View Full Version : GPS apps: June 2010

20th June 2010, 03:21 PM
Hi everyone, just wanted to share my opinions and perhaps try and spark a bit of up-to-date discussion about GPS apps for the iPhone.

I have some experience with two apps at this stage, and I've just downloaded a third which I'll comment on in a few days. The first I downloaded was Mocal (currently 1.0.2), which offers a 30-day free trial then a few different 'subscription' options from $10 per month to $60 for 3 years. I've also downloaded Sygic Mobile Maps (8.06), currently $60, which I've used for a couple of days now. The third app, downloading as I write, is Metroview.


Top marks for the free 30-day trial. Not having used satnav before I had nothing to compare it to, but my first impressions were good. It is kind of a hybrid app, with one part offering data from content partners to help you choose, say, a shop or restaurant based on location and reviews, then switch to the satnav to get you there. The satnav works perfectly well as a standalone navigation app though so, except to say that the content side seems to work as you'd expect it to, these comments are about the navigation aspect.

Pros: Mocal seems to be clear and simple to use, and quick to load. The only available voice, 'UK Male', is clear and generally pronounces local names quite well, although he can struggle (charmingly) with the odder Aussie sidestreet names. He doesn't say 'please' all the time (that's a definite pro in my book - it makes no sense for a machine to annoy a human with fake and repetitious manners). The timing of instructions seems spot-on, and the default settings give plenty of warnings of upcoming actions as well as telling you the next action if it's close after (eg: roundabout - second exit - then - turn right). There are 9 distance warnings, from 50km to 20m. Be default they are all switched on but once you get comfortable with the app you can disable any that you don't find helpful. Mocal integrates well with iPhone contacts, but you'll need to tweak your addresses if they are not correctly formatted. Fortunately, that's easy to do and Mocal is smart enough to ignore unit numbers and understand abbreviations (eg 2/34 Smith Rd will automatically render as 34 Smith Road). Entering addresses directly is also easy as you are faced with a 'card' for your destination and you can enter details in any order you like until there's enough detail for Mocal to work with. Finally, Mocal offers a choice of fastest, shortest or walking route, and you can turn off toll roads and ferries. Mocal also has basic (play/pause) iPod control.

Cons: Mocal is a simple navigation app, so it doesn't have speed limits, camera locations or traffic info, and there aren't many route options to choose from. The voice, while good, is too quiet and I would describe it as virtually unusable with the iPod unless your music is also quiet - otherwise it mutes your loud music, whispers its message then blasts you with loud music again. There seems to be no way to set the relative volumes, and the effect is the same whether you use the headphone or dock audio outputs. Also missing is a way to input a non-addressed location (eg a rural property). To navigate to a particular rural point I had to use Google maps/satellite view to try and visualise the location relative to curves in the highway, then use the map in Mocal to try and find the same location on the highway and set a placemark. I ended up being a couple of hundred metres out, which didn't help me find the right bush track off the highway at night. A way to input actual coordinates would fix this.

Overall: In light of my experience with Sygic (below), Mocal is currently my preferred app as it is simple to use and reliable. I would definitely like the advanced features of other apps, but if it means unreliability and intolerable annoyances then I'll stick with Mocal as it works.

Sygic Mobile Maps

Hmmm. Sygic seems to get rave reviews, so I was intending to 'upgrade' from my Mocal trial. How wrong I was. No matter how charitable I try to be towards it, I can't describe it as anything other than utter crap. Here's why:

Pros: OK, so it has the speed warnings, camera locations, and apparently the traffic info. This is all good stuff, if it works. It might. Unfortunately I don't have confidence that this is the case, due to the cons:

Cons: Right from the start, the Sygic experience is clumsy. It appears on my iPhone as 'Mobil...aland'. I guess this is a contraction of 'Mobile Maps Australia and New Zealand'. Apparently they couldn't come up with something more befitting of an iPhone app with its limited characters. A minor detail, perhaps, but it's the tip of the iceberg. Once I click on it, and wait a good 12 seconds or so (a long time on a 3GS), then a cluttered array of unintuitive options presents itself. Press the wrong one and I have to complete several steps of configuration before being 'allowed' back to the main menu. Fine, I get through all that and try to actually use the app. I go to navigate to a contact, and instead of opening the usual iPhone contacts screen (like Mocal does), it instead 'imports' all of my contacts into its own screen. This is kind of clunky and takes a few seconds while the list populates. I try to navigate to a contact and it won't recognise any of my usual contact addresses (which now work fine in Mocal). I finally work out that's because it can't deal with abbreviations like Rd or St. Really? A navigation app that can't understand Rd?! What's worse, if you go to use a contact and it can't understand the address (and there are many of those as it doesn't tolerate units or lots either), there is no option to tweak it. You simply get to wait a few more seconds for an error message to appear, then you have to close the app, open your contacts, edit the contact, close your contacts and re-open Mobile Maps to see if it works now. Seriously. It's either that or input the address from scratch, which is an exercise in frustration in itself.

