When Google announced it was adding a sat-nav option to Maps, this seemed like the beginning of the end for standalone smartphone navigation software. But Google Maps Navigation does have its flaws. It’s only available on Android phones, but more importantly the maps aren’t stored locally. So despite some clever background caching, if you’re without data coverage for an extended period, your routing may falter. And if you’re travelling abroad, data roaming charges could be prohibitive. So there’s still room for a third-party app, and this is where Navigon’s MobileNavigator comes in.
The Android version of MobileNavigator is broadly similar in features to the iPhone version. You can purchase UK and Ireland or Western European editions, which cost £50.96 or £76.46 respectively, from the Android Market. But this is best performed over Wi-Fi or USB, as the full complement of European maps requires over 2GB of storage. Once you have downloaded the maps, basic navigation requires no further data access. The software will run on Android OS version 1.5 and above, and screen resolutions over 320 x 240. Our tests were performed on an antiquated G1, running 1.6. Everything worked, although we did experience some instability, and the interface could be sluggish at times. But general navigation functioned adequately.
The startup screen gives you four main options, allowing you to find a destination via address or point of interest. You can also navigate quickly to a designated Home location or browse the map. The address search lets you input a full UK postcode. But you can’t then enter a house number, so this just takes you to the centre of the street in question. Otherwise, you must drill down from country, to city, to street, to house number. It’s not possible to search by keyword, so if you only know the street and aren’t sure of the exact town, you will be out of luck.
The POI database, in contrast, does have the option to search across an entire country, or you can find a destination in a specific city. Otherwise, the traditional process of narrowing your search by category and subcategory is provided. If you don’t find what you’re looking for within the onboard database, and do have mobile data coverage available, Google Local Search provides a much larger range of potential destinations.
Along the bottom of the home screen are further secondary options, including icons for accessing a list of Favourites and the most recent destinations you found. You can also browse your smartphone’s People contacts database for an address. We found this a bit of a hit-or-miss affair, with some contact addresses being spot on, but others being rather inaccurate or offering a list of suggestions so vast you would need to check the contact again to see if any were the right one. So this feature is only partially useful.
Journeys are calculated using Navigon’s MyRoutes system. This calculates your way by using historic traffic data to provide a more realistic road speed rather than using a nominal figure based on speed limits. You’re also presented with three routing options, so you can choose the one which suits your driving habits best.