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Road test: CoPilot Live navigation app for iPhone

CoPilot Live is a GPS app for the iPhone with great potential, but it needs a major update to be used as a dependable navigator.

CoPilot Live's map view could use some cleanup and suffers some lag when switching between the vertical and horizontal positions. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

CoPilot Live is the fourth turn-by-turn GPS application with offline built-in maps for all of North America that I have on my iPhone 3GS. After Navigon, iGo My Way, and TomTom, I thought there would be nothing new I could find in a navigation app. I was wrong.

CoPilot Live offers a quick way to switch between modes of travel, which include auto, RV, motorcycle, biking, and walking. This makes the app ideal for getting around town, especially, say, if you need to change from driving a car to walking. The Navigon app offers a similar option, but you have to dig pretty deep into the menu to change your travel mode. With CoPilot you can do this anytime, even in the middle of an existing route, just via a few taps.

CoPilot Live offers a quick way to switch between different modes of travel. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Another nice thing about CoPilot is the Live Services option, which includes Live Weather and Live Link. Live Weather lets you see local weather or weather in a different city. Live Link connects CoPilot Live users, allowing them to send messages or share locations. I wasn't able to try this out as I was the only one I know who used the app during the testing.

The Live Services option, of course, requires an Internet connection and is only available when there's a cellular or Wi-Fi signal. Unfortunately, the most anticipated feature that also requires an Internet connection, the real-time traffic option, is not yet available, though there's a placeholder for it within the Live Services section of the app. According to ALK Technologies, maker of the CoPilot Live, this service will be added via an update that's coming out by the end of the month and costs another $20 per year, on top of the current $35 flat fee for the app. No other flat-free iPhone GPS apps with offline maps currently offer real-time traffic.

Also missing is the text-to-speech feature, where the app would read out the name of the street. Nonetheless, the app has a wide selection of voices for you to choose from. It includes voices of 29 languages, each with a few options of accents, both male and female. It's probably the most versatile GPS app for the iPhone in terms of languages it supports.

Performance-wise, the CoPilot Live app launches fastest among all the GPS apps I've tried. It took only a few seconds on my iPhone 3GS (it might take a little longer on the iPhone 3G). The app is also very snappy when it comes to getting the GPS signal and routing. Unfortunately, the app's map view suffers from some lagging when switching between vertical and horizontal positions, and overall, the app seems rather buggy.

First off, sometimes during my many trips with the app, the map views appeared to hang as the red dot (representing the vehicle's current location) stopped moving completely, as though the car had stopped. Most of the time, it would take a couple of seconds for the map view to be live again and for the dot to become current with the car's location. Other times, I would need to restart the app. I'm not sure why this happened, but it could be because the GPS signal was temporarily lost.

The Live Services section doesn't yet include the much-anticipated Live Traffic feature. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

The second issue, which is definitely a bug, was in the Quick Stop section, which is a fast way to access the app's point-of-interest database. When you hit the Hotel tab, restaurants come up, and when you hit the Restaurant tab, hotels come up. Oops.

The third issue I had with CoPilot is that it was really bad at reading the addresses from the phone's contacts. While TomTom had some problems with reading addresses that don't contain a ZIP code, CoPilot Live randomly had trouble reading most of the addresses in my contact list, including those the TomTom and the Navigon apps had no problem understanding.

CoPilot Live doesn't make manually entering an address easy because it doesn't use any information from the address listing that it can. In TomTom's case, it would reuse the information it does understand from the address, such as city, street, etc., making re-entering address less of a hassle.

I used the app both in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New York and in both places, CoPilot once in a while seemed to have outdated maps; its routing was not the greatest and was even wrong at times.

Overall, CoPilot Live has a lot of potential, especially with its Live Services section, but in its current state, it's not dependable enough to be used as a primary GPS application for your road trip. In the app's defense, it's by far the most affordable among all other iPhone GPS apps I've tested--at least for now. Nonetheless, I really hope that its pending update will work out all the bugs, making the app more of a reliable navigator.