iPhone GPS apps review and compare

We test nine turn-by-turn voice navigation apps for the iPhone.
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01 .Introduction

iphone gps apps

Test results for nine iPhone GPS apps, priced from $30 to $100

The number of iPhone GPS apps for Australia offering turn-by-turn navigation has tripled since we last tested them a little over six months ago. This time round we again tested all the available apps that can turn your iPhone into the equivalent of a dedicated in-car satellite navigation unit.

Although the iPhone comes with built-in GPS capability and Google Maps to show you where you are and how to get where you’re going — this is no substitute for voice-guided turn-by-turn instructions.

As you might expect, we found greater differences in performance between the apps this time, though they all do at least a reasonable job. You can download all the apps directly to your phone, but because most contain the maps required as part of the app itself you’ll need to use Wi-Fi (wireless local area networking) – downloads over 3G phone networks are limited to 10MB. You can also download the iPhone GPS apps using iTunes on a computer then transfer them to the iPhone.

What we looked at

 Performance Our tester noted accuracy of the pre-planned route, points of interest, the estimated time of arrival and accuracy of voice prompts.

Ease of use He also rated each iPhone GPS app on how easy it is to read and interact with the menu, the quality of displayed data and the supplied manuals.

iPhone GPS Apps tested

  • Co-Pilot Live 8
  • Destinator 9 
  • iGo My Way
  • Mocal 
  • Nav4D 
  • Navigon Mobile Navigator
  • NDrive 
  • Sygic Mobile Maps
  • TomTom 

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5 CHOICE buys

Navigon Mobile Navigator

Scored 85/100 | $99.9985%

Good points:

Highest Overall score.
• Highest Performance score.
• Equal highest Ease of Use score.
• Destination by contacts.
• Previews up to three routes and allows you to take your pick.
• Gives warning when you are in a school speed zone.
• Can warn when speed limit exceeded.
• Warns when approaching a speed or red light camera.

Bad points:

Does not announce street names.
• Side street names are hard to read.
• Equal most expensive.


NNG Global iGo My Way

Scored 81/100 | $74.9981%

Good points:

• Second highest Performance score.
• Speed adaptive map zooming.
• Very easy to use a street address as your destination.
• Very easy to use a POI as your destination.
• Option to avoid unsealed roads.
• Has an Australian voice.

Bad points:

• Does not announce street names.
• Destination cannot be specified by tapping on the map.


TomTom TomTom

Scored 79/100 | $99.9979%

Good points:

• Equal highest Ease of Use score.
• Equal third highest Performance score.
• Destination by contacts.
• Speed adaptive map zooming.
• Very good auto zoom at roundabouts.
• Has option to avoid unsealed roads.
• Can warn when speed limit exceeded.
• Warns of red light camera.
• Has an Australian voice.

Bad points:

• Was not aware of some “no right turn” restrictions.
• Equal most expensive.


Sygic Mobile Maps

Scored 78/100 | $59.9978%

Good points:

• Equal second highest Ease of Use score.
• Destination can be specified by contacts.
• Speed adaptive map zooming.
• Displays street number on arrival.
• Displays current speed limit signs.
• Can warn when speed limit exceeded.
• Warns when approaching a speed or red light camera.
• Equal cheapest among the What To Buy.

Bad points:

• Was not aware of some “no right turn” restrictions.
• Routed through small lane ways when there was an equivalent road 30m further on.
• No option to avoid motorways.


ALK Technologies Co Pilot Live 8

Scored 76/100 | $59.9976%

Good points:

• Equal third highest Performance score.
• Clearest marking of the route among the apps.
• Can warn when speed limit exceeded.
• Has an Australian voice.
• Equal cheapest among the What To Buy.

Bad points:

• Does not announce street names.
• No initial warning if upcoming turn is less than 500m away.



Comparison table list

  • By default ALL tested products are listed. You can select up to five items to view in a side by side comparison.
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  • The number shown in brackets represents the number of products that will be shown if you select that filter. 
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Table Allowing the user to select a number of products dependant on their filter options.
Items to compare

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Then click the compare button

Price ($)Overall scorePerformance score (%)Ease of Use score (%)Map coverageFull-route displayVehicle speedETA shownDistance to destination shownDistance to next turn - where shown by defaultAuto day/night optionCompassGoogle searchDestination from iPhone contactsiPod control?Announces street namesWarnings: red light camera / speed cameraRouting options: Avoid tolls/unsealed roads/motorwaysMap providerVersion testedLanguagesEnglish VoicesContact
Mobile Navigator99.99858485AusYesYesYesYes
iGo My Way74.99818279Aus / NZYesNoYesYes
Mobile Maps59.99787383Aus / NZYesYesYesYes
Co Pilot Live 859.99767379Aus / NZYes (A)YesYesYes
Mocal60 (B)686570AusYesYesYesYes
Destinator 947.99646068AusYesYesYesYes


Table notes

Price: paid in May 2010

The Overall score is made up of;
Performance: 50%, Ease of Use: 50%. [A] In planning mode [B] 30-day free trial. [C] Optional, costs $6 to upgrade.

