This journey also marked the first time that I decided to try smartphone based satellite navigation for the entire trip. This is far from the first time I've driven these types of trips with a GPS. Since the early days of the original Garmin StreetPilot III, I've traveled 10's of thousands of miles with, at last count, over 8 different GPS devices. Before this trip though, none have been a smartphone based solution.
Let's get to the verdict on smartphone navigation first. It has arrived - it is ready for prime time and it can easily be considered someone's primary navigation tool. My hardware was a CDMA phone on the Sprint network - a HTC Touch Pro 2 running Windows Mobile v6.5. From the title of this post, you can assume that I used ALK's CoPilot Live v8 for Windows Mobile - a solution that stores maps locally (on an SD card) and does not require a cell signal for basic navigation functionality. This was a stable solution for the entire trip. I was able to navigate while placing calls, receive calls while navigating, receive and respond to the occasional text message and even use Google Maps simultaneously on occasion. For me, the days of thinking that a stand alone PND is needed for "real" navigation are gone - so is the justification for spending hundreds of dollars on a dedicated PND.
On this trip, I ran the above setup simultaneously with my Garmin Nuvi 760. I did this for backup and also for comparison. This will not be a comparison of Garmin vs. CoPilot Live. Garmin will only be mentioned herein as a point of comparison and reference.
ALK's CoPilot Live v8
I selected this as my software solution because in my opinion, it is the most complete of all of the Windows Mobile smartphone navigation solutions. It offers local map storage (about 1.5 GB), frequent map updates, an huge feature set and connected features. Finally, the price of ALK's CoPilot Live is small enough for it to be a "why not" decision. If the solution completely fails (which it doesn't) I am not out enough money to care.
For this trip, I had the latest CoPilot Live Windows Mobile software version. The maps were updated to the most recent full web download as well as the most current map "maintenance" update on the phone (one of which was released mid-trip). The Garmin Nuvi 760 also had current firmware and the latest quarterly Garmin map update.
Feature and More Features
CoPilot Live offers a huge selection of options for the user. The feature set is robust even when comparing it to the most robust PND's on the market - at a fraction of the cost (assuming you already own a smartphone of course). Some of the features to note includes:
- User importable POI files (in CSV or OV2 format). This is a great feature that is found no where else but standalone PND products. This feature allows you to build a robust collection of POI's for your trip in a product like Google Maps. Using Google Maps, you can nail the exact location of the POI, down to the driveway using satellite view, then export the POI collection from Google Maps, convert it to OV2 and import it into CoPilot Live where you are able to navigate to it.
- Multi-point routing. On a 4017 mile trip - this is a must. This feature allows you to create multiple stops alone your route or can be used to control your route to force it to use certain roads.
- Detour. This is a feature that excels in CoPilot Live. Garmin users have been frustrated for years by the grade-school detour function in the Nuvi's - longing for the days of a real detour function that worked from the older StreetPilot line. In CoPilot Live the user controls the detour by selecting a specific road segment(s) to detour around. Another must feature on a long trip.
When you open CoPilot Live, I find the user-interface to be very well done. This is a product that doesn't require a manual for basic use. The majority of the screen is dedicated to the map. There is an (optional) compass on screen (hear that Garmin?), manual zoom icons, a single MENU button, and some small icon indicators that show the satellite signal status, traffic server status, ALK Live Link (location-based social network) status, and the routing profile type (car, RV, walking, etc.).
Pressing the MENU button brings you the features of CoPilot Live in all its glory. A wonderful feature of CoPilot's basic map screen is that if you tap any road on the map a pop-up flag tells you the address of the point you selected. Very nice. You can also tap any on-screen POI's displayed (more on this later) and it will tell you the details of the POI, including the ability to navigate to it.
Even with Windows v6.5 (some would say) limited resistive touch screen, my user experience with CoPilot Live far exceeds any experience that I've had with any Garmin PND, short of the Nuvi 885T with its robust voice command functionality. This software simply works like a touch screen app ought to work - with the ability to "throw" menus and lists up and down in a quick and fluid motion. Bravo to the UI designers of CoPilot Live.
When you select the MENU button, you are shown the most common choices:
- Destination (The POI Database)
- My Places (Personal Favorites)
- Quick Stop (A select shortcut to a few common traveler POI categories)
- Live Services.
