A personal satellite navigation device is not an expensive proposition these days, with entry-level options available for under £100. But if you already own a capable smartphone with built-in GPS, don’t need route guidance that often, or can’t be bothered with yet another gadget, adding some software to your phone could make a more cost-effective and convenient alternative. Navigon has a potential contender in the shape of its MobileNavigator 7.
The app is available for Symbian S60 3rd Edition, or Windows Mobile 5, 6 and 6.1. Prices range from £59.99 with maps for a single country to £89.99 for the whole of Europe. These are all available for download from Navigon’s website, and you can even try the software for 30 days before purchase. We put the Windows Mobile version with maps for ‘British Isles’ through its paces. This includes the UK and Republic of Ireland, although we’re not sure residents of the latter would be too pleased to be labelled British.
Installation requires a desktop PC. You can either pop out your smartphone’s memory card, or switch the phone from ActiveSync to storage-only mode so it shows up as a removable drive. Loading the Navigon PC software then sets up the application installer on your storage, after which you can copy across the maps. However, the app isn’t actually installed on your smartphone yet. For this, you need to pop the memory card back in the phone, or switch it back out of storage-only mode. The app will then be installed automatically after which it will be available for use.
When you first load the MobileNavigator app, you’re led through choosing language, time display and distance formats. You will also need to activate the software if you bought it or start your trial. The trial version requires a working Internet connection each time the software is started, to check with Navigon’s servers how many of the 30 days you have left. You are then faced with a similar screen to a standalone Navigon sat-nav device. The initial options include browsing the map, typing in a new location, an aggregation of saved addresses called My Destinations, or Services.
When entering an address, Navigon has switched from the tabbed interface of its standalone devices to a list-based approach, but the process is essentially the same. You either enter a full postcode, or drill down from city, to street, to house number. Annoyingly, you can’t enter a house number with a postcode, which could be a problem if the latter refers to a long street, particularly if it’s one-way.
A Points of Interest (POI) database is included, and Navigon’s usual Direct Access pane is available for finding petrol stations, parking or restaurants near your current location. These can be swapped for any of the other 25 POI categories in the settings. The full POI section lets you search nearby, within a city, or nationwide. We couldn’t find any notable omissions in the database compared to standalone sat-navs we have tested.
The My Destinations options include any Favourites you set up, a list of the Last Destinations you have searched for, and a Take Me Home selection which automatically navigates to your nominated place of residence. You can also supposedly import addresses from your Windows Mobile Contacts app, but we had trouble getting this to work, with the option simply leading us out of the Navigon software into Contacts. A final navigational choice is to set up a multi-point route via the Options button at the bottom of the screen. The Services include just two sections – a three-day weather report for your chosen location, and HRS Hotel Reservation.
Once your destination is input and the route calculated, the map view offers most of Navigon’s latest bells and whistles. Lane Assistance Pro provides a detailed schematic of the lanes in a junction, so you know which one you need to be in. The Reality View Pro system shows a realistic graphic of a multi-lane junction onscreen, including the road signs and lanes you are likely to be viewing through your car windscreen. But it only works when your smartphone is in landscape mode. MobileNavigator’s only significant omissions compared to a standalone Navigon device are the 3D landmark and Curve Warner systems found in higher-end models, such as the 7210.
On a more prosaic level, the map view includes a comprehensive amount of useful information. The current speed limit is shown in an entirely recognisable road sign format in the top left. Navigon’s trademark, rather twee intonation of ‘Beware’ lets you know when you’re above the limit by a given amount, which is configurable in the settings. Speed camera warnings are included, but you have to turn these on manually after reading a warning message, as this facility is illegal in some countries. You can also add traffic updates, but this requires a separate Bluetooth RDS-TMC receiver and subscription.
The name of the next road and your current road are stacked at the bottom of the interface, with the distance to destination and expected time of arrival just above. The Lane Assistant Pro information pops up above this. A symbol showing your next turn sits on the left, with a smaller symbol showing the turn after that, which is helpful when the two occur in rapid succession. Despite all these on-screen elements, there’s still a reasonable amount of space for the map itself.
Performance of course depends on your particular smartphone, its processor, screen size and graphics response. Our test device was an HTC Touch Diamond with an external Bluetooth GPS receiver. Whilst screen updates were a little more laggy than the standalone Navigon devices we have tested, we still had no problem navigating. The voice commands were clear and directions appeared in good time. Overall, aside from the smaller screen on the HTC phone, it wasn’t significantly more difficult to navigate with MobileNavigator than other Navigon devices we’ve tested – so perfectly adequate to get the job done. Since the software has a pedestrian route profile option, you might find yourself using it when not in a car as well.
Navigon’s MobileNavigator 7 isn’t the only software available for turning your smartphone into a sat-nav device. TomTom’s Navigator 6 offers similar features and costs about the same, or there’s Wayfinder Navigator 8. Whichever you choose, you will need to factor in a kit for mounting your phone in the car and a charger cable, usually at least £10-15. So a standalone sat-nav could still work out costing a similar amount, and will probably be less hassle to use for frequent journeys. Nevertheless, we had no complaints about MobileNavigator’s ability during testing. It’s well worth considering if you do want to save on the gadget clutter, and turn the smartphone in your pocket into a part-time sat-nav.
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