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.

Continue reading:

TAGS: