iOS: Motion-X GPS Drive
Issue: 10.5 (July/August 2012)
Author: Marc Zeedar
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Article Length (in bytes): 7,069
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IN BRIEF Product Motion-X GPS Drive Manufacturer Fullpower Technologies, Inc. Price $0.99 (app, includes 30 days of guidance); $10/year or $3/month (via in-app purchasing) Contact Info http://news.motionx.com/category/motionx-gps-drive/
Pros Nicely designed and very functional; very reasonably priced; doesn't take up much space on your iPhone, though maps can be pre-loaded if you prefer; fairly easy to use; handy built-in access to your music library; works in the background; will remember your parking spot. Cons Complex; some user interface elements are too small; no way to exclude a particular route; requires Internet access to download maps; no voice command access. Rating (1.0-5.0): 4.0
For me GPS navigation is the Holy Grail of user interface design. There's a fine balance between keeping things simple enough to be usable while driving, and giving you the power to do complex things. Motion-X GPS Drive for iOS doesn't quite win on all counts, but it does enough well and the price is so good it's a worthy replacement for a standalone GPS navigation device.
Of course with iOS 6 coming with it's own turn-by-turn directions, you might wonder if you need bother with a third-party navigation app, especially one with an annual fee. But remember, iOS 6's navigation will only work with the iPhone 4S—if you have an older phone, you don't get that feature. Also, there's something to be said for familiarity: every navigation program has its own quirks and limitations and once you get accustomed to one program, switching to another can be problematic and cause user errors (which you really don't want with a driving aid). Finally, I expect third party apps like Motion-X to step up to the competition and be updated more frequently than Apple's basic offering.
In terms of navigation guidance, Motion-X works well. Routes are fine and time estimates and other details excellent. The voice guidance is also excellent. Searching for points of interest works well and it will even let you add a stop in the middle of a different trip (to say, stop at a restaurant or gas station). It includes built-in access to your iPhone's music library so you can control your tunes without leaving the app (and such audio pauses during voice guidance—awesome for audiobooks). If you do leave the app, voice guidance continues, though be aware the voice will turn off if you're on a phone call, which could cause you to miss a turn (it happened to me).
One disappointment is I've never found a way to tell the software to avoid a certain route. Near me is a river ferry with limited hours; Motion-X always wants to direct me on that shorter route even when I know the ferry is closed. But if I just drive the way I know, Motion-X will figure out I don't want that route and quickly set up a new one (and it does that much faster than my old standalone GPS which would keep telling me to "make a legal U-turn" every three minutes for the next hour).
The bottom line is that there's nothing revolutionary; Motion-X works like all other GPS navigators. And just like them it suffers from the same kinds of problems. For instance, my local highway changes its name going through a nearby town and every GPS I've used tries to guide me onto the "new" road—essentially nagging me to stay on the same road I'm already on. Such over-guidance is common and annoying, but not a deal-breaker.
More problematic is the complexity of the options Motion-X offers. While it's gotten better, it still tries to do too much and presents far too many options, especially if you're trying to make adjustments while driving (which you really shouldn't do for safety reasons but sometimes it's inevitable). Buttons should be much larger, as well as text: I often am squinting at the thing when I have my iPhone mounted on my car's dashboard at arm's length. Lists, especially, such as those returned by a search, need to be bigger (see Figure 3). A few options, such as access to your iPhone's contacts, are less handy than they should be (see Figure 4). At times the interface seems to require more touches than are really necessary (like if you choose an address, you still have to touch the green "Navigate" button to actually begin the navigation).
Once you practice with the software it's not bad, however. Keep in mind these minor interface nits are mostly an issue with advanced features (just going from point A to point B is fairly straightforward and you rarely need to mess with the device and can just listen to the instructions). Everything could be simplified if and when Motion-X supports voice commands.
One six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-the-other aspects of Motion-X is that it doesn't include all the maps within the app. While this makes the app much smaller (so it doesn't hog space on your iPhone), it means that the app requires Internet access to function. If you're traveling a lot, that could mean a hit against your cellular data plan (maps can be a lot of data) and in rural areas if you're lucky enough to have data it could be very slow.
Fortunately, Motion-X includes a feature where you can "preview" your route and pre-load the maps (you can also set a limit to how much "disk space" Motion-X will use on your iPhone). I did this for a trip into the wilderness of Missouri I made where I wasn't sure I'd have cellular access and it worked perfectly. But even at home via wifi, downloading 500 megabytes of map data took several hours.
In conclusion, if you're needing a GPS app, I'd recommend you check out Motion-X GPS Drive. While there are free navigators, I actually prefer to pay (though not very much) because it makes me feel like I'm supporting the developer and they'll be around for the long haul and make improvements. The monthly fee option is handy, too: you can just enable the app during your summer vacation travels, for instance, if you don't need a GPS for most of the year while you're at home. Note that you get 30 days of voice guidance for the $0.99 app fee so if you try it and don't like it, you're only out a buck.
Figure 1: Motion-X's navigation screen.
Figure 2: The search wheel looks neat, but is difficult to use while driving.
Figure 3: Search results can be difficult to touch at arm's length.
Figure 4: The Go To menu doesn't even show Contacts in the first eight items.
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