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App Review: Where To? – GPS Points of Interest by FutureTap

August 24, 2009 by Rob  
Filed under Daily App Reviews, Navigation, Utility

Ever been out and wondered what was around you? Ever looked for an easy selection of nearby Mexican restaurants? Need to find a park or post office close by? Well, Where To? GPS Points of Interest by FutureTap answers these questions in a nice and elegant way. I’ve been using Where To? now for a few days and found the app to be well polished, full of data and very easy to use.

When you start the app you are presented with a dial of symbols. Each symbol is for a different type of POI (point of interest) that may be near you. Touch it and you are given a list to help narrow the search results. So, for example, if you touch ‘restaurants’ on the dial, the next screen will give you a list of different types of restaurants (eg: Mexican, Italian, etc). Once you select the type then you are taken to a Google map that plots everything that matches the criteria that is around you.

whereto3 200x300 App Review: Where To?   GPS Points of Interest by FutureTapwhereto4 200x300 App Review: Where To?   GPS Points of Interest by FutureTap

In our area, Salt Lake City to Provo, UT, we found that the app worked pretty well. Everything we searched for was plotted on the map and as we cross referenced that with what we knew to be out there it had all the results (and then some) of what we were expecting. However, it seems as though the app is picking up too many results. When I searched under Attractions > Zoos the app also listed the morning radio station “Z-Morning Zoo on ZHT 94.9FM.”  This was pretty common, to get results that didn’t quite match the intended search.  It would appear as though the app is searching for anything with “zoo” in the title.  This behavior was present for nearly every search that we did.

We also ran the same searches within the Maps application, since afterall, the Google Maps app can pinpoint points of interest around you as well. The two results were very similar except the Google Maps app would not give the “extra” results, just what one would expect. This lead us to conclude that Where To? doesn’t offer much over the already included Maps app other than a nicer, easier to use user interface.

The price as tested was $0.99.  However, according to the listing that is on sale from $2.99.  So my recommendation is that if you’re used to using the Maps app than stick with it but if you like nice user interfaces then at $0.99 you can’t go wrong.  However, we don’t feel the app is worth it’s regular $2.99 price tag since you already have this functionality on your device.

Tips

  1. The app by default uses your current location and plots POI’s around you.  If you want to find POI’s in a different location: search for a POI around you > go to the maps > then use the search icon at the top.  Enter your new location (Say, Boston, MA). The map will now show you POI’s around Boston.  To go back home, touch the GPS location button.
  2. You may want to experiment between the Maps application and Where To? to find which one has the results that you trust the most, and then use that app going forward.
  3. Holding your finger on the dial will allow you to read what each symbol means.

Developer’s Website: http://www.futuretap.com/home/whereto-en/

TomTom for U.S. and Canada Hits the App Store

August 17, 2009 by Rob  
Filed under App News, News, Tips and How-To's

tomtom 208x300 TomTom for U.S. and Canada Hits the App StoreThe much anticipated TomTom GPS Navigation app hit the iTunes App Store over the weekend.  Nearly every other navigation company has already released their GPS app for the iPhone and we’ve been anticipating TomTom’s release for some time.  TomTom was originally profiled in the WWDC 2009 keynote address and has been heavily covered by rumor sites and other media outlets.

If you’ve been anticipating the release of TomTom your time has come.  TomTom for iPhone will set you back $99.99 in the App Store.  Along with it’s original debut was a car mount / dock for your device.  The dock includes an enhanced GPS receiver for better, faster GPS signal reception, charger for your device, better speaker for turn by turn commands and hands free speaker phone.  There is still no word on when the dock / mount will be available.

At $99.99 TomTom is one of the more expensive turn by turn navigation apps currently in the app store.  However, with TomTom’s reputation in this space we’re sure they will do well.  Combine the app with the still anticipated car mount / dock and you’ve got a premium solution.  However, we’re still waiting to hear pricing on the car mount.  You’ll need to decide whether the combined app price, mount price and convenience of using your phone for a GPS is really worth it – or should you just get a standalone GPS (my money is on the latter).  Either way, the commercial below sure makes it all enticing…

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. p 480 320 97154020 e77f 48e7 ac72 e59b07763cb9 200x300 App Review: G Map U.S. West by X Road Co. 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. p 480 320 457489d7 fda6 41ca a428 f0d0811f017f 200x300 App Review: G Map U.S. West by X Road Co. 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.”

Summary:

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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

App Review: MotionX GPS by MotionX

Once in a while we have an opportunity to spend some time with a really cool app and for the past few day’s I’ve been checking out MotionX-GPS by MotionX.  Like every other tech or gadget junkie out there, GPS falls right in, and so does this app.  However, you definitely don’t need to be a techy person to use MotionX GPS, in fact the app is developed with the active, outdoorsman in mind.  So, if you are a biker, walker, jogger, hiker, sailor or do pretty much anything outdoors, then keep reading.

p 480 320 933f1f25 3dfc 4dd3 aeef ab71476ae668 200x300 App Review: MotionX GPS by MotionX

When you launch the application it will immediately start to try and get a lock on GPS satellites.  Now, remember this, MotionX GPS is a GPS application that utilizes the iPhones location services and as such requires the ability to lock onto the necessary satellite signals.  So if you are indoors you may find that the GPS satellite signal is weak or even non-existent, so go outside.  We never once had a problem getting a good satellite lock indoors or out, even on rainy days, but your mileage may vary based on obstructions in your area.

MotionX GPS has many functions that you would find in a typical handheld GPS unit.  Some of these functions include GPS readout, Stopwatch, Track Record, Waypoints, Compass and Navigation.  Your typical GPS readout screen is just that, it shows you your latitude and longitude as well as altitude.  This screen is also where you can see your GPS signal strength and if you’ve previously set a waypoint, then it shows distance and bearing to the waypoint.

Stopwatch, one of the more useful functions, is for when you are about to start your run, or hike or walk and want to track various aspects of it, such as plotting it on a map, measuing your time and distance and more.   To get started, touch Start then as you go MotionX GPS will track where you go, distance travelled, max speed, average speed and elapsed time.  This is useful for runners or bikers during training or for anyone wanting to know how long it takes and speed measurements to travel some distance and then also to see it plotted on a map.

p 480 320 815d4a65 630c 459d 8036 3e32bd907d53 200x300 App Review: MotionX GPS by MotionX

Waypoints is the ability to find a distant point (waypoint) on a map, then allows you to mark that point on the map.  Now, using the GPS unit, you can navigate your way to that point.  Using the Compass it will show you the direction to the waypoint and you can also see the distance to it.  This function is usefull for Geocaching or finding your way to a distant point where roads and other obvious markers wouldn’t help.  You can enter a waypoint by double tapping on a map, entering lat and long, or entering range and bearing.

Our one complaint with MotionX GPS is that it does require a cellular signal in order to download maps from either MotionX or Google. In short, there is no offline maps for those looking to go into the backcountry where cell signals are non-existent.  So if this is you then you’ll want to pass on this version of the app, hopefully a future version will have the ability to download maps to the device and remove this limitation. UPDATE:  Thanks to MM in the comments we were put on to the fact that MotionX GPS allows for map caching.  Using this feature you can, theoretically, pre-cache maps into the app for use when no cell signal is available.  We didn’t fully test this but I did play with it for a few minutes and it does appear to cache maps locally.  However, the one major problem I have with this method is that you must pre-navigate the area in which you want cached maps for (a similar shortcoming to oMaps that we reviewed earlier).  If you don’t pre-browse the area then there will be no maps for it.  Also, Google maps are not available offline since their T&C’s do not permit caching.

In all I found that the app worked extremely well.  In fact, I was a little hesitant based on some of the bad reviews in the App Store, most of which complained about no GPS signal (see warning above).  We did not experience any such issues while runnig this app on an iPhone 3GS either sitting in my living room our outside on rainy days.  It simply just worked.  Something else to be aware of when running this app: you’re running it on a phone – not a true GPS device.  So some of the built-in features of a phone can also limit the functionality of the app, specifically auto-lock.  Once your phone locks this app is suspended by the iPhone OS and will stop tracking.  To overcome this limitation MotionX added their own application lock.  Enabling this disables the auto-lock of the phone and allows you to keep the app running for longer periods.  However, beware, the app is a bit of a battery hog.

p 480 320 f01d6e66 973f 419e 9cd4 c4e5ce081771 200x300 App Review: MotionX GPS by MotionX

If your the outdoorsy type and stay within a cell signal then this app is a must.  If you’re just like me and must own everything that is techy, then the $2.99 is also an easy spend for such a usefull application.  The rest of you that are just looking to play with GPS may find the lite version is sufficient.

The lite version is free.

MotionX GPS Website. Checkout several videos here.

App Review: SpeedoCheck by Fabulicious Inc.

June 24, 2009 by Rob  
Filed under Daily App Reviews, Navigation, Utility

Tonight I gave myself a few minutes to take this app for a drive and check out its accuracy.  Basically, this app uses GPS to calculate your current speed, then display it using a number of different analog readouts.  There’s also a digital readout which you can change the color on, if you choose to go that way.

speedocheck 2 300x225 App Review: SpeedoCheck by Fabulicious Inc.

Other than using your iPhone to check your speed, something that I’m sure your speedometer will already be showing you, this app does have another useful feature: speed warning.  Basically, the premise here is that you set the app to warn you once you cross a certain speed.  Kind of like keeping you honest on your commute, providing you actually get the chance to speed during your congested commute.

Another function of the app, which would work well if the screen was brighter, is the HUD mode or “Heads Up Display.”  Enabling this mode causes the display on the iPhone to be mirrored.  You then place the phone on your dashboard and you should be able to see the reflection of the display on the windshield.  There’s only one problem, if it isn’t dark outside this mode is useless.  Also, we found that even with the headlights on it was also too bright (outside) to really see the reflection.  We could position the phone to get a good reflection, but it just wasn’t practical.  However, had the iPhone had a brighter display this may have likely worked a lot better.

We found the app to be exactly accurate for showing us our current speed.  However, since the app has to calculate your speed based on GPS points, it will lag behind during periods of accelleration or deceleration. Once your speed is steady the app will be accurate in its speed calculation.

SpeedoCheck is $2.99 in the iTunes App Store.

Developer Website: http://fabulicio.us

Note: Screen shots that look backwards or mirrored were taken while the app was in HUD mode for reflecting the display on the windshield.

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