Best for: People with basic navigation needs who don't use smartphones and would rather pay a monthly fee than buy a dedicated device for $200 or more.
Hardware tested (1): RIM BlackBerry Bold
Service tested: AT&T Navigator 2.0 (via TeleNav)
Price: $10 per month or $99 per year
Hardware tested (2): Samsung Highlight
Service tested: TeleNav GPS Navigator 5.2.9
Price: $10 per month
A standard cell phone using a cloud-based navigation service can provide good turn-by-turn, voice-prompted navigation. But with some handsets, the hassles involved may outweigh the benefits.
The software needed to connect to a cloud-based service comes preinstalled on many cell phones. To activate the service, you pay your carrier a subscription fee--typically $10 per month or $100 per year for unlimited usage.
The main advantage of "cloud-based" navigation is the constant automatic updating of maps and points of interest. And because the maps reside on the service's server, using these live features doesn't tax your phone's memory or CPU. But since the route calculation and tracking occur remotely, away from the phone, many services require a constant data connection for navigation. Your handset acts as a dumb terminal that displays the graphics the remote server sends.
I tried cloud-based navigation services on two phones: AT&T Navigator 2.0 (powered by the latest TeleNav 6.0 service) on a RIM BlackBerry Bold, and a light version of TeleNav's GPS Navigator 5.2.9 on a Samsung Highlight, a fairly basic touchscreen phone. Both services got me where I wanted to go, but the experience on the BlackBerry Bold was far superior to that on the Highlight.
Because the Bold's AT&T Navigator 2.0 downloads the entire route--including surrounding map data--onto your handheld, it can supply directions even when you lose your data connection. On my test route, I continued to receive turn-by-turn instructions despite driving out of data coverage and missing multiple turns. The TeleNav service on the Samsung Highlight couldn't navigate without a data connection.
Voice directions on the BlackBerry were full and often gave compound instructions when turns followed in close succession. The Highlight's service seemed to be trying to issue compound instructions, but often the second part cut off after "and then"; it also left off many street suffixes, neglecting to say "Parkway" or "Street." The BlackBerry's service was more explicit in announcing highways, too. It said to enter "Route 3 East", whereas the Highlight's service said only "Route 3."
The BlackBerry Bold's AT&T Navigator service lets you use speech to enter an address or to search for a local restaurant or gas station. The voice-recognition feature needed no training and was quite accurate. On the Highlight, I had to input data via the numeric keyboard--a tedious, time-consuming task that was too distracting to attempt while driving.
The services I tried on the Samsung Highlight and the BlackBerry Bold provided a good text-to-speech navigation experience, but the AT&T Navigator service on the BlackBerry did better, thanks to a more powerful platform and new software and features. To see what services are available for your phone, consult the feature matrix and the list of supported devices at TeleNav's site.
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You have (at most) three choices for cloud-based navigation: Google, Networks in Motion, and TeleNav. Your cell phone provider may offer only one service for the device you own. Networks in Motion products are available exclusively through carriers, and sometimes carry brand names other than NIM. TeleNav's products may be branded as TeleNav or with the carrier's name. The Verizon VZ Navigator and Sprint AAA Mobile services rely on Networks in Motion's technology, while AT&T Navigator, Sprint Navigation, and T-Mobile TeleNav GPS Navigator work with TeleNav. Google Maps is free to use on supported handsets.