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Navigon USA & CAN navigation review: Strong GPS app needs an interface overhaul

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The Good The locally stored Navteq maps allow the Navigon app for Android to navigate and route even without a data connection. Excellent routing algorithms made us feel confident that the app would get us where we were going.

The Bad There's no built-in voice input and no easily accessible shortcuts to Google's Voice Search. The menu and search interfaces are frustrating and require too much of the driver's attention.

The Bottom Line The Navigon app for Android brings the quality maps and routes that we expect from a Garmin-branded navigation product, but the interface spoils the experience.


7.3 Overall
  • Setup 5
  • Features 7
  • Performance 9
  • Support 8

I keep asking Garmin for a Nuvi app for Android smartphones, to just take the Nuvi interface from its excellent line of portable navigation devices and port it wholesale to the Android operating system. After unsuccessfully launching an Android-based smartphone of its own (How many remember the Garmin-Asus Garminfone?), you'd think the framework would already be in place.*

Yet every time I ask, I'm pointed to the "Garmin brand" Navigon app, which features a the same maps and presumably similar routing algorithms, but a totally different and less-intuitive interface. Le sigh.

Recently, I was able to test out Garmin's new Head-Up Display, which required the Navigon app for GPS data, so this is as good a time as any to take a closer look at the navigation app to find out if I've just been short-changing it all along.

I should note that the version that I tested was 4.9.2, which adds compatibility with the Garmin HUD. At time of pub, 4.9.1 is the version in the Google Play store.

*As it turns out, Garmin does already offer exactly what I'm looking for: a direct port of its Nuvi interface for Android phones, but it's only available in Australia for, as I understand, Telstra network subscribers.

Installation and offline maps
You can find Navigon USA & CAN -- with United States and Canada map data -- in the Play store for $59.99. There's also a $39.99 version is available with only USA maps for those who'll be staying South of the North border.

Navigon USA & CAN is a 22MB download according to the Play store data. According to the Android app info screen in the Settings menu, the app takes up 41.19MB on my phone.

You can choose what map data is downloaded to the phone for offline navigation. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

This doesn't take into account the state, province, and territory map data that must be downloaded and stored locally on your handset. Navigon recommends that you have about 2GB of free space on your phone to download all of the maps, but you'll likely only need to download the street data for your home state or province.

State street maps average about 25-50MB for average-size states like Georgia or New York. The map size is much lower for smaller states and sparsely populated territories. Rhode Island is only about 3MB and the entire Canadian Yukon Territory is only 1.25MB.

Our home state of California, with lots of land and a few large cities, predictably sits near the top of the scale at 104MB.

The Google Play and Android Settings counts also don't take into account the substantial amount of storage space for spoken voice data, additional imagery, and a host of other files stored in a directory on your phone's SD card or internal storage along with the map data.

Navigon on an Android phone
The Navigon app and its data can take up a great deal of storage space. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

All in, I'm estimating somewhere between 770MB and 812MB of space on my phone dedicated to keeping Navigon running with maps of California. As a Golden State resident, that's probably on the high end of the app's storage needs and even then, that's less than half what Navigon recommends.

The advantages are that I can navigate without a data connection and without worrying about eating up my data plan with constant Web connectivity for routes and maps. Even if you are on an unlimited data plan, you're definitely going to want to be connected to Wi-Fi before installing this app to speed along the data transfer.

However, in the cons column, on a phone with 8GB to 16GB of nonremovable storage, we're talking about a pretty big chunk of your digital real estate. If you have to install a number of states, say for a cross-country road trip or vacation, Navigon will be taking up valuable space that could be devoted to MP3s or other media.

Unless you're absolutely pressed for space, I'd say the pros outweigh the cons in most cases. The space requirements are par for the course with offline navigation apps, so we won't count the requirement against the Navigon app's score.

Interface and features
Fire the app up and, after all of the maps and such are downloaded on the first launch, you'll be greeted with the main menu, which consists of eight large icons that don't quite fit onto the screen, so the user must swipe to scroll down the list. When your phone is in landscape orientation, all of these icons are in one row and you can only see the first four icons. Flip to portrait orientation and the icons will split into two independently swipeable rows of four icons, but only four at a time will be immediately visible.

The available menu options are Enter an address, My destinations, Search for POI, Route planning, Take me home, Show map, Coordinates, and SOS DirectHelp

Below that are shortcuts for settings and for in-app purchasing of Traffic Live packages, FreshMaps updates, Urban Guidance, and enhancements such as Navigon Cockpit and Panorama View 3D.

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