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Two reasons why MotionX beats free nav apps

Although it may seem redundant to pay for a connected navigation app on the iPhone, MotionX GPS Drive features a good set of destination search options, plus the ability to preload maps.

MotionX GPS Drive app
Wayne Cunningham/CNET

In the face of a few solid free navigation apps for the iPhone, such as Bing or MapQuest, MotionX GPS Drive would seem to have trouble justifying its price, even at only 99 cents. But it has proven a popular enough navigation app that Pioneer integrated it with the AppRadio head unit.

Two features of MotionX GPS Drive give it an edge over the free apps, its destination search capabilities and the ability to preload maps. MotionX GPS Drive is a connected navigation app, meaning it relies on an iPhone's data connection to get its maps. However, it is not completely useless without a data connection. After finding a destination, it gives the option of preloading maps for the route, so with a little foresight the app remains useful away from cell towers.

Testing the preload option, the app took 14 minutes on a Wi-Fi connection to download the maps for a destination a little more than 50 miles away. Over a 3G or even 4G connection, that amount of time would only increase, limiting the practicality of preloading maps on the fly.

The excellent variety of maps available in MotionX includes basic 2D and 3D views, satellite imagery, and a view that overlays street names on the satellite imagery. Traffic information is shown on a separate map, restricted to a 2D North up view. That data should be integrated with the other maps; it is odd to make drivers call up a different map than the one they are using for navigation just to see if there is a traffic jam ahead. The app also does not appear to actively route around serious traffic jams.

When using preloaded maps, only the 2D and 3D views are available, as including satellite maps would increase the download time.

The other feature of MotionX GPS Drive setting it apart from the free competition are its multiple destination search options. A nice wheel interface holds buttons for searching Bing, Wikipedia, the phone's own address book, and a variety of online points-of-interest categories. It also allows manual entry of an address, and can integrate with a Facebook account, navigating to friends' recent check-in locations.

It also includes lists of saved, favorite, frequent, and recently found destinations. But these lists are hidden in a separate menu, away from the destination search options, which is a bit confusing.

MotionX GPS Drive app
MotionX GPS Drive offers a variety of destination search options, and includes the ability to share destinations. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Route guidance proved generally good, with graphics indicating the direction and distance to the next turn. The app knew what side of the street a destination was on, and included instructions for making U-turns when the initial approach was on the wrong side of the street. The settings menu includes an option to choose whether MotionX GPS Drive selects the fastest or shortest route. It does not calculate multiple routes, and let the driver choose which one to use, as some other navigation apps do.

On one trip, it calculated a route down some side streets that seemed like they would become a little slow and tedious. We ignored that turn, and the app promptly recalculated, letting us stay on a larger street.

Using a preloaded map in an area without a phone connection, we purposefully made a wrong turn, going off on a side road. The app recalculated, showing a new route on the preloaded maps. The preloaded maps covered a good bit of territory to either side of the programmed route, too, so most wrong turns should be covered when navigating offline.

Very useful for navigation, especially with an iPhone app, are voice prompts. MotionX GPS Drive has them, but, after a 30-day free trial, charges a subscription of $9.99 per year to keep them active. Although the prompts include freeway names, they don't say the name of streets, which can be frustrating in areas where there are a lot of short blocks. When the app says "Turn right here," it might not be clear which exact street it means.

Another useful feature is the app's ability to tweet or e-mail its current location. One key feature we always look for in a navigation app is the ability to cancel the current route. MotionX GPS Drive makes it reasonably easy, just requiring three touches. From the map, we had to hit the Menu or Search button, then hit the Stop navigation button, after which it wanted a confirmation.

MotionX GPS Drive is only available for the iPhone, and costs 99 cents. Voice prompts can be added for a price of $2.99 per month or $9.99 per year. Click here to download MotionX GPS Drive.