I’ve been looking at iPhone GPS navigation applications for a while now, and some products need more work, and I’ve seen highly-polished products. One thing that continues to surprise me is that more companies keep jumping into the competition!
One of the new entries is GPS Drive from the folks at MotionX. They were kind enough to send me a code for their $2.99 program (which comes with 30 days of live voice guidance) just in time for my semi-annual road trip to visit my mother – about a 1000 mile long trek.
So lets take a look at how it did.
MotionX GPS Drive is an off-board (maps load on the fly as you travel) turn-by-turn application that builds upon MotionX GPS. Although not as feature-filled as some of it’s competition, it is, at it’s core, a competent navigation application.
MotionX GPS Drive is very easy to use. When you start the program, it determines your location and presents you with a 2D map of your current location. One thing you notice right away is that the screens are very nice, slick, and professional in appearance.
There are really very few buttons or icons to worry about. There is a thing that looks like an engineer’s compass in the lower right corner of the screen what will change your display from regular map to aerial view (or hybrid). You have the same targeting/locator button you see in Google Maps to turn on the GPS search/follow for your current position. There are also buttons for zooming in/out. People who are not comfortable with the complexity of many GPS apps will probably appreciate the clean, simple interface of MotionX GPS Drive.
Along the top there are buttons for turning voice support on/off, and for changing the device from “outdoor” mode (using the GPS) to “indoor” mode (simulating everything).
There is also a set of buttons along the bottom: FIND, GO TO, MAPS< COMPASS, iPOD, and a SETTINGS button. The actual items you can customize is really pretty limited, but we’ll get to that shortly.
You use the FIND button to search for POIs (points of interest) or an address. Your current locations is displayed in the center of the screen, with the types of searches displayed in a ring around you. And yes – you can also search from your contacts! GO TO does a similar thing, prompting you to determine your destination. Once you determine your destination you encounter a screen with some details about your destination and you option to proceed to navigating. Live voice guidance will only work if you are on the 30 day trial or you have subscribed to their service. Once you set a destination, the map will switch to a 3D representation with turn-by-turn directions.
The MAPS button will always bring you back to the map. If you haven’t chosen a destination, it will be the regular 2D map. If you are navigating, it will take you back to the navigation screen.
The COMPASS button does what you would expect – it brings up a compass that also shows your latitude/longitude/altitude, as well as your current speed.
The iPOD button shows you information about your current location while letting you mess around with your music!
The SETTINGS button brings up a page of settings, including the place where you go to purchase live voice guidance (any optional packages), you choose sound settings, you choose to use Imperial or Metric measurements, you have a couple of choices for routing, and you can choose whether or not to use traffic data in the routing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t display of the traffic info on your map or navigation screen (that I could see) so it’s hard for me to tell if this actually worked. It definitely didn’t warn me about construction projects that were in my path or try to reroute me around them!
I found that the program was a little slow bringing up the screens for purchasing live navigation packages, but perhaps their site is busy these days! Once up, you can activate your 30 day trial, purchase 30 days for $2.99, or purchase 1 year of support for $24.99. All said, a pretty good value when held up to the competition’s offerings.
On the road, in general, MotionX GPS did a competent job at road navigation. It even calculated the long 1000+ mile route reasonably quickly without complaining. MotionX is also capable of a walking navigation, but I didn’t test that). It does a nice job of retaining my current route (even though I didn’t see a route save/load feature) when a phone call interrupted or I accidentally exited the program. Despite that, it was a little weak in a few areas.
First, there were a couple of visual anomalies. In one of the pictured in this review, you can see that the road name information is actually upside-down. In another, you can see that the program revers to “High Way 90″ rather than “Highway 90″. Not severe errors, but still unnecessary.
MotionX GPS Drive was a consistently little slow in obtaining a GPS lock. This surprised me given the success of their previous applications. I have reviewed a lot of different iPhone navigation apps, so I’m aware of the limitations of the iPhone GPS chips, but even with that in consideration, this app was often a little slow getting a lock. A number of other apps consistently did it faster, in a variety of conditions.
Additionally, I frequently was waiting for the app to download chunks of map, even in areas where the data signal was otherwise good. The program really didn’t seem to anticipate the need for the next map segment early enough in all cases so I was often looking at the blank grid pattern (on part of the screen) instead of the road. For off-board navigation apps, pre-loading and anticipation of needed data is critical to ensure smooth operation for the user. I suspect, however, that a little application tweaking should be all that’s required to improve that performance.
The biggest problem I encountered was during loss of data connectivity. Unfortunately, it seems you lose data connectivity in the most remote areas, and that’s where you are likely to need GPS services the most – where its easiest to get lost and there are the fewest people to ask for assistance. I am not generally a fan of complete off-board solutions like this one. I would prefer that these apps use a “corridor” model where they download the data for a band around your planned route. That corridor could be 10 miles, 20 miles, or 50 miles wide (or user-determined). That way, if you lose connectivity and get off route, you aren’t completely left hanging. Right now, as it is, this app leaves you hanging when you lose data connectivity.
What I Liked: I liked he clean approach and the up-to-date maps. the displays were easy to understand and very attractive.
What Could Use Improvement: There needs to be a compromise for when data connectivity is lost. When I had no data connectivity – even on interstates – the app was useless. I’d like to see GPS lock times and data load times improved. I would also like to have an option to see POIs on the main drive screen. They kind of take a back seat right now. This app could take advantage of the up-to-date model and give POIs a little more prominence than they currently have.
Overall: I like this application. I think it will improve over time, but I think I’d wait a little to see what the folks at MotionX, who seem to have an excellent track record, will come up with to improve this app further, but make no mistake – this app is worth watching!
MotionX GPS Drive is available from the AppStore for $2.99, which includes the first 30 days of live voice navigation. After the 30 days, you can purchase packages in 1 month ($2.99) or 1 year($24.99) amounts from within the app.