Motorola Droid: Google Navigation Review

When Google announced the inclusion of Google Navigation for Android 2.0 the news shocked the tech market… AND the stock market. Garmin and TomTom stocks tumbled as the surfacing of a 100% FREE turn-by-turn navigation service meant many people would gladly keep their cash and settle for the alternative. Right now Google Navigation means “settling” but its not far from being just as good – if not better – than the premier names on the market. Plus its free!

The Motorola Droid is the first device to launch with Google Navigation Beta and for that reason alone, it makes the Droid an awesome purchase. Yes… Google Navigation is absolutely awesome. That “Beta” tag is appropriately placed, but immediately upon launch the Motola Droid with Google Navigation Beta is a fully capable and full-featured navigation device with a screen large enough to provide an incredibly pleasant and helpful turn-by-turn solution.

Multiple Personality Disorder
My first problem with Google Navigation is that it seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. The “Car Home” application has an option for “Maps” and an option for “Navigate”. Selecting Maps will lead you to Google Maps and selecting Navigate will lead you to…. Google Maps.

What the heck? When you press Navigate it should show your car navigating, with the 3D maps, just without a destination and turn-by-turn directions. Google Navigation doesn’t currently allow this – to get this “3D” view of your car moving along you HAVE to be navigating somewhere. All pressing on “Navigate” does is open Maps with “My Location” selected and a prompt to enter your destnation. I found this incredibly irritating.

And to be honest, what is the point of standard Google Maps inclusion anyway? The main difference is 2D vs. 3D unless I’m mistaken, so in my opinion, everything should be done in 3D navigation mode unless you press Menu > 2D Maps in which case you would get the typical 2D Google Maps app view. I understand that navigation and maps are incredibly closely linked and Google built the former based on the latter, but they serve two TOTALLY different purposes and the software should focus on the task and situation at hand in car. My point exactly.

Real World Example
Another oddity is that “voice search” and “search” actually pull up results on your regular everday Google. So when we searched for “Best Buy” it was BestBuy.com which was the first result… not exactly what we wanted. Or at all what we wanted. Why doesn’t the search mechanism filter out everything besides Google Business listings that have addresses/locations with the option to show listings from the full web?

I called this “real world example” but could have accurately called it “a flubbed review edited into a real world example”. Google Navigation did hit some speedbumps and it doesn’t always do what you want it to but for the most part, it gets the job done.

It Really Works!
Most of my complaints come when prior to setting your actual destination – the actual navigation experience was pretty darn good. The placement of the vehicle was accurate. The voice was loud and clear. The audible prompt gave me plenty of time to make lane changes and see upcoming turns. The actual navigation experience was really, really good.

I also want to re-iterate that 100% of my experience with the device was without the Car Dock accessory. Some of my complaints could be alleviated if the application acts differently with various default settings when the Droid is docked. One of those complaints is the way Google Navigation handles in-navigation phone calls. It completely covers your entire screen with the incoming call information from the dialer app and handles audio poorly too. I absolutely HATED the way this worked as you can see in the video above, but I’m hoping it acts differently when docked. I assume it will use speaker phone by default when docked and switch to the earpiece when pulled off – if not then its somewhat of a disaster.

Potential Pitfalls
There are a few scenarios where I’m wondering if Google Navigation would have a problem or two. The first is with glare from the sun. I’m not sure if the dock accessory accounts for this or not but many GPS units are made with sun protected encasing that make the screen easy to see in all conditions. The Motorola Droid screen is like that of many cell phones and has a distinct glare if the sun hits it just the right way – you won’t be able to see anything but a reflection on the screen. I can see this causing a huge problem but I imagine some enterprising company will quickly offer a solution in the form of an overpriced accessory.

Another issue is Maps Caching and mobile connectivity. I went into my MicroSD card and noticed that maps and voice directions were definitely saved to my SD card, presumably so the application could utilize them even if a mobile connection was lost. I drove through a tunnel to try and emulate the loss of a cellular network, but I obviously couldn’t stop IN the tunnel to see what was/wasn’t saved and when I popped out the other end, I regained signal almost immediately. That’s a big plus with Verizon’s network – it is far reaching and strong in more places than any other network (from my experience).

But what WOULD happen if you were navigating somewhere kind of far away and it turned out that where you ended up, there was no signal? Good question. That’s why its listed under potential pitfalls, cause this could be a big deal.

Battery Life & Accessories
If you take a look at our Battery-Life review, you can see that using Google Navigator is pretty quick to eat up battery. While the Droid Car Dock or (Phone Holder) is great for holding your phone right where it needs to be… it WILL NOT charge your battery or keep it charged. At least I think… this is what SEEMS to be inferred on Motorola’s website, “If you do not attach an optional car charger to the phone, the phone’s screen may go dark depending on your phone’s settings.” You’ll have to buy a separate accessory, presumably a car charger, to accomplish that. If you were wondering, the Car Dock (I refuse to call it a Phone Holder), costs $29.99.

Bonus Review: Night Navigation Recorded with Motorola Droid
Make no mistake here – I am using Google Navigation with the Motorola Droid to navigate into Baltimore while I simultaneously record video of the trip with the same exact Motorola Droid doing the navigation. Pretty funny, I know. What ISN’T funny is that Google was going to send me down a one-way street. It has only been a one-way street for about 6 months but I doubt the oncoming car I crash into would care if I explained that to them.

Hopefully Google can incorporate some sort of crowd sourcing plug-in that will allow Nav users to flag incorrect intersections, roads or other issues. Afterall, with a “Beta” often the most important thing to do is collect and review feedback. So hopefully Google is reading this!

As is… Google Navigation is a killer feature. With some details, improvements, a longer track record and more Android 2.0 devices it could come to rule the industry. Remember… Android isn’t only being used on “phones” these days.

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  • Son

    Get yourself some magnets and make it thinks that it is docked.

  • thelee

    Loving these indepth feature-by-feature reviews. Great job, rob!

  • HammerT

    You have to say “navigate to best buy”

  • HammerT

    Is it possible to create a route, and then follow it with turn-by-turn navigation?

    (Creating a route like you would by dragging the route on maps.google.com)

  • Sam

    Rob:

    When you do a voice search, if you say “Navigate to Best Buy”, it will take you directly to the navigator and not to the web search (at least that’s what I saw from other videos online).

  • Matthew

    HammerT is correct to get voice search to navigate you must say Navigate to “location” to get a direct navigation.

  • Carig

    you should also try saying “map best buy” to see if that brings up google maps with nearby best buy locations

    i dunno if it would work but doesn’t it tell you to try saying “map gas stations” or something?

  • AppleB

    Im curious did you try view map and then drive to see if it follows where your driving in the car?

  • Morten

    I don’t see the problem with getting phone calls during navigation. At least considering that no phone that I know of handles it any differently. Just answer it, hit speaker and hit back. Not optimal, sure, but no problem.

    Love that the speaker is so good.

  • RK

    With stand alone GPS you shouldn’t have to worry about losing the signal from a cell tower, correct?

  • Darek

    *in my best droid voice* “User Error!”

  • mstarman

    Rob,

    Good review(s)& worth the wait. How does the phone do getting a GPS location while indoors?

    Thanks

  • Aerimus

    My understanding is that the “car dock” magnets make the phone behave differently. My guess is that your experience would have been different with that dock. Such as while searching for best buy or just navigating a 3d map without a destination?

  • Dan

    you need to tell it “Navigate to Best Buy”…. know the command before fussing about it!

  • Joel Johnson

    You do need a car charger if you are going to use the Droid for navigating, but if you look at Motorola’s product page for the car dock:

    http://www.motorola.com/consumers/US-EN/DROID-Phone-Holder-US-EN.do?vgnextoid=5c0dcda87c704210VgnVCM1000008406b00aRCRD

    It says that a rapid car charger is included. Makes the $29.99 worth it to me.

  • Aerimus

    also, I’m confused about the car charging with the dock. It clearly says at the bottom of the description that it includes a “Rapid Car Charger.”
    http://www.motorola.com/consumers/US-EN/DROID-Phone-Holder-US-EN.do?vgnextoid=5c0dcda87c704210VgnVCM1000008406b00aRCRD

    However, you’re right Rob, the description you linked certainly doesn’t show one?

  • http://www.needfultoyz.com tauran

    Wish they would come out with txt message to speech. I see more and more people getting texts in the car than phone calls. Far more dangerous.

  • Secretsound

    Great review! But yeah they are all right you need to say the “Navigate to (Insert Place Here)”

  • David

    Question: Can anyone confirm that if you use Navigation without an address you can still be able to see your current route?

  • David

    For Navigator Video 2 complaints about receiving phone calls during navigation, it may actually be different, or handle the situation differently if docked in the Navigation accessory.

    It also may not, just a thought.

  • David

    Correction: Sorry, missed the part of the video where he said the same thing I just did, LOL

  • Double_K

    I believe your complaint about the voice search not taking you directly into navigation is incorrect. I “think” if you say navigate to best buy it will then take you directly into navigation..give that a try

  • ZZstu

    I wonder if the car dock would make it handle calls differently?

  • Eddie

    About battery life while navigating – On Motorola’s website, the “Phone Holder” summary states that it includes a rapid car charger

  • Jackson

    For voice search, use “map of X”, “directions to X”, or “navigate to X”. Saying “navigate to best buy” should drop you directly into Navigation without any further clicks (except to pick the right store if there are multiple matches).

