Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review of GPS Apps for the iPhone 3G

Maps
Free and pre-installed with the iPhone 3G
This is the basic GPS app that comes installed with the iPhone 3G. It is useful if you are connected (or online) to search for a destination and can plot a route plot a route there. It will cache (or put viewed portions of that map into temporary storage) so that you can still navigate to your destination if you go offline. The downside is that there is no ‘heading up’ display. The display is ‘North up’, which means that North is always displayed at the top of the iPhone. Not a big deal, I just rotate the iPhone to keep myself orientated.

MotionX GPS v 4.1
$2.99 at the App Store
This is perhaps the slickest looking GPS App out there for the iPhone, and it is the only paid app in this review. MotionX GPS allows you to plot, store and review tracks. I’ve been using this program for a few months now, and MotionX continues to improve the functionality of this app. The latest version (v4.1) allows maps (OpenStreetMap) to be cached, and hence allows increased functionality. However, while I’ll admit that I’m still new to OpenStreetMaps, I just don’t find the current OpenStreetMaps to be all that useful.


xGPS 1.2.0
Free, but for Jailbroken iPhones only

xGPS is currently the only app that will allow you to download Google Maps onto your iPhone using its own free program called xGPS Manager (available for Windows, Mac and Linux OS). Although the documentation is scant, the process is straightforward. I downloaded the Google maps for my upcoming bicycle tour of Vietnam easily and transferred them onto my iPhone quite painlessly.

This app will allow you to use those stored maps for navigation. While you are online, you can search out destinations and store them as routes that you can call upon when you are offline for navigation. xGPS also allows ‘heading up’ navigation, which means that the map will automatically align itself to the direction of travel. The kicker: xGPS v1.2.0 also has turn-by-turn voice navigation.

xGPS is a little rough around the edges, but it is also currently the single most useful GPS app out there. With the iPhone 3.0 firmware update just around the corner, if there is still a reason to jailbreak your iPhone, xGPS is it.

2 comments:

The Camera Fanatic said...

Great blog.

I own both the Nuvi 660 and the 760, I'm writing this review for people having trouble deciding between the two as the price difference between the two products at the time of this review is about 100 dollars. I'm not going to focus on the feature differences, as that information can be easily obtained from specifications and online reviews. The 660 was a fine product back in 2005-2006, but the new 760 outdoes the 660 in practically everything, but there are some key usability fixes that make the 760 a better buy for the frequent user.

http://tinyurl.com/gnuvi760

1. 760 has much better fonts for street names than the 660. This may seem like a trivial update to some, but the 760's fonts greatly improve visibility. The 660 uses all capitalized text for street names on the map, and the font is incredibly cartoonish and unaligned, something like the scribbling Comic Sans font on the PC. The 760 uses your standard Verdana-like font with street names in capitalized and lowercase letters. The fonts on the 760 are smaller, cleaner and surprisingly much easier to read while driving. The maps end up looking professional, and not some cartoony children's video game.

2. 760 has better rendering in 3D map mode than the 660. In the 660 when you are zoomed in under 3D map mode, the roads close to your car are displayed incredibly large, so large that they run into other roads, making the zoom function essentially kind of useless for dense roads. The 760 does not oversize your roads just because you zoomed in to view smaller roads in detail. This fix is very nice for those who drive in places with dense roadways, like New York City.

3. No antenna on the 760 makes hooking up your Nuvi to the cradle one step easier. On the 660 you need to flip up the antenna before attaching the cradle. For people who park their cars on the street overnight, removing the GPS from the cradle for storage in the console or glove compartment is a must, and it's a lot easier hooking up the 760 to the cradle than the 660. It's hard to aim the 660 to its cradle in the dark as you have to align both the bottom edge and the charge port under the antenna. In the 760, the charge port is directly on the bottom of the unit; you can attach it to the cradle with one hand in the dark easily on the 760.

4. It takes the 660 a good 45 seconds on average (sometimes longer than 2 minutes) after boot up to locate the satellite on a cold start. If you have firmware 2.6 installed on the 760, the satellite acquisition time after boot up is between 10-20 seconds. After the firmware update, my 760 also holds a stronger lock to the satellites than my 660, I can get satellite lock inside my house with the 760, whereas I can't get a lock with my 660 (adjusting the antenna does very little).

5. The ability to set multiple ad hoc viapoints on the 760 means it's a lot easier creating alternate routes (very handy to avoid a specific interstate or a high traffic road). Whereas the 660 gives you just one viapoint.

UPDATE: This GPS is currently on sale at Amazon… now is your chance to buy one, if you haven’t already. You can find the product page here:

http://tinyurl.com/gnuvi760

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