Navig8: SatNav with no maps?

No phone for the Don this week. Not that he’s been a bad boy, well no more than usual. No, this time he’s blagged himself … a CD. Oh, and a Bluetooth GPS receiver. He wants to see if he can get around with an off-board navigation system, with an applet sitting on the phone that downloads maps via GPRS from a central server. That sounded good to us – one less thing for the car thieves to nick – so we blindfolded him and dropped him in the Wembley Badlands with only a BlackBerry for company …
 
There was a time when the nearest you’d get to a satellite was when a rich friends father had a dish the size of Birmingham mounted on a flat roof to pick up foreign TV. Nowadays, it’s commonplace to see a little hatchback drive past with a navigation device suction-cupped to the windscreen. Oh, how times have changed.
The evolutionary procedure therefore was to combine the satnav with the mobile phone, meaning it’s one device for navigation, hands-free communication and general pocket kindness outside of the car.

The nice man from Elite shows the Don’s nan where she can pick up a Navig8 box for less than a hundred quid

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all know that satnav on the mobile hasn’t been the easiest of sales up until now. Expensive pricing and clumsy software – even from the big names – have led to the popularity of separate navigation devices (along with great branding). It seems that people are prepared to walk around with an extra bulge in their bag or lump in their pants. Well, Navig8 is about to rewrite the script.

Navig8 works on the phone’s Java client and uses very little memory as the maps are not onboard. They are accessed via GPRS in real time and so never get old or need updating, unlike most other navigation solutions. There is a three-month subscription in the box, and from then on it’s £6.99 a month to carry on. You can even save money by paying for three months at £18.99, or a year at £69.99; and you have a five-year live period, which means that you can leave it for ages before renewing. The GPRS cost of a journey from London to Brighton would be less than 10p, and with one of the unlimited data packages available at the moment you would probably never see a charge on your bill.
So with the initial outlay of £99, and the £56.97 to subscribe for the rest of the year, you have super-affordable satellite navigation that never goes out of date, and is with you everywhere you go as it’s loaded on your mobile. But is it any good? Let’s have a look.

Boxing clever

In the slim Navig8 box there’s a CD, a small GPS unit (somewhere between a matchbox and a Nokia 6111), a booklet and a car charger. The GPS unit has rubber feet for your dashboard, though mine went AWOL on the first turn – damn that silicone dash spray! It also has a lanyard in case you want to walk around with satnav, take it on a bike ride or even wear it as an accessory to a Star Trek convention.
In real terms, it’s sensitive enough to stick out the way. The manual says you should keep it in ‘line of sight’, but mine was working well enough from the glovebox. So long as your car isn’t made of lead, you’ll probably find the same. To add to this, they’re introducing a new unit with even greater sensitivity. It just adds to the quality of what is essentially a well thought-out package.
The software is in the box on the CD, but it can also be downloaded via the internet on to a PC (to USB across) or direct to the actual handset. Either way, you’ll get the software up and running in a matter of minutes; and coupled with the fact that it automatically finds the GPS signal, my nan could get it working.
I did have a small issue with the browser on my T-Mobile branded Blackberry 8700, but this is being investigated as we speak. In fact, whilst Elite kindly looked into the problem for me, I got their Sales and Marketing Director Barry Nash’s Blackberry for the test. It’s tuff being this important, but you know how it is. Only the red carpet treatment will do.
Anyway, once installed the software does a quick GPRS signal test and then becomes a menu item on the phone. Magic!
If your handset isn’t compatible with the system, then quite frankly you’re just sad. Find me a contract handset without a Java client and Bluetooth that someone actually wants to buy, and I’ll be in a state of shock for days.
Another handy extra with the Navig8 system is the TMTI support option. Any problems at any time, just
call the number (an 0870 charged at the national rate) and they’ll sort it for you, or as they would put it “talk you through it.”

