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FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

The first crop of GPS navigation applications are starting to appear in the Apps Store.  AT&T’s version will run you $10/month, which is a little rich for my tastes, especially when I consider how much I’m paying them for my cell/data access.  So when I ran into the free Navigon app, I was interested in comparing it to my current GPS, a Mio 520C.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

So the first thing to note is that the icon is clearly labeled “Lite”.  This is because this version does no dynamic routing.  It’s basically intended to be a proof of concept to familiarize potential users with the interface and capabilities before Navigon asks them to shell out serious coin for the full version.  And I’m sure that these apps will not be cheap, btw.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

Above is the boot screen for the app.  I’ll be frank – it takes a WHILE to boot.  And this is without the routing logic being loaded.  I have an iPhone 3G, so memory is definately at a premium.  On average, from launch of the app to clear the above screen ran about a minute and a half or more, sometimes entering into the 3 minute range.  And that’s just to boot to the main screen – GPS lock-on could take another one to five minutes beyond that.  Considering that my Mio can get GPS lock from cold boot in about 3 to 4 minutes tops in the summertime, the Navigon app is way slow.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

The above screen shows the primary options in the main menu.  To choose a destination, just tap the first option.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

You can enter a ZIP code or a city name.  If you enter a ZIP, the app will have a lot less data to filter through.  This is important because of the Navigon’s next screen.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

Note the list of streets that are populated once you select a ZIP or city.  The smaller a universe you can provide, the faster it will perform.  My Mio does something similar, narrowing the universe as you type the street name.  Navigon’s approach allows you to scroll to an address, but I can see it getting out of hand if the list is really long (and entering a major city like Philadelphia will produce a LONG list).  I would have liked to have seen Navigon provide a quicknav list on the right a la the Contacts app so that I could quick jump to a letter of the alphabet.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

The above screen shows how Navigon allows you to select an intersection.  I thought this was pretty useful – my Mio’s intersection entry is annoying and very hit-or-miss.  This approach is much more intuitive and easier to identify a cross-street location.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

In the Lite version, you can see the destination and simulate the trip.  I assume that this is where the real version will allow you to confirm the endpoint and initiate routing.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

The above shows the app “calculating” a route and displaying progress in the 3D view.  I’m not sure how much dynamic re-routing will add to the memory footprint.  I’m also concerned about the speed of recalculation.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

This is the same route in 2D view.  Note the large number of POI references.    I’m using this in portrait mode, so the screen is rather compact and hard to read.  The landscape view would probably not be as tight and give better spacing.  I didn’t see a way to limit the POIs to only a specific set, but I’m sure that will be there in the final version.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

This is the night mode view in 2D.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

Here I’ve looked up a POI and had the app plot me  a route.  Note that you can change the route profile to modify the path taken.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

This is the map view in 2D mode.  I was viewing this while on the bus.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

Here’s the 3D version.  Yes, we actually are going 0 mph.  Traffic was a mess that day.

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

Hey we’re moving!

 FIRST LOOKS: Navigon Lite Navigation App for iPhone 3G/3GS

Widescreen view.  The widescreen view is much closer to my Mio’s interface and will probably be the default view when using this app.

Overall, the Navigon app is impressive.  But my concerns are really around its ability to dynamically route, which you can’t experience in the Lite version.  My 3G definately felt pushed to its limits by the app.  I was listening to music over a Bluetooth connection while using the app and I definately noticed more stuttering of the music stream.  I’m also curious how phone calls would be handled while the nav app is running.  Since the iPhone OS doesn’t allow multitasking, I wonder if the app continues to maintain a route when a phone call comes in.

All in all, I am intrigued by the app, but my concerns about performance would make me very hesitant to sink a large amount of funds into it.  If there was a way to actually try the full function app without paying full price, I would definately recommend that as the way to go.  The other concern I have about the app is its sheer size.  The Lite version is almost 2GB.  I don’t know how much of the full map universe is in the app, or how much the dynamic routing functionality will add to that size, but it took a good 10 minutes or more to sync my iPhone to install this app.  Owners of 8GB iPhones are not going to be happy.

Any 3GS owners out there wanna comment on their performance?  I’d really like to know if it will be a big improvement on the faster hardware.

UPDATE:  Since this post was released, the Navigon app has gone live.  For a limited time, it’s $70 in the iTunes store.  iLounge has a very thorough review of it, which I highly recommend you read if you’re even remotely thinking about buying this app.  They give it a “C”, which matches my impressions based on the Lite version.  Also, there are some screen changes that I did not encounter in the Lite version.

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