Admit it. You’ve always wanted the protection of a masked avenger on horseback. Presumably, that’s the kind of assistance the excitingly named ZorroGPS hopes to provide. Zorro fought for the downtrodden against tyranny, and ZorroGPS aims to bring satellite navigation to the masses, primarily via their smartphones, although the company also makes standalone sat-nav devices and GPS models intended for hiking.
The ZorroGPS smartphone software is the company’s most significant product, however. Where its standalone devices are merely competitively priced, its software slices the competition down to size with a swish of its rapier. If you just want navigation in England, you can pick up the basic version of ZorroGPS for an incredible £16. The whole of the UK and Ireland costs a mere £2 more, and Western Europe is only £28. The US costs £23, Canada £17, and you can get the entire North American continent including Mexico for £35. Only the UK maps were available at the time of review, however.
You would expect ZorroGPS to have cut corners to achieve its despot-slaying price. But the economisation isn’t in the map data. ZorroGPS has recently updated its software with the latest NAVTEQ maps, from March 2009. However, a number of the widgets included as standard in other manufacturers’ software are optional extras with ZorroGPS. Alerts for speed limits and other road sign warnings cost £3. Lane Assistance, including notification of traffic lights and stop signs, requires another £4. If you want speed camera alerts, that’s an additional £5.
A further £3 gets you ‘Day & Night route’, the title of which is a little misleading. This is actually similar to TomTom’s IQ Routes, calculating journeys based on real traffic rates rather than speed limits or shortest distance, taking into account time of day and statistical traffic information for each road. If you want detailed petrol station and fuel pricing, that’s £3 extra, too, and an extended POI database is £4.
Add all this together and you get a total of £40 for UK and Ireland maps with all the bells and whistles. This is still very competitive, however, and if you just want sat-nav on your mobile for occasional use, you could probably make do with the basic version, with one or two extras. So ZorroGPS clearly is extremely good value, and there’s a 48-hour demo download version available if you want to try it out first. Purchases are online downloads as well, specific to a small selection of mobile phones, and we tried the software on a HTC Touch Diamond. However, all the supported phones run Windows Mobile 6.1, so it’s likely any handset using this operating system or later will be compatible.
The software interface is not quite like other sat-nav apps on the market. Part of the reason why it’s so cheap is that the company is based in China, so has been able to take advantage of the lower cost of software developers in that country. The front end is functional, but the default golden buttons are rather garish, although you can change this to a more sober colour scheme.
You can easily live with the interface, as operation is intuitive and driven by sensible icon-based menus, which you page through to find the option you need. Searching for an address or Points of Interest destination operates via the same menu choice, although you have to specify which of the two databases you are searching. You can also search for a postcode within the city field. However, only the first half of the postcode and the initial number from the second half are supported. This just calls up a town, not a street, so you will still need to input this to set up a route.
The city database has a few holes, too. For example, we couldn’t input the town ‘Stokenchurch’ as a destination, and since you need to do that first before entering the street address, this made route creation difficult. Instead, we had to start with the nearest large town (High Wycombe in this case), then enter the road name and pick our actual destination on the map – hardly ideal if you don’t know the area.
We also found that, despite the inclusion of the latest NAVTEQ maps, we were still prompted to take roads that had been blocked off for many years. The petrol station list also included one that closed a couple of years ago.
The map screen itself is fairly clear, however. It’s not as aesthetic as some, particularly Garmin’s, but the routing is obvious. Your next turning is shown in the top left, with the speed limit in the top right (if you purchased this option). The current road is shown along the bottom, with the distance to destination just above on the right, and the time to destination on the left. This is most of what you need, and another icon on the bottom left gives direct access to points of interest in the vicinity.
The full-screen assistance graphics which pop up as you approach a junction look reassuringly like real roads, but not the ones you’re actually travelling on. They also tend to obscure rather than elucidate the layout of complicated motorway junctions. So they’re not as helpful as the lane assistance provided by the mainstream manufacturers. But on a small smartphone screen it is useful to have a very clear indication of the turnings you should be taking. You can turn this on all the time, just on motorways, or somewhere in between.
Generally, we found the information provided was sufficient to keep us on track whilst driving, so long as we applied a bit of common sense at complicated junctions. ZorroGPS can also navigate for pedestrians and cyclists, which are essential options for a phone-based sat-nav system.
The price for ZorroGPS looks too good to be true, and the software does have one or two flaws. However, as a low-cost option for smartphone use, its value for money is undeniable. If ZorroGPS adds full postcode destination searches, plugs the holes in the city database, and maintains its pricing, we might be seeing the masked avenger putting up even more of a fight against the tyranny of the big-name players of personal sat-nav.
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