Pocket CoPilot 3.5

  • Editors' rating
    8.4 Excellent

Pros

  • Well implemented address entry
  • excellent spoken and visual driving instructions
  • GPS jacket allows for out-of-car use.

Cons

  • Moderate-quality on-screen map display
  • relatively expensive.

TravRoute's Pocket CoPilot is an add-on for your HP iPAQ handheld that turns it into a well-featured in-car or portable GPS navigation system. Like the other main contenders in this market, Pocket CoPilot talks you all the way to your destination -- turn by turn and roundabout by roundabout -- while displaying an updating map or driving instructions and route information on your handheld's screen.

Pocket CoPilot lets you plan journeys 'door to-door' from a specified start address to a specified destination or from your current GPS location to a specified address. You can also specify ‘way points’ on the journey. If you deviate from Pocket CoPilot’s calculated route, it quickly recalculates from your current position. Originally a US product, and now kitted out with street-level UK and highway-level European map bases, Pocket CoPilot brings some interesting and useful features that differentiate it from its competitors.

The Pocket CoPilot system consists of a GPS receiver in a 'jacket' that slips onto the iPAQ, a 128 MB CompactFlash card that contains all the UK maps and associated databases and which automatically installs the Pocket CoPilot program on your iPAQ. There is also a CD that provides the European highway maps and which also installs a Pocket CoPilot companion system on your PC. These installations onto an iPAQ and onto a PC are well supported and caused no problems.

You can use Pocket CoPilot independently of a PC: just insert the CompactFlash card into the Type II slot in the supplied GPS jacket, start up the CoPilot program and select a destination. When the Pocket CoPilot locks onto the 'local' GPS satellites, you’re up and running. If storage space is in short supply, the PC-based companion application lets you plan a route and then download only a 'strip' of map 10 miles wide around your route to the iPAQ. The GPS sleeve has its own internal battery and a power lead input to take power from the supplied in-car charger. Pocket CoPilot’s GPS jacket implementation also allows the navigation system to be detached from its power lead and used outside the car, where the iPAQ’s battery gives an hour or so of ‘untethered’ navigation.

TravRoute has done a good job in implementing Pocket CoPilot's address entry system. If you know the postcode, the task is just about done. Otherwise you start by entering the town/city name and Pocket CoPilot prompts you with matching addresses from its comprehensive UK database for single-click selection. As you type in the street name, CoPilot prompts you will matching entries from its database -- entering the first four or five letters is usually sufficient to lookup the target address for selection.

Pocket CoPilot also integrates with your Outlook address book -- but often has problems in parsing Outlook's address structures correctly. As a result, you may have to spend time editing your Address book entries so that Pocket CoPilot can work with them. In practice, Pocket CoPilot's address entry procedures are slick and fast so that manual entry via the iPAQ's soft keyboard isn’t a great chore. When you first start using the system you enter your home and work addresses so that they are always available for one-click selection. As you enter other destinations these are also remembered and made available for one-click selection.

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A big feature of Pocket CoPilot that distinguishes it from the competition is the way that it taps into its locations database to look after you when you’re driving. Both its spoken and on-screen instructions give very detailed guidance. Where the competition is happy merely to tell you: ‘Cross the roundabout, second exit’, Pocket CoPilot will go further, saying: ‘Take the second exit onto High Street’. If the roundabout has a name -- such as the Staples or Five Ways corners in north London, or the hundreds of named roundabouts in Milton Keynes -- Pocket CoPilot also specifies this, as well as the name of the road you should exit onto.

At low driving speeds Pocket CoPilot uses a split-screen display showing instructions for the next manoeuvre plus a map of the immediate area with the route ahead traced out in a green overlay. Its spoken instructions are timed to give you advance warning -- up to two miles ahead if possible, again at a hundred yards or so and finally as you come up to the turn. At higher speeds -- to reduce the demand on the driver's cognitive bandwidth -- Pocket CoPilot does not display the map and displays driving instructions in a large font. Immediately after you have completed one manoeuvre, you get a text prompt for the next, plus updating readouts of the distance to the manoeuvre, distance to your destination and your ETA. Two miles or so before the turn, the sequence of spoken prompts starts up again to alert you. This combination of visual and auditory prompts works very well and effectively allows the driver to concentrate on driving rather than working out what to do next.

If you deviate from its chosen route, Co-Pilot quickly recalculates to accommodate your preference. If you hit traffic congestion, a couple of stylus taps is all that’s needed to generate an alternative route -- and if you don't like it, another stylus tap restores the original. Similarly, you can quickly specify that you do not want to travel on particular roads.

Alongside its many excellent features Pocket CoPilot has one or two drawbacks. Its on-screen map display is less than exciting. It also lacks an alternative '3D' map display that usefully emphasises features of the route immediately in front of the car -- another feature implemented by some of the competition. Nevertheless, Pocket CoPilot's map presentation is competent enough to get the job done. After around 2,000 miles of guidance, Pocket CoPilot's error rate is pretty much the same as the competition -- two roundabouts missing from its database and two wrong exits, plus one inappropriate re-routing off a motorway and then back on again.

On balance, though, Pocket CoPilot's excellent visual and spoken driving instructions, the quality of its databases and fast address entry make it our navigation system of choice.

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