Following in the footsteps of Verizon Wireless and AT&T, Sprint is the latest carrier to add a location-based service (LBS) to its offering of cell phone services. Powered by TeleNav (the same people behind AT&T's LBS), Sprint Navigation brings colored maps, turn-by-turn directions, and local search right to your cell phone or smart phone. Plus, there are some helpful extras, such as restaurant ratings, user reviews, and the ability to send your location to contacts via text message. It's not all a smooth ride, though. Route recalculations can be slow, and the system wasn't always accurate when pinpointing our location. Still, if you're not ready to make a jump to a standalone GPS device and still need navigation help, Sprint Navigation is a nice option. The service is available on a select number of Sprint phones (you can check for compatibility here) and will require a data plan. Sprint Navigation is free for the first day you try it; afterward, it will cost $2.99 per day or you can get unlimited access for $9.99 a month.
From the main menu, you have four options: Drive To, Search, Maps & Traffic, and Tools/Extra. To start planning a trip, you can choose the Drive To menu, where you can enter a specific address using your phone's keypad--or, if you don't feel like typing, by calling TeleNav for directions. In most cities, this option allows you to use a toll-free number, but, in some areas, the system will default to a local number. TeleNav says you shouldn't see a difference at all, as local and toll-free numbers are both charged at the same rate. You can also get directions by inputting an intersection, selecting a location from your favorites list, or picking from among your recently searched places. Sprint Navigation offers several route-planning options, including fastest time, shortest distance, traffic-optimized, or pedestrian mode. If you have the luxury of time, there's a Web-based desktop app that you can access via Sprint or TeleNav for before-trip planning, managing contacts, and more. This way, you get the advantage of using your PC's full keyboard and large monitor, and all the information will automatically synchronize with your phone the next time you launch Sprint Navigation.
If you don't need guidance to a specific destination, you can go into the Map menu and simply get a general map overview of your current location or any recently visited areas. In addition, Sprint Navigation runs the latest version of TeleNav GPS Navigator (v.5.2), which includes real-time traffic information. Updates are provided every five minutes, and traffic conditions are indicated by different colors on the map (red for severe, orange for moderate, and yellow for minor); you will also get a visual and audio cue if there's an upcoming traffic incident. To have Sprint Navigation reroute around the affected area, you can simply press 0.
Maps are presented in 2D or 3D view. Of course, a cell phone's smaller screen isn't optimal for in-car use, but it gives you a good idea of your location, and could be a lifesaver when you're completely lost. You also can pan and zoom in and out of maps, but we noticed it takes some time for the app to redraw maps, which gets a bit frustrating. When following a specific route, TeleNav also gives you visual prompts about the current street you are on, the next street to turn onto, the remaining distance to your next turn, your estimated time of arrival, and so forth. In addition, you can get a text-based preview of your entire route. Sprint Navigation also automatically recalculates your route if you happen to get off track, and supports text-to-speech functionality to speak actual street names rather than generic directions.
Search is essentially your points-of-interest database. Sprint Navigation offers about 10 million listings, and includes some of the latest search features provided by TeleNav. Not only do you get access to all the major categories, such as lodging, ATMs, and gas stations, but you can also find fuel prices for locations closest to your current point--a helpful tool in a time of sky-high gas prices. And who hasn't dealt with the dilemma of trying to find a good place to eat when you're in a new part of town? Well, Sprint Navigation and TeleNav are hoping to alleviate that problem by providing user-generated ratings and reviews of restaurants right on your phone (in addition to being able to get directions and call the business directly from the listing). You can even contribute and add your own rating.
Like Verizon's VZ Navigator, Sprint Navigation also offers a social-networking feature where you can send your location to a contact via text message. Unlike VZ Navigator, this function isn't limited to just Sprint customers; instead, you can share addresses with anyone who can receive SMS messages. If the recipient also uses TeleNav, all the information will be there when you launch the app, while non-TeleNav users will get one of two options. If your service provider allows URLs within text messages, you can just click on the address to get a map; otherwise, you'll just receive the address within the body of the text. The one area where Sprint Navigation falls to VZ Navigator is that you can't add your own personal note to the message.
We tested Sprint Navigation on the Motorola Razr V3m in San Francisco. Route creation, especially if you choose to download traffic information, can take up to five minutes, so be sure to take that into account before heading off on your trip. Directions were accurate and though the voice prompts sometimes mangled the pronunciation of street names, we were still able to understand the instructions and got ample warning of upcoming turns. Unfortunately, route recalculation didn't fare as well. Sprint Navigation was always able to get us back on track, but it often took a few seconds for the system to even realize we were off course. In our situation, it wasn't too alarming, since we were familiar with the area. But if you're in a completely new town, we can see how this would be a frustrating situation. Overall, position tracking was on point as we drove around, but like VZ Navigator, we noticed that Sprint Navigation was slightly off the mark with the address it sent to our friends via text message. On a brighter note, the PC-to-phone synchronization worked smoothly, and enhanced search capabilities (fuel finder and restaurant reviews) were quite helpful on our trips.