America, version 7.71.2 has road tested.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009
iPhoneTunes review: Sygic Mobile Maps America
iPhoneTunes review: Sygic Mobile Maps America

iPhone car integration

Sygic Mobile Maps America is one of the latest in a line of turn-by-turn navigation apps to hit the AppStore. Sygic has the distinction of being the first with North American apps, and despite some minor issues it looks like they came in first with a winner. Nothing about this product calls out “rushed to market”, though, and I find myself using it even for minor trips.

I must start by saying that I’ve never owned a GPS, and in discussing some of my issues with others it seems these are common to standalone units. So, if you see me complaining about something and think “Duh, that’s how they work”, just keep my ignorance in mind.  But, I have shopped for standalones in the past and in terms of looks, were I to not know I was looking at my iPhone, I might just think I had a compact GPS unit sitting in my dock.

Booking.com

Switch it baby

Multiple options are provided to allow you customize the application to your preferences. You can create and store itineraries and favorite locations. You can set it to either a 3D or 2D view and can modify colors for night/daytime driving (which it will automatically switch to if you so desire). Even while exceeding highway speeds (which I rarely do, of course), the display is easy to read and interpret and screen real estate is utilized very effectively. A couple of features I really like are:

iPhone car integrationiPhone car integration

Auto-zoom & assistance

- Auto-zoom. You can see this in the screen shot with “Sea Breeze Expy SB” in the middle.  Locally, we refer to the highway intersection there as “The Can of Worms”.  Apparently, a few years back they redid this area to make it a lot less confusing…I only dread to think what it was like prior. But, as you can see if you compare that screen shot with the one that follows (the one with “Loehmann’s Plaza” at the top), Sygic will zoom in on areas where there are a lot of highways and lanes that might make discerning your proper route on the map difficult.  It’s one of those “detail” features that you might not miss were it not there, but it really stands out when it is!

iPhone car integrationiPhone car integration

- Lane Assistant.  Not obvious in any of my screen shots, but Robin goes over this one well in his review. Basically, when your exit’s coming up,the left side of the bottom panel will show you all of the lanes that are in front of you, and highlight the one you need to be in. An excellent feature for those areas where an exit’s on your left and none of the signs mention it ahead of time.

- “Don’t got there” signs.  I don’t know what the developer would call them, and my name for them is as good as any! In the screen shots, you’ll see some signs with a big red “X” in them.  Those show up when approaching exits that you aren’t looking to take.  “Don’t go there”, they say! See? It makes sense! smile

Head North or South

In terms of directions, I have been very impressed. I’ve lived in my area for 16 years now and have a pretty good idea of the best routes to take to get me where I’m going.  Sygic pretty much mirrored every one of the ones I’ve tested (proving to my wife that I DO have a sense of direction, no matter what she says). Funny story, though: A few blocks West of my street is one of the main highways in the area. Go North or South on my street a couple of miles, and you can get onto the expressway at different exits. When going South on this highway, Sygic always takes me South (obviously). But, I live closer to that exit, so I habitually go to it regardless of heading North or South on the highway. Of course, Sygic wants me to head North on my street if I’m going North, but it always has me make a right turn at the next cross street, head to the street where the entrance is then make a left. This route causes me to cross my street to get to the entrance. Why? At the end of my street there’s no light, so making lefts can be tough. Sygic appears to be smart enough to take me to the next block over where there is a light so I can easily make a left. That’s some smart design!

Sygic also recovers very well in the event of my either missing a turn or in case I need to take an unexpected detour. It automatically recalculates my route and gets me quickly back on my way.

So, any negatives?  Um, have you not read my other reviews? I always find SOMETHING to complain about!

