- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You’ve already spent $199 or $299 to buy a 16- or 32-gigabyte Apple Inc. iPhone 3Gs. Now, here’s a question: Should you spend an equal, or greater, amount to buy a stand-alone GPS for your car, or should you add a $90 program to do the same thing on the aforementioned iPhone?

I’m voting for the iPhone with the new Navigon MobileNavigator software. The screen display is impressive, the voice commands are good, and the traffic data are superb. If you don’t have a Global Positioning System (GPS) in your car, or if you want to avoid the $10 or so daily rental charges in other cities, this solution can repay your investment many times over.

Some caveats: First, you really will want to get a dash- or window-mounting cradle for the iPhone, and that will set you back $30 to $40. The cradle not only frees your hands, it also keeps the iPhone in an optimal position for the GPS signal. Second, you will want a charging cable for the device because navigation will take a fair amount of battery power. Third, carefully consider the 3.5-inch iPhone display: It’s more than adequate for most GPS functions (and users), but if you want or need a bigger view of things, you should get a stand-alone device.

That said, the Navigon MobileNavigator lives up to its billing. It is a “mobile navigator” that will tell you where to go every step of the way in clear language and with a truly realistic display of the road. Almost nothing is left to the imagination. You see road signs; turns are clearly indicated and announced; and the software even warns you if you are exceeding the speed limit. It won’t spot traffic lights or speed cameras, but the warnings are helpful enough.

Navigon, a German firm established in 1991, is well-known for its mapping and GPS applications; the firm’s products are used in stand-alone GPS devices and other systems. The MobileNavigator brings the detail of a GPS system into the iPhone, which already has its own GPS capabilities. Unlike the Apple-supplied GPS software, itself quite good, however, the Navigon product is professional grade.

Entering an address is easy, and within a few clicks, you are ready to head off for a destination. A nondescript female voice will guide you and also issue a “Caution!” when you exceed the speed limit. The program can handle missed turns and redirect you.

Directions generally are good. Getting to a new-to-me restaurant in Baltimore was easy; on my return home, the Navigon software took me past my usual exit from Interstate 95 down a two-mile “detour” that, though accomplishing the objective, seemed a bit out of the way.

The screen display is, as mentioned, realism at its best. What you see really looks like an interactive map of traffic. Something called Lane Assist highlights the lanes you should be using, and the turn-by-turn instructions tell you to “go right on Main Street” with enough time to actually do that.

One of the most appealing ideas of this product is that you can pocket your iPhone, the cradle and the charger cord; get on an airplane in Washington; get off in Seattle; set up the unit in your rental car; and be ready to navigate to your hotel. If you buy the similar Navigon products for Europe, Australia, South Africa or Russia, you can, presumably, do the same thing in those locations.

The product should interact well with the iPhone’s other features. I’ve not yet taken a call while navigating, so the promised automatic switching between phone call and GPS software hasn’t yet demonstrated itself. Connected to a car stereo, the MobileNavigator is supposed to send its voice announcements through your speakers, but that also hasn’t happened.

Next month, Navigon says it will begin relaying real-time traffic information to MobileNavigator users who pay $25 a year for the add-on. Heavy commuters or business travelers will want that feature. The rest of us might just enjoy having a GPS that fits North America in our shirt pockets.

E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com.

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