Route 66 Mobile Britain 2005

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Easy to set up and use
  • good navigation functionality
  • includes dynamic routing around traffic problems

Cons

  • Slow, both to start up and calculate routes on our test phone
  • setting up routes is fiddly using a phone's soft keys, keypad and small screen
  • maps do not include pedestrian paths and tracks

Navigation software is finally coming into its own, and many people buy handhelds with the sole aim of running such an application. Now, navigation software is making the leap to smartphones, and over the next few months we expect to see a number of announcements. The first product to appear is Route 66 Mobile Britain 2005, which costs 399 euros (~£263) from Route 66 or £267.90 (inc. VAT) from Peripheral Corner.

Route 66 Mobile Britain 2005 will only function on phones running Symbian OS 6.1 and the Series 60 platform. In addition, your phone needs 2.6MB of free RAM, Bluetooth so that you can use the supplied GPS receiver, and a free slot for either SD, MMC or Reduced Size MultiMedia Card (RS-MMC) media. GPRS is also handy if you want to use the road traffic updating service, which is also included.

This might sound like quite limiting set of requirements, but in fact the range of compatible phones is, at the time of writing, fairly healthy: Nokia’s 6260, 6600, 6620, 6630, 7610, N-Gage and N-Gage QD; Siemens’ SX1; and the Sendo X. Our tests were all completed on the Sendo X.

The software is delivered on a 256MB Reduced Size MultiMedia Card, with a converter to the standard size. There is more than 91MB of memory free on the card, which can be used for whatever storage you need.

The package also includes a cigarette lighter charger for the Bluetooth GPS receiver and a neck strap -- presumably for dangling the receiver round your neck when you're walking about.

Software installation is simple: you just pop the RS-MMC Card into its slot, and the software is installed on your phone. There is a registration procedure that's carried out on the phone, after which the application is ready to use.

Top ZDNET Reviews

Following this promising start, our experience with Route 66 Mobile Britain 2005 took a dip. It took a long time to start up (long enough to make you wonder whether the phone had crashed), and was slow at calculating routes -- at least on our Sendo X testbed. And anyone who is new to Bluetooth may find pairing the GPS receiver and the phone something of a challenge, as no printed instructions are provided.

However, once you overcome these hurdles, the software is a very pleasant to use. With the GPS receiver connected to the phone, your current position is plotted automatically. Planning a route involves setting up waypoints and then asking the software to take you to them in your desired order. The softkeys and keypad are used for this interaction, and waypoints are added by entering part of a street or city name, or a postcode, or drawing on the contents of your Contacts data. The software remembers places you’ve already visited, and you can set Favourite places if you are likely to visit them frequently. You can also save routes, eliminating the need to recalculate your regular trips.

The range of options available will be familiar to anyone who has used navigation software on a desktop, notebook or handheld computer. Examples include the ability to set your preferred driving speeds, the presence of a night viewing mode, points of interest (more than 70,000 of them) and 3D map views (you can set the viewing angle). However, using the phone's softkeys and keypad to set up routes is less convenient than a handheld's touch-sensitive screen, and takes longer.

We particularly like the ability to search for points of interest within the vicinity of the cursor, our current GPS position, or our destination, the way you can configure a speed limit which, if exceeded, will cause the phone to beep and flash until you come back below it, and the GPRS service that delivers dynamic routing around traffic problems. Surprisingly, during our test period, we did not find we needed to use this, but Route 66 provides it for free -- although you pay GPRS data costs, of course.

It is feasible, as well as desirable, to rely entirely on spoken instructions when driving, as a phone’s screen -- however well the display space is used -- is rather small. The volume on our Sendo X was a little low for motorway driving and required an earbud to be fully audible at all times.

The processor in our Sendo X clearly held the software back on occasions – we have noted its slowness to initialise and calculate routes. However, during our test trips we did not encounter waits while the software thought about what to display, or recalculated a route.

One of the potential benefits of navigation software on a smartphone using a Bluetooth GPS receiver is its appropriateness for walkers. But with the receiver in a backpack, the phone in a pocket for quick glances at the map, and an earbud delivering spoken directions we had mixed results.

In general things went well, but the maps used by Route 66 Mobile Britain 2005, which are supplied by Navteq, are identical to those found on other versions of this software: they cover roads, but exclude paths, tracks and other kinds of cut-throughs that walkers regularly use. Consequently, we often completed familiar pedestrian journeys by ignoring the program's instructions; on the whole, a printed streetmap that includes paths, tracks and the like might be preferable in unfamiliar locations.

The processor and mapping data issues can’t be laid at the feet of Route 66, which for its part has done an excellent job with Mobile Britain 2005. There is no doubt that this application sets the standard for other smartphone navigation tools to follow.

Top ZDNET Reviews