Best Mobile Sat-Nav Application(/centre)
Over the last few months, we’ve spotted a trend in personal navigation. It’s returning to its roots, only stronger. The standalone sat-nav made the technology dependable enough for the consumer mainstream, something personal navigational devices (PDAs) never were. But smartphones are now becoming ubiquitous and reliable, and with so much computing power – plus a built-in GPS receiver – already in your pocket, it makes sense that interest is returning to the software add-on. Now this feature has become a selling point for the phones themselves, with Garmin even releasing a hybrid sat-nav phone, the M10. But a wide range of Nokia phones already offer a capable alternative in the shape of Ovi Maps. Is this a reason to eschew the temptations of Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android?
Obtaining Ovi Maps depends on which Nokia phone you own. A few brand-new models come supplied with it pre-installed, plus a free in-car screen mount, and even a power adapter in some cases. The N97, N97 mini, X6, and 6710 Navigator may all include the full package, for example. The 5800 XpressMusic and Navigation Edition, 5230, E52 and E72 just have the screen mount. But lots of other models (or versions of the above handsets purchased before Ovi Maps was bundled) support it too. Some require a PC to download and set the software up, and if your phone has a firmware version prior to the 20 series you will need to upgrade via a desktop system anyway.
If your phone has software that is 20 series or greater, however, you can install Ovi Maps over the air via the Software Update under Applications. You may not even need to do this as phones with software 21.1 series firmware may already have the latest version installed. However, it’s worth checking, as the 3.04 version available at the time of writing added some important new features, including Wi-Fi positioning, a faster UI, and the addition of Qype information into the Points of Interest (POI) database. So you get user reviews as well as the general location of key POIs. Version 3.04 was not included with the latest phone firmware at the time of writing, only 3.03.
One of the much-vaunted advantages Ovi Maps has over Google Navigation or skobbler is that it can be used in offline mode. However, this doesn’t come as standard, unless the maps were pre-installed on your phone to begin with by the provider. Instead, you need to install Nokia Ovi Suite on your PC, and then use this to copy the required maps permanently onto your phone. Amazingly, map availability covers a large proportion of the world, including a few South American and African countries, plus Australia, New Zealand and a fair amount of Asia, although detail is sketchy in some of these areas.
You can still access maps for all these regions if you don’t install them, but only in online mode as they will be downloaded dynamically each time you access them. Another feature you can’t access in offline is the satellite view. It’s also worth noting that using Ovi Maps in offline mode won’t necessarily save you international roaming charges, as you will also need to turn off A-GPS and network-based positioning assistance, since this polls the network to aid GPS satellite discovery.
However, whilst you can run the app in offline and online modes, using the former reduces your options when searching for a destination. For a start, the list of results this provides will be much shorter and confined to the local area. If you want somewhere outside the local area, you will need to input the street, town, and even the country in your search string.
In contrast, when you use Ovi Maps in online mode, the destination search is unified and keyword based. This may not be a particular revelation compared to Google Maps, but few standalone sat-navs let you look for destinations in such a free-form way. For example, search for our favourite “Wembley” and you’ll be offered the geographical middle of that part of London, followed by the Stadium, and then a few other select POIs. Search for an unusual street name and you don’t even have to know which city it’s in. You can also set up a home location and a list of favourites, browse the map to select a point, or choose from a list of recent destinations.
Unlike Google Maps Navigation, which doesn’t have a traditional POI database yet, Ovi Maps lets you look for destinations across the usually array of categories, some of which have sub-categories. As we mentioned before, however, you get the most out of this when a data connection is available, because otherwise the POI search will only include the maps you have pre-installed to the device. POI icons are shown on the map, too, and you can click on these to call up information about them.
You can paste your location to Facebook, although you need a Nokia account as well as one for the social networking service. You can even download traffic information, although this again requires an active data connection, either 3G/GPRS or WLAN. You can browse any current incidents, and Ovi Maps will inform you of any potential delays on your journey, giving you the option to route around them. The traffic data is entirely free, like the maps, and so are the safety camera locations.
During navigation, your experience depends on the phone you are using. We were testing on a N97, which is likely to provide one of the better experiences available. The navigational map screen is fairly standard fare for a sat-nav, with a quasi-3D view of the roads in your current vicinity. An icon describing your next turning is shown in the top left, with the name of the road to look out for along the top. Along the bottom you’re shown your current speed, the distance to the destination and remaining journey time. The interface works just as well in portrait as landscape mode, although with the latter speed and journey data shift to the right-hand side of the screen.
Considering that it’s free to owners of a large selection of Nokia phones, Ovi Maps is an impressive navigational software, particularly when the extensive map coverage available is taken into account. It has features to match many standalone sat-navs, has more to offer than the current version of Google Maps Navigation, and even holds its own against the premium apps available for the various smartphone platforms. However, it’s still not quite a reason on its own to choose Nokia over the other options. This really comes down to whether you like the Symbian interface, which is an acquired taste, and not one acquired by most of us here at TrustedReviews. If you’re already a Nokia owner, Ovi Maps is an excellent reason to stick with your purchase. But if you prefer your iPhone or Android handset, you will probably want to stick with their navigational options.
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