Skobbler GPS Navigation 2: Cheap, but ok

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GPS navigation on the iPad is a bit of a hit and miss. The built in Google Maps will give you maps and a basic route planner, but it won’t give you turn by turn navigation. Unlike other types of apps for iOS, that kind of software is normally very expensive. Getting any of the apps from e.g. TomTom or NAVIGON will cost you as much as some standalone car GPS units, which might be fine for people who use it a lot, but not so much for people with limited budgets or people who don’t need the software very often. Skobbler’s GPS Navigation 2 app is a solution to that problem. At $0.99, it’s as cheap as they get.

The app uses maps from OpenStreetMap, a map service that has maps that are updated by users not companies that make money off it. That way the maps don’t bring up the cost of the software, and you can even use the software anywhere in the world without buying a new version. Sort of. There are two catches, you see. First off, you need a data connection to continuously get map data. Since GPS is only present in 3G iPads to begin with that’s only an issue as far as using up your bandwidth and having 3G reception is concerned, but that’s still plenty to cause issues. You can however get maps offline, but at a cost: $4 for a country, $6 for a continent and $70 for the world. Still not bad, but a heck of a lot more than the $1 buy-in price. They do promise better performance as well with offline maps though, so that’s something.

The other issue with the worldwide thing is that the app is not sold worldwide. It’s not available in the App Store here in Norway, so I had to buy it from the US App Store. It works fine, finds maps and all that, I just can’t buy it over here. Who knows why, but I know that it’s available in other non-US countries as well, so why they’re choosing to single out some countries I don’t know.

When it comes to functionality, the app is very basic – but that doesn’t mean that it’s missing something horribly important. You can tell it to go to an address, coordinates or find a specific business /gas, restaurant etc), just like most GPS units and software. The map view is selectable 2D or 3D, where 3D actually means tilted 2D view. It has a night mode, shows you the speed limit if that data exists, and has a button for accessing music playback. It also has a bug button, which is used to report bugs or missing info in the map – this is after all based on user made maps, so don’t expect the same accuracy as the big boys, though it wasn’t bad either.

The big problem I have with the app is that it doesn’t seem overly accurate when it comes to calculating distance. This might be because I pull maps with 3G as I go, but it’s still an annoyance. For instance, at one point we were driving a 2km stretch of road that I know very well to be 2km because it is part of a route that I used to walk many times a week for a couple of years. During those years I measured the distance with everything from the Nike+ sensor for the iPhone/iPod to my Garmin hiking GPS, and every reading showed more or less 2km. This app showed 4. That’s right, double what’s actually true. What happened was that at one point it started suddenly counting down the distance extremely fast, subtracting about 50 meters for every 10 meters we drove (it was right before an intersection so we drove very slow). In no time at all it was down to from 2500 to 900 meters, even though we had driven closer to 300 meters. Problem was, 900 meter was too short. It apparently realized this and stopped the counter as we drove off and the app waited 2-300 meters before starting again.

Obviously this is quite an issue with an app that tells you when to turn based on distance. If it randomly doesn’t know the difference between 4km and 2km, or suddenly tells you to turn right after having closed the distance 5 times faster than normal, it might be more confusing than helpful. Then again, this happened once, and it generally had a somewhat good idea of how far we had to go.

The bottom line is that this app is great for the price and worth getting if you want turn by turn navigation without paying a fortune, but keep in mind that as with all navigation systems it’s not without fault.

[iTunes]

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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