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Verizon Wireless VZ Navigator review: Verizon Wireless VZ Navigator

Verizon's latest Get It Now service, VZ Navigator, turns your cell phone into a GPS navigation device. Read our review to see if it can be your guiding light.

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
7 min read
Verizon Wireless VZ Navigator
Editors' note: The review and ratings have been updated since the original publish date to reflect new features that have been added since the product's first release.

Cell phones have come a long way from their roots, not only in terms of design but also in the types of services offered by carriers. Each of the major providers now offers downloadable ring tones, images, games, and other multimedia fun, while Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T have launched music and video stores. And now Verizon has empowered its cell phone users even more with a helpful application, called VZ Navigator. As part of Verizon's Get It Now services, VZ Navigator turns your mobile into a GPS navigation device, providing you with turn-by-turn directions (text- and voice-guided), points of interest, and local maps. And recently, Networks in Motion (the company behind the navigation service) released an updated version that adds location-based messaging and Web site management. Overall, the service is easy to use and was helpful in our tests, accurately guiding us to our destinations and providing us with information on local attractions.


Verizon Wireless VZ Navigator

The Good

The easy-to-use VZ Navigator turns your cell phone into a navigation device, providing accurate and clear turn-by-turn directions, points of interest, and traffic updates. There's a function to search for fuel by price and peruse movie times and local event listings.You can also send your location to friends via text message and manage your addresses and searches with a desktop component.

The Bad

We wish VZ Navigator's audible directions alerted us to upcoming turns more frequently. Also, viewing maps and directions on a cell phone's small screen isn't ideal for in-car use. The text messaging feature only works with other Verizon phones, and addresses were off the mark.

The Bottom Line

Easy to use and extremely useful, Verizon's VZ Navigator service turns your cell phone into a navigation device that can guide you to your destination with accurate directions and local information.

VZ Navigator offers six basic functions: Navigation; Local Search; My Places; Maps and Traffic; Movies and Events; and Messages. Navigation provides voice-guided turn-by-turn directions via the speakerphone, in addition to text-based instructions. Obviously, a cell phone's smaller screen isn't optimal for in-car use, but it does give you a good idea of your location, either via an overview map, of which you can zoom in and out, or a dedicated screen with your current instructions (for example, Main Street, turn left in 0.2 mile). In all, you can choose from three views: Dashboard, Sliding 3D, or Sliding 2D. Even with these visual cues, we relied heavily on the audible directions while driving (you can choose from two voices) and used the graphics as a secondary source. You can, however, set VZ Navigator to create a route based on whether you're walking or biking.

For more options, you can create your itinerary by the fastest, shortest, or simplest route, and you can choose to avoid highways and toll roads. Verizon Navigator 4 also brings the addition of traffic capabilities, so you can see if there are any accidents or congestion your route around the affected area. There are three options for traffic: Alerts Only, Navigation, or Don't Use Traffic. Alerts Only will notify you when there's an incident or slow down as you're traveling. Meanwhile, the Navigation mode will use historical and current traffic conditions to create the most efficient route for your trip, and Don't Use Traffic is self-explanatory. In addition, there's a traffic gauge on the map screen (regardless of what view you're in) that acts as a sliding scale of how good (green) or bad (red) the roads are at that moment. If there's an incident, you will see a little caution icon along with the distance to the congestion. Other navigation tools include automatic route recalculation and if you need to make a call or you receive a call, VZ Navigator will suspend services until you hang up, then update the directions.

For more general use, Maps displays a map of any address in the United States, as long as it's in VZ Navigator's database. You can search by address, Favorites, airport, or intersection. A feature called Follow Me will do just that; acting as a bread-crumb trail, Follow Me will track your traveled route, and you can also identify nearby places by pointing the cursor over a certain location and clicking the OK key.

The Messaging option is quite useful but there's one caveat: It only works with other Verizon phones. The feature lets you send the address and coordinates of your location via text message to your friends and family. You can add a personal note if you wish, such as "Meet me here," making it a great way to communicate if you're trying to coordinate plans. If the recipient also happens to be a VZ Navigator user, he or she can then view your location on a map, get driving directions, search for businesses around the area, or add it to their favorites list. To be fair, you can send a similar message to an e-mail address but the SMS text option is more attractive if you're trying to catch up with acquaintances while out on the town.

