- Bluetooth GPS receiver is small, portable and retains its signal well
- fast route calculation
- good use of screen space
- No integration with on-handset address book
- postcode searching is not full seven-digit
- no software backup provided on CD ROM
Finnish company Navicore has recently brought its navigation solution, called Navicore Personal, to the UK. The software is available for Series 60 Symbian mobile phones, which we tested, and Series 80 (the 9500 Communicator and 9300 Smartphone) devices; it will shortly support UIQ devices like Sony Ericsson’s P910 too.
The Navicore software comes on an RS-MMC card with an SD card adapter. The card has a capacity of 256MB, and the software and data consumes 143MB of this, leaving 102MB free for user data. The package also includes a very small Bluetooth GPS receiver, with its own carrying pouch and car charger. A CD provides manuals but not a backup copy of the software. Of course, you can make a backup as soon as you get the product, but if you don’t have an SD card reader you'll need to allow for an extra expense. Installation is straightforward: you simply insert the card into your mobile phone (in our case a Nokia 6630) and pair it with the GPS receiver (which worked first time in our case). The printed manual provides enough information to help anyone who is unfamiliar with this procedure. After installation the Navicore software finds the GPS receiver automatically. The software has street-level mapping and routing for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but not the Irish Republic.
Features & performance
Navicore Personal is only available for Symbian phones, and the developers tell us there are no plans to support other operating systems. According to Navicore, this means that the software can be optimised for speed, and it certainly impressed us on this count. We entered a street name, and after just a few seconds got a browsable list of all streets sharing that name. Thereafter all we had to do was enter the house number we were looking for. It was very efficient, and seemed fast compared to other smartphone-based navigation systems we have used. The software does not integrate with any imported contacts, which may be irritating at first. However, you can save locations as favourites within the software making it quicker to revisit. Another initial irritant is that a short break in data entry initiates a database search, but any key-press stops a search, and in fact this feature can help to speed things up. Postcode-based routing is possible but not to seven digits, and we actually found using street names to be more efficient. The maps are provided by Tele Atlas, one of the leaders in the field, while the GPS receiver is the smallest that we've ever seen. The carrying pouch has a belt clip, making it possible to use Navicore Personal while walking, but there's no navigation mode for walkers so you’ll be directed as if you were driving a car. If you can live with this, the receiver might well survive in a rucksack slung over your shoulder. Navicore claims that its GPS receiver is exceptionally good at obtaining and retaining signals, and we found this to be the case in our tests: we progressively moved it deeper and deeper into the car’s recesses, waiting for the signal to be lost; it finished up in the glove compartment, where it still managed to deliver a good signal to our mobile. In general we found the route-finding satisfactory, although the software did come up with a route across London that we won't try again: why it avoided a perfectly adequate motorway (the M25) on a trip from south of London to Leeds remains a mystery. In fact, the software seemed to be obsessed by motorways, wanting to direct us back to a motorway we were trying to leave because it was closed rather than make a serious effort to find the alternative route we asked it for. We had to set up a ‘Roadblock’ to get our message across. Roadblocks are not meant to be used as temporary measures but to indicate areas you want to avoid permanently -- or, says the manual, ‘to correct minor errors or anomalies in map data’. You could block off toll roads or congestion charge zones with this system, for example; effectively, it allows you to apply local knowledge to the routing system. We’d like to see this feature implemented with a little more finesse, though. Many roads and junctions are no-go areas when they are congested, but can be real time-savers when clear, and there are times you might want to avoid a particular road ‘on this trip only’. This would be especially useful, as you can’t tell Navicore Personal that you prefer to drive on particular types of road. Spoken instructions and visuals are both excellent – we preferred the instructions from a very BBC-English male voice, although a female voice is also available. Instructions are delivered in good time, and tell you exactly what's required -- we never felt in doubt at junctions. Volume depends on what your mobile phone can deliver, of course, but we had no trouble with our Nokia 6630 test unit. Almost all the screen is taken up with a map, which can show or hide street names at the touch of a number key. Another key briefly overlays the current latitude and longitude. A small window at the top left of the screen shows the next turn (you can get a turn-by-turn view too), while a strip along the bottom gives additional information like estimated time of arrival and distance to destination. The usual option of 2D and 3D map viewing is available, and there's a range of Points of Interest (POIs) that can be overlaid onto maps. It's easy to find a POI within a set distance of your current location; if an on-screen POI draws your attention, pressing the star key pulls up contact information for it (or a scrollable list if several are on-screen at once), while the Call key initiates a phone call. There are two compass views, one circular one linear, both of which are nicely implemented. These could be useful when walking, as you can head in a direction rather than plan a route (remember, there's no pedestrian-optimised routing option); a compass view could also be handy if you have become lost while driving but know the direction in which you need to be heading. We’d like to be able to overlay a compass onto the map, where it would be even more useful in both these circumstances. You can send your position to another phone either as an SMS with latitude and longitude data, or as an MMS with a map. This can be done as a ‘one-off’ or in ‘Beacon’ mode, where you can set the intervals at which messages are transmitted. We are impressed with Navicore Personal, which offers a number of attractive features. But we do have some gripes. You don't get a car mounting system, so that’s another expense, while the lack of a backup copy of the software on CD is annoying. Even so, this is a slick navigation solution that makes particularly good use of the small screen space provided by Series 60 Symbian phones.