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Road test: Gokivo iPhone navigation app

Gokivo + Yahoo Local Search seems to do it all--pair with Bluetooth, play iTunes songs, deliver turn-by-turn navigation. But does it do it well?

Gokivo Navigator on iPhone
CNET/Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt

We expected a slew of turn-by-turn GPS navigation apps when Apple's iPhone 3.0 software emerged, and we'll get it--slowly. AT&T's Navigator app entered the App Store today, preceded almost a week ago by Gokivo. We're still waiting for TomTom's offering.

Gokivo is made by Networks in Motion, the same company behind AAA Mobile, Verizon's VZ Navigator, and AT&T's, so we expected a little sophistication. It has been in our testing queue since last Wednesday, but some technical difficulties impeded our progress. Mainly, a possessed in-app purchase process that resisted exorcism for quite some time.

We finally got it on a road test. Gokivo seems to do it all--search for destinations, pair with Bluetooth, play iTunes songs and fade out and in when dictating directions, and deliver turn-by-turn navigation. It just didn't do it uniformly well.

We didn't mind the strange bedfellows-mashup of Google's map, Yahoo's search, and Network in Motion's turn-by-turn database. We did mind that the app sometimes had trouble finding our request before timing out--even while outside of the car in clear skies.

The Bluetooth pairing worked well with both in-dash and auxiliary sets, and so did the embedded iPod control interface, which automatically paused the song to robotically deliver directions, and then resumed. Unfortunately, while the songs came out loud and clear, the voice prompts never reached above a faintly perceptible murmur, even when we jacked up the volume, to the detriment of our four tympanic membranes once the music roared back on. Independent volume controls might solve the problem.

At some point during testing we turned off the voice prompts. The directions continued to flow, but no matter how many times we tried reinstating The Voice during the journey, Gokivo remained silent.

Gokivo's iPod control
Gokivo's integrated iPod controller hides until you call it forth. CNET/Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt

As far as a navigation app goes, Gokivo has the basics, plus those one or two surprises with iTunes and shaking the app to get alternative routes. The somewhat sparse interface reads off the street you're on, your next direction in how many miles, and shows nearby streets. You can switch between map, satellite, and hybrid view thanks to Google Maps, and can specify your route preference, like simplest, and variables to avoid, like carpool lanes. We like the address book tie-in to get directions to a contact's place.

While imperfect in its particulars, Gokivo did lead the way to our destination, recalculating when we drove astray. At low speeds in dense urban environment, Gokivo occasionally lost track of our location at intersections, placing the cursor on the wrong street, but quickly righted itself once we started moving again. We're not sure whether to blame the app or the iPhone's GPS reception in this case.

At 99 cents for the initial download (a prerequisite for publishers to use in-app purchases, Networks in Motion says) and an additional $9.99 a month to use the navigation service, Gokivo does offer a lower entry cost than traditional navigation units--and one that seamlessly connects to your iPod library. However, keep in mind that subscriptions add up. Over the long term, a dedicated navigator could come out cheaper in the end, even with regular map updates.

Additionally, a dedicated navigation unit stores all of its map data locally, where the Gokivo streams its data from a server. If the network goes down or your wireless signal is bad, this app could leave you stranded.

Gokivo's primary advantage over a standalone navigator is that it uses hardware that you may already have in your pocket. This means there's one less device to carry around or leave in your vehicle.