The well-known Tom Tom GPS software may have attracted all the publicity at the recent Apple keynote speech, but it’s not the only Sat Nav software available for the iPhone.
Both CoPilot and Navigon offer apps that cost considerably less than Tom Tom’s decidedly upmarket sixty quid price tag, and are priced at a more affordable 26 and 38 pounds respectively.
With the recession still biting hard, we decided to give the cheapest GPS solution a go, and grabbed a copy of CoPilot Live 8 for the iPhone (it’s worth noting that although the program may be new to the iPhone platform, the current version 8 has been around on many PDAs for some years).
Much has been said of Apple vetting team rejecting applications for the App store. One of their laudable criteria is to ensure adherence to the common UI principals that Apple created when they created Mobile OSX.
Clearly the App store vetting team was partially asleep when they passed CoPilot! That’s not saying it’s bad necessarily, but loading up the application for the first time you are presented with a somewhat confusing UI which looks nothing like any other iPhone application.
Being predominately designed for car use it quickly becomes apparent that this deviation from the Apple way isn’t the end of the world. All the buttons are huge so you can hit them easily while driving and not be in danger of crashing the car.
Big buttons aside, it’s still not recommended to set up a route while driving as inputting text is way too fiddly a task to consider while on the road.
Loading the application can take a bit of time., and you’re required to set up a CoPilot account (which has to be done via Wi-Fi) before the software will run.
As part of the software loading you are greeted with the announcer reading out the title of the software. At this point you realise they have managed to do something that Apple didn’t manage with the ring tones: be really loud.
It shows the iPhone speaker has much more grunt than the default wishy washy ring tones manage to deliver.
The new-found extra volume is a great asset too, allowing you to use CoPilot even in a noisy car without having to attach it to the car stereo.
The main function of helping you get from place to place can be as simple as entering a post code and hitting the Go button, or inputting complex routes taking in visits to places of interest with several interim destinations.
To enter a destination you can either type in an address or a post code. If that can’t find it or you don’t know either the address or postcode but do know general area, you can open the map, move it about, press and hold on a location and it will offer to create a route to that GPS coordinate.
It can store common places like your home and garage to save the leg work re-entering things. You can also have more than one destination as part of a route. This can help the Sat Nav routing if you didn’t like the original route it calculated.
Entering an address, you are faced with CoPilots first negative point: it’s ‘ABC’ keyboard which took some getting used to, but at least the keys were nice and large. According to their website, a proper QWERTY interface is in the works.
Once you have entered the destination, CoPilot will go off and calculate the route. You can also tell it what type of vehicle you’re using – car, lorry, RV or van – and it will route and time accordingly.
Interestingly, the vehicle list also includes a Walking option offering Points Of Interest along the way, which might tempt hill walkers on short trips. We say ‘short’ because CoPilot will drain a full battery of a 3GS in 2 hours which rather limits its potential.
CoPilot defaults to a 3D map of your current location, scrolling along as you move, with your route coloured purple and the otion to switch to a 2D view.
Once it’s calculated the route, options exist to either start the journey or to view the route fully zoomed out. This can be useful because it’s not totally infallible and may choose a route that’s just not sensible.
On the move
Once driving, it will warn of actions you need take at 2 miles, 1 mile , 500 yards and just before you hit the junction. Imperial/metric and the warnings distance sizes are configurable. The spoken voices issuing commands, of which there is a selection of men or women’s voices to choose from, are all very clear.
On the move, the screen is a cacophony of information, generally showing the speed limit for the current road, how far you are from your destination, and the estimated arrival time, with the route you’re supposed to follow highlighted in purple. Irritatingly, there’s no clock.
When big signs appear on the road or motorway, near identical signs appear on the display and for complex junctions, a good clear representation of which lanes you’re supposed to be in with plenty of time to get into them, is flashed up.
At the start, we had some doubts about how reliable the iPhone’s GPS receiver might be – would it send us off cliffs or the wrong way down a motorway?
We quickly put those doubts to bed: it’s deadly accurate and doesn’t even need the compass on the 3GS. On very odd occasions it got confused it quickly corrected itself when it got a lock again.
The ‘Junction in 1m’ sign on a motorway was greeted with the ‘left turn in 1 mile’ announcement. It found the entrance to a campsite, a private country lane in the middle of nowhere, to the metre.
It also supports places of interest (POI’s), of which there are many types, such as pubs, petrol, hospital, garages etc. Double taping your location on the map will bring up a list of all POI nearby; the lists are fairly comprehensive usually into the dozens. It also allows you to get a route to a POI or choose a route that takes in a series of these. One of the POI types is pubs, useful for those complex pub crawls.
Crashes (of the software kind)
There were some notable events using CoPilot; firstly and most importantly it crashed twice in the 1st mile. This is a real pain as it does not remember the destination once you restart it (the exception to this is getting a call).
If you don’t know where you’re going and it crashes you’d have to pull over to re-enter the destination again or if you don’t notice you could go for miles waiting patiently for announcements. Crashing appeared to be cured by cold booting the iPhone then immediately running CoPilot.
Cold boot is carried out by holding the Home and Power button till it powers off. This is not ideal, but it’s a bearable workaround. It also lost its voice once, and this was rectified by restarting the application again. Thankfully, once up and running and in full voice, it was reliable.
Other small quirks and features; It can be run either Landscape or portrait; the interface dynamically resizes to fit.
Scrolling the 3d maps around with a touch/move is a total waste of time. It’s too sluggish to be useful.
The 2d maps are better but still treacle slow. No pinch zoom either, relying on plus and minus buttons to zoom in and out. Moving maps about isn’t really something you do a lot but checking the whole route is one aspect where a fast map would be very useful.
The CoPilot changes the map colour for Day or Night. When its night it switches to a darker map format so it’s less intrusive and distractingly bright.
On a final note, CoPilot are going to offer traffic services, the reason for creating a login at the start and ‘Live’ moniker. The Traffic option is there, but it’s greyed out.
Expect a monthly or yearly subscription. If they are sensible, a 24hr price would be useful for the occasional traveller. It’s scheduled to be introduced this month (September 09), though no further details are available.
The round up
Pros: Gets you where you want to go with very little fuss.
The lane indicators are very helpful.
Extremely configurable and useful for everyone right up to hardened sales team members.
While not Mobile OSX in any way whatsoever, the UI is car driver friendly.
Very accurate GPS lock.
Very comprehensive points of interest.
Direct POI calling.
Cheap at just £25.99.
Cons: Need to read the manual to get going, the totally non-standard interface initially gets in the way.
Maps are very sluggish to scroll about.
Doesn’t remember route you entered if you leave the application.
Crashed worryingly often, coupled with the entered route issue, quite infuriating.
Having to Cold Boot to make it reliable.
Overall: Very functional Sat Nav software. Once the initial shock of the user interface wears off, it will get you where you want with clear and simple directions, and its highly competitive price means that is should be carefully considered against the TomTom and Navigon software.
For more info, check out the CoPilot online manual.