By TAN KIT HOONGbytz@thestar.com.my
Garmin's navigation software finally comes to the App Store with Malaysia and Singapore maps.
WHILE GPS navigation apps are numerous in the iTunes App Store, you can count on one hand those that come with proper Malaysian maps.
Of those, the three major companies that offer GPS navigation apps are TomTom, Papago and now, Garmin.
The TomTom app, while useful, does not have the most accurate maps available for our country and it's not cheap at US$69.99 (RM210).
Papago has great maps and an affordable price, but the software can be a bit laggy.
Which leaves the new kid on the block, Garmin, which recently released StreetPilot Onboard with maps of Singapore and Malaysia. The maps are courtesy of Navteq and local mapping community, Malsingmaps.
StreetPilot Onboard currently has a promotional price of US$19.99 (RM60) on the App Store so it's a good time to put it through its paces to see how Garmin fares against the competition.
StreetPilot Onboard is a whopping 1.5GB install file from the App Store, so be prepared to wait a while as it installs on the iPhone.
It's not currently a universal app, and only runs on the iPhone for now. It can run on a 3G iPad (which has a built-in GPS chipset but not the WiFi version) but only in pixel-doubled mode.
Like some Nuvi models, this iPhone version comes with free lifetime map updates, with up to four map updates a year.
All the usual niceties that come with Garmin are there, including 3D buildings and landmarks and lane assist with PhotoReal Junction View.
Going for a drive
First off, compared to the popular Papago app, the Garmin performs way faster in the navigation and menu screens.
One gets the feeling that the StreetPilot app here is properly taking advantage of the hardware acceleration of the iPhone while the Papago was simply using the CPU to handle all its graphics. At least it feels that way.
Once the app launches, you're given the usual Garmin startup screen - large "Where to?" and "View Map" icons with a tiny Settings icon on the side.
The menu system and map screen works in either landscape or portrait mode.
The search screen is where the StreetPilot is a tad slow - while the speed of the interface is fast, entering a search term and waiting for results sometimes take as long as 20 seconds.
This is probably due to the large database of POI (points of interest) in the app, so it's not surprising that it sometimes takes longer. Still, it would be better if Garmin found a way to speed this up.
The voice-prompted turn-by-turn directions are pretty good - it reads directions to you in English, and properly pronounces road names in Bahasa Malaysia.
You also get American English and Chinese audio options, but not Bahasa Malaysia.
If you are one of those people who connects your iPhone to the car sound system (whether via cable or Bluetooth wireless) to listen to music, you'll be happy to note that the GPS can work simultaneously with any music you happen to be playing.
The volume of your music will be momentarily turned down when the Garmin's voice navigation cuts in, and will go up again when the instructions are done.
Conversely, the app also works in the background, still giving you voice prompts even if you are, say, watching a video.
However, this also means that it's sucking up power in the background so if you're not using the app it's better to close it completely in the iPhone's multitasking menu.
As for the maps, while the Malsingmaps data integrated into the StreetPilot Onboard is not bad - it still isn't as complete as the data from Malfreemaps and there were a few points of interest that I could not find in the StreetPilot that can be found in the Papago software.
Nevertheless, it's already more than good enough for most users.
Like most people, I've been waiting for Garmin to release its GPS navigation software on the iPhone and it's certainly heartening to know that now that it's out, it's not disappointing.
StreetPilot Onboard runs smoothly on the iPhone and it's a steal at the current introductory price of US$19.99 (RM60) and still very reasonable when it goes up to its normal price of US$29.99 (RM90).
Pros: Fast interface; reasonably good map data; junction view is helpful; can run concurrently with any music app in the background.
Cons: Slow search results.
GPS navigation app for iOS
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: iOS 4.0 or higher, built-in GPS chipset
PRICE: US$19.99 (RM60) until June 10; US$29.99 (RM90) afterwards
Review copy courtesy of Aeco Technologies (M) Sdn Bhd, (03) 9285-8062.