Because the iPhone hardware is the same, the differences in how the app looks and performs all depend on the app itself. Some of the apps have free, limited, trials on the app store you can use to see if they suit you, but in lieu of these use our table as a guide. Look for the following features:
  • Ease of use – how easy it is to use the menus to enter route information using the onscreen keyboard, navigate menus, and configure the app to your liking.
  • Display clarity – how easy it is to see and understand the graphics, text and symbols used. Do the colours used make it easy to distinguish details at a glance?
  • Trip planning - Does the app offer offline planning and route preview to help plan a trip before actually taking to the road? Can you create multiple routes and save them to suit your preferences? Can you nominate a destination from Contacts or a Google search?
  • Points of interest – What sorts of points of interest are displayed? Can you find petrol and parking easily? Can you add your own?
  • Size and clarity - of the figure indicating the distance to the next turn (e.g. 500m) and if there are any other progressive indicators that can help judge distance.
  • Speed limit indicator – does it have visual and audio cues for speed limits?
  • Spoken voice - Is the voice loud enough, clear and easy to understand? Are other voices available, male and female? Are street names pronounced, making it easier when turning?
  • iPod control – to lower the volume of or pause playback for music and audio books while verbal instructions are given.
  • Help files. Does the app provide help files within the program? Is there a manual available for download from the website?

With the exception of Mocal, all the GPS apps tested store the maps on your iPhone. The iPhone’s GPS chip works independently of the phone network. This means you can use the GPS app almost anywhere. Mocal works a little differently – it plots a route through a central server, and downloads just the map data for your route on the fly. This can be a potential problem if you’re out of range of a mobile phone network, and is similar to Google Maps which also downloads map information on-the-fly.

Given the unique features the iPhone brings to an on-board GPS, and the explosion of GPS apps available on the app store, we created a much more stringent ease of use criteria this time around for our test. This includes ease of menu navigation, entering data through the on-screen keyboard, and assessing the range and flexibility of settings, as well as being able to take advantage of features such as navigating via Contacts, using Google search to find locations, and iPod control. Some apps share these features, and these factor into the scores, while others add unique ones all their own – such as Mocal’s ability to download map data over the internet, or Co-Pilot’s ability to track the phone via a website.
As a result, the Ease of Use scores are not comparable to our previous test, but now better reflect the full capabilities of the apps as GPS units distinct from traditional car GPS products.
Regardless of how good the user interface is, the success of a GPS unit still rests largely on the quality of the routes and the map data it uses. Whereas last time the apps on test used map data from either Whereis or Navteq, this time round we found they used maps from various sources, including Sensis, Tele Atlas/Whereis and Navteq.

Cost considerations

If you already have an iPhone, turning it into a GPS can be cost-effective. Though two of the better known apps are still priced at $100, this time we found apps ranged in price all the way down to just $30 for Ndrive, while Mocal allows a 30-day free trial then charges $10 for a 30-day pass, $50 for a year or $60 for three years.
Of course, you still have to factor in the cost of a dedicated in-car mount and car charger at around $30-$40 for a basic set. But then, there’s also the convenience of having everything in one compact device that you can take with you anywhere. Note however, that the apps will periodically update their mapping data and while so far all updates have been free, there doesn’t mean updates won’t be charged in future, as they are with stand-alone GPS units.

What about the iPad?

The much bigger screen of the new Apple iPad makes it an ideal candidate for Google Maps and other geo-location apps, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better as an in-car device. It’s early days yet, but don’t assume the iPad will easily replace the iPhone in cars anytime soon.
While great for handheld applications the iPad’s extra size can work against it in a car, making it unwieldy and difficult to mount (dedicated mounts would need to be available to be legal anyway).
Not that it hasn’t been thought of – Co-Pilot was the first to come out with a version of its turn-by-turn navigation app for the iPad, but for the US only at this stage. Another problem is that the Wi-Fi version misses out on the GPS capabilities of its more expensive 3G brother, which is a must.

Keep it hands-freehands_free image

A hands free car mount is a must for in-car use of an iPhone with GPS app. This is a legal requirement and a major safety consideration. Just as with all mobile phones, you cannot legally use the iPhone as an in-car GPS unless it is mounted in a dedicated hands-free mount. There are many such mounts available, but in some cases you’ll also need a car charger. Using the GPS function drains power quickly. Both TomTom (pictured right) and Navigon have dedicated in-car kits for the iPhone.
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