- Review Price: £50.96
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.
In transit, Navigon for Android behaves like Navigon’s standalone devices, offering a decent set of onscreen widgets. Lane Assistant Pro is on hand at multi-lane junctions, showing you which carriageways to be in so you make the right turn. At the most complex motorway junctions you also get Reality View Pro, which displays an even more lifelike depiction of the world around you, including the road signs to look out for as well as a clearer picture of the appropriate lanes to be in.
You don’t get any of the 3D landmark, panorama or city block additions of Navigon’s top-end models, but we’re still not convinced of their value anyway. Safety camera locations are included. These are represented by a pulsating red dot, with an onscreen icon telling you the current limit. You can also be warned whenever you stray above the limit, whether there’s a nearby safety camera or not. MobileNavigator for Android includes real-time traffic updates, too. These are delivered over your mobile data connection, so won’t be available when there’s no coverage. They also use the same data as RDS-TMC, and therefore only cover major roads. But the subscription is included in the price, so this will be traffic information you can use for the lifetime of your phone without paying any extra.
The display will switch automatically between portrait and landscape as orientation is detected by your accelerometer. However, our G1’s lack of an accelerometer meant that landscape mode was enabled by sliding out the keyboard, which wasn’t so useful. You can’t switch to landscape mode manually, either.
MobileNavigator for Android also offers a true pedestrian mode, where the ‘next turning’ icon is replaced by a compass. This helps you get your bearings, but more novel is the Reality Scanner. This is essentially an augmented reality view, which harnesses your phone’s built-in camera, and then superimposes a band over the image. This lists nearby POIs in the direction your camera is currently pointing, with an indication of type and distance. If you click on one of these, the full details of this POI will be displayed, so you can set up a route or phone the location.
However, we found enabling this mode could be a hit or miss affair, and if multiple POIs were bunched together, it could be quite hard to click on the right one first time. So whilst the Reality Scanner has plenty of potential, it needs an update or two before it comes into its own.
If you just want an occasional bit of assistance with your journeys, Google Maps Navigation will do the job for free. But if you need a few more features, and particularly if you plan on travelling in Europe, where mobile data roaming charges could be prohibitive, a standalone app with local maps makes a lot more sense. Navigon’s MobileNavigator for Android is a little pricey, particularly when you consider the Western Europe version of TomTom for iPhone costs the same as the UK and Ireland version of MobileNavigator. But you can’t get TomTom for Android yet, so MobileNavigator is worth considering, although we would recommend running it on a more recent handset than the G1 we used, for a more fluid interface.
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