Hands on: Navigon for iPhone review

5th Aug 2009 | 15:26

Hands on: Navigon for iPhone review

Can Navigon really turn Apple's handset into a road-goer?

What's it like to use?

A few weeks ago Navigon became the first turn-by-turn sat nav app to debut on the iPhone.

But it won't be alone for long; Hungarian GPS specialist NNG Global Services announced the iGO My way iPhone app earlier today - already available on App Store.

UPDATE: We've also got hands-on with other key apps:

Anyway, to roadtest this new revolution in navigation apps, we gamely downloaded the British Isles version of the Navigon Mobile Navigator software (£53) and headed out on the roads of Cornwall. First impressions are that the interface works well on the iPhone format. It adjusts rapidly if you adjust the orientation of the device and you can use the whole app in either mode – whether it's the menu or during a navigation.

Navigon mobile navigator for iphone

The GPS reception on the iPhone is interesting. To be honest, it seemed a lot worse than if you just use Google Maps to calculate your position. However, we will give the software the benefit of the doubt with this. Indeed, it's interesting TomTom's iPhone car kit will offer "enhanced GPS performance".

Is that an admission the iPhone's GPS isn't up to the job? Perhaps, but once it gets going the Navigon app has no problems with navigation or losing satellites – providing the iPhone was positioned right on the dash. Taking it away from the windscreen to use the iPhone for other purposes meant that the GPS signal was lost.

There are some good features in the app, though. The software also boasts 2D and 3D map displays (which you can toggle on and off, see below), clear voice announcements and it will display signs as shown on the road.

Navigon mobile navigator on iphone

You can save favourite locations as you'd expect, you can directly import your contacts into the navigation software and navigate to them, and if you receive a call during the navigation, the navigation will pause and automatically restart after ending the call. As with many apps, the Navigon software also automatically turns off the auto-lock function.

The Navigon app, at £60 for the European version, is well priced compared to the TomTom kit which will cost £113. The Western Europe Edition of the iGO My Way has been priced to compete at the same price point as Navigon, but comes with more maps. The footprint of our Navigon app was surprisingly big at 247MB. That's a sizeable chunk of storage and means that updates should really be done at your computer rather than on the iPhone itself.

There are some issues with the app. Firstly, the routing is a little lightweight on information. After you've entered the route (below), you're not shown a breakdown of the route when you set out, while when you're driving the only extra route information you can see is the finish time. This may be because the display would otherwise be too crowded, but it would be good to be able to customise this.

Navigon mobile navigator for iphone

The major problem with the Navigon app is its absolute inadequacy with full UK postcodes. It'll do the first half – say TA21 – and the subsequent number, but it won't do the last two letters. In other words, it won't do the bit that you really need to find the exact location. Not being able to pin down the exact location is a little bit of a problem for a sat-nav system.

Our verdict - and what's next for Navigon

Navigon mobile navigator on iphone

Yep, so you can easily add a regular street address, like 284 Acacia Avenue, Bristol, but if you're looking for a little campsite in the wilds of Cornwall it's not a lot of good. Especially when the place you're looking for doesn't have a street name.

Navigon mobile navigator on iphone

Some of the mapping also leaves a bit to be desired in terms of street names. The 3D view is difficult to navigate as it actually has no street names (this is coming, says Navigon) and no way to zoom in.

Navigon mobile navigator on iphone

The software does excel in other areas, especially on the motorway or when looking for Points of Interest (POI) – searching for somewhere to eat en route is simple, while when you're in a town you can easily see numerous POI as shown below. All are provided by Microsoft's mapping partner, Navteq, rather than TeleAtlas.

Navigon mobile navigator for iphone

Navigon mobile navigator for iphone

On main roads, Reality View Pro and Lane Assistant Pro help to display motorway interchanges and exits realistically, while it'll also tell you which lane you should be in if there's a second junction coming up you need to prepare for.

We do really like what Navigon has done with Mobile Navigator, while the outlay required is half that of what TomTom will be offering providing you can get hold of some kind of car kit more cheaply. You will need one – or at least a car charger - since the iPhone is pretty thirsty when working as a navigation device.

We certainly found the Navigon app helpful on our week away, but the lack of postcode specificity is a problem, especially if you're going to a rural area. However, if all you need is to find your way around and to urban streets, you should be fine.

Navigon has announced new features for a forthcoming update including route planning with multiple destinations and safety camera information. You'll also be able to add POI information to your contacts. Traffic information will also follow at a later date.

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