Local Search is much like the POI database found on in-car navigation systems. You can search from more than 14 million POI, including gas stations, restaurants, ATMs, hotels, and movie theaters, and you can have VZ Navigator map its location or provide directions from your current location. Also, if a number is listed with the place of business, you can call it directly by simply pressing the Send button twice, which is great if you want to make dinner reservations on the fly, for example. Verizon says it updates the database every several months for the most accurate information.

VZ Navigator 4 takes local search further with Movies and Events, a new fuel finder feature, and weather updates. They're all particularly useful tools as it lets you better plan your trips and perhaps experience more once you get to your destination. For example, the weather updates can help you decide what to pack for a trip or what to wear for the day. And if you're looking for something to do, the Movie and Events can find local theaters and movie times, as well as other events and entertainment venues, such as concerts, museum exhibits, and night life. Of course, with gas prices as high as they are today, the Fuel Finder is particularly useful as it offers a listing of the current fuel prices at nearby gas stations so you can find the least expensive option

Finally, My Places gives you fast access to your favorite destinations, recent searches, and more. Within this menu, you can save your home and work addresses, so you can use either as a quick starting point for navigation. You can also now manage your favorite locations and searches from your PC or laptop using the VZ Navigator Web site and synchronize the information to your phone via USB cable or wirelessly. This is a nice option if you have some time to plan your trips, since you get a larger view of maps with your computer's screen and you can enter addresses using a full keyboard. That said, we're disappointed that you can't use the Web site to get driving directions and transfer them to your phone.

We tested VZ Navigator on the Motorola V325 in the San Francisco area; we were impressed with the service and found it very useful. From a cold start, it took several minutes for the phone to acquire our location, which is pretty standard for most GPS devices; subsequent starts took only a few seconds for satellite acquisition. We then used the Local Search function to find the nearest Best Buy in our area, and within a couple of minutes, VZ Navigator returned with our route. As we mentioned before, the V325's 2-inch display isn't the ideal for use in a car, but thankfully, the voice-guided directions were there to help, and the speakerphone's volume was more than adequate. It was also helpful that it called out specific street names rather than generic instructions, such as "Turn right in 100 feet." This text-to-speech functionality is just starting to show up in today's portable in-car GPS devices. On the downside, we found the frequency of the audible directions to be somewhat sparse. Accuracy, for the most part, was dead on, although on a couple of occasions, it gave us the wrong street address when we used the Maps "Where Am I?" function. We also purposefully took a wrong turn to test out the autoroute recalculation, and though it took a minute or so to get our location, VZ Navigator got us back on track.

To test the messaging and Web features, we used the Motorola Razr V3m. We sent a several text messages from different points in the city to the Verizon Wireless G'zOne Type S, and each text came through just fine. However, there were some issues. First, the listed address was off a couple of street numbers or had us located on the nearest cross street. The addresses were always in close proximity of our actual location, but we expect better accuracy. We also noticed that the latitude and longitude coordinates were stripped from the original sent message--not as big a deal as the former issue since most people won't be searching or navigating via coordinates. On the bright side, the PC to phone synchronization worked like a charm.

Finally, we used the Motorola Razr2 V9m to try out the new feature of VZ Navigator 4. The traffic capabilities were quite nice for planning a trip as we could see beforehand where the problem areas were along our route. However, as we noted earlier, a cell phone's smaller display doesn't make it optimal for in-car use. There's a lot of information crammed on the screen, particularly if you're viewing at the details of a traffic incident, so obviously the more time you're looking at the phone, the less time you're looking at the road. It definitely helps if you have a passenger in the car. As for the Movie and Events tool, we had no complaints about the accuracy of movie times or theaters, but we thought the listing of local events was pretty thin; hopefully, this is something Networks in Motion will fill out in the future.


Verizon Wireless VZ Navigator

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 8Performance 7Support 7