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Saturday, February 06, 2010
iPhonetunes review: NDrive North America
iPhonetunes review: NDrive North America

You ever get lost when going from point A to point B? Ever have that back seat driver telling you, you missed the turn they failed to tell you about, where there wasn’t anything you can do about? Ever think your always late for an event because your directions were just a little off? If any of these questions have you saying “Yes” in your head then this review of NDrive is for you. So buckle up and let’s take it out for a spin.

Booking.com

Appearance - 4
There’s a distinctly European feeling to this application (and that’s meant in a very complementary way).  For instance the icons and images used in my VW are very different that those in my Chevy pickup.  Considering NDrives European origin, this visual uniqueness isn’t overly surprising.  Actually it’s esthetically refreshing from the same old icons.  The images clearly illustrate the intended functions which is a big plus at highway speeds.

NDrive understands that the screen is small and fingers, while driving, are big.  So - they try very gallantly to keep buttons that are on lots of screens (like back and map) in the same location, they also try to make the main screen icons big, obvious and fully press-able in blocks.  To get from screen to screen within a category there is an arrow on the side of the screen that you can “try” to tap or you can just use the flick gesture to get you there.  The keyboard keys are large and easy to hit while on the highway but not really user friendly (see usability).  Really nothing revolutionary here in the navigation or appearance but everything is pretty easy to grasp and works well.

iPhone apps | NDrive North AmericaiPhone apps | NDrive North America

Features - 4
One cool feature within NDrive that has potential but isn’t there yet (and not to the fault of the publisher) is the community portion. The idea here is users of NDrive can generate unique POI’s that you can upload for others to enjoy while downloading theirs download to your iPhone.  It’s a really great concept that - in theory - should always keep you in the loop on finding the latest and greatest place to go for food, fun, etc. The problem is - the community only has a handful of contributions right now. This function could make this app a breakout in the GPS category - and it would really great to see them forge a partnership with someone who leads in that space, like Yelp or Gowalla. As it stands now - great feature - not so great content.

There’s also a lot of additional configuration options under the hood - things like a night mode for the map that changes automatically at dawn and dusk, options for routing trips, detours, and partial trip detours to name just a few. All high-end GPS options that the default Google maps app doesn’t even consider - and that are very nice to have when traveling in a foreign place.

iPhone apps | NDrive North AmericaiPhone apps | NDrive North America

Usability - 3
Why do the people who code the user interface think that us end-users don’t know what a QWERTY keyboard looks like or how to use one in GPS apps? This is a massive annoyance in almost all GPS software. It’s horrid to try and quickly type in a POI, address, business name, ANYTHING when what should be a keyboard becomes an alphabet ABC chart.  What’s worse is this is on an iPhone, a device that executes the flat keyboard really well.  NDrives attempt to reinvent the data entry wheel was not viewed favorably.

Another item that bugs me is the pinching and squeezing gestures leave something to be desired. It’s not seamless as the app seems to have some trouble keeping up on my 3Gs and sometimes if a finger taps the screen you end up leaving an annoying little blinking red dot that identifies the tap point. Terrific if you want to set a POI - highly annoying if it was just a mistap.

In the good news category - from the map screen you can easily access the turn by turn directions, setting, main menu and even have the voice repeat the last instruction with a single tap.  Ohh - one more thing that almost gets forgotten in GPS reviews anymore… it was pretty darn accurate - getting confused for a few moments only when exiting a freeway off ramp.  That’s refreshing!

iPhone apps | NDrive North AmericaiPhone apps | NDrive North America

Value - 4
With so many other apps pushing the $60-$90 range for GPS functionality, NDrive comes in at a low cost of $45.  If you are looking for a powerful stand alone GPS app this is a really cheap, full featured contender. But the flat cost is only part of the value equation, for some the European flavor to the icons and screens may be a deterrent. Selecting your “favourite” map appearance or managing your “favourites” might not be acceptable to some. That’s a personal preference that does range from one individual to another.

Conclusion / Overall – 3.75
This app really pulled me in two directions in this review - there were things I really liked and there were things I really didn’t like. But as the final score reflected, I think there’s hope for this app.  It may not be the perfect GPS interface and there may be some stumbling blocks on the road to perfection - but the framework is there. The app does take advantage of the iPhone’s uniqueness and capitalizes on gestures and screen orientation - not perfectly - but that’s better than ignoring the virtues of the device.

I guess as a testimonial to NDrive, although it’s not my primary app for mapping out a trip (still the default maps app), it still resides on my phone for those times the default app can’t cut it or when I’m going somewhere new and I want a co-pilot telling me where I am and where I need to turn… without the backseat driving!


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