- Desktop navigation software included
- comes with Web-based tracking and messaging tools
- ergonomic user interface
- Live traffic data service not yet implemented
- Walking mode is not really suitable for walkers
ALK's CoPilot navigation software for Windows Mobile handhelds has impressed us in the past, and now the company is the first to deliver a solution for Windows Mobile-based smartphones. The only other navigation application for smartphones -- Route 66 Mobile Britain 2005 --runs on the Symbian platform.CoPilot Live Smartphone is compatible with the 2002 and 2003 versions of Windows Mobile for Smartphone. It relies on a Bluetooth GPS receiver to gather and plot information about your position. Clearly this restricts the number of Windows Mobile-powered smartphones that will support it, as not all have Bluetooth built in. We conducted this review using Orange’s new SPV C500. ALK’s chosen GPS receiver is produced by Taiwanese company EMTAC. It’s not the smallest we've seen at 50mm wide by 90mm deep and 17mm high, and it weighs 60g. Placed next to the diminutive C500, it looks rather large. It has three lights indicating the status of its built-in battery, GPS reception and Bluetooth connection. The battery is rated for six hours' life between charges. The CoPilot Live Smartphone software itself is supplied on a 128MB flash memory card. In our case, as we were working with an SPV C500, this was a MiniSD card supplied with an adapter to standard SD card size; an SD card version is also available. After inserting the card under the C500's battery and turning on the smartphone, the software automatically started its installation routine. We installed the software onto the card itself to keep the phone’s memory clear, and were left with 23MB of free space for other uses. Configuring the Bluetooth connection was straightforward, ALK providing clear instructions in its User Guide.
The word ‘Live’ in the product name refers to a range of features that are accessible thanks to the live Internet connections available in all Windows Mobile-based smartphones. Your current GPS position can be sent to a Web site, allowing others to track your progress along a route and send messages. This opens up possibilities for businesses to locate, trace and reroute on-the-road employees. The other obvious use of live Internet connections -- traffic updates -- is currently undergoing testing, and will be available towards the end of the year. CoPilot Live Smartphone comes with a CD containing a desktop journey planner that functions independently of the smartphone software. It can be used to send maps bought as extras to your smartphone, or just send storage-efficient ‘strips’ that relate to specific journeys. You can also use it to create and manage your own Points of Interest categories. There are two versions of the software. The desktop software plus a 128MB SD or MiniSD card with software ready to auto-install costs £169 (inc. VAT). Adding the Bluetooth GPS receiver, a cigarette lighter power adapter and a car mounting kit brings the price up to £299 (inc. VAT).
We found CoPilot Live Smartphone to be a strong product. Like the handheld version, it operates in several modes. Guidance mode provides turn-by-turn instructions based on planned routes and your plotted position. Planning mode allows you to generate a trip when a GPS signal is not present. Walking mode creates a straight-line route to a destination. Navigating mode plots your position on a map as you move, but does not provide any directions. By default, the software assumes that you require Guidance mode and that your current GPS position is your starting point, so on startup it asks for a destination. It can take data from your Windows Mobile Contacts application, but you must enter address information into the correct Outlook fields to do this successfully. Entering a destination manually is somewhat fiddly as the process relies on the number pad and navigation buttons on your phone -- handheld users may hanker for the touch-sensitive screen and soft keyboard offered by that format. But ALK has done what it can here, allowing combinations of street names, towns and postcodes to be used, and saving every location you enter as a favourite ready to be reused (or deleted from the list). There are some nice usability features, such as those relating to Points of Interest (PoI). You can set up alerts for these so that, for example, if you're desperate for petrol, you can ask the software to tell you when a filling station is within a certain distance (you specify from 0.2 miles to 25 miles), either on or near your plotted route. This applies to other classes of PoI too -- these include emergency and medical, hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions. You can also search the PoI database for entries near to your current location, any other location (city or postcode), or a Contact, and add any to your list of stops on a journey. The software was reasonably quick both to start up and calculate routes on our SPV C500, and the spoken instructions were precise (and thanks to the SPV C500's audio system, were also loud enough to be audible even during noisy driving conditions). ALK has made appropriate use of the restricted screen space available on a Windows Mobile smartphone, with information such as the distance to next turn, estimated time of arrival and name of current road clearly visible in the various map views. Once we had set up a route and asked CoPilot to display it as a 3D map (alternatives including a non-map-based next turn view and a close-up of your current position), no additional interaction was geneally needed, although creating a detour round a block of traffic that looked congested required three keypresses on one occasion. ALK uses maps from NAVTEQ -- the same company that supplies Route 66 with maps for its Symbian-based Mobile Britain 2005 product. So the comments made in our review of that product about its lack of coverage of non-vehicle-carrying routes hold here too. In particular, the software is not useful for walking or off-road cycling, despite the fact that there's a Walking mode of operation that draws a straight line between points. True, if you have a GPS receiver you can plot progress towards a destination using this, but you can’t be certain where non-road carrying tracks will go if they are not marked on the map, which is somewhat limiting. We can’t emphasise enough how convenient it is to have both the phone and the GPS receiver running on battery power and communicating wirelessly, compared to a setup festooned with wires. This, plus the competitive price, Web-based tracking services, desktop routing application and ergonomic interface design, adds up to an impressively functional and usable navigation solution.