On the road
So, time to test the software.
First point: to keep the software light and fast, there are no fancy graphics going on or glossy sprites and intro screens. Saying that, it still looks good. The maps are clear with only the affected roads in view, and the colours and layout have been well planned.
The sidebar holds all the time info and turn prompts; and when you hit a roundabout, a gorgeous circle with a number in the middle pops up. The number indicates the exit you need to take. Brilliant. I love that. It just makes this so easy to use.
As well as turn-by-turn prompts, the route is planned out via a thin red line traced along the road detail and stretches from the starting point to the end. You can never miss a turning because the route is always available in advance on your screen. Perfect for when you’re going a bit fast and there’s a slip road you’d miss on a conventional device.
The way the information is viewed and read is well thought out too. Even the menu is straightforward. In fact, it’s easier than the girls at my local who hang around after closing time, and as long as you know a street name or postcode you will be able to plot your route in seconds. In fact, the software is so quick that rerouting is almost instantaneous.
The fact that the Navig8 uses real time mapping downloaded to the phone as and when it needs it really helps here, and has a big advantage over the more common onboard systems.
So let’s try a journey. Well, since I picked it up from the notorious one-way industrial estate by Wembley Stadium, where the exclusive distributor Elite is located, I thought I’d see if I could set it for home and then confuse it by going against the onscreen directions at every possible opportunity.
Luckily, the version I have was installed on to a Blackberry 8700, so I had a gorgeous colour screen with a large area to view, but Elite says the majority of compatible handsets are just as clear in terms of screen size versus information displayed.
I select the Navig8 icon from the phones menu and I’m in. I press the jog wheel and it asks me to choose an address. I tried using the town, the street and the postcode and each time it found my address in about three seconds. Once found, you press the jog wheel again and hit ‘route’. Easy.
There is also a chance to check the settings along the way, and you have the choice of fastest or shortest route. At the end of this quarter there will be a speed camera option and live traffic update and reroute button to tick. When all this is added, for just £6.99 a month you will have a fantastic package that sings, dances and …well, let’s leave it there for now.
Other features available now include places of interest, instant map viewing to see where you are on your journey and what part of the country you’re in, and alerts for petrol stations in case you need to fill up.
Up comes the navigation screen and little pin-like marker points map out each stage, linked by my red line to follow. I tried to turn off, to deviate, to not listen to the stern voiced lady telling me to turn left. Who chose that voice? It’s awful. Really strict. I keep expecting her to say something like “You’ve been a bad boy haven’t you?”, but am disappointed by just “turn left”. They are planning a voice skin feature to allow different characters to dictate directions to you, but for now it’s Madam Helga or nothing.
Anyway, every time I tried to fox the Navig8 it had my direction rerouted instantaneously. I even tried the old ‘switch off the GPS unit’, but it just found the signal again when I turned it back on.
I must say, this is amazing satnav. I was home, via the best route in next to no time, and when I arrived, I got a little breakdown of average speeds and time taken. Like a report. Very nice indeed.
The only real critisicm I can find would be that if you don’t have a data tariff it’s more money on your bill. Not much by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still a factor to be considered. Also, you would need your own car mount and can’t charge the gps unit and phone at the same time whilst on the road. This could be a problem if your phone has a less than great battery life.

Last word
Well, it sits on your mobile so you don’t need two devices, it picks up the GPS signal in seconds, it’s easy to use and costs less than anything else half decent on the market. A serious competitor for even the best stand alone devices purely on a navigation front, and possibly the best bit of mobile phone add-on software you can get.
It is worth mentioning that this is by no means a suck-up to Apello, Navig8 or Elite, this product genuinely is a class act, and if allowed to keep my GPS unit, I will certainly be keeping my subscription running.
In fact, if you can’t sell an MDA Compact on an all-you-can-eat web tariff with one of these, then you may as well give up.

 
We’ve teamed up with Elite to give away the full kit to one lucky reader. Yes, a year’s subscription and GPS unit is yours and all you have to do is get online at www.mbmagazine.co.uk.  
 
 
SPECIFICATION 
Directions   
Turn-by-turn navigation
Rotating maps
Voice instructions
3D maps
GPS unit   
Bluetooth connection
Battery life approx
10-12hours
Accuracy typically 10m
Compatibility   
Java-based application,
will run on most modern handsets; confirmed compatibility list at www.wisepilot.com
End user pricing   
Purchase £99
includes 3 months access;
subscription options thereafter are:
monthly £6.99
quarterly £18.99
yearly £69.99
Contact    
Elite Mobile
01782 645 600
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