This review is for version 188.8.131.52 of Sygic's Mobile Maps app for the iPhone, which adds a whole bunch of minor fixes and fiddles, as well as text-to-speech, support for contact list addresses and, Sygic claims, better GPS positioning. As before it includes maps for both Australia and New Zealand; testing was performed entirely in Australia.
If you're familiar with portable nav devices from TomTom, Mio, Garmin, et al, you'll feel instantly at home with Mobile Maps. Tap on the map and you'll be brought to a main menu chock full of big friendly icons laid out in a very familiar fashion, with destination entry, map browsing and configuration all featured on the first menu screen.
Features that the iPhone has popularised, like swipe to scroll and multi-touch zooming, are notable for their absence. That said, Mobile Maps is quick to detect screen orientation changes, adjusting itself to match in double-quick time — in this respect it puts the standard Safari browser to shame. Switching between day and night modes occurs automatically too.
There's also a custom keyboard for destination entry and, although it features smaller keys than the standard iPhone keyboard and does without key highlighting, typing is quite easy, unless the iPhone is already affixed to the windscreen. On the plus side, there's no key lag when entering addresses or points of interest.
The iPhone's 3.5-inch widescreen display means that it is better suited to in-car nav applications than phones with smaller displays, such as Nokia's 6110 and 6210 Navigators. Unlike dedicated portable GPS units, however, the iPhone has a glossy screen, which on bright sunny days exhibits as many annoying reflections as a sea of crinkled aluminium foil. Plonk on a pair of sunnies and the screen gets sucked into a black hole.
When you can see the map screen, it's quite pleasant to behold, with nice graphics, large floating text for the street, 3D map view and an information bar at the bottom. The latter features a set of boxes containing next turn instructions. There's also a set of boxes that can be configured to show average speed, current speed, distance to destination and so forth. Unfortunately, these boxes can't be wished away because, while they're interesting, the text is just a tad too small to read whilst driving or on the road.
With its latest revision, Sygic's iPhone nav app has bulked up its feature list and even manages to outgun its more expensive, big name rivals from Navigon and TomTom. The most important addition is text-to-speech for spoken street names, which comes with a selection of English and American accents, but nothing tailored for us Antipodean types.
Despite our natural preference for plum English accents, Sygic's English voices tended to inflect instructions upwards, as if mimicking Sandra Sully or asking for permission. Indeed, the female American voice (Heather) performed best, keeping unwanted inflections to a minimum and coping best with our mix of English, Aboriginal, Irish and Australian street names. There are a few other quirks that need fixing: roundabouts are always referred to as traffic circles and road numbers are sometimes used instead of road names.
Trans-Tasman travellers will be pleased to find out that maps are included for both Australia (Whereis) and New Zealand. Sygic does include red light and speed camera locations, but they're only visible as small camera icons on the map (audio and large visual alerts are, as yet, unavailable) while speed limits are available for a fair number of most streets and roads.
Lane guidance is present and available for a seemingly random selection of intersections. Alas, its relegation to the bottom left corner of the map screen and microscopic size mitigate against its usefulness. The unmissable road signs for major intersections, and highway and motorway exits show how it should be done.
Other features include a world clock, calculator and unit converter, all of which are slightly redundant on the iPhone.
Unless you've already got an in-car charger and windscreen mount for your iPhone, the cost of these items must be factored on top of the price of Mobile Maps. Without a windscreen mount using Mobile Maps, or any other nav app, is a serious safety hazard — in our test vehicle, the only appropriate iPhone cubby car is ahead of the gear stick, necessitating long glances away from the road. Go without an in-car charger and the iPhone's, already short, battery life is cut still further. Without a charger we were able to eke out a trip to the Hunter Valley from Sydney, but not the return journey.
Since we tried the first version of Mobile Maps for the iPhone (7.7), its GPS performance has improved significantly, but still falls well short of even the cheapest stand-alone, brand name GPS units. With those units, performance in the CBD can be a little flaky, but is otherwise fine. With the latest version of Mobile Maps for the iPhone, enter the CBD and everything still goes haywire, with accurate positioning being the exception and not the norm.
In the suburbs, however, GPS drop out has been all but eliminated, although incorrect positioning still happens from time to time. Veer off course and there's still a slight delay before the app twigs and plonks you down on the correct road.
Route calculation is fairly swift and start-up time is impressive, limboing in around the six-second mark for both the 3G and 3GS. For the latest version, Sygic has eliminated the safety warning screen when the app restarts after a call.
While verbal instructions via the fruity phone's built-in speakers are sufficiently audible at maximum volume, this may mean that using Mobile Maps in nosier cars is a no-can do. Those who play music on their iPhones whilst on the road — presumably via either an FM transmitter or your car's auxiliary jack — can now hear turn instructions as Mobile Maps has been reconfigured to mute your tunes as necessary. There's still no way to change tracks or stop the music from within the app — you'll have to drop out of Mobile Maps first, enter the iPod section and restart Mobile Maps.
At nearly 400MB and just under AU$80, Sygic's Mobile Maps Australia for iPhone is certainly one of the App Store's weightiest and most costly programs. Compared to entry-level portable nav devices — about AU$250 for a name brand — it's good value, even after factoring in the cost of a windscreen mount and a car charger. With its latest update, Mobile Maps has become our favourite iPhone nav app, but we still have reservations about using the iPhone as a GPS navigator with poor performance (particularly in the city) and major glare issues during the day.