Satellite navigation apps on Android and iOS have reached a level that pits them squarely against standalone GPS solutions from the likes of TomTom. The larger smartphone screens, improved GPS antennas and power that the high-end phones produce in 2011 make them much more sophisticated than any standalone unit and for all, but the most specialised of needs, they have advantages in almost every area.
There are navigation solutions for all budgets and the features included in each tend to align with the price you are paying. CoPilot Live Premium, however, goes against the trend entirely and offers a huge number of features at a very low price. I cannot get my head around how a setup like this can be priced so low, but I’m not complaining.
CoPilot Live Premium Single Region: £29.99
7 days launch Price: £14.99
CoPilot Live Premium Europe: £59.99
7 days launch Price: £29.99
Obviously it makes sense to buy the app in the first 7 days which is silly money for the features on offer, but I fully expect some current users to complain that they are not getting a discount on the new version. The problem here is that there is no practical way to offer an upgrade discount in the App Stores as they are currently set up and current users are all notified straight away of the 7 day discount. If this app was £50 for the single region version I would possibly feel that they have a point, but at £14.99 it is hard to argue with the value on offer here and there are enough new features here to justify paying for the new app even if you already own the new one. And there will be always be some who feel that anything above £0.59 is too much...
When I first reviewed CoPilot for iOS I was very impressed with what I saw and over time came to rely on it with some caveats remaining for the traffic service which failed me a couple of times. Eventually I moved to TomTom and have been more than happy for the past 8 months.
ALK offered me the chance to review the new premium version early and so here are my thoughts surrounding the improvements and general performance.
First impressions are positive and a bit of a surprise. It feels like a completely different app to the first version and is somewhat cleaner. Everything from the menus to the map screen feels more sparse and this helps a lot when trying to make changes while you are driving. If I had to criticise one area with the first version, it would be the sometimes overly complex visuals and it’s pleasing to see that ALK has addressed this.
Some of the features in Premium are new to me which is also a surprise because I am a bit of an obsessive navigator. I have zero sense of direction and if it were not for the invention of GPS I would be better sitting in my house and never leaving. I used to go to meetings with paper maps and ‘always’ arrived late. It was painful and the amount of planning I had to do was crazy, but GPS arrived and my life was complete.
Despite my obsession with navigation, the inclusion of alternative routes and the way they are implemented is brilliant. It is a simple feature, but one that makes perfect sense. For example, I can take three different routes to work and TomTom only ever offers one. I have to manually set it to avoid specific roads and it is a fiddle. In CoPilot I can tap a button once I have chosen my destination and three routes pop up, the exact three that are feasible to take. Oh how I love that.
But it gets better. I can also drag any part of the route just like in Google Maps on a desktop and I can save routes. That last feature may not sound like much, but we all have preferred routes and being able to save a route is a highly efficient way to marry the human and the computer. No matter how clever satellites, smartphones and software get, we all still know someone who has a knowledge of better routes that always seem to work. Now we can all be that person and ‘know’ the better routes.
When you finally tap the ‘Go’ button the resulting map screen is clean and easy to view and works as expected. It is still quite cartoony, but finding a GPS solution that isn’t is not easy and it doesn’t make a huge difference either way. At the bottom of the screen you are offered the remaining distance, distance to next turn, the projected time of arrival (which is scarily accurate), the road you should go to next and a nice big menu button to tap for options. Finally, at the top are magnification buttons and of course the map view switches from day to night view automatically depending on the current time.
When you tap the menu button, you are offered six options; 2D Map, Directions, Detour, Find POIs, My Route and Walk. The detour facility requires two taps which is very handy and will pop up an alternative route for you to use. Tap ‘Go’ again and continue your journey.
The main menu is chock full of options, but feels easier to use than before. I would love to go through them all, but I have a life and so will concentrate on just a few.
There are many map display options that are bewildering at first, but I would advise to spend some time to set it up just right for you. The fact that the options work so well together means that you can tailor the interface in a myriad of ways until you are happy. ClearTurn is clever and will display lane indicators and signposts which is particularly useful in built up areas you do not know and everything else from turn warning distances to speed limits are tweakable. I don’t believe I have seen so many options on a smartphone GPS solution and even the standalone GPS units I have tried don’t come close to the flexibility offered here.
The voices are also numerous and, for example, in the UK English section Eleanor is a text-to-speech voice that will read the road names to you as you drive. This is useful, but doesn’t compensate for the fact she sounds like a deranged robot from the future that is as likely to kill you as get you to your destination safely. I chose Emma. If you get a chance to hear her voice you will know why…
There is a little ‘More’ button tucked away in the corner that hides a wealth of goodies. Nearby Wikipedia Places is a brilliant resource and one that works better than many POI systems. Tapping on it brought up every conceivable location near me and I could see this being useful as well as potentially educational. Facebook Places offers a deep integration with Facebook and you will need to decide how you feel about this. I must admit that I haven’t tapped the ‘Allow’ button yet, but many of you may feel differently.
Roadside Assistance is a handy little feature that offers a call button for your recovery provider plus your current address and latitude and longitude. So simple, but so useful. Parking works like one of those apps that will remember where your car is. Again, a simple solution, but one that can save you money elsewhere. Bing search is available which lets you find local destinations with some extra information included in the results. The debate on Bing continues, but it seemed to work well in my tests.
Another feature I liked was the Walking mode which isn’t your standard same screen as the driving mode. The ‘Crow Flies’ line is a huge help when navigating busy towns and it got me to an obscure building in Croydon perfectly. Sadly it didn’t divert me around all of the discarded Kentucky Fried Chicken bones on the ground, but that’s Croydon for you. You can see the weather in your locality, at your destination or in another city and you can even check fuel prices where you are (this is an extra paid for feature at £3.49 for 12 months). Other upgrades include Personal Connect which is free and ActiveTraffic which is a very competitive £6.99 for 12 months. I haven’t tested the traffic solution so will cover that in a future article when I compare the various services on offer.
I have tested CoPilot Premium on four journeys so far which covered just over 400 miles and it didn’t miss a beat. That isn’t impressive these days though because most GPS solutions do the basics right in 2011. What impressed me most was the way the software handled re-routing so quickly and the ability to continually assess my route as I was driving. Over time I grew to like the software and the interface so much that it felt like ‘my’ solution despite having used TomTom for so many months every single day.
CoPilot Premium is stunning in so many ways; from the myriad of personalised features to the subtle interface to the accuracy and speed of navigation it all just works. I admit that I didn’t believe that TomTom could be beaten for me, but after a few days testing CoPilot is my preferred choice. If the traffic feature is as good as the rest of the software then I will be delighted with the new version, seriously delighted. There is so much here for the price that I continue to scratch my head at how ALK does this. Seriously, it is brilliant!
More information available at ALK.