GPS navigation using mobile phones and smartphones is nothing new, but Apple's popular iPhone has made it much more common. With its built-in GPS receiver and a dedicated GPS navigation app, an iPhone can be used as a handy portable navigation unit.
With the inclusion of text-to-speech, traffic information, music and advanced routing features, the iPhone has taken a bite out of the dedicated GPS device market.
Presently, there are five GPS navigation applications available in the iPhone app store: TomTom, Navigon, Sygic, CoPilot and NDrive. But which is best for your needs and what features do they each offer? We've ranked the apps from our least favourite to the one that currently offers the most refined navigation experience in our view.
Pros: Uses iPhone gestures, clear and straightforward map screen, 3D landmarks, pedestrian and adventure navigation modes
Cons: Erratic GPS performance, audio isn't loud enough, voice guidance is below average, no text-to-speech, lack of customisation options, interface lacks visual appeal
Ndrive offers detailed maps and a straightforward user interface. Unfortunately, its lack of features and a sub-par interface mean it fails to impress. Erratic GPS performance, low volume, below average voice guidance and lack of text-to-speech mean you should give this app a miss, despite the relatively low price. It does have some useful inclusions, such as a speed limit alarm, 3D landmarks, speed and red light camera warnings, and the ability to create, edit and organise favourite locations. It also has both pedestrian and adventure navigation modes — the latter provides a number of navigation options aside from regular roads, including walking, four wheel drive tracks and boat navigation. We can only hope that many of its limitations will be corrected by future software updates. As it stands the NDrive Australia GPS iPhone app is clearly lagging behind the competition, however.
CoPilot Live Australia & New Zealand
Price: $59.99 Pros: Excellent UI and map screen, decent range of POI's
Cons: Erratic GPS performance, basic features such as text-to-speech cost extra
ALK Technologies' CoPilot Live 8 for iPhone app has an excellent user interface and a great map screen, but erratic GPS performance and a few missing features hinder its appeal. The UI is one of the best features of this GPS app. Unfortunately, you have to pay extra for basic features like text-to-speech — something that most of the competitors offer for free. If future software updates correct its current issues, this GPS app has the potential to be one of the best available for the iPhone.
Sygic Mobile Maps Australia & New Zealand
Pros: Easy to use, simple interface, Australian and NZ maps, quick GPS fix, extensive customisation options
Cons: UI isn't as visually appealing as alternatives, custom keyboard
Sygic's Mobile Maps was the first dedicated GPS navigation app to appear in the iPhone app store and it's undergone a number of critical software updates since its release. Though it may not look as smooth or slick as the apps from TomTom and Navigon, Sygic's app has a huge range of customisable options including the ability to set speed limit warnings, edit safety cameras and add your own POIs. The interface is a weak point; there is minimal support for iPhone gestures and GPS accuracy could also be improved. Perhaps the best thing about this app is Sygic itself — with a motto of "we listen" the company has responded to customer feedback, resulting in a number of critical software updates and new features.
Navigon MobileNavigator Australia
Pros: Straightforward and simple UI, well designed map display, minimal GPS lag, Lane Assistance and Reality View
Cons: Limited settings and customisation options, basic POIs
Navigon's MobileNavigator Australia lacks advanced features and customisation options compared to other apps, but the general navigational experience is solid — especially on freeways and highways. This app is far from perfect, but it's well designed and will continue to improve with software updates. We found its iPod integration to be the best of all the GPS apps and the map screen, despite looking quite basic, is functional and easy to read. It has a slightly smaller range of POIs to choose from compared to the TomTom app, but the overall experience makes it a good purchase — especially at this price.
Pros: Excellent UI, wide range of POIs (points of interest), IQ Routes, text-to-speech, safety alerts
Cons: Maps not as up-to-date as dedicated GPS units, lacks some customisation options, expensive
Had we penned this piece a couple of months ago, TomTom's Australia iPhone app would have been languishing in third place. It recently received a critical software update, however, which added text-to-speech, iPod functionality and other features. The user interface, map display and navigation voices are superb and clearly a cut above the rest. Of the POIs that we searched for, we found that TomTom had the broadest range out of these iPhone apps — most of the competitors fell short in this area. The TomTom app is let down slightly by outdated maps compared to the company's portable GPS range, and it lacks some of the options of the Sygic app. It works best when paired with the TomTom car kit.