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Last week, Navigon unveiled it’s latest version of its iOS navigation app. Until recently, I had been using the TomTom app (for reasons documented here). But circumstances led me back to Navigon, at least for the moment.

What circumstances? Shortly after upgrading to iOS 5, my real-time traffic subscription ran out on the TomTom (unlike Navigon, TomTom requires you to pony up yearly – Navigon has a one-time charge). No problem, I’ll go into the app and re-up. Except – there was a bug in the app, and you couldn’t make any in-app purchases (TomTom came out with a fix a week or so later). I use the traffic very day on my way to work – the traffic is very unpredictable, and some days I need to take an alternate route to get to work on time. So I switched over to Navigon.

Around this time, Navigon released version 2 of the app. It has some great new features (and one annoying omission) that could have been implemented a bit better, but overall is an improvement on the previous version.

One of the touted new features is the ability to download just a portion of the map. For many people, this will be a great boon, as they are fighting for free space on their device. However, I have the space, and actually want the majority of the maps on my device. I do a lot of “what if” planning for drives, and do drive quite a bit across many states each year.

Since I don’t need it for directions, just traffic, I wasn’t worried about the glaring error it makes on my way to work that tries to send me off in thew wrong direction. It worked OK, but I felt the TomTom was better at routing me around heavy traffic.

So I downloaded the new version – which is only 45.2 MB instead of the 1.5+ GB of the monolithic version. Unfortunately, here’s where we run into a trouble spot. After loading the app for the first time, you’re created with a screen that asks you to download the maps you want. Here’s the first annoyance – if, like me, you want most of the maps, be prepared to tap, tap, tap, tap, tap,scroll, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, scroll, tap, tap…yeah, you have to tap on each and every map you want to download. Yes, you can download maps later (and even remove them). But I already know I need most of them, so I might as well download them so I don’t forget one I need. A “Select All” button would have been nice (I wouldn’t mind so much unselecting a few items rather than hitting most of them). But that’s only one time, right? (If only…)

So after 40 minutes or so I finally have all the maps.I then go into the “Extras” and re-download my 3D views and re-activate the radar trap warnings and the real-time traffic (thank you for one time charges, Navigon!). I also decided to pop for the quarterly map updates (although it’s unclear to me if that was a lifetime or yearly sub).

I check my favorites and, unlike many people who’ve complained on the ‘net, mine are all still there (many reports of them getting wiped). Yay! I use it into work, and the menus are much easier to see, and the traffic info is presented better, with a small box listing the delay time and a line on the road next to the slow area. Navigon has always had (at least in my opinion) better depictions of the exits and the signs than TomTom, and they are still great here.

After getting to work, I decide to let it plot my way hope to see if it has decided to take any odd routes (the TomTom app wants me to make some very strange turns near the end of my drive to work, and while they will get me there, they take me out of my way to do it). So I tap on the left menu button to show the menu overlay (which still leaves the map up in the background, which I like) and tap “Take Me Home.” It then asks me to enter the address. Hmm. Well, if all I lost was my home address as opposed to all my favorites, not so bad. I go to Contacts, pick my card, and tell Navigon it’s my home address. Then it’s back to the main screen, hit “Take Me Home,” and…it wants me to enter an address. Sigh. OK, so I go through the address route. Hit “Take Me Home” and…it asks me to enter the address. Great. So I try killing the program and re-entering the address, rebooting the phone and entering the address…and it still won’t stick. That only leaves the nuclear option – I delete the program from my phone and re-download.

OK, so that’s not so bad…oh yeah, I get to tap like a madman all over again to get my maps (and wait again for them to download). Of course, this time, a couple of the maps fail to download and have to be restarted. Yippie. At least this time it takes my address, but of course now all my favorites are gone.

So not a great opening experience. But traffic seems to be much quicker than I remember from the old version, and it’s routing me around trouble spots nicely. So for the most part, after the lousy install experience, I’m fairly happy with the new version.

Only “fairly happy?” Yeah. Because one of my favorite features is gone. There used to be a small iPod symbol in the lower part of the screen – touch it, and the map would peel away and reveal the album cover of the current sone, the title/artist/album name, and show you the play controls. Well, it’s gone. I made use of that feature quite often.

Also, it seems that even with the new maps, the glaring wrong turn on my way to work hasn’t been fixed (yes, I have reported it more than once). So that’s a bit disappointing, because you don’t know when it might send you astray when you don’t know where you’re going.

Another of my pet peeves is the graphics in the lower left. Usually, it’s fine – it shows you the distance to your next turn and which way you need to go. At the end, that turns into a checkered flag and an arrow that points to the side of the road that your destination is on. Well, it’s a good thing the program announces the side, too, because if the arrow was any smaller you’d need a microscope to see it. Really, Navigon? No one there as looked at that tiny arrow and noticed that there’s quite a bit of space there available for something readable?

Overall, this is a worthwhile upgrade – don’t let my complaining make you think otherwise. But a few of the design choices keep this from being even better.

UPDATE: on December 19, 2011, Navigon release version 2.01 that restores the iPod controls (yay!), adds a button to “select all maps”  in the Map Manager (yay!) and makes map downloading more reliable. It also fixes the lost Favorites (if you haven’t updated yet or were on the fence). It’s also on sale right now, and live lifetime traffic is 25% off. So if you were on the fence, or were waiting to upgrade, go for it!


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One Response to Go Where You Wanna Go

  1. George says:

    Thanks Jack, Navigon is a very good program and a welcome upgrade for sure. I use it exclusively on the iPhone along with the Kensington bracket and non-powered battery less amplifier in the truck. I am hearing challenged but have no problems hearing the turn-by-turn directions. Terry White turned me on to it about a year ago and it was a wise selection. Enjoying the reduced size of the app for sure.