  • Eddie

    The directions on the screen for voice search states “Try Saying ‘directions to…..’” not just the destination. It’s OK, I rarely read manuals too.

  • Anthony

    Wow Rob, looks like we had major operator error in the lacking of the “Navigate” command…

  • some1

    Rob – this is why you get taken out of google navigate

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fL6gSd4ugSI

    incoming call is treated as another app

  • Jeremy

    Do you think when you said Best Buy and with it locking into your GPS that is why it came up w/ the google website ?

    How about or have you tried to say like under the Voice … “Best Buy Rowery Blvd, Baltimore Maryland “… Maybe with at least the street name it would had narrowed it down with a map. Just a thought.

    EXCELLENT Job MATE!!!!!!! on this review

    I give you 5stars *****

  • Poley

    Good luck on getting them to update the maps. The story on the news here in Boston is google maps and all the nav products bring you to a residential address when trying to get to Gilette Stadium to see the NE Patriots.

  • spence

    for it to search maps you have to say NAVIGATE TO…

  • Bryan Blake

    Navigation – First hand with Dock

    Navigation works well on it own, cool feature is that at the end of the route it displays a Google Street image of the destination. The calls however are a disaster. Because if you are on a route with lots of directions, the voice navigation is speaking over the call. So the caller hears you and the navigation, not cool. Also you have to initiate calls by pressing the screen and they default to earpiece not speaker.

    So there is some work to do

    BB

  • Jose B.

    The droid doesnt act any differently whether docked or undocked. the dock simply places it into Nav mode automatically and holds your device. You will run into the same issues that the reviewers are talking about in the video. The phone has major issues being able to handle calling and navigation simultaneously. Overall I think the navigation works great, but not allowing me to talk on the phone while navigating is a bigg issue that might make me keep around my dedicated nav device.

  • sfstan

    unfortunately, i have just found out that you cannot make a call through a bluetooth device hands free with the droid. you have to go to the screen of the droid and use the voice dial, say the number, and then click on the number or name that shows up on the screen. this is horrible. how could google let that slip by. you can answer an incoming call with the bluetooth device, but not make a hands free call. really, really bad. this is a danger and should be fixed immediately by google.

  • George

    A major failing of the Navigation feature from Google is that one cannot set a preference to Avoid Highways – a feature that is present in Google maps, as well as with our Magellan navigator – and which is a feature we and others greatly desire. So we leave the Magellan in the one car and use the Droid with the other, driving where we feel (often without highways or freeways) and letting the Droid natter on about turns we will not take. And what a horrible navigation voice. Our Golden West Street becomes “Goldweese.” Other distortions abound. Magellan’s voice is much more accurate and pleasant.

  • George

    Another comment. Having arrived at one destination tonight, and with great directions and turn-y-turn, we could not proceed to yet another destination. “Navigator” gave prompts to previous routes (at a surcharge of $1.50 to $2.50 each!) or defaulted to a general map location of the previous trip. We shutdown and rebooted, called out the new destination “Go to 12285 Adams Avenue” and were given WALKING directions and times. What the! It is DEFINITELY in beta. You betcha. And we weren’t even in Alaska.

  • phOnyshOwOff

    I think there are certain voice commands. I mean did you read the manual. I’m pretty sure you can bring up search results for locations if you just say the correct commands. I saw in a demo if you mention “navigate” before the location, then it will search for the nearest location. Or something to that effect.

  • http://www.dfxmobile.com DFXmobile

    stefan (34):
    Our app “Voice Dialer HF” lets you go hands free (no touching the screen) when dialing from the car. It has a query/speech recognition loop, just like a normal phone.

    Details at
    http://www.dfxmobile.com/voicedialerhf

    It is specifically for the Droid.

  • http://www.thornsoft.com Chris Thornton

    FYI – although the site says a charger is included, the Motorola Car Dock does NOT include a charger. I now have two of them, both came FedEx from Verizon, in retail Verizon/Moto Droid packaging, with no charger included or listed on the box. I bought a moto charger at BestBuy, normally $26.99, got mine as “open box” for $13.49. Sweet.
    Anyway… the car dock can mount on the windshield or dashboard. It includes an alcohol wipe and “coaster” stick-on pad so the suction cup has something to grab, when mounting on the dash. I prefer the dash, as it’s closer and doesn’t obscure the windshield. Would be perfect if the car/home app automatically adjusted volume and turned on GPS when mounted. And set the phone app in speaker mode. But all in all, I DO like the car mount.

  • Chris s.

    A problem i see is no ability to save waypoints to get back to a visited location. Is it there and i am missing something?

  • Mike

    The card dock does NOT come with a power cord.

