Review: CoPilot Live 8 for iPhone (South African Maps)

I recently got contacted by the folks at ALK – they wanted to show off their new CoPilot Live product for South Africa. In case you dont know, CoPilot is available on iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile. I have been using the iPhone version for the past week, and yes, I am very impressed.

Key Features

  • Full spoken turn-by-turn voice directions
  • Detailed street maps of UK and Ireland with full UK post codes stored on your iPhone
  • Clear 3D and 2D driving views with SmartZoomâ„¢ speed-variable zoom and street names
  • Navigate to a house number, street, intersection or address book contact
  • Automatic portrait and landscape display switching
  • Comprehensive multi-stop pre-trip planning and preview
  • Route optimizer works out the best way around multiple stops
  • Intelligent navigation provides guidance in tunnels and underpasses
  • Automatic day/night mode
  • Navigate to thousands of Points of Interest
  • Lane indicator & CoPilot ClearTurnâ„¢ provides a more realistic view of motorway exits and junctions
  • Real Signpost display matches real-life signs
  • LiveLinkâ„¢ location sharing and messaging: keep track of your CoPilot friends, live on-screen!
  • Live 5 day weather forecast for your location or destination
  • Huge range of customization features to suit the way you travel
  • Customized trip status displays, including ETA, distance remaining and more
  • Safety camera database (with free updates)
  • In-app purchases for premium Live services
  • In-app purchase for Text to speech voice instructions

I have used alternative solutions by other vendors on the iPhone, and over time certain things started to irritate me. It has gotten so bad, that in most cases I just fire up Google Maps instead of actual GPS apps. Their database is up to date, and their routing is good as well. But of course, Google Maps does not actually navigate you to the your destination, with a convulatuted next, next, next type of interaction which is downright dangerous to use in a car. (Maybe one day they will grace South Africa (or even the iPhone) with that feature.
So lets get round to CoPilot Live 8. The install is easy enough – it is on iPhone after all. Standard Appstore solution. At 100MB+ you do want to download it through wifi however.

First off, the interface is slick and easy to use. Buttons are large, and easy to interpret, which is necessary when using a GPS in your car. Most things can be understood at just glance, which I appreciate. It’s pretty clear when you open it that it is a ported interface (it is almost exactly the same as on the Android and Windows Mobile), which I normally dont like. But after playing around with it, I realized that it works very well, despite not following the typical iPhone app look. Integration with the iPhone keyboard is perfect, which is more than I can say for NDrive. The level of detail on the maps is also great – in fact much better than with my Garmin with the latest mapset. The maps move along at a good pace – and there is a very cool feature where the top of the screen is changed to indicate where the current lanes you are driving down is heading. Orientation switch between landscape and portrait is quick and without bugs.

Voice instructions are clear and loud enough (on the 3GS at least). Routing was very good, and seems to be very similiar to my Garmin dedicated device. Talking about Garmin – they bring out new mapsets, and still havent included my security village’s road, which is by no means new. With CoPilot, it is there, with all the streetnames. And here I thought dedicated devices like Garmin have always been the best.  Small issues include the strength of the GPS signal, but this is a iPhone issue, not the software. On cloudy days, it did take a while to grab the signal, but just leaving it under the windscreen seemed to do the trick.
The performance on the iPhone 3GS was very good, but it was a lot slower on the 3G, and I did get some warnings on the 3G about memory shortages. But it did not crash once, which is good. Battery life was also better than I expected, and a hell of a lot better than using Google Maps which has to continually download map tiles as you go along. A small thing I also appreciate is the integration with the iPod – and creating quick playlists were a breeze. Also, while playing music, it didnt stutter once while giving directions, and the music were slightly turned down while talking, and than smoothly increased back up to the previous volume. I really appreciate that.

Even if the interface of a GPS app is good, it comes down to routing ability. And this is where CoPilot really shines. It has calulated all my routes perfectly, and never once give me an error, or a situation where I had to second guess it. And just for that I really like CoPilot. I wouldnt hesitate recommending this to people who are still not happy to use GPS’s. In fact, I have stopped using my Garmin in the last few weeks.

One criticism I have is that the South African version of CoPilot is expensive – CoPilot makes versions of CoPilot for many parts of the world, and currently the only version that is more expensive than the SA one is a version for the entire Europe. Meanwhile, the entire US mapset costs $19.99 at the moment. What makes this even more unfair is that the SA one doesnt support many of CoPilot’s “live” features, such as traffic reports. Now I realize there isnt infrastructure in place for this in SA, but still, the price seems to target international travellers visiting SA for the World Cup. Maybe the map providers in SA ask very high prices, but I think the price should drop a lot. At least we do get weather, and you can easily ask for current location or just about anywhere:

Overall I am very impressed by CoPilot Live – it is clear that they have put more attention to detail in their product – it runs smoothly, and works well around the iPhone’s application framework shortcomings. I am actually very interested to see what how they will implement the GPS framework of iPhone OS 4.0 in the future.
Rating: 4 out of 5 (drop the price and I will give it a 5)

Works well – nice speed, reliable
Routing works well
Very detailed mapset
Interface is excellent – good example of how porting is not always a bad thing
Pricey for the SA version
Performance on the 3G is significantly slower than the 3GS