I’m in the middle of a road trip from Florida to New York and have finally had a chance to put the 3G iPhone’s GPS and Google Maps combination to the test.   And I’ve got to say – considering that this was not designed or promoted as a "GPS Navigation Tool" – it’s not terrible […]
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Opinion: 3G’s GPS/Google Maps Isn’t Half Bad – For What It Is

I’m in the middle of a road trip from Florida to New York and have finally had a chance to put the 3G iPhone’s GPS and Google Maps combination to the test.   And I’ve got to say – considering that this was not designed or promoted as a "GPS Navigation Tool" – it’s not terrible at it — if you give it a chance.  No, it won’t tell you when to turn, and no, it won’t re-route you when you make a wrong turn – but it does do the majority of what you’d want a GPS Navigation system for, and a few things that a proper GPS system doesn’t.

 

I NEED A WAL-MART

During the trip, we stopped for one of those gas/restroom/diaper change/beverage stops that any parent who has ever undertaken a road trip knows all too well.   While we were there, my wife realized that we needed a IMG_0021few more disposable sippy cups – and the only store that we knew that carried them was Wal-Mart.  We were already quite a ways from home and did not know the area – so we turned to the GPS system first.  However, there was one major problem – the GPS showed us all the Wal-Marts in the area – but didn’t tell us which were along our route.    So, to the iPhone I went.   First, I used the Location feature (the circle-hash icon in the lower left of the screen) to figure out where we were.   Then I did a search for Wal-Mart.  Immediately, Google Maps showed on the map all of the local Wal-Marts, and since they were plotted on the map around our location, it was easy to pick one that was on the way and not too far off the Interstate.  Clicking the arrow on the tagged location, I was given the street address, the phone number (which I tapped to call them to ensure that they were a 24 hour location) and an option to route either to or from their location.  I chose "Route to this location" and was provided the route to take.

WHERE 3G TRUMPS 2G

Now, on the 2G iPhone, this would be nice, but since the 2G iPhone has no capability to constantly follow your progress along the route, it’s not terribly useful unless you are familiar with the area.   Where the 3G iPhone shines is  in its GPS receiver that allows the iPhone to track you as you drive, scrolling the map while you remain centered on it.   This makes it very easy to determine how close you are to the next turn.IMG_0017IMG_0018

Now, of course, you do have to click the forward arrow at each step along your route, and you get no warning unless you are paying attention – but this is still quite usable, especially in a pinch.  

WHERE ARE WE?IMG_0019

My GPS unit is great for guiding us from one place to another, but unless you want to keep zooming in and out, (which is not terribly convenient on this unit) it’s not easy to get an idea where you are in between, say, Jacksonville, FL and Savannah, GA.   Here, the iPhone is great as well.      Hitting the Location button finds and tracks you in the center of the scrolling map, which you can zoom out for an overview of where you are in the trip.  You can also do this with the 2G iPhone, but of course your progress will not be automatically tracked.

Note: Reader Ghostshirt comments that the 2.0 update apparently now DOES automatically update your position; a change from the 1.x firmware:

"actually, the 2g version updates your location also. There is not a blue dot, but the old blue circle moves. I just made a trip from Illinois to Maryland and used my original with the 2.0 firmware. It gave a pretty good location most of the time and certainly kept updating itself. We wanted to find a white castle, and it led us there easily."

TRAFFICKING IN INFORMATION

My GPS unit included a free 30 day trial to a live traffic service, which gets traffic information from an FM radio subcarrier channel.   Google Maps, of course, can show traffic as well.     As we drove along I-95, suddenly I saw red on the Google Maps display ahead of us.   I quickly checked the GPS unit to see what it had to say about the traffic – and it did not list any problems.   So, which one was right?  As it turned out, we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic precisely where Google Maps said we would.   Needless to say, I won’t be paying for the GPS unit’s traffic service.

MUCH MALIGNED

Despite the usefulness of Google Maps for things at which a GPS is not terribly efficient at (such as quickly determining how far out of your way a detour to an attraction would take you, or showing a satellite view of a park to determine where the ballfield is, or, let’s not forget, traffic conditions), many people have taken issue with the fact that Apple did not include a full navigation package with the iPhone.   We now know that Telenav is planning such a service and TomTom is rumored to be working on one as well.   But hold on!  Give the Google Maps/GPS combination in the 3G iPhone a chance; you may very well decide that it’s all you need – or is a great adjunct to a GPS unit.

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