I was very excited when I saw that Nokia was going to have free mapping software, with a “pay as you go” option for voice navigation. I use a TomTom for mobile nav, and absolutely love it, but if I’m going to a city, and gonna walk around, it’s not a great choice (I’ve got a 510, not really pocketable). OK, so I don’t have a built-in GPS, but I do have an external bluetooth GPS, and figured that’d be a great way to get started.

My summary, the maps software is pretty darned cool. The for-fee features, however, leave a lot to be desired, in fact, in my experience, they leave everything to be desired, and actually don’t work. I wouldn’t use it for free in that mode, much less pay. OK, off to the details…

I figured I’d try it out on my trip to Moab. I’d have the TomTom in the car with John Cleese narrating my journey, but for in-town stuff, I’d be able to set up landmarks, and just carry the phone and my little bluetooth GPS. Figured since I was trying it out, I should try voice nav too. So, I bought a 30 day voice nav subscription, and gave it a shot.

Let me slightly digress, and give a general hint to folks who write navigation software. The big players have figured this out, and I know it may seem like a subtlety, but if you’re blasting along at 60mph right near a major highway, and the GPS coordinates you’re getting indicate, because of typical innacuracies, that you are closer to a frontage road, you’re probably NOT on the frontage road. Especially when every time you hit a sharp left, the object that’s being tracked keeps going straight. Let’s put that object on, oh, a bigger interstate, like Highway 5 in California, with NO frontage roads. Just rolling hills. I think then, you can safely assume that the object going 75mph is a car, not a low-flying plane. If you’re in a plane, you probably aren’t using your phone to do navigation. You could even make it a selectable option, but not the default. So “not on a road” is probably not the best choice. That road that’s 10 feet to the right? You can safely guess that’s where the physical location really is. For an example, um, try a TomTom, or a Garmin, they can give you a pretty good idea what the end result is suppose to look like.

From San Jose to Moab, the Nokia software spent most of it’s time recalculating, because it thought I was on a side road, or somehow hurling offroad at dangerous speeds, but seldom on the major highway I was actually on. Even in the middle of absolutely nowhere in Utah, with no side roads, or frontage roads, or any other roads except the one I was on for many, many miles, the software would work fine for a while, then display “not on road”, and “recalculate”. In the rare instances when it did figure I was on a road, the voice navigation was OK, but since it got lost so often, it was usually either giving me wrong information, or recalculating, and unable to speak. Compare this to the TomTom, which never once put me on a road I was not. I checked, the GPS coordinates being transmitted from the Garmin Bluetooth GPS were identical to the ones being reported from the TomTom, so it’s not a GPS miscalibration problem.

Oh, and since it downloads it’s maps in real time as it needs them, when you’re REALLY in the middle of nowhere, take that Utah example again, when it does think it knows where it is, it doesn’t have any map information, and can’t get it, so you’re then just looking at a blank screen, with no navigation information at all. You’ll need to get back into cell range, AND get a good GPS fix. So, this isn’t a solution for anyone who travels the less populated, and therebye mobile signal-less parts of the world.

And, given the powerdrain the Bluetooth being on and active all the time causes, better keep yourself close to a power supply. My E61 totally drained in just a couple hours. And, if you have the “keep display on when navigating” option set too, well, ’nuff said. Obviously less of a problem with Nokia’s “GPS built-in”  mobiles.

Now, the free features, finding POI’s, navigating between points, all that worked great, and the GUI was nicer to work with than Google’s in-phone app, with the same features. Only issue I have there is, once you’ve used it with a GPS, it’ll assume your current position when you start the software is the last position it saw from the GPS. When I got back from Moab, I had to re-sync it with the GPS to tell it where home was. The addition of having an approximate location when I brought the GPS with me was nice too. So, I’d still recommend getting the free download and playing with all it can do, but the “premium” voice navigation? Give that a bit more time to get baked, and the position prediction algorithms reworked for it to be a usable alternative to the other options (like the TomTom software for Symbian phones).

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