Co-Pilot Live for iPhone Review

cop1The news that Co-Pilot was heading to the iPhone has been somewhat overshadowed by TomTom’s well covered announcement at WWDC 2009. TomTom also announced a car kit which does all manner of things; hands-free car kit, GPS signal booster and charger. The problem with this kit is that it does too much for the average GPS user and may only suit a small proportion of potential purchasers. Also, I have never had a problem with the GPS antenna on the iPhone and in a test it was quicker to catch a signal than an HTC Touch Pro2 and a Nokia N95. It also holds the signal quite well so the need to boost it seems a little strange from my experience.

ALK has consistently produced smartphone navigation software over the years with solutions for Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android already on the market. The pricing of the Android Co-Pilot solution was a welcome surprise and it is even more pleasing to see that carried through to the iPhone platform. It was one of the few moments in my life when things just did not connect right. I asked ALK what the price would be a few days ago after testing the software and my mind could not quite calculate the product verses price ratio here. It’s like someone offering me a new car for £3000, and I will explain why throughout this article. The pricing is as aggressive as Mr T would be if he woke up in a plane half-way over the Atlantic and found out that you were the one who put him there.

Interface and Features

It wasn’t long ago that I installed Navigon and was vaguely impressed by the experience of using turn-by-turn navigation on the iPhone. This vagueness of impressiveness soon took a wrong turn as the lack of features became apparent. No safety cameras, maps that are not as accurate as I would like and the killer blow- no full post code search. It all works quite well, but requires more manual intervention than I like to employ when planning a journey and definitely when driving.

cop2Testing Co-Pilot on the iPhone for the first time was a completely different experience, and a schizophrenic one at that. That may sound negative, but it is in fact the most pleasing aspect of Co-Pilot on the iPhone; there are so many features that are accessible in an instant through a cleverly laid out set of menus and interface tweaks and this surprised me a great deal. I have always found TomTom to be the easiest GPS software to navigate, but ALK has pulled one out of the hat here and delivered a solution that matches the grace of the iPhone OS perfectly.

When starting up Co-Pilot you are greeted with a voice announcing “Welcome to Co-Pilot Live Professional’ and this gives an indication of the quality of the voices included. A set of icons appear which also indicate the ease of use within. For example, tapping the destination icon brings up 5 more icons; Address, POIs, Pick on Map, Intersection and Coordinates. That’s what you call covering all of the bases.

Tapping My Places brings up Home, Work, Recent and Favourites. There are also options for making a quick stop to the kind of location you may need in a hurry- gas station, restaurant, hotels and vehicle repair. All of the main options are housed in just 2 panels of icons and this makes finding the section you need extremely quick and after only a few minutes you will be flying through the menus.

The Live services are quite comprehensive, but don't currently include the full set. Fingers crossed for an update in the near future with all of the normal ALK services included.

At the risk of turning this entire review into a list I will simply set aside this paragraph to show what else is included; Detour (alternate route, end detour, avoid roads, clear avoided roads), Plan and edit trips before you leave and include multiple stops, Driving Views (3D, 2D, driver safety, itinerary, 2D next turn), 2D destination, Day Map, Night Map), Save Current Location, Safety Cameras, Lane Assist and POI Alerts, Modes (car, walking, RV, motorcycle, bicycle), Compass. Phew!

There are 6 English voices included which all sound clear and natural when driving and the number of tweaks available gives you the opportunity to make the driving experience fit the way you prefer to the point of perfectionism. You can choose when POIs are displayed and even only have them pop up when you stop. Breadcrumbs can be displayed in walking mode and the turn warnings have check boxes for 2 miles, 1 mile, 500 yards and at turn. You can also choose the warning time in seconds which is something I have not seen before. The same level of customisation is available throughout and you can, for example, choose when to display lane assist with multiple levels at 0.1 mile intervals included, day and night mode can be automatically triggered and a myriad of other options are nestling in the background waiting to be triggered when you need them.

It almost verges on the obsessive at times with the ability to choose exactly what information should display in the info bar and incidentally how many info bars you want; 1, 2 or a looping setup which pops up all of the detail required at different times. Did I mention that you can display speed limit warnings depending on the ‘exact’ speed you are doing and that screen orientation can be landscape, portrait or automatic? OK, I’m going to stop now and move on to the driving experience, but the above does offer a glimpse into a huge set of features and options which make Co-Pilot feel so remarkably complete.

Driving

cop2All of the features in the world mean little if the navigation experience is below par, so let’s look at how Co-Pilot performs in the real world.

Starting up Co-Pilot takes a bit of time- it does pop up instantly, but getting the maps to align with the signal takes 10 seconds or so. This is not a huge problem, but it is very slightly slower than a dedicated GPS unit. Once connected I had no signal issues at all during over 4 hours of driving through 3 different trips.

By the middle of the second trip I started to feel right at home with the interface and the way the maps are displayed on screen- now that I am fully used to the way Co-Pilot works, I would describe the experience as close to effortless. ALK has managed to bring the workings of the software to the front and not buried it in needless settings changes which follows the iPhone philosophy quite well.

Audible commands are given in good time and the previously mentioned settings help with this, but I would like to see a slight change; for example, when approaching a roundabout it will tell me to take the third exit, but I would like to hear "turn right at the next roundabout, take third exit." How picky am I? To be fair there is a neat display feature which gets over this problem and also shows you the next turn after the one you are about to take. You get two icons which visually indicate the next two turnings (see image) and once you get used to this it is a killer feature.

The display of your current location and the roads is spot on and as clear as it could possibly be. Everything just seems to fit and the interface offers the clearest view I have seen on any system to date. There are a few themes that you can choose from, but as with most developers they tend to pick the best to be the defaults.

The points of interest database is not too bad and I managed to find most of what I was looking for. They will never be complete and there are always instances where something is missing, but it is a useful addition. I couldn't find a local National Trust location which surprised me, but this is not uncommon and the ability to save my current location means that I now have it loaded for future use.

I can't write much about the navigation experience because it simply works very well and offers me lots of confidence going forward. Having the traffic service is a must have feature for me, but annoyingly there were no traffic incidents at all on my test trips and so I could not test it properly. If traffic works as well as the rest of the software I will be fully signed up to Co-Pilot for the time being.

Conclusion

The marker has been laid down for TomTom and for the life of me I cannot see how it can compete. IQ Routes is an advantage, but how does it attack an opponent who makes a solution so complete at a price point which is unfathomable.

Co-Pilot Live 8 is ‘spectacularly’ good and it still would be if it cost £60 for the UK version. At £25.99 for the UK version and £59.99 for Europe it is hard to comprehend the value buried in this application. It is the very best satellite navigation solution available on the iPhone at this time, and I suspect it will be in 6 months time as well.

More details are at www.alk.com or the App Store.