- Review Price: £175.08
ALK has been making navigation software for a long time and was one of the first to support Windows Mobile. The company has struck a very clever deal with network operator T-Mobile which involves bundling its software with Windows Mobile devices, but you can also buy the software independently of any device for both Windows Mobile Smartphones and Pocket PCs. I chose to take a look at the software with an Orange SPV C600 for this test.
ALK provides an in-vehicle charger for it Bluetooth antenna, but no mains power charger, while my SPV C600, not surprisingly, came with mains power charger and no vehicle charger. ALK rescues the situation by providing a splitter cable from its vehicle charger which allows you to simultaneously power the antenna and a Windows Mobile Smartphone via its mini USB connecter.
Recently I have been using either stand alone navigation systems or handhelds with GPS antennae built in, such as the Mio A701 and E-TEN G500 which I compared back in May. It felt a bit cumbersome to have to carry four bits of kit around during this test – phone, antenna, in-vehicle charger and splitter cable, but once set up in the car everything is pretty tidy and of course you may not have to cable anything up at all if handset and antenna are well charged beforehand.
The software is provided on a mini SD card. My version of the software covered the UK and Ireland and came on a 256MB card, but maps of Europe can be bought as an alternative and these come on a 1GB card.
Installing it to the internal memory of my SPV required deleting some software I had on there already to free up memory. I also had to junk my existing mini SD card to make way for CoPilot’s which contains the vital map data. The good news is that it is possible to use the free storage on the card – 90MB of it – to store data and applications. It may take you a while to rework things, but if you’ve been relying on a lower capacity card you may actually end up with a storage boost.
The CoPilot Bluetooth antenna is a bit on the chunky side – it rivals my SPV C600 phone for overall size – but it proved to be very reliable, and I was able to leave it in a pocket between the front driver and passenger seats rather than have it slide about on the dash.
It felt rather odd at first to work without a touch screen but in fact the ALK’s menu system is pretty intelligently put together with few layers of sub-menus and plenty of thought put into the fact that you only really want to scroll vertically through options and make minimal taps.
There are plenty of options settings. You can make a predictable range of preferences choices such as miles vs kilometres, map heading vs north at the top, automatic switch between day and night colours or manual setting. Points of Interest alerts can be set so that you are warned when you get to within a user definable distance from them. You can save handset battery power by getting the software to turn the backlight on only when you are near a turn. I have to say I prefer the always on option.
I often complain that spoken instructions come too early or too late for me to really take proper notice of them. The CoPilot software developers may have been listening as you can set the software to give its turn warnings at any or all of two miles ahead, one mile ahead, 3/10 of a mile ahead or just ahead setting the latter to within 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 seconds ahead.
You can create driving profiles designating preferences for different road types (strongly avoid, avoid, neutral, favour, strongly favour) and the speed you drive along them. These might be handy if you drive at times of the day when you know traffic conditions vary – rush hour or non rush hour for example, if you drive more than one vehicle with radically different handling (there is a setting for RV which apparently refers to caravans or other heavy vehicles which can handle differently to cars), or simply if you drive differently and prefer different road types when on business or when travelling for leisure.
CoPilot 6 supports both TMC and GPRS traffic information but I was not in a position to try either. Live vehicle tracking for a single user comes as standard with CoPilot Live! You need to sign up to a Web site, and then can provide others with a password to get access to your position on the road. I’m not sure, for individual users, whether this is any better than stopping off from time to time to phone in to whoever is waiting for your arrival, but it is a feature that, as far as I know, others don’t offer.
Another extra is PC software which allows you to plan routes and then delivers both turn by turn and map based routing. This is superb and includes trip planning for all of Europe as well as comprehensive help for the Smartphone application.
Entering a destination on my SPV C600 was as easy as tapping in a full seven digit postcode though you can plump for entering a full address or using the contacts database of your handset if you prefer.
The on screen display is small but it delivers well. There are turn by turn instructions as well as a 2D and 3D map views and a ‘safety view’ which shows the direction of the next turn and clear textual information about where you are and how far it is to the next turn prominent on screen.
ALK knows how to avoid clutter on screen and still offers some useful options – the handset joystick can be used to pan around a map, and also to zoom in and out if you press it first. You can also make a setting which only shows Points of Interest on screen when you stop so they don’t clutter your view if you glance at the map while driving.
Spoken instructions are loud enough, and thanks to the previously mentioned tweaking, they were delivered at appropriate times.
There are three modes of operation: Guidance is used during a trip, Planning is used beforehand to prepare a trip and doesn’t need the GPS antenna, and Walking generates a straight line between you and your destination and maintains that whatever you do when on foot. This is nowhere near as good as having a paper map in your hand I am afraid. Until NAVTEQ (ALK’s mapping partner) starts mapping for pedestrians and including cut-throughs, tracks across parks and so on, I am sticking to paper maps when walking.
Weighing up the pros and cons of smartphone based and larger touch screen devices, I find after this revisiting of the smartphone format that I am not as disgruntled about it as I had thought I might be.
Sure, there are a few bits and pieces to carry around, but ALK has done very well with the screen and user interface limitations, its software is strong, and that desktop trip planning extra is a real plus.
Score in detail
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