Walk out of the room

Like most of the other GPS for the iPhone, Sygic is very particular about its signal from the GPS satellite network. In fact, as I sit here in my office with the app on my phone to take screen shots, it’s sitting there telling me it can’t find a valid signal and absolutely refuses to do anything more. Yet, if I launch the built-in Maps application, it takes a while, but it WILL show me my location. I can understand the need for an accurate signal, and perhaps never having owned a GPS unit I’m expecting a bit much. But, it seems to me that when the app starts acquire SOME signal and move on. If I can’t get a signal of any kind, it’s useless anyway, but I would think an inaccurate signal’s better than none.

Lucien

In terms of voices, I was a little disappointed in the choices available. There’s only two for English: an American male and a British one. We have come to start calling my iPhone “Lucien” after the name of the British voice, which is the one I choose (What? I grew upon “Doctor Who”, “Benny Hill” and British sitcoms like “Yes, Minister”, “To The Manor Born” and “Good Neighbors”). There were no female voices and I would like to see that as an option. A British female voice would be fantastic, and one that tells me I look “spanking hot” each morning would be perfect! Penelope Keith hasn’t done anything in a couple of years, although we can keep that one more formal as Ms. Keith’s pushing 70. There was also only one Spanish voice. While the US doesn’t have an official language, English and Spanish are the de facto standards and I would expect to see more in a North American version. I would also be helpful for your Mexican customers. Since this version also includes Canada, I’d expect to see more choices for French, too. But, while I’ve spent a paragraph talking about it, it’s still a minor quibble and should be taken more as a suggestion for the developer than a complaint.

C-O-U-N-T-Y-H-W-Y 60

However, when it comes to voices there is one oddity that I’m not sure can be fixed and I’m not sure if it’s limited to folks in the state of New York. But, certain routes are state routes, others are interstates and some are county routes. When the directions take me down a county route, Lucien declares proudly “After 200 yards, turn left and take the C-O-U-N-T-Y-H-W-Y 60”. Then, as we near, “turn left and take the C-O-U-N-T-Y-H-W-Y 60”. And, once on the route “proceed along the C-O-U-N-T-Y-H-W-Y 60 for 2 miles”. Yes, he spells all of that out. It’s a little odd, and I’m not sure anything can be done about it. We got a giggle out of it the first 50 times it happened, but the humor’s wearing thin.

iPhone car integrationiPhone car integration

Suggestions

Finally, some suggestions. These are things I’d like to see in the next version that I think would add a ton of value to your app. First, as others have pointed out in their reviews in the App Store, there is apparently the ability in the new OS for developers to use an API to integrate control of the iPod application from within their own apps. So, for example, if I want to listen to both tunes AND Lucien, I can fire up the iPod, kick off a playlist, minimize and get my directions. The problem comes if I want to pause to find a house number (which isn’t as necessary with Sygic because it’ll actually tell you what house number you’re currently close to. It’s not perfect, though…) or want to switch tracks. The “easy” method is to lock the screen, double-click home to bring up and interact with the lock screen controls and then unlock back to the app. I DID quote the word “easy” in that description.

Second, integration with other apps like Trapster or NMobile to provide speed trap notifications onscreen and possibly the ability to enter our own. A simple button on the screen that when hit will tag the general location of where you saw Smokey pointing his laser down the asphalt (I can’t wait to see how Dani translates that one for the Spanish site). It’s the perfect combination of products. Not that I need such a thing all that much, I’m a very conscientious and law abiding driver at all times. But, I do know other people need things like that…Similarly and finally, traffic reporting. I’d love to know what to expect and just recalculate the route before I even have to deal with traffic.

Conclusion

One of the main reasons I bought my iPhone was because I wanted a GPS. I looked at lots of models and eventually came to realize “if I’m going to spend $300 on a single-purpose device, why not spend $300 on an iPhone that does that, too?”  At least, that was the argument I successfully used on my wife. Then…I used the built-in Maps app. Now, with Sygic, my iPhone FINALLY does what I’ve wanted it to do for almost a year, and it does it about as flawlessly as I’d expect. Sygic NAM is an invaluable addition to my app list, and sits proudly on my home screen.

Five out of five without a moment’s hesitation! You can buy it here.

Tony Karakashian - iPhonetunes.com




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