All of that might even be tolerable, if it worked well on the road. It doesn't. The first thing I noticed was that the voices, while there are many, are all terrible. Text-to-speech is appalling, with even fairly common English constructions like 'Williamstown' being pronounced almost unintelligibly 'Why-lye-am-stone'. The constant 'pleases' also become really annoying really quickly. The speed reminders seemed helpful, but there also seem to be great chunks of any journey where the posted limit doesn't match what Sygic is telling me, which makes it hard to have any confidence in Sygic's ability to keep me out of trouble. But the real killer is that over a 60km trip from Melbourne to Dandenong today, the app crashed twice and finally delivered me to a place 19.7 kms away from where I needed to be. Both Google maps and Mocal could navigate me back to the correct place, from exactly the same contact info, but Sygic was insistent that I was at my destination and was therefore unable to get me out of the hole it had dug for me.

Overall: I simply don't understand how Sygic can receive such great reviews, and how my experience could be so different. Perhaps Mocal is just particularly good and I've been spoilt, and maybe other users have grown with the technology and see only the improvements. The fact is that I have no confidence whatsoever in the Sygic app, and unless there's a setting somewhere to 'run like an absolute dog' that I've accidentally enabled, then I don't even think that contacting their tech support will serve any purpose. I'm deleting this app and hoping that I can get a refund for it.

I will try other apps, as I'd like a few of the license-protection enhancements that Mocal lacks, but I don't intend to sacrifice reliable navigation and I'm now wary about spending $$ on other 'premium' apps when Sygic was such a dire failure for me. I'd be very interested to hear other opinions though on the current crop of iPhone apps and how they might compare.

21st June 2010, 12:14 PM
Hi Brewer,

Thanks for your post, looking forward to your thoughts on metroview.

I bought the Ndrive app when it came out purely because it was much cheaper than the big name brands like tom tom and navigon (I also tried the free Mocal trial as well but found it was useless and I didn't want to pay ongoing subscription costs). After reading a few other forums on the net giving the metroview app good reviews and watching the "how-to" videos metroview post on their website I decided to buy it.

I've had it for about a week now and really happy with it. I also have the tom tom dock and it seems to get the satellite lock a lot quicker than without the dock.

As far as comparison goes, even though metroview is cheaper it is complete step above Ndrive. I can't say much with regards to comparisons between it and any of the more expensive apps but there has been a few reviewers on the app store say it is better than the tom tom app and there is another forum on whirlpool with reviewers there saying it's better than a few of the others.

A few pros and cons I've noticed so far;

* Free updates: metroview promise free updates which is just fantastic. This means just a once off cost and from there we get free map and software updates. Metroview have a twitter accound and have said there is an update coming soon to fix some of the issues (some of which I'll mention in the con section of this review)
* Developed by Australians: Not so much about supporting australian developers (which is a pro anyway) but they have made sure that the text-to-speach is in an Australian accent! The TTS is very clear and well spoken, no funny pronouciation. * Map detail: talking about being developed by Australians, the maps are much more detailed than anything developed outside australia. When zooming right in, all streets have precise lot numbers, so you can actually navigate right to the very house or shop you need to on the street, I believe other apps just guess the location. Proof of the map detail is in the download size. Metroview is about 600mb where as tomtom is about 230, navigon is about 350, CoPilot is about 240 and iGo is about 250.
* Google search: metroview has integrated google search so you can search for any POI (say a hotel) in an area and then it gives you the option to call with the phone number google has found and then navigate to it with the address google has found.
* Speed and camera warnings: The speed zone changes are accurate to the sign; it seems to change within about 10 meters of the sign. It beeps of you go 5kms over and then beeps twice if you go 10kms over. There are also warings if you are approaching a speed or red light camera. And it will also change 40km/h in school zones during the right time of the day from monday to friday.
* Browsing and zooming are really easy and intuitive. You can pinch and expand fingers to zoom, but obviously it would be a bit hard to do this while driving so they also allow a double tap with 1 finger to zoom in and a single tap with 2 fingers to zoom out. A single tap with 1 finger flips to a menu screen.
* Automatically switches to night mode during night.

* At the moment you can't play music and navigate at the same time but this is due to be fixed with the next update.
* Doesn't integrate with address book but due to be fixed with the coming update
* The app works in both portrait and landscape mode but will only work in portrait mode when on the address input screen before navigating. I think this is because it would be hard to fit the keyboard and address input bars in when in landscape but it is a bit annoying when you are navigating in landscape and have to flip the unit to enter the address then flip it back.
* I find that most of the time the speed zones are correct but about 1% of the time they are wrong (I guess you can't get this 100%)

Overall I think it is a great app and for the price it is an absolute bargain! I think being developed local means this app has some great potential and metroview have already proven they are willing to listen to their customers suggestions and incorperate them into their updates.