The only room for improvement here is to allow the user to detour partial lengths of a road segment based on distance. Let's say that your route contains a 30 mile segment on I-80 and you come upon a road sign that warns of construction for the next 5 miles. When I select I-80 on the maneuver list, I'd like to be able to pick from a variety of lengths, up to the "entire segment" in order to detour around the construction but then jump back on after that.
The Destination option brings you to a robust selection of options to find your desired destination. The options include:
- Address - Self explanatory. More on this in a minute
- Points of Interest (The full POI Database)
- Contact - Route to anyone in your smartphone's contact file.
- Pick on Map - select any point on the map to navigate to
- Intersection - Self explanatory
- PhotoNav - Navigate to geocoded photos
- Coordinates - A GREAT feature that allows you to enter latitude/longitude coordinates and navigate to the location.
When searching for an Intersection, first you must know the city. At first blush, this doesn't seem to be a big deal. But consider a suburban area in San Francisco or other major city - are you positive that you know the exact city boundaries to know what city as address is in? Contrast this to Garmin's method of searching where the City is optional. If you don't enter a city, it shows you all occurrences of the address and lets you decide.
Back to our State and Lake example....once I enter the City, I am asked to enter the first street name. I type LAKE and am presented with:
- East Lake Street
- Lake Street
- West Lake Street
I've gone through 4 attempts and CoPilot Live is convinced that State & Lake in Chicago, IL doesn't exist. Try this on a Garmin and you'll find the intersection of State & Lake in about 15 seconds. Try it in Google Maps and you'll find State & Lake as quickly as you can type.
I don't pretend to know the technical details of the technical challenge of this task. All I know is that CoPilot Live utterly fails when it comes to easily finding addresses and intersections in a user friendly way. It badly lags the standard set by the competition.
If anyone is successful in searching for the intersection of State and Lake in Chicago, IL - I'd love to hear how long it took you! Here is what it ultimately takes:
- First you must know that State Street is this specific location is actually NORTH State Street.
- When you scroll down the list when typing STATE, you eventually find North State Street.
- The Lake Street intersection, according to CoPilot Live, is actually WEST Lake Street. This isn't technically accurate though, because State Street is the dividing line between West and East in Chicago. Both West Lake Street and East Lake Street intersects with State Street. According to CoPilot Live East Lake Street and North State Street do not intersect.
- Once you look for North State Street and West Lake Street, you will find this intersection.
There are multiple options for searching for locations. You can select:
- In Different City
- On My Route
My other complaint with the location search and selection functionality is that there is no way to search for a POI and add it to your current route unless you start in the Plan or Edit Trip module. For example, if you are traveling down the road and you are in routing mode and decide you are hungry, you might start to search for restaurants. If you find one, when you select it and route to it, that action completely replaces everything in your current route. Contrast that to a Garmin Nuvi when if you search for and select a POI while routing, the Nuvi asks you "add to current route" or "add as new destination?"
My Places contains
- Presets for Home and Work.
- Recent (a list of recently found/used locations)
- Edit (a method of editing your Favorites list)
There are actually multiple pages of buttons after selecting the Menu button. Page "2" offers you:
- Plan or Edit Trip - a robust trip planning module and allows you to manage your trip, including multiple stop trips. A wonderful feature here is the ability to save your trip to local storage and recall it later for use.
- Driving Views - set defaults for 2D, 3D, etc.,
- Save Current Location - quickly turn your current location into a Favorite. Very frustrating that unlike "Send Location" the actual street address of your current location is never exposed to you here, or in the actual Favorites section of the software.
- Settings - more on this later.
- Get Maps (download new maps directly from your smartphone. Great but at 1.0 GB+ in size, the use is limited).
- Updates - where you download monthly map maintenance updates.
- Switch Maps - allows you to switch between maps if you have several Countries for example.
- Send Location - A nice feature to text message your current location, converted to street address format.
Plan or Edit Trip - The Details
Let's look at this feature in more detail. The Plan or Edit Trip function will either be blank (if you come to this feature without being in a current route) or it will contain your current destination if you are already in routing mode. There are 4 options here:
- Add Stop
- Show Route
- My Places
- Points of Interest
- Current GPS Location
- Contacts (from your smartphone contact file)
- Pick on Map
- Coordinates (Latitude/Longitude)
Once you have all of your stops entered, you can have the software auto-optimize them in the order that makes the most "driving sense." You can also manually arrange stops to meet your needs. Other options include determining the fuel cost based on a user entered MPG and $/Gallon.
You will find a "Take Breaks" feature here, that seems to be intended to introduce overnight stops. You select options like "every x hours, take a break for y hours." 'X' can be no less than 4 hours and 'y' can range from 1/2 hour to 8 hours.
A feature that I use a lot from the Plan or Edit Trip menu is "Show Route." It shows the overall calculated route, including total distance and total travel time. This makes for a good reality check to ensure that CoPilot Live is taking you on the route that you think it should take you on.
Within the Plan or Edit Trip functionality, there are some roadblocks. If you have multiple stops in your route, CoPilot Live does not show you the ETA at your final destination. It only shows you the ETA at your next destination. Let's say that you have a 4 hour trip and you have a stop at a fast food restaurant and a rest area. It is utterly irrelevant what time I arrive at the fast food restaurant. What I want to know is what time I will arrive at my final destination, in order to determine how quickly I need to get through the fast food restaurant.
There is a way to get this information that involves changing an interim route stop to a "waypoint." When you do this, then you are shown your final destination's ETA. However, when you set a stop as a waypoint, it doesn't actually route you to the exact location of the waypoint. Instead, it routes you "towards" the waypoint but when you get within a few miles of it, the program says that you are close to your waypoint and then recalculates the route to your next location. If you don't know the exact location of your waypoint, then this feature doesn't work, because it will never route you exactly to it.
There are a few uses of the waypoint functionality that makes sense. For example, you can quickly/graphically set a bypass around a city. You can also use this to force a route a different way than what might make mathematical sense without worrying whether you have accurately pinpointed an actual location on a legitimate road on your desired route.
Multi-Point routing is great, but CoPilot Live really needs to figure out a way to show you your final destination's ETA.
Settings in Detail
The Settings features gives you the following options:
- Routing: Set personal preferences for Vehicle Type (Car, RV, Motorcycle, Bike, Walking). Set Toll Road preferences. Set scenic route preference, propane-restricted tunnels, ferry preferences and whether to cross international borders.
- Map Styles: Separate map choices for Day or Night.
- Map Display: Heading up or North Up in 2D mode.
- Sound: Volume setting, "welcome message" on/off, mute and button click sounds
- GPS: Current lat/lon, date/time, speed, elevation, and a satellite reception map.
- POI Display - Nice feature! Allows you to select which POI's to display on the map and when to display them. This is great for driving down the interstate. You can have it show you gas and restaurants on the map as you drive. Clicking any of the icons shows you what the POI is and allows you to route to it.
- POI Alerts: This allows you to be automatically alerted to a POI category (or group of categories) at a preset distance that you specify. This includes setting whether the POI must occur ON your route or NEAR your route. This is a great feature. I use it in conjunction with a custom Timezone POI file that I downloaded and imported. Now CoPilot Live automatically alerts me as I approach a change in timezone. Very nice!
- Manage POIs: Here you can manage the POI files that you import.
- Turn Warnings: Set when you'd like to be notified of an upcoming turn.
- Driver Safety: A setting to "Display Map Near Turns." As far as I can tell this feature does nothing in the US.
- ClearTurn: A setting to "Display ClearTurn Near Exits." This is another feature that I find no evidence that it actually does anything in the US>
- Language and Voice: Voice Settings, including TTS.
- Speech: Sets whether TTS is used in some program voice prompts.
- Day/Night Mode. Settings to switch between Day/Night Mode. An expected feature, but a disappointing implementation. CoPilot doesn't use an astronomical clock in its programming. The switch between day/night is at a fixed time of day and is unrelated to the sunrise/sunset times of the seasons. That means that at 7pm at night in the middle of summer, CoPilot Live will switch to night mode despite there being full sun out. Annoying and disappointing.
- Units of Measure: Metric or English. Note that despite this setting, the Traffic application (not discussed yet) still reports problems on freeway exit and entrance ramps as "Slip Roads" using terminology from the UK.
- Screen Orientation: Portrait / Landscape or device setting.
- Info Bar - Some nice customization options for what is shown on screen during routing.
- Themes - A feature without a purpose. Only default is available.
- Routing Profiles - Allows for permanent settings of routing profiles, including whether road types are favorable or not (4 levels of options) and the speed at which to set for that road type. The program allows you to set multiple profiles and use them at your whim in an individual route. A useful options might be a routing profile for your car and routing profile for your RV - each with different options set for speed and road preferences. Great idea, but the feature simply doesn't work. When you create multiple profiles and change the road preference or speed settings in one profile it changes it all profiles. Great idea - but sloppy implementation.
- GPS Track Playback. Allows you to play back "tracks" of a previous journey. You can also upload tracks, presumably which feeds ALK's mapping database. Unfortunately, I've never gotten this upload feature to work (yes, I am using WiFi) after many, many tries. The feature ultimately says either it has encountered a server error or a memory allocation error.
Live services brings to life everything that smartphone based navigation should be. There is a decent bandwidth data connection at your finger tips - my expectation is that a good smartphone navigation software should use it - or it failed to live up to its potential. ALK has implemented a decent set of connected features including:
- Live Local Search (provider undisclosed)
- Live Traffic
- Live Link (a social networking location sharing app)
- Live Weather
- Fuel Prices
Live Traffic is powered by Inrix. CoPilot Live, when it comes to traffic data, is the most robust traffic solution available that I am aware of. It contains all of Inrix's markets. I've found the traffic data to be very accurate. Unfortunately, the implementation of traffic in the program has dramatically failed. See "The Ugly" commentary below.
Live Weather returns a simple 5 day weather forecast either Locally, "At My Destination" or "In Another City."
Fuel Prices does what you expect. Again though, there is no "On My Route" functionality. I am not sure that a Fuel Price search function makes sense without an "On My Route" option, especially for Freeway driving.
I'd like to see more done here. I'd like to see Twitter integration to post my location periodically on a long trip. I'd like to see movies times and locations.
OK - so despite a few bugs and complaints sprinkled throughout the discussion above, it would seem as though the CoPilot Live solution is the ultimate navigation solution. CoPilot Live is a very good choice, however, it is not without its issues - some minor and some major. Now let's discuss the major issues.
To say I am disappointing in the maps isn't quite accurate. When I bought this program for less than $35 I anticipated the maps would be less than perfect. I anticipated the worst and hoped for the best. I got neither. The maps aren't horrible but they aren't great either. I guess I ended up getting what I expected for $35. Given how good CoPilot Live is when it comes to the user experience, I wish ALK would just buy Navteq maps and charge us $50 or $60 for the program instead.
My first GPS experience dates back to the days that Navteq only had coverage in major cities. To get "nationwide" coverage on a Garmin back then, you had to combine the Navteq product with a product called MetroGuide. You'd deal with fun things like Navteq knowing about a highway bypass around a city but MetroGuide not, so the highways don't met up - resulting in a massive detour or a "you can't get there from here" message.
Since the day that Navteq starting accepting user error reports, I've submitted them. I've tried to religiously submit them. Back then, you'd wait 12 - 18 months to see your submission reflected in your PND. I have submitted more map error reports to ALK in the 10 months that I've owned this product than I have to Navteq over multiple years.
On this 4o71 mile trip, I have tracked (and will submit to ALK) a total of 19 map errors that impacted my trip. Of these 19 maps errors, NONE of them were problems on my Garmin Nuvi 760. ALK does have a MapSure program that promises corrections based on map reports within 45 days. This has resulted in the maps in my area being, perhaps, a little MORE accurate than Navteq, based on quick 45 day turnarounds to my own reports in my area. However, overall, from my experience on this 4071 mile trip, the maps we are starting with in CoPilot Live have some significant accuracy issues. What is most disappointing is the nature of the errors that I found:
- Getting the direction of highway/interstates wrong. For example, calling something Highway 5 North when it is actually Highway 5 South. This happened at least 4 times on this trip alone. This happened when traveling northbound on I-55N and turning onto I-270W in the St Louis, MO area. CoPilot calls this I-270N - it's not, never has been and this intersection hasn't changed in years.
- Completely wrong configurations on major roads. For example, the intersection of the Florida Turnpike with I-75 in Florida isn't correct in CoPilot Live.
- CoPilot Live thinks you can go from Osceola Parkway eastbound, to I-4 southbound to US-192 westbound in Orlando. You can't - and you haven't been able to for years.
- Major POI's not correct. CoPilot Live took me to the old (closed) Indianapolis Airport Terminal that closed 1.5 YEARS ago.
The mapping data also appears to not have any speed limit attributes as is common now on Garmin and TomTom devices. I do not know this for a fact, but base it on my experience using the program. The biggest issue I encountered was when routing on what is technically a state or county highway, but it runs through a city. In the Route Profile settings, you can set a divided highway favorability and speed. I favor divided highways and set the speed for 45 MPH. However, there is a big difference between US-280 that runs through the country through Georgia and Alabama (allowing you to bypass Atlanta when coming from Florida) and US-280 through Birmingham, AL that routes smack through the center of the City and contains numerous stoplights, congestion and slow driving.
To CoPilot Live, these two contrasts appear to be treated the same - from what I conclude is the lack of knowledge of speed limits like Navteq data. Garmin fought me tooth and nail as I traveled US-280 through Birmingham, AL. It nearly begged me to get on an Interstate through the City. I stayed the course because this was a 4071 test of CoPilot Live, but Garmin, armed with Navteq data clearly had the upper hand in this particular situation.
That is not to say that Garmin lead the way when it came to routing. It didn't. Based on my tweaked route preferences, CoPilot often picked the better non-Interstate routes and Garmin would reroute and attempt to "catch up" to what I was doing. Various times, the Garmin would recalculate and eventually knock 20 minutes off a 4 hour ETA. CoPilot worked well in these circumstances. But CoPilot clearly needs some differentiation between a rural and a city highway when lower speed limits and stoplights are involved.
Very seldom do I find such a dichotomy in a product. With CoPilot Live's traffic features I've found one. There is no better solution from a traffic content standpoint. Having access to the complete Inrix data, delivered over a robust high speed data connection is about as good as it gets. The implementation of that data within the product is a complete disaster however.
Here we have an app that is reporting traffic incidents and those incidents (when you read the text descriptions) are reporting flow rates (i.e., congestion: 25 mph) yet the applications doesn't take any of that data into account when determining a route, calculating a detour or displaying your ETA. Despite reporting traffic data to you, that traffic data is not used when calculating a route. While you do have the ability to manually detour around a reported traffic incident, the applications gives you no data by which to make that decision. Should I detour around this Interstate backup? Hmmm....CoPilot Live is reporting that the detour is +3.5 miles and +5 minutes, however, that information doesn't take traffic information on the proposed route into account either. And the +5 minutes doesn't include any delay on your current route because the program isn't smart enough to tell you the delay resulting from the very traffic delay that it is reporting to you.
This all came to head crossing I-80 through Chicago to Indiana on this trip. The Inrix data was very, very accurate, reporting the multitude of problems that existed on this stretch of Hell Highway. As CoPilot Live continued to report "Traffic Incident" our response after awhile was "no shit." We are SITTING in the traffic, we know it is there. The question is what do I DO about it? CoPilot Live, unfortunately, gives you no ability to answer that question.
A traffic solution that doesn't take the very traffic it is reporting into account in the program in any way is undeserving of being called a traffic solution. I turned to Garmin's old-school FM-TMC traffic to get me through this mess and, despite low bandwidth, limited segmented flow data and mediocre coverage, it at least worked.
I find ALK's CoPilot Live solution to be a very good solution in the smartphone marketplace. It has a robust feature set that rivals even the best PND's. The user interface is the best of any device I've used. As with any device or software, there are limitations and problems that sometimes get in the way of a flawless user experience. In the case of CoPilot Live, the map problems and the ridiculous traffic "feature" rise above the category of minor issues to the category of major problems. That being said, before and after this trip, CoPilot Live is and remains the solution that I use first mainly because I've not found anything else that is better. Without these issues, I would be a wholehearted fanboy of CoPilot Live. With them, I use it because I've not yet found something better yet, but continue to look hard for and anticipate other options.