Last week, I took a look at MotionX GPS Drive. The hits just keep coming, and this week a big player stepped into the ring. MapQuest comes to us with a new off-board (maps are loaded over the Internet on the fly) navigation app which they have kindly allowed me to test drive.
With the iPhone Navigation market getting quickly populated, I was curious to know how a big player like MapQuest would do in this space, especially given their long experience in mapping and route navigation. So let’s take a look!
Mapquest, based on Telmap, as it turns out, is an extremely basic navigation app. There is very little for you to customize or adjust. You enter your address at the top and away you go. Without a destination, you are presented with a 2D flat map. Your position is displayed on the map and does, in fact, follow you.
Once you add destination, the map switches to a 3D representation, albeit a simple one, with your next navigation instruction shown in the top part of the display.
So let’s step back a bit. First, you enter an address or the name of a Point of Interest (POI) just as you do in any of the MapQuest products – in the single field at the top of the screen. You separate things like City, State, etc. using commas. You can also select POIs from the category icons at the bottom of the screen (note that the categories also scroll left and right revealing more categories). Just tap the category, then tap the name of the category that appears and it will show the surrounding POIs of that type around your current position.
I have to say that am not crazy about the mechanism for entering an address. It is really clumsy, and it frequently couldn’t find what I entered. After doing a little more research, I discovered that when you click on the address field, it really pops up two fields, which actually perform 2 different types of searches. The TOP box does a POI name search. The bottom box does an actual address search. Also if you click the blue icon in the bottom box it will search your contacts. All that said, it also seemed to apply some strict limits to the distance it was willing to look for a given POI, but there is no place to determine what that distance might be (or better – change it!) The POI buttons on the bottom are also very limited in the range of the search.
POI information does pop up as bubbles, and tapping the arrowhead bring up more detailed information about the POI. Additionally, using the traffic icon on the bottom of the map display will display current real-time traffic, but this doesn’t display in the navigation screen. The navigation process will, however take into consideration the traffic information when plotting your route.
Once you do get a destination into the program, the driving directions are very clear and easy to follow. And despite the general lack of features, the application does have traffic/construction info as part of the subscription and it DID actually warn me of a construction zone. The icon was too small (and appears in the lower left area of the screen), but it was there and it was accurate! But, as I mentioned, generalized traffic info is not displayed on the navigation screen.
MapQuest, like its counterpart on the Internet, is based on Navteq maps. Navteq offers excellent, highly-accurate maps in the U.S. The route selection in MapQuest navigator seems to be excellent, clearly playing on MapQuest’s long history in this field, but MapQuest Navigator only displays minimal information on the screen while navigating. I found myself wanting to know the names of cross-streets, for example, but they were rarely displayed.
That said, you can show the overall route on the map and show the list of steps as well. You can also view the list of traffic events along your path. MapQuest’s app description lists the ability to modify the route to accommodate traffic, but it appears that that is an automatic function rather than a configurable one.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that MapQuest obtained a GPS lock in a very reasonable time frame. Although this process can also be heavily affected by weather conditions, in general, MapQuest did a nice job getting that initial GPS lock. The application seems to be capable of estimating your current location using your cell-phone signal as well – an excellent addition for when you may not have a clear view of the sky.
The single biggest problem I had with this application was that it had a strong tendency to crash – especially when I did things like access the menu, or click on a POI category. I followed all the normal recommendations, like resetting the iPhone, but the crashes persisted. MapQuest needs to get on the ball and correct this problem very quickly.
MapQuest recovered my route very well when I exited the program then re-entered the program. It asked if I wanted to continue the route, then it proceeded to do just that.
I initially thought there were no customization features, but there are a couple – like choosing whether or not to route over toll roads, or whether or not to automatically load traffic data when the program starts. Although these options are few, they can be found i the iPhone’s settings area, NOT within the application itself.
What I liked: I liked the quick GPS lock a lot. I also like that, although the feature set it limited, you eventually discover that there’s a little more to the application than appears on the surface.
What Needs Improvement: The thin feature set needs to be expanded upon (along with the customizability), but the most important thing is for MapQuest to fix whatever is causing the application to crash so easily! The crashing makes this competent, albeit limited navigation application almost unusable.
Overall: MapQuest is a decent, competent navigator, but not very exciting. You will discover more things about it as you continue to use it, though. Even so, it may still be a bit overpriced when you consider its limited feature-set and customization options. I think there are currently better, more cost-effective and feature-rich options out there. MapQuest has the name, but really needs to expand on the core of this product a bit. Route saving/loading, waypoints, and more comprehensive customizable routing options would all make this application much more appealing.
MapQuest Navigator is available at the AppStore for $3.99 (includes 30 days of service) You may also purchase 90 days of service for $9.99 or 1 year of service for $29.99.