Two weeks ago NavMii, the company that makes The Navfree USA GPS app for the iPhone released version 1.7. The update was awful and frankly unusable since it was so slow and buggy. To NavMii’s credit however they added right in the description of the app a warning not to download it. I did anyway, and true to their word the app was unusable.
So last week Navmii releases 1.7.1 and I must say it’s light years better than the previous version. It loads and works…well sort of.
It’s still free. That’s good. It still uses the OpenStreetMap database for roads, that’s good too. Navmii slipped on one thing however. The app now uses data. It’s a small amount from what I can tell and it is directly related to the advertisements embedded into the application. Navmii decided that they needed to make a little cash and added an iAd to the top or bottom of the screen depending on where you are in the application. The good news is that once you start moving the ad seems to go away. Otherwise the Pros from before stand with the app.
- The map is dead on. My 5 year old Tom Tom has had three map updates since I got it. Interestingly enough the maps for my local area aren’t as accurate after three updates as they were originally. The maps in Navfree are current with the exception of an intersection that changed when a road was rerouted due to a construction project about six months ago, so I logged into my OSM account and corrected it. Also several changes I made to the OSM data months ago are represented as well while Google maps and even county data remains incorrect. This version incorporates all the changes I made to OpenStreetMap shortly after reviewing the app the first time. Road edits are displayed correctly as well as road type data. No longer does the app route you through neighborhood streets when a more traveled and quicker route exists.
- Unlike on the Tom Tom, the map goes from daylight colors to night colors automatically and it’s pretty close to the actual setting of the sun give or take 15 minutes.
- The map zooms out when you are going fast so you can see more of the road ahead, you slow down the map zooms in.
- It does in fact use no data while traveling. This is a bonus for some one with a limited data package.
- Recalcs are fast. Faster than on the Tom Tom and GPS satellite acquisition is faster than the Tom Tom.
- If you are playing music on the iPhone while the app is running the music will fade in and out as the directions are spoken.
- The interface has a utility for reporting issues with the map data, so the end user can help to fix inaccurate areas.
The Cons are the same as well with the noted exceptions.
- Many addresses are not in the database, forcing you to place a marker on the map for your destination. This should get better over time once they start geocoding the address ranges. The address search function is a little clunky though as it requires you to enter the state first, then city, street, and number before you can search for an address. The good news is that it works compared to version 1.6
- The menu’s are not easy enough to use while driving down the road. The menu structure is also not as intuitive as on standalone GPS devices, making it difficult to use on the road. Navmii made some changes to the menu’s in this release and it’s a little easier to do some things that was difficult before.
- Setting a destination is difficult and somewhat clunky compared to competing products. May be a result of the address database, but navigating to a cross street is difficult as well.
- Route planning: The roads database is not configured correctly and sometimes the application confuses fastest with shortest route, taking you down two lane roads in a city rather than staying to 4 lane roads with fewer lights and stops. With 1.7.1 the updates I made in the open street map project made this better, but if you are going into a new area you might not have a friendly soul editing the streets for you. before you get there, and those same changes may not be in your version. So it’s still a work in progress on this item.
- In town Turn by Turn voice instructions became annoying however since it reminds you more often than the Tom Tom. Also the short directions, like “Turn Left” faded in too slowly so all you hear is “Left” or nothing at all. But by the time it’s using the short one you’ve heard it twice already.
- Map accuracy can be an issue since the application relies on crowd sourced data, so if an area hasn’t been given any attention by one the contributors you’ll end up with nothing at all for that section of the map. During a quick review of the I-20 corridor between Columbia and Florence I noticed a few subdivisions that weren’t mapped.
- Charging – This program really drains the battery fast. It’s recommended you have the phone on a car charger while this app is running. In fact, if your phone has less than a full charge it will not charge at all while the app is running, but remain at the same level.
- In my brief testing the app was slow to update your position on the map, frequently taking as much as 30 seconds to recognize that I made the turn it requested a few moments before. Once on a straightaway the position lagged a few hundred feet as well. Navmii needs to have the app do a better job of tracking the cars current position, or navigating in a crowded area will be impossible and confusing since the driver won’t know which road to take in relation to the one they are on, not the one that Navfree says they are still on.
In summary, this is still a great iPhone application because it’s free, data is stored locally (With one exception), and it will work as a very coarse navigation system. It will get you into the area you want to go, and for long distances that’s a great utility. It’s still lacking as a door to door solution however, but it bears watching closely and it still a good thing to have in a pinch if you find that your GPS unit is in the other car.