  • Joe

    Everyone go to this link and vote yes for google to develop a “follow me” 3D map.

    http://productideas.appspot.com/#11/e=cf&t=agxwcm9kdWN0aWRlYXNyLwsSCERvcnlVc2VyIiF1MDk5NjIyNTg1YzFkMzlmMjQ4M2RhYmM3MjNiODczNjAM

  • James

    I have used navigation three times within my city (Schaumburg, IL) and three times I received wrong directions. Severe enough as continuing to go straight instead of turning, or making a right instead of a left…

  • brian a

    Chris s. : I’ve saved “waypoints” by saving my location as a contact. Yea, you have to know the address, so its not 100% useful, and probably not the answer what your looking for, but that’s what I’ve done.

    A complaint about nav is driving at night and the map is still white. All garmin and in-car gps’ change the colors to a black backgroud after a certain time or when headlights are on, because its toooo much light staring back at you and keepin you from seeing the whole road. I drove an hour and a half from home to a place I’ve never been with it in my cup holder (no car dock) and it was perfect!! Voice guide was on target. I could only glance at the screen every few mins tho because it was so friggin bright (even not on navi, the screen doesn’t get dim enough which is my only other complaint about the droid).. I really hope they get that fixed soon, or atleast if someone knows if there is an opion me and the verizon guys coulodnt find, or that there will be a fix in the 2.1 update, please let me know.. til then I’m not using the navi during the night :/

    Great reviews your writing too btw, thanks

  • Neil

    Want to know two things about Droid naviagation.

    1) Can you change the voice to someone else?

    2) Is there a way to make the voice repeat the last direction if you failed to hear it?

  • vigor

    Aproximately how long can the Droid run on a single charge using GPS and Google Navigation without plugging it in to external power source??

  • Tom Millar

    My Google Navigator on my Droid will not navigate onto I-66 (near Wash DC) anywhere East of Centreville. I’ve tried numerous scenarios, but it will avoid getting onto I-66 westbound until the route goes west of Centreville, and it will route OFF of I-66 when coming from west of Centreville. While ON I-66 in that stretch and I call for a route say to Vienna (which is east of Centreville), it says “No route found”…seriously!

  • Ed

    Are you people dumb? Of course anything Droid that comes from Verizon wont be OEM! I went to BestBuy, got a car mount and it CAME with the car charger (for about 40 bucks) It was MOTOROLA (OEM). NEVER BUY YOUR ACCESSORIES AT VERIZON!. They rip you off, go to best buy or walmart or check online.

  • bob

    the coolest aspect of google nav to me is the real-time traffic calculation. It routed me around an accident without me doing anything (although it would have been nice if it had given some clue that that was going on – I wondered at the odd route until I viewed the traffic overlay)

  • Larry

    How do you delete destinations? I want to clear all my destinations from the GPS log on my phone.

  • Joe

    I have the car dock and it works great and includes the charger as stated. It is a great deal for under $25 online. I tried the navigation for the first time today and I was impressed. The maps were much more up to date than my Garmin. I didn’t try talking on the phone while navigation but I suspect it may be a problem. The reason is that CDMA (the technology Verizon and Sprint use) does not allow simultaneous voice and data, so I don’t think the navigation could work when it needs to pull mapping data from the network. My guess is it buffers some data, so a short phone call while navigating may be okay but when it needs to pull map data and cannot (because you are talking on the phone) there may be a problem. I’m not sure what will happen under those circumstances. Has anyone tried it?

  • Eugene

    I have been navigating through the yellow stone park where the verizon data link is no more. Google navigation on droid x failed misirably. I had to turn back to my 6 years old garmin nroute (on a laptop) which did just fine.

  • Rog

    I personally am really impressed with the “Free” navigation provided by Google Navigation. I like the fact you can use speech to say “Navigate to Nearest” This beats most GPS’s on the market right there.

    Also this feature is awsome as most of the time it will be bringing up the most updated info with no additional charge of updates to your Garmin / Magellan Car GPS. I believe it takes what you say, goes to google and translates it, then brings back an address(s) of what you were looking for and you pick one from the list if there is more than one. (Very safe, compared to having to enter (Zipcode, House Number, Street)

    The realtime street view is pretty cool too, could be very helpful in City Situations. I did this and when I arrived at my house I was able to see a pic of my house and a pic of my car in the driveway. How cool is that.

    Real time Traffic on the maps too, come on what more can you ask for.

    Common Sense says yes, you need a data plan and it will only work in places where there is data available. I don’t belive it is supposed to Replace the Garmin / Magellan GPS just yet, but in the future don’t be suprised if they download maps for places where google knows cell phone reception is bad and keep those maps local for that period of time.

    I personally am using the Droid X with the Car Mount.

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