Hands-on with the MotionX iPhone navigation app

My favorite navigation app for the iPhone is MotionX-GPS Drive, because of its low cost, small footprint, and attractive and usable interface. The software just got upgraded to Version 3.0, with the new version fresh in the App Store this week. I've been trying it for the past few days.

The main thing I like about MotionX-GPS Drive is the user interface for finding and storing destinations. The search interface is presented on a pie menu, you tap slices of the pie to look for points of interest, including hospitals, airports, parking, or food. You can search by address, or you can just enter free text and search on that. Bing is the search engine, and it's quite good.

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One feature I like: The software allows you to keep a list of saved locations, and a separate list of favorite locations. If you think you're going to only go somewhere once or twice, you can save the location and use it as needed, but if you think you're going to go somewhere often, you can save it as a favorite, where you can keep an uncluttered list of frequent destinations. MotionX offers good tools for finding destinations you've found before. That's a great feature; most of the time when you go someplace it's a place you've been before. (Hmmm... that sounds kind of Zen, doesn't it?)

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MotionX-GPS offers a very attractive price. MotionX is priced at $0.99, which includes a one-month subscription to live voice directions. After that, live voice directions are priced at $2.99 per month, or $24.99 per year. Competitors are more expensive, including TomTom USA, priced at $59.99, and Navigon MobileNavigator, priced at $89.99.

MotionX-GPS Drive doesn't store maps locally, it requires a network connection. Other navigation apps rely on local storage, which requires 3 GB to 5 GB of space and slows down performance. The lack of local storage for MotionX-GPS Drive means the software has a small footprint and fast performance.

On the other hand, lack of local storage means that the software is crippled without a network connection. I haven't found that to be a problem; I've been pretty satisfied with AT&T network coverage where I live in San Diego. However, AT&T is the target of many service complaints; if you have a problem with network coverage, you won't want to use MotionX-GPS.

MotionX-GPS downloads the maps and directions for your route and caches them locally, so once you're on the road you're good even if you lose your network connection. That is, unless you make a wrong turn or take a spontaneous side-trip, in which case MotionX-GPS will require a network connection to calculate your new route.

MotionX-GPS doesn't offer as much detail in driving directions as some of the competitors. It doesn't tell you what lane you should be in, for example. And it doesn't speak the names of streets; it tells you where you should turn and in which direction, but you have to look a the display to see the name of the street you should turn on. I don't find these missing features to be a problem, but if they're important to you, then MotionX-GPS is not for you.

Version 3.0 is a user interface upgrade. It adds a new home menu, with buttons for search, going to previously found destinations, and settings. One of the buttons, "Position," saves your current position -- very handy for finding where you parked your car. The built-in iPhone Maps app will let you do something similar, by dropping a pin on the map.

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Another new feature is a compass showing the direction to your destination. That's handy for getting pedestrian directions, you can walk down the street looking down at your iPhone like Mr. Spock on an alien planet.

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And the software now runs in landscape mode; if you turn your iPhone on its side, MotionX-GPS changes direction to match. This image shows the same screen in landscape and portrait mode, colored for night viewing. Like many GPS apps, the software has different color schemes for better visibility during the day and at night.

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The software requires the iPhone 3G or 3GS for their built-in GPS sensors.

With the introduction of Version 3.0, vendor FullPower improves iPhone navigation software that was already very good. It's a good application for getting you where you want to go.

I've tried about a half-dozen GPS navigation apps for the iPhone, and I find they're pretty evenly matched. None is perfect, but they'll all give you driving directions to take you where you want to go. With no app objectively better than all the others, choosing between them is a matter of personal taste; you weigh the differences in cost, user interface, features and performance, and pick the one you like best. With the introduction of Version 3.0, vendor FullPower improves iPhone navigation software that was already very good.

The vendor has a pretty good demo video:

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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