App Review: G-Map U.S. West by X-Road Co.
When Apple unleashed iPhone OS 3.0 upon the world, they opened the doors for a genre of applications that people have been longing for – turn-by-turn GPS navigation with voice guidance. The up-and-coming TomTom for iPhone GPS application was even featured during Apple’s WWDC keynote address [not yet available], a stark indication that GPS navigation was imminent. Since the launch of the new operating system, we’ve seen announcements from several navigation companies. Even AT&T jumped in the game with their own turn-by-turn GPS application [iTunes].
Many of these GPS app developers have chosen a pricing model based on a monthly subscription. For example, AT&T’s navigator app is free, but you’ll have to pay for it every month. AT&T will add $9.99 per month onto your cell phone bill. Other developers like Sygic, and their Mobile Maps America North [iTunes], are charging a steep $79.99 for their app. Given that map updates are not cheap, and that you would typically pay $100.00+ for such updates on a dedicated GPS unit, it’s no wonder that these apps are a touch expensive. Enter G-Map by X-Road. G-Map has been available in the App Store for some time now, and while turn-by-turn navigation wasn’t officially possible until iPhone OS 3.0, G-Map had a version that came really close to it. Since its release, G-Map has been updated multiple times. Their last iteration, version 1.3.1, now offers what you know you already want at a very modest price.
I was provided a beta version of G-Map US West about a week or so ago and started using it right away. Everywhere I went I fired up the app, put in my destination address, and touched the “Go” button. Within seconds, the app would start speaking to me, giving me step by step directions to my destination. I really only found one problem with the app. Occasionally, the app would put my location on a frontage road and start giving me directions from that point when in actuality, I was on the highway. However, I found that if I waited for about 1/4 of a mile, the app would correct itself and put my location in the proper place. When I reported this problem to X-Road, they promptly provided me with the latest update. With this update in place, the problem still exists, but to a lesser extent. G-Map seems to get my location correct much more often now.
Once you launch the app, you are met with a nag-screen reminding you not to use the app while driving a car. So, being the obedient driver that I am (not), I turned my phone over to my wife. We were both a little confused at first on how you enter an address. You start with the city, then the road, and work your way down to a specific house number. This approach seemed a little backwards at first. However, now that I’m used to it, it actually works quite well. Since I’m almost always going somewhere in the same city, that part stays selected. I just have to choose a street, enter the house number, and touch “Go.”
Searching by address is not the only way to enter a destination, though. There are many ways to find your destination. You can also find destinations by Zip Code, City Name, GPS Coordinates (lat, long), Emergency (like nearby hospitals), Point of Interest (POI) – which includes things like fuel, parking, food, lodging, banks, etc. and more. I found that the one method for identifying a destination that was lacking might be the ability to touch on a map and say, ‘take me there.’ Update: We received clarification from X-Road that G-Map does indeed have the ability to find a destination via a map. Using the Map view, scroll to your destination, double tap the map and you should get an address, then touch “Go.” While this wasn’t clear at first, I’ve tried it and it does work. Whatever your destination, G-Map will find it and plot your route on the map.
Now that you have your destination entered, things start to get interesting. Once you touch the “Go” button, you are presented with a map view of your route. There are three different map views to choose from. The first view is looking straight down on the map (a la google maps type of view). Second is a 3D view where the map is tilted and you can see the horizon. This view is my personal favorite. The third view is a higher up view that gives you more of your route on the screen. However, it lacks the detail on turns and such that the other two views provide. This view is good for getting a look at the bigger picture, though. The rest of this review will assume you are in 3D mode since we found that view the most useful and pleasing to the eye. On the map view there are a few key pieces of information, in addition to your route, displayed on the map. These pieces of information include: the name of the street you are currently on, the name of the street that you will turn on prominently displayed at the top of the screen, and an indicator in the corner of the screen that shows your next change of direction and the distance to that change. So, for example, if you have a right-hand turn coming up in 0.5 miles, there will be a small image of a right-hand turn in the box, and below the picture it will say 0.5mi. This feature is very handy in anticipating what actions you need to take as a driver to stay on course.
Also on the map (route) view there is a preview button. The preview allows you to walk through your trip before you actually make the trip. When you touch the preview button, the app will “play” through the route that it plotted to your destination following all the voice commands and turns that you would have if you actually drove it. This preview can be handy in navigating a strange city or if you want to get a sense or feel for what lies ahead [We've got a video of this pending. Once our MacBook comes back from being serviced, we'll post it on YouTube].
G-Map U.S. West has many more options and features. It allows you to do things like choosing between the fastest route or the shortest route distance wise, and telling the app to avoid things such as toll roads, highways or carpool lanes. There are even night and daytime map views (see pics) that you can configure in the setup. In the setup, you can also adjust things like the map colors, what points of interest you’d like to see on the map (ie: removing the ones you don’t want to see), and changing the units used to measure distance between miles and kilometers.
This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the voice guidance feature of G-Map. Providing you remember to turn off your mute button and turn up the volume, the voice guidance of the app is actually superbly done. The voice is female, not too “robotic” sounding, and pleasing to listen to. The timing of the voice prompts are great as well. They give you appropriate warnings at 2 miles, 1 mile, 0.5 miles, 0.2 miles and imminent action intervals. So, for example, you will get a warning such as: “In two miles turn right.” Then once you get down to the actual turn, there is sort of a ping sound, and the voice will say “turn right.”
I’ve been using the app now for about a week. I am getting pretty comfortable with its limits and capabilities. I’ll have to admit, with it’s low entry price of $34.99 (far below all the competitors), I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, the app is very well done and very polished. Aside from the one glitch I mentioned above [See correction above], the app performed flawlessly here in the Salt Lake City area. While I have not yet spent time with some of the other navigation GPS apps currently offered, I can say that G-Map is an easy recommendation. I am not aware of any other app that can offer the same features at a similar price.
- Great entry price point for a voice assisted navigation app on the iPhone.
- Clear and easy to understand voice directions.
- Easy user interface.
- Great map views.
- Does not require a data connection to get maps. It will get you to the Grand Canyon even if there’s no cell coverage.
- 824mb download. So it requires a lot of space on your device.
- A couple of glitches here and there on GPS location.
- No real time traffic.
G-Map Tips: When entering the address for your destination you will find that the app gives a list of addresses after you enter the street name. If the address you’re looking for isn’t in the list, you can simply type the house number and G-Map will use that instead. If you’re alone in the car, set your destination prior to setting out for your destination (as with any navigation app). Get a dashboard or windshield holder for your phone so that it’s easy to glance at, rather than constantly holding or fumbling for it.
G-Map comes in multiple versions, depending on your location. You will want to download the one best suited to your area of the country:
Developer’s Website: http://www.xroadgps.com/Maps/GMapforiPhone/tabid/2463/Default.aspx