I recently updated my HTC Touch Pro 2 to Sprint Navigation v2.8 from TeleNav. I have been on a personal quest to find the "right" navigation solution and have been for over 10 years now. My usage of a GPS falls into three categories: 1) navigating in familiar territory, but needing very accurate ETA's to know my arrival time at a familiar destination, 2) navigating in unfamiliar territory on business, again, where good arrival times are very important and 3) navigating on vacation where POI search and other "novelty" features are used more often.
Over the last 10 years, my experience with navigation devices includes: Garmin StreetPilot III, StreetPilot 2610, StreetPilot 2730, Garmin i5, Garmin C330, Garmin Nuvi 760, Garmin Nuvi 885T, Sprint Navigation, Dash Navigation, Toyota Gen6 in-dash and Hertz Neverlost. Yes, the exception of the Hertz Neverlost system, I've owned all of those devices. I am a bit of a technology fanatic and love navigation products.
Where does Sprint Navigation Fit?
Sprint Navigation is, of course, a solution that first and foremost doesn't require a user to carry another device. That, in and of itself, could be a strong motivation for some users who prefer to carry a single device. In addition, navigation solutions on a cellular phone by definition are "connected" navigation devices, meaning that the software has a data connection available to deliver content to the application. While some separate navigation solutions do have data connections through a cellular network, it requires a separate subscription cost in most cases. Sprint Navigation is powered by TeleNav - a company that has been around the phone-based navigation for quite some time and can easily be considered the leader in this niche. I find the Sprint Navigation product to be far more superior to the Verizon VZ Navigator product.
When it comes to navigation on-board mobile phones, there are two options: maps stored locally on your device or maps that are delivered through the phone's data connection.
There are very strong pros and cons when it comes to determining whether you want to use locally stored or "connected" maps. The method of map storage can be more important than the features of the application for some users. If you want to use your navigation solution irrespective of whether you have a cellular data connection, then locally stored maps are your only choice. Sprint Navigation is not for you if this is your desire. However, locally stored maps take at least 1.5GB of storage space. With the low cost of large microSD cards, this concern is trivial in my opinion. Ask yourself whether you will use the navigation solution in areas where you have no cellular coverage to determine which approach is best for you.
The benefit of maps delivered through the cellular data connection is (theoretically) the maps can be more up to date.
Let's begin with the summary. Below you will find detailed discussion about why I summarized it as I did. How you rate Sprint Navigation depends on what you are comparing it to.
· When compared to other phone-based solutions with connected maps TeleNav leads the pack: 10 stars
o Comment: No other solution that I’ve seen competes in features, stability or the visual appeal of the product.
· When compared to other phone-based solutions irrespective of map delivery method, TeleNav is competitive: 7 stars
o Comment: Subscription fee is more costly than locally stored maps and with that, consumers expect more features. In some key features, TeleNav lags their competitors rather than leading them.
· When compared to other navigation solutions irrespective of platform, TeleNav has pros and cons: 5 stars
o Comment: TeleNav doesn’t deliver the breadth of features in a dedicated PND despite it being a capable product.
There is a difference in cost when comparing Sprint Navigator with other solutions that store maps locally. Sprint Navigator is a reoccurring monthly subscription cost. This is typically in the range of $9.99 per month, though many Sprint plans include this as part of the plan - a significant benefit. Solutions that store maps locally, such as ALK's CoPilot Live v8 have a fixed upfront fee.
3-Year Cost Comparison
Assuming you keep your navigation solution for 3 years, your costs can vary greatly:
· Sprint Navigation
o 3 years @ $9.99 per month = $359.64
· ALK CoPilot Live v8
o ~$40 upfront (assume $20 version updates in years 2 and 3)
o ~$20*3 for connected services
o Total Cost over 3 years = $140
o ~$100 (locally stored maps - no connected services on some platforms)
· Garmin Nuvi 1690:
o ~ $369
o $60 (connected service in year 3)
o $99 Lifetime map upgrade
o Total Cost over 3 years = $528
As you can see, Sprint Navigation offers a more economical cost than a Garmin Nuvi 1690 over 3 years. However, it is important to note that this does not mean that the feature sets and capabilities of the products are equal. There are definitely capabilities that a Nuvi 1690 has that Sprint Navigation does not and that may justify the cost difference for some users.
When compared to the ALK solution, you can see that there is a significant difference in cost when compared to Sprint Navigation. Justifying this cost difference is going to be the biggest long term struggle for a solution like TeleNav in my opinion. TeleNav has to knock us out with features that leverage their connected abilities to justify a price difference like this. Given the capabilities of a product like ALK CoPilot Live v8, I am not confident that they've done it to date. More on this later.
Nuts & Bolts
Let's get into the nuts and bolts of the application. First let me say that I've always found the TeleNav solution to be completely stable. I don't recall a crash of the application - ever. I have also found their software to be very nice visually. This is not a program that you need any kind of manual to operate. Just dive in and go. Very nice.
Very simple - easy to understand. Choice are: Drive To, Search, Maps & Traffic, Share & More. Very self explanatory. I know where I need to go. Well done.
“Drive To” Screen
This screen gives you a list of options that fill my Touch Pro 2's screen vertically. They are: Resume Trip (the last trip canceled), My Favorites, Recent Places, Address, Intersection, City, Business, Airport, Contacts. Very self explanatory.
This contains your personal list of saved locations. You can also store favorites by category. This feature somewhat leverages the connected nature of this program by allowing you to sync your favorites with a similar list stored on the TeleNav website. This is a nice feature and works well. On the TeleNav website, they offer a couple of browser plug-ins that make capturing addresses off the web very easy. These plug-ins capture the address off the web, place them in your favorites and then sync to your phone the next time you use Sprint Navigation. Very nice.
This is a feature where TeleNav has the ability to offer more, to leverage the connected features of their product and justify their continued subscription price. I personally hate storing my GPS favorites in multiple places. I don't like moving them from device to device when I switch devices. Nearly all online GIS solutions support GeoRSS feeds as a storage format for location data. Like regular RSS feeds, GeoRSS feeds can be subscribed to within any application that supports them. TeleNav could support GeoRSS feeds and allow us to subscribe (using the connected features of the phone) to any Internet-based location data in real time. If it is updated on the Internet, it would be updated in the software automatically. A real world example would be users that store their location data in Google MyMaps. Google MyMaps produces a GeoRSS feed that could be subscribed to in Sprint Navigation and your entire collection of Google MyMaps locations could be available at your fingertips. This is also a way that TeleNav could compete against the free navigation solutions from Google and Bing. Google Maps for Windows Mobile for example support Google MyMaps natively. It just doesn't have navigation features (yet). Why give up this feature to Google when there is a open standards way of offering the same feature?
Address / Intersection Entry
When selecting Address, Intersection, City, Business or Airport, you are presented with the option to "Speak it" or "Type it." There is an option menu that allows you to default to one or the other without prompting. "Speak it" is a nice option, but the implementation disappoints, especially after using free solutions from Google and Bing. Speak It does NOT use native voice recognition on the phone. It dials a number in California that you interact with using your voice. It then updates the application with the results when you hang up. This is better than nothing, as it does allow some handsfree use of the product. However, when compared to Google Maps and Bing's voice recognition feature where you speak directly into the phone, this is a disappointing and cumbersome implementation. It also takes a LONG time to interact with the robo-agent on the phone call versus simply speaking what you want to find into the phone. Not impressed with Speak It.
Address entry has one clumsy hiccup too. If I begin to enter the state "Missouri" into the State box, when I type M I, the results show the abbreviation for Michigan (MI) as the only option. It does not allow me to spell the State. I must know that the abbreviation for Missouri is MO and enter MO instead. This seems petty and clumsy.
There is a fantastic array of POI's found under the Business icon. However, I find that their label "Business" is a bit of a misnomer. For example, you need to go to Business in order to find Wifi HotSpots, or Parking Lots, or City Parks, or Libraries or State Campgrounds. I don't consider those "businesses" in the traditional sense of the word. I would prefer that they stick to the nearly universally accepted term "Points of Interest" which is more intuitive. That said - the content here is great.
Wifi Hotspots tells you whether they are free or not. Very nice! There is a Gas By Price option that lets you pick the octane level. (However, there is no indication of how old the price data is). POI's are well done in this application.
Hopefully the fact that the POI’s are server-side means that POI’s will be more current. TeleNav could leverage the connected feature of this program by giving us a way to report bad POI’s directly from the POI listing in the application. These kinds of things would set them apart.
This could be a very useful function. It brings your Outlook contacts into the navigation experience. If there is a contact on your phone and that contact has a properly formatted US address, you theoretically should be able to route to it. This works well some of the time. There are a couple issues. First, I have a very large contact file in Outlook. I have about 1800+ contacts. When I select the Contacts icon, Sprint Navigation presents me with a list of all of my 1800+ contacts - AFTER about a 1 minute wait. During that minute, there is no indication that the application is doing anything, other than it is not responsive to other actions. Certainly, I am not going to browse my 1800+ contacts to find the right one. This is purely a search function for me. Therefore, it doesn't do me much good personally, to have Sprint Navigation display my 1800+ contacts on the screen. I prefer this be a simple search function that THEN goes and retrieves only the relevant data AFTER I enter the search criteria. With 1800+ contacts presumably in memory now, anything I do, like entering characters in the Find field is slow to respond. There can be 10 - 20 second delays between entering a character and it appearing in the Find text box. This feature needs to be re-thought for people with large contact lists.
Second major problem with Contacts is that it is only useable with actual people (entries that have actual first and last name fields populated in Outlook). If the entry only has a company name, but no first and last person name - no go on this feature. The find field doesn't search the Company field at all. It does display all your contacts in the initial list that you can browse, including those contacts without a first and last personal name. However, even this listing that you can browse is not very functional. The list that you can browse does not show you the company name field either. So all you end up being able to see when you browse is the phone number(s) and street address. Unless you have the street address or phone number memorized, you have no idea which business contact you are looking at or selecting for routing. Even when you PRESS on a contact to view it, it does not show you the company field - only the street address.
This feature is a decent attempt, but really needs to be thought through some more, as it has limited use in real world usage.
The last issue with Contacts isn't a fault of the application, but a reality with how people store street addresses in Outlook. The application (or more likely TeleNav’s servers) has to take the street address from Outlook and geocode it to get latitude/longitude. This geocoding doesn't produce good results if the address in Outlook has unit numbers, suite numbers or other information other than strictly the street address.
The Search menu is a very simple screen with What? Category? and Where? options. Category default to All and Where is set to Current Location - reasonable defaults for most people. The Where? option can be changed to a multitude of choices - very nice. You can also search "Along Route" when in routing mode. This is a nice feature. The Category? option can be refined to select a specific category to search within - further narrowing the results for relevance.
Search does contain sponsored ads which I find ridiculous for a paid application - especially one that is $9.99 per month. Shame on TeleNav for introducing ads into a program with an already generous cost.
There could be an improvement to the Along Route functionality that would be significantly beneficial to users. Right now the "Along Route" only shows you the total distance the resulting locations are away from your current location. TeleNav should take an example from the Dash Navigation playbook and show us how far the locations are AHEAD of our route AND *OFF* our route. For example, if I am traveling on the Interstate and I need gas, I can search Along Route for gas. There could be 2 stations that are both listed as 5 miles away. In reality, the first station could be 1 mile ahead, but 4 miles off the Interstate. The second station could be 4 miles ahead but 500 yards off the Interstate. Obviously, to most people, the second station would be significantly more attractive. There is no way to know this with this application or any other application that I know of (since Dash's demise). It is an opportunity for TeleNav to differentiate, since the heavy math behind this could be done server side.
Results in the POI searches are "rated" with stars. I have no idea what the source of this information is. Unless it is Yelp or TripAdvisor or some other well respected source of consumer rankings, I find little use in this feature and generally ignore it.
Maps & Traffic
This menu option shows you a map of your current location, as well as traffic conditions ON THE MAP if they are available. This is a nice presentation. There is an option menu that allows you to toggle 2D and 3D maps, share a location (via email or text message) and get a new map (for a location other than your current one).
The Share Location feature is very nice. The best part about this feature is that if the person you are sharing with also has Sprint Navigation, the location that you share with them can be routed to by them. This enables great "meet me" functionality.
There is another wonderful feature here called Cursor Address. This allows you to select a location on the map and have TeleNav reverse geocode it and give you the street address. This is great for determining where you are, what the address is for a noted feature around you, telling someone where to meet you, etc. The implementation of this is clumsy though compared to other options. ALK, for example, allows you to click anywhere on the map with your finger or stylus and the street address is immediately shown to you right on the map. This is possible though because ALK uses locally stored maps. TeleNav needs to do an online server look up, which is understandable. However, the method of picking the location still needs work. You cannot just point to a location on the map, then initiate the lookup function. The "selection cursor" is always in the center of the screen and you have to move the location of interest on the map TO the center of the screen. The problem is the map is not drawn in real time as you move it. So you have no idea whether you've moved the map far enough or too far until you lift the stylus off the screen and let the map redraw. It can take 3 or 4 tries before the actual location you want is in the center of the screen, ready for lookup. Very clumsy implementation, but a good feature.
Share & More
The Share & More screen gives you what you might suspect. You can Share Addresses from here with the default being sharing your current location. The My Stuff option shows you My Favorites, Recent Places, and Sent Addresses (those that have been shared). There is also a Record Location function which basically takes your current location and allows you to save it as a Favorite. This menu is where you will also find Preferences, Application version information, a Product Tour, etc.
Oddly, you will also find Movies in this section. Why TeleNav treats finding movie theaters differently from finding WiFi HotSpots or Gas Stations by Price, I am not sure. It seems to be a weird place for this search. It feels like this should be in the Business (though wrongly named) category. You can search by theaters or by movie, which is nice so you can ensure you are being routed to a theater that is playing your favorite movie.
What is not available in v2.8 is Weather functionality. This seems like an odd omission since it is readily available on other solutions and seems like an easy one to leverage the connected features of the product. In ALK's product for example, it is easy to find the weather near your current location or any other location for that matter. This is the sort of thing that TeleNav should be leading the industry with to justify their subscription fee and leverage their connected functionality. Instead, on this particular function, they trail their competitors.
In fairness to TeleNav, they do offer a TeleNav branded version of the software that is compatible with the Touch Pro 2, that does offer these features. Oddly, the version numbering of TeleNav’s branded application is different than Sprint Navigator’s version numbering. This makes it impossible to compare how Sprint Navigation’s version compares to what I could get directly from TeleNav, without comparing each feature line by line on the feature matrix.
It does appear that Sprint Navigation is “behind” TeleNav’s branded application in terms of features. This is disappointing. TeleNav actively promotes on their Twitter feed that they “power” Sprint Navigation, and Sprint actively promotes that customer are paying for the application through their plan. I would be disappointed to learn that TeleNav intentionally cripples the features of Sprint Navigation to protect their own branded product. I certainly would not consider paying TeleNav for a program that I already pay for through Sprint. More likely, I would suspect, is that the time it takes to work with a bureaucracy like Sprint limits the frequency with which TeleNav can introduce new features versus their own application. Whatever the reason, it is disappointing to not be able to enjoy the full TeleNav feature set through Sprint Navigation.
Of course, we could have it much worse by being Verizon customers, where they actually limit the use of 3rd party solutions to force you into using their subscription application. Never, will I be a Verizon customer.
Traffic functionality is built into the product. You can view real time traffic against a map from the Maps & Traffic menu. And, traffic is available as part of the routing process. When selecting a destination, first Sprint Navigation selects the route, then checks the route for traffic to determine if a better route is available. Traffic delays are nicely displayed on the navigation screen. While in routing mode, you can also select the Options menu and change to the Traffic Summary screen. This screen displays a list of maneuvers on the route and the real time speed of each road segment (if known). The total number of traffic incidents is displayed as is the total delay. Any segment can be selected and Avoid can be selected. TeleNav will recalculate the route avoiding that segment if a better route is available.
One annoyance with traffic is the application's insistence on reminding us that it is "Checking route for traffic" all the time. This disturbs conversations, Internet radio, cell phone calls, etc., to provide meaningless information. If I trust that I've set the traffic feature to work in automatic mode, just do it in the background please, quietly. If you find something, let me know. But you don't need to remind me every 5 minutes on a 5 hour drive that you are doing your job.
My main complaint with traffic is the lack of covered markets. TeleNav still only has 50 markets where traffic is available. This pales in comparison to any other solution, where the number of covered markets is between 90 - 130+ in other products. Again, this is an area where I'd hoped to see TeleNav leading the industry to justify their monthly subscription fee. However, it is a second example of them trailing their competitors. ALK's product brings every one of Inrix's markets to your smartphone. That said, there are issues with ALK's implementation of traffic as well, even though they have over double the markets covered that TeleNav has. A typical PND traffic implementation which relies on FM-based signals also has significant issues due to the lack of bandwidth to convey detailed information like highly-segmented flow rates, and coverage of secondary roads.
No one has nailed traffic yet, in any PND or software, despite some being "so close." TeleNav has the best situation - they have server-based calculation capabilities that could handle lots of traffic information to determine alternative route options. They have connected smartphones as the delivery method where bandwidth is not a concern. Why they don't leverage this potential leading position and lead the industry in market coverage, I do not know.
Bottom line is unless you are in the top 50 markets in the US, forget about traffic being a useable function in this product. And even in those 50 markets, there are only ~35 of them that report speed (flow) information through the TeleNav product. The others only report incident data. Without flow data you have no idea whether another route choice is actually flowing better - you just know about an accident.
Traffic is nicely integrated into this product, but the data / markets covered are worst in class unfortunately.
While in a route, users have the choice of a 3D or 2D map, either north up or direction of travel up. The screen is very readable and nice visually. The street names are written inside the lines of the street. The map uses different colors of streets to distinguish different types of streets (i.e., residential, major road, highway, Interstate, etc.). Highways and Interstates also have recognizable "badge" icons on the map. Parks tend to be colored green on the map and bodies of water tend to be colored blue. In general, the map is very well laid out and well done visually.
On the navigation map, you can manually zoom in and zoom out. One feature that I miss that Garmin does well is to auto-zoom the map based on the speed / distance to the next turn. The zoom of the map that I prefer is much different if my next turn is on the freeway in 150 miles, versus if it is two blocks away in town.
There is a visual indication of the direction of your next turn in the upper left hand corner. ALK does this feature one better if there are two turns that are in close proximity to each other. They show the second turn direction in a smaller icon adjacent to the next turn indicator.
There is a text row that indicates the next turn to make. There is a second text row that shows you the total distance to your destination and the ETA of your destination.
Every navigation solution is going to vary on the success of its route selections and ETA based on the how new the maps are. Sprint Navigation shows Tele Atlas 2010 in the lower left corner, so I'd suspect that the maps are fairly new. It is not known whether TeleAtlas users (other than TomTom) benefit from the IQ-type routes that TeleAtlas gathers which is a collection of real user speeds on roads instead of relying on just generic road classifications.
In general, I find the Sprint Navigation routes to be reasonable and the ETA's to be acceptable. I'd like to some some input into the route calculation algorithm however, by setting my own speed preferences for different road types.
With locally stored maps or a dedicated PND, I know when I update my maps, because I have to do it myself. There is something empowering about updating my ALK maps on a monthly basis and confirming that I see my map error reports addressed. Since TeleNav updates maps server-side, we never “see it.” It would be nice when I open the application, to have a message that indicates that the maps have been updated since the last time I used the application. It doesn’t really mean anything, other than a reminder to the customer that the maps get updated.
Other Miscellaneous Thoughts
Detour: This product technically has a detour function. But it is buried as part of the TraffiC Summary screen and is intended to avoid specific road segments that have traffic incidents on them. Depending on traffic conditions, TeleNav will not always avoid the segment you tell it to. TeleNav should bring a detour feature to the forefront outside of the Traffic functionality. From the Route Summary screen, I'd like to click on any route segment(s) of my choosing and say Detour to take that segment out of the route entirely.
Waypoints: There is no ability to do multiple step routing (i.e., have multiple destinations or multiple stops on the way to a destination). This is a standard feature in standalone GPS devices and is also part of the smartphone feature set now in products like ALK's CoPilot Live.
Expanded Connected Features: I'd like to see more advanced functionality that leverages the connected capability. For example, if the product supported multiple waypoints, I'd like to build the routes online, with multiple stops, and send the routes to the device.
Routes: I'd like to be able to save routes for repetitive use - routes with multiple stops. For example, a weekly route for me is: Work, Kid’s School, Kid’s Dance Studio, McDonalds, Kid’s Gymnastics Studio, Home. I’d like to be able to store that multi-step route, recall it on the days needed and have it show me the interim and final ETA’s so I know that I am on time at each stop (taking current traffic conditions into account). ALK’s CoPilot Live v8 will do that – this product will not right now.
Custom POI's: I'd like to be able to add my own sets of POI's in an industry standard format (like ALK's support for Ov2 files).
Route Options: Having server-side calculations capabilities, presenting the user with multiple route options to their destination could be a nice feature that offloads the heavy calculation lifting to the servers. My Toyota nav does this, as did Dash Navigation.
This is a good product. Its ability to find and route you to a single destination is straightforward and competent. You can trust the product to get you where you are going in a reasonably reliably route. There are some nice features in the product, such as Gas by Price, Wifi Finder, and a robust POI database. As a product that I receive free with my Sprint plan, it is a very usable solution. If I were paying $9.99 per month for it, my enthusiasm would be less but still positive. I feel that TeleNav should be leading the way in features in order to differentiate themselves from the competition and to justify their $9.99 subscription fee. Their subscription fee over a 3 year ownership period is the second highest way to own/use a GPS solution. Only Garmin’s highest end Nuvi 1690 is more expensive to own than TeleNav over 3 years. Most mid-range to low-range Garmin Nuvi devices are cheaper than TeleNav over 3 years.
Unfortunately, despite this being a competent solution, on some key features such as traffic and multi-point routing, TeleNav is lagging the competition. This is true not only when comparing more expensive solutions like the Nuvi 1690, but also when comparing to less expensive competition like ALK’s CoPilot Live v8 (a solution which is cheaper in the 1st year of paying TeleNav subscription fees).
When compared to other phone-based solutions with connected maps: TeleNav leads the pack: 10 stars
When compared to other phone-based solutions irrespective of map delivery method: TeleNav is competitive: 7 stars
When compared to other navigation solutions irrespective of platform: TeleNav has pros and cons: 5 stars