One of the main reasons people use their Android phones is for the built-in GPS functionality. Back in October 2009, Google pissed off just about every GPS company by launching their very own free GPS navigation system, Google Navigation, which tightly integrates this service with the Android platform. The one catch with Google Navigation? You have to have a data connection to use it, which can create some problems when there is a network outage or you happen to be in an area with spotty (or no) coverage.
Enter CoPilot Live. CoPilot Live has been around for a while now (since summer 2009 or so), but usage dropped right around the release of Google Navigation. After all, it’s fairly difficult to compete with a service that’s being offered for free without differentiating yourself in some key way. Well, CoPilot live is trying to do just that by showcasing the fact that CoPilot live can be used all the time, whether you have a data connection or not. The way they accomplish this is by loading the maps directly onto your SD card rather than downloading local maps every time you take a trip. We will discuss this a bit later in the review.
Setting a Route
The whole purpose of having a GPS navigation application (or standalone GPS-unit) in your car is to safely and successfully travel from Point A to Point B, perhaps stopping at points C, D, and E along the way. As such, one of the most essential components of a GPS navigation application is how easy it is to set up routes to get you where you want to go.
In CoPilot Live, you begin by entering the City or Zip Code of the destination, then the name of the street you are navigating to. Finally, you enter the business/house number or cross street. That’s right, a total of three different screens to enter a simple address. Though not a dealbreaker, it seems much more complicated than simply typing in an address into a single bar ala Google Navigation. I’m confident users can get used to either way of entering destination information.
CoPilot Live allows you to enter destination information in multiple ways. For example, you can use CoPilot Live to navigate to a location on the map by simply selecting a waypoint on the map itself. Though this might not be as useful for precise directions, it will certainly help you navigate to an area that’s “close enough” to your final destination.
CoPilot Live also makes it very easy to set multiple stopping points along the way, which is very handy when going on road trips with multiple stops at places of interest.
Finally, you can easily navigate to places of interest by selecting a few categories (i.e. Restaurant > Bar and Grill > Destination), and then picking which location you want to go to. CoPilot live does the rest.
Overall, CoPilot Live offers multiple means of getting you where you want to go. Though in some ways it is on par or slightly better than Google Navigation, in other key ways it leaves you scratching your head.
Navigating the Route
No GPS application is worth a lick unless the navigation process is intuitive and works well. As someone who has driven through all parts of the United States, I think I can safely say that some of the standard routes in Minneapolis are pretty wonky, and sometimes frustratingly confusing. Though it has the potential to aggravate drivers, it seems it’s the perfect testing grounds for navigation systems, in my humble opinion.
Over the course of the past week or so, I’ve tested CoPilot live on seven different routes in and around the Twin Cities. The navigation screen was pleasant enough; you are represented by a big red triangle and because the maps are preloaded onto your phone, the streets (with names) come and go in real time as you travel. This is a welcome feature especially in those areas that don’t have 3G yet, let alone 4G or HSPA+ (though those places are becoming few and far between).
All in all, the navigation process works as well as you’d expect, but with a few potentially large hiccups I experienced with the voice turn-by-turn directions. First, while navigating some of the more complicated sections I mentioned earlier, CoPilot Live’s voice instructed me to turn AFTER the exit had already passed. Because I was testing CoPilot Live, I was following the voice-guided navigation to the tee, and missed my exit. Because the alternate route CoPilot Live provided was through the heart of downtown Minneapolis, my 15 minute trek quickly turned into 45.
The second hiccup is the voice-guided navigation itself. There are some very cool features in CoPilot’s voice guidance system to be sure: you can select from multiple voices in over 20 different languages, for example, but the quality of the voice-guided directions themselves are not up to the standards that Google Navigation has set. Here’s an example taken from my routine drive to work every day:
Google Navigation: “In a quarter mile, take exit 17C for Washington Avenue North” - Simple, Elegant, and detailed enough to let me know exactly what I need to do to get off of the freeway, without looking at the screen.
CoPilot Live: “In two tenths…of a mile, take exit” – Simple, yes. Elegant and Detailed enough? Not at all. Though the exit details appear at the bottom of the screen, this requires me to look directly at the GPS unit in order to figure out where I’m supposed to go (this area has 3 exits within 1/4 mile, hence the need for exit 17C noted above).
I know, I know, people with GPS units tend to look at them a lot of the time anyway, but it’s arguably less safe and convenient than having just enough information to successfully navigate to your destination without having to look at the screen.
CoPilot Live does many of the core navigation features as well as you’d expect from a navigation system, but really lacks in the voice turn-by-turn directions area. The quality of the directions is a bit less than it’s Google counterpart, and on two separate occasions it told me to take an exit after I’ve already passed the exit.
One of CoPilot’s saving grace features is the point-of-interest integration. Users can find points of interest around their location simply by clicking on the places-like icons that show up on the map. Then, you can simply navigate to the point of interest with a few easy button clicks. This works a lot like places, but operates as a layer over the map itself.
Another cool feature is the ability to share your coordinates via SMS, so you can easily update friends as to your whereabouts if you’re lost, or let a family member know when to expect your arrival, or all kinds of other cool uses. Yes, you might not use it much, but it can be very handy in several situations.
Multiple map modes allows you to view your navigation content in 2D, 3D, or Driver Safety Navigation modes so you can enjoy your navigation the way you want to.
- Maps stored on the SD Card – allows you to navigate anywhere you want to go without the need to be connected to 2/3/4G.
- Was quick to load navigation routes.
- Though entering in route information was a bit more complicated, the text prediction was fairly good making it easy to enter in street names and cities.
- Access to maps from all over the world – handy for the traveling Android user.
- Ability to share location via SMS.
- Has biking, walking, and RVing directions in addition to the standard auto nav.
- Live Traffic, Gas Prices, Weather, etc.
- Maps stored on the SD Card – Takes up about 1.73GB of your SD card, which is a death sentence if you actually keep things (music, apps, CyanogenMod nightlies) on your SD card.
- Sometimes told me to take an exit after the exit had already passed – this of course will depend on your location, and the layout of your city in general.
- Voice guided navigation in general doesn’t hold up to the standard that Google Navigation set.
- $29.99 price (though they often discount it to $19.99).
- Have to buy maps for each country you travel to.
CoPilot Live is a fairly good application for those of you who absolutely need offline access to navigation features, or if you want to travel to foreign countries without racking up immense roaming charges. For most U.S. users, the added features you’d get from CoPilot live simply isn’t enough to justify the $20-30 you’re going to spend on the application (not to mention the nearly 2GB of storage space on your SD card needed to store the maps themselves). Bottom line, if you do a lot of international travel and/or you’re not quite happy with Google Navigation, I encourage you to check out CoPilot Live as an alternative. For the everyday user going from simple point A to point B within the U.S., it’s probably not enough to overthrow Google Navigation from the Navigation throne.
Update: Winners have been contacted via the email address left in the comments!
Want to try out CoPilot Live for yourself? The folks over at CoPilot Live were gracious enough to give us 3 application/SD card combos (with maps pre-installed) to give away to you lucky readers. We have already given one away at the Twin Cities Android Meetup we sponsored a week ago, but we have 2 more to give away to you!
How do you enter? Simply leave a comment in the comments section below, making sure to fill out the email address field so we can contact you to get your shipping information. You must leave a comment by 7 P.M. Central Standard Time on Sunday, September 5th to enter the contest. Winners will be contacted as soon as possible after the Sunday drawing to collect contact information so we can ship the material out to you.