I’ve often thought that if somebody produced a satellite navigation system using Google Maps to navigate from then it would be simply the best navigation system on the planet. Now somebody’s done just that: Google.
Yesterday, I became the first person in the whole of the United Kingdom to use Google’s new satellite navigation service, Google Navigation.
Well, okay, maybe I’m stretching the realms of truth there and I probably wasn’t the first, but let’s allow my fragile ego a moment of limelight. Here’s what actually happened: five minutes before we were due to head for London where Ali and I were guests at The Publican Awards 2010, I noticed a headline that caught my attention in Google News: Google unveils sat nav for Android phones.
This, it seems, was the moment I’d been waiting for. I’ve been using satellite navigation systems since they first became available, from in-car systems to handheld units to the Tom Tom that currently resides on the dashboard of my jalopy. I even once used a laptop with Microsoft AutoRoute, connected via a Garmin handheld GPS receiver, and a girl sat in the back of the car with all of this equipment around her to navigate me from Calais to Amsterdam.
And when, on April 1st, I became the first person [sic – see above] in the whole of the United Kingdom to own a brand new Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, one of the things I was looking forward to was being able to use Maps as a navigation device when Google finally got round to releasing the service in the UK.
Interesting, I thought as I glanced down The Telegraph’s article. I’ll look at that when I get chance. And then I bundled the wife and kids in to the Chrysler and tried entering the post code for the BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane in to my trusty Tom Tom. Except that, amazingly, the Tom Tom refused to accept that the post code existed, and the nearest it could find was Westway, rather than Wood Lane.
Eventually, I manually entered Wood Lane, London in to the Tom Tom and at least had some chance that when I got to Wood Lane I wouldn’t be able to miss the Beeb’s big building. (Not that I was going to anything glamorous on the telly, it’s just that’s where my sister-in-law works as an editor and she was having the kids overnight.)
But, while Ali was collecting my dress suit from the tailor, I tried typing the post code in to Maps on my new Android phone. BBC Televison Centre came straight up. With a new arrow that hadn’t been there before which, when I pressed it, started up the Navigation service. So I figured I’d give it a go and jerry-rigged a method of holding it to the dashboard for the journey.
Tom Tom say that they aren’t worried by Google’s new Navigation system, but they should be. First, it’s free to Android phone users with the 1.6 version of the operating system or above. Second, it is much, much quicker at calculating complicated routes than my Tom Tom is, and even quicker at recalculating the route should I deviate from it in any way. Third, the spoken directions are much more precise than Tom Tom’s, including ‘reading’ to you exactly what the sign you’re supposed to be following will say as you approach the junction.
I’ve always thought that if somebody produced a satellite navigation system that used Google Maps to navigate from it would be the best navigation system in the world. Somebody has now done it, and there are no prizes for guessing that the people behind it are Google themselves.
The onscreen display is clear, and typically Google: uncluttered and easy to understand. The top of the screen displays what action you are going to take next, while the bottom of the screen shows how long to the end of your journey and the name of the road you are currently on. If you want, you can call up different layers that will even allow you to use Google’s satellite imagery to navigate from rather than the map, but I found that this cluttered the screen a bit and made navigating complicated junctions tricky.
Much easier to just leave it in map mode, although you can pull up Street View images to help you understand where you are. You can also quickly and easily call up a detailed schedule of your journey, details on traffic delays and much more. It surely can’t be long before Google add a layer that includes speed cameras – at that point it would be a hugely powerful tool.
There are a couple of downsides, though. First, it does require the phone to have a data connection open for downloading maps and calculating routes. If you haven’t got an unlimited data package on your contract then this could prove costly, and even then if you travel abroad a lot roaming charges for international data connections could lead to bankruptcy.
And while the spoken details are so good you don’t actually have to look at the screen at all, other than to admire your phone and the clarity of the display upon it, the voice is less than audible. It sounds like Stephen Hawking on transgender drugs and if, like mine, over sixty miles per hour your car makes more noise than the Large Hadron Collider on overtime, then you won’t be able to hear it no matter how loud you push the volume button.
But this is a beta product and was only launched to the general public yesterday. Like all Google’s products it can only get better.
In fact, the only truly negative experience I had is that Sony Ericsson, at the time of writing, don’t actually produce an official in-car mounting kit with charger for the X10 model, and therefore the battery on my phone ran out one mile away from BBC’s Television Centre.
Sort it out, Sony…
NB: Please note, this is a reposting of a blog originally written on my old server on 22nd April 2010.