Navigon may have pulled out of the U.S. hardware market back in 2009, but the company is still working hard on its flagship iPhone GPS app—and it really shows. Since I last tested it two years ago, the company has added plenty of features. Most of them have addressed the app’s shortcomings, while still playing to its original strengths. Navigon now feels much more like a complete GPS navigation solution for iPhone users, and one that I can easily recommend—particularly if you spend a lot of time in the car. As a result, it earns our Editors’ Choice for paid GPS apps.
User Interface and POI Search
For this review, I tested Navigon 2.3 on an Apple iPhone 5 running iOS 6.0.2 on Verizon Wireless. Navigon U.S.A. costs $49.99; the North America version, which includes Canada maps, costs $59.99. During setup, the app lets you download map data for just the U.S. states you need. I downloaded New York and New Jersey maps, and overall, everything took up just over 300MB. That’s a lot compared to free apps that stream map data over cellular connections, but storing map data locally is more reliable when you’re driving and doesn’t use up your phone’s data, and other apps that store maps of the entire U.S. can approach 2GB, so Navigon’s approach is welcome.
From Navigon’s main screen, you can enter an address, search for points of interest (POIs), navigate home, or display recent destinations. A row of icons along the bottom lets you switch between the main menu, your favorites list, your recent destinations, your contacts, and a page of route configuration and other options. Navigon has improved the UI graphics over the years; they’re now more attractive and easier to understand at a glance, and the Main Menu buttons hover over a translucent map in the background. The app works in portrait or landscape mode here as well as during navigation.
In a series of “nearby” and city-based POI search tests, Navigon did well. Entering an address begins with the city or zip code, and then progresses to the street and finally the street number. You can also search for POIs near you, nationwide, or in a specific city, as well as run searches in Google or Foursquare. One cool feature is the augmented reality-inspired “Reality Scanner;” hold up the phone and it will try and identify points of interest in the street in front of you, which is neat. New Glympse service integration lets friends and family share their locations with each other while on an outing, although the idea of it creeps me out a little.
Performance and Conclusions
Once on the road, Navigon shines. In my tests, the app’s detailed map graphics and very smooth animation looked classy, if a little cluttered. During navigation, Navigon displays current speed, ETA, trip distance remaining, distance to the next turn, and the upcoming street or exit name. The app is almost as informative as TomTom (for iPhone) in this regard, and you get plenty of options via the menu button on the top right. On the highway, Navigon’s Reality View Pro displayed accurate depictions of upcoming exit signs. The app also showed separate lane assistance arrows in the regular 3D map view. Speed limit signs appeared on local routes as well as interstates. You can also pinch zoom the map to get a broader view.
Voice prompts were robust and smooth sounding, although not quite as loud as they are in the free Apple Maps. One qualm: I couldn’t trigger a manual detour when I wanted one, which is a problem if you stumble on a closed road or sudden traffic jam. You do get a nice, colorful pop-up whenever the app discovers a new traffic incident, and it tells you the type as well.
Navigon sells six separate plug-ins for its app. Trafflic Live ($19.99) shows traffic info in real time, and looks to see where other ‘Live’ users are driving without obstructions in order to find you a better route. Panorama View 3D ($9.99) adds 3D images with mountains and valleys. Cockpit ($5.99) adds g-force, centrifugal force, altitude, compass, pitch, and roll angle data, among other things. Urban Guidance ($4.99) brings in public transportation, although Google Maps gives you that for free. Radar Info U.S. ($4.99) adds speed camera and red-light camera warnings across the country, and FreshMaps XL North America ($19.99) delivers automatic map updates every three months. Many of these offer useful improvements, though obviously the total price of the app can get pretty high if you buy several of them.
All told, Navigon is a solid app that’s worth its price, even next to free apps like Google Maps, our Editors’ Choice for free iPhone navigation apps, thanks to Navigon’s more extensive feature set, innovative optional plug-ins, and more informative display while driving. Magellan RoadMate is another compelling option, thanks to its friendlier interface that focuses more purely on the navigation experience, but it lacks Navigon’s various bells and whistles. Garmin and TomTom remain powerful navigation apps, but they’ve clearly fallen behind a bit when compared to Navigon and Magellan; still, they’re worth a look, especially if you’re already familiar with either of their interfaces from standalone GPS devices.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc