huge advantage for Gokivo is live traffic information that's automatically updated and included in the routing information.

If you notice the on-screen traffic delay estimate is getting too big, click that spot on the screen and you'll be given detour choices.

Gokivo Navigator also speaks street names quite clearly.

Pros: Small download, clean interface, traffic updates, spoken street names.

Cons: Continuing cost.

Bottom line: Nice software. Not sure I'd pay monthly for .
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"Tech review: Navigating iPhone GPS applications." October 8th, 2009. http://phys.org/news174207254.html