Thursday, April 13, 2006.
CNET editor's review.
Reviewed by Bonnie Cha,
Edited by Kent German.
At a glance:
Editors' rating: 7.0 Very good
The good: The easy-to-use VZ Navigator turns your cell phone into a navigation device, providing accurate turn-by-turn directions, points of interest, and local maps. The audible directions were loud and clear.
The bad: We wish VZ Navigator's audible directions alerted us to upcoming turns more frequently; it's currently limited to a couple of handsets. Also, viewing maps and directions on a cell phone's small screen isn't ideal for in-car use.
The bottom line: Easy to use and extremely handy, 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.
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 both Sprint and Verizon have launched music stores (Sprint Music Store and Verizon Wireless V Cast Music, respectively). And now Verizon has empowered its cell phone users even more with a helpful application: 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 (POI), local maps, and more. In our test, it was easy to use and helpful, accurately guiding us to our destinations and providing us with information on local attractions.
VZ Navigator costs $9.99 for monthly access or $2.99 per day, but be aware that the service is currently supported on only the Motorola V325 and the LG VX9800. Verizon plans to roll out the service to other phones but has not released specific information on which models or when.
VZ Navigator offers four basic functions: Navigation, Local Search, My Places, and Maps. 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 gives 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).
During our tests, we relied heavily on the audible directions while driving and used the graphics as a secondary source; you can even choose from two voices. You can also set VZ Navigator to create a route based on whether you're walking or biking. For more options, create your itinerary by the fastest, shortest, or simplest route, and you can choose to avoid highways and toll roads. If you happen to veer off track, VZ Navigator will recalculate your route; just be aware that this will require additional airtime use. Also, if you make or receive a call, VZ Navigator will suspend services until you hang up, then update the directions.
For more general use, the Maps function 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. The Follow Me feature will do just that; acting as a bread-crumb trail, Follow Me tracks your traveled route, and you can identify nearby places by pointing the cursor over a certain location and clicking the OK key.
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.
Finally, the My Places function 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.
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 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 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's 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 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.
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