Review: ROUTE 66 Mobile 8
Guest writer Arjen Broeze has been trialling ROUTE 66 Mobile 8 over thousands of miles in the last couple of months: "This makes good on its promise of being smart and accurate, but on a Nokia E90 it still needs polishing around the edges."
Back in June 2005, Steve Litchfield reviewed ROUTE 66 Mobile Britain 2005. His verdict was that it scored by being available on all Series 60 devices and did a pretty impressive job at navigating, but lost points for being slow. Last February, ROUTE 66 announced the latest version of their navigation software, ROUTE 66 Mobile 8, claiming this was the “smartest, the simplest and the most accurate navigation solution for mobile phones operating on the Symbian platform”. Armed with both an N95 and an E90, Arjen thoroughly test drove the application in the past month to determine the validity of that claim.
ROUTE 66 Mobile 8 Europe Installation
For this review I tested ROUTE 66 Mobile 8 Europe. The installation program on DVD installs the navigation application and all maps to a memory card. Since you cannot select which maps you want or don’t want to install, the Europe edition needs at least a 2GB memory card.
The first thing the installation program does is format the memory card. It even does that when there’s enough space left on the card for the ROUTE 66 application and the maps. No problem for my brand new 2GB microSD, but a bit inconvenient (to say the least) if you want to install the application on a memory card that already has lots of information on it. After the format, the installation program transfers the applications and the maps to the memory card. At least that’s what it’s supposed to do, but instead formatting made the card unusable and the installation was unable to continue. According to the people at Route66, this problem has been fixed in the next release. [Hmm..... not a good start. And the DVDs are mass-produced, so it'll take a while to get the fixed version into the market - Ed]
Luckily, the DVD also contains a folder with the name \MemoryImage. By simply copying this folder into the root of the SD card, the ROUTE 66 application is installed automatically the next time you insert the SD card in your phone.
Starting the application for the first time
Even though ROUTE 66 comes with an extensive 114 page manual, I did what most people do: start the application and try to navigate somewhere.
The first thing you see when you start the application is an animation of a rotating globe that zooms in to your last known position or your current position, if ROUTE 66 can find it while the animation plays. The first couple of times this is fun to watch, but after a while the animation becomes annoying and, even though there is a ‘Skip’ button, you’d wish there was a setting to switch it off completely.
Before you can use the application, you need to activate the map by entering the voucher code from the inside of the DVD box. Activation can be done by GPRS (instant) or SMS (which can take a couple of minutes). Important to remember when activating by SMS is that you shouldn’t exit the application until an activation conformation SMS is received.
What I did like, the first time I started the application, is that there’s no need to configure the GPS: if your phone has a built-in GPS, ROUTE 66 uses that; otherwise the application automatically searches for a Bluetooth GPS.
Navigating with ROUTE 66
Navigation starts by selecting “Search” or “Navigate” from the menu (where the difference between the two is only visible in the order of menu items presented after the search, but since “Search” can also be selected by pressing the “1” key, this is the one you’ll end up using most). This brings up a list with several search options:
- Free text – simultaneously search in all available databases (addresses, landmarks and points of interest)
- Address – search locations by street name, city, postal code and or house number
- Nearby – search for locations by selecting a category of landmarks
- History – all previous destinations
- My Landmarks – favourites including 'Home' and 'Office'
- Contacts – search for addresses stores in your phone’s Contacts list
- Vodafone (i.e. your network/data) – opens the mobile browser with points of interest based on your current GPS position, with the option to instantly navigate to one of these directly from the browser.
Whatever search function you choose, the search is extremely fast. Even with a very short search keyword, the list with results is displayed within seconds. Amazingly, and rather unfortunately, just like all its predecessors, the search results still don’t take the current GPS position into account and are listed in alphabetical order. But Route66 Mobile 8 offers the ability to filter the search results by typing some additional letters from the intended destination. Every letter you type narrows down the list of search results, which makes it very easy to find something even in a huge list of results.
Searching for ‘ref’ gave 1182 results. Typing and ‘h’ and ‘o’ already narrowed
it down to 13 results of which the 3rd one was the one I was looking for
Having found your destination, you can navigate to it by selecting “Navigate to” from the menu. Compared to its competitors and its predecessor, ROUTE 66 really impresses here with its speed. Short routes are calculated within seconds, a 250km route took just over 15 seconds and a 2100km route across four countries took about 1½ minutes.
During navigation you can choose between 2D view, 3D view and the classic turn instruction view. The latter has been improved upon since previous versions in that it now