ANDROID APP REVIEW

No Thanks, ALK – the Google Lady Is My Copilot

CoPilot Live Premium, an app from ALK Technologies, is available for US$9.99 at Google Play.

CoPilot Live

I’ve gone a bit mad for smartphone GPS and everything that goeswith it, including back country topo maps, tablet mounts and in-car mode screen assistantwidgets. If you’ve been reading some of my TechNewsWorld and LinuxInsider columns lately,you already know that.

I’ve also been kitting out my phone with some highly sophisticated GPS tools — like cache-flushing app GPS Assist, and A-GPS download tool GPS Status & Toolbox, forrapid location fixes — and getting good results.

One area I’m currently exploring is navigation.

Free apps, the Android-native Google Maps and sister app Google Navigation haveworked well for me across the U.S. and Europe, including digging me out of urbangridlock in the second largest city in France, Mediterranean trading port Marseilles — andI’ve indeed become quite fond of the Google lady’s voice and her reassuring infallibility.

But I’m a geek — I want more.

Passed-Up Players

Offline navigators Navigon USA and Sygic jumped out at me while I was browsingthe Google Play app store. Navigon caught my eye because it’s major-player, highly regarded GPS makerGarmin’s brand. I noticed Sygic because it uses equally well-regarded TomTom’s maps withcool 3D landmarks for some locales.

Both looked seductive and pretty, but they were just too expensive, in my impoverished writer’sopinion. Navigon USA and Canada came in at $59.95, and Sygic’s USA product at23.99 euros (US$30.) If I’m moving on from Google’s free Maps, I needa mix of features and price-sensitivity at the very least.

CoPilot Live

I settled on ALK Technologies’ CoPilot Live Premium at $9.99 in the Play store, pitchedas an app to turn your Android device into a “high performance GPS with offline maps,live traffic information and advanced navigation features.” Hmm.

The $9.99 CoPilot Live Premium version I chose is differentiated from the free CoPilotGPS and $3.99 CoPilot Live Standard versions by the addition of a year of real-time traffic data worth $9.99.

It also has voice guided directions, unlike the free CoPilot GPS version. I foundthe permutations of dollar amounts, versions and features quite overwhelming, and itturned me off before I’d even loaded the app.

Clearer to me was what you ultimately, in fact got for ten bucks. CoPilot Live Premiumstores maps on the device rather than pulling them in from the cloud like Google does.

To be fair to Google, I’ve not had a problem using its maps when out of a service area,because Google does have an offline download function. You just have to do it manually.I’ve also never had a problem with the Google Navigation app getting confused becauseof a lost mobile signal data connection — just a lost GPS signal.

CoPilot Live replicates the windshield-mount or built-in satellite navigation devicefaithfully, and it includes features unavailable in Google’s native products, such as on-screen lane indicatorarrows and better highway exit sign info.

Trouble Ahead

Controlled testing of the CoPilot app proceeded flawlessly. Entering addresses fordirections went smoothly and the app was quite capable of, and did, send me on my wayaround Los Angeles with little fuss.

However, my confidence in the app was shaken one balmy Sunday afternoon when, Southern California beach-side, I hit some heavy traffic and attempted to circumvent thesnarl via a rat-run I was very familiar with.

To my utter amazement, CoPilot didn’t keep up with me as I attacked the streets. It knewwhere I was, correctly indicating my position with a pulsating red dot on the quiteelegant map. However, it didn’t reroute me live as I penetrated the depths of the rat-run.

To add insult to injury, at the point when I approached a freeway on-ramp that wouldtake me rapidly to my destination, the app caught up and attempted to reroute me overnow also-jammed surface streets — which would have been slower and thus incorrect.

As this debacle was unfolding, and because I have three pairs of hands, I flipped over toGoogle’s app too, which immediately caught my location — within seconds, proving theGPS was working — and redirected my crusade correctly to the on-ramp.

A further disappointment with CoPilot during this on-the-fly, seat of my pants trafficavoidance was that CoPilot didn’t supply an obvious quicker-in-trafficthough much longer-in-distance alternative route via an alternate freeway. Google did.

In Conclusion

I’m stumped by CoPilot’s inability to reroute during an ambitious Southern Californiavehicular offensive.

Though reasonably nice looking, I can’t recommend this app. It’sback to the Google lady for me — at least for now.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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