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Up until very recently, I was using a Garmin Nuvi 765T as my GPS, and it performed pretty well. It was sometimes slow on showing maps, and occasionally rebooted spontaneously, but for the most part was pretty reliable. I didn't like that the traffic data came via radio and was largely unavailable outside of large cities.  When I upgraded to an iPhone 4 from my iPhone 3, i picked up the Navigon GPS app. I started trying it out at the same time as my Garmin, and it seemed to work just as well. So I put the Garmin in my wife's car – she prefers it to an app.

I drove to a friend's house in Pennsylvania for a game convention over the weekend.  In spite of the fact that I had it set to "Forbid" toll roads, it put me on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, although not as soon as it could have, so I suppose the app was avoiding it – but I thought that's what the "Avoid" setting would be for. I was surprised, because Navigon routed me completely around the Ohio Turnpike, and I knew there were plenty of other roads to my friend's house from glancing at the map earlier. But at 65 MPH I was pretty much stuck – it was go on the Turnpike or go off on some other road (the road I was on ended there).

So even though I'm a cheapskate (I have a problem paying to drive on roads I've already paid for via my tax dollars, and any Interstate fits that bill) I decided better to take the Navigon's preferred route (it was just me in the car, so no one to help navigate).

The next direction was to turn onto some road in 10-some miles. Imagine my surprise when, in around 9.5 miles, an exit appeared, but I wasn't told to take it. I figured there must be another exit shortly thereafter for me to take. Surprise! Exits in the stretch I was on are around 20 miles apart, and that *was* my exit. So I got to drive another 20 miles and still was never prompted to exit!

Navigon – the whole *point* of a GPS is to tell me where to turn, especially when I'm in unfamiliar territory, not to make me guess! Yes, the proper line was shown on the screen, but I didn't have a chance to look at the screen until I missed the exit (it wasn't really clear I was supposed to take the exit on the map until I had passed it). All those units warn you too against staring at the screen, because you need to keep your eye on the road.

And before anyone comments on it – you're right, I am not blameless here – not at all. Until I started using GPS units, I used to pour over maps and plan out every turn. The last few trips I took I was just sort of glancing at them, and this trip I hardly looked at all. So shame on me for putting blind trust in the app. I need to back to Pennsylvania soon, and you can bet I intend to go back to planning it myself, with the Navigon as a reminder and live help for re-routing. 

That doesn't let Navigon off the hook. Exits on a freeway – especially a toll road – are something that should work! In addition, why was I even *on* a toll road?  I know the Navigon can get around them, because it took me home without getting me on the Turnpike. Why couldn't it get me there the same way?

I have reported this to Navigon on their site, but it didn't fall neatly into one of their categories, so I hope it gets to the right folks and gets fixed.

I was thinking of trying the TomTom app while it's on sale, but the version as of this writing (1.4.1) seems to have a terrible bug when using contacts that is sending people miles off-course instead of getting them to their destinations. So that's not an option.

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4 Responses to A Matter Of Trust

  1. Bob says:

    I’ve been using Navigon ever since Terry White gave it his blessing. It’s been great, but I’m not entirely happy with the last update. There is a definite lag between when you make a turn and the app telling you what to do next. If there is an immediate turn, you’re pretty much screwed.

    Other than that, it has worked flawlessly for me.

  2. Arrakian says:

    I have to admit, I don’t trust GPS apps. I know, the apps, as well as hardware GPS’ are both software driven. I like having a dedicated GPS rather than one that shares space with many other different types of applications. Anyhow, I donubt that Garmin, Tom Tom, Navigon, or Magellan would put their all into an $80 app when they can sell their own devices for a couple hundred or more.

  3. Terry White says:

    I wonder if the lag you’re seeing is due to the relatively weak GPS signal of the iPhone itself. I remember when I first started testing these apps on the iPhone I could definitely see some wonky behavior on the highway at 70mph vs street driving. Basically I don’t think the iPhone’s GPS receive is strong enough to keep up at high speeds. I haven’t experienced any of these problems using the Magellan car kit, which has its own dedicated GPS receiver and augments the one in the iPhone (and provides compatibility to the touch that doesn’t have a GPS chip).

    I’m about to head out on a trip through Georgia and once again I’ll be using the Navigon as my only GPS, but I’ll also have the Magellan car kit too:

  4. […] Travel, iOS, by Jack Beckman Those of you who read my ramblings regularly might remember the issues I had with the Navigon GPS software for the iPhone. I mentioned that the TomTom app, the other major alternative, was not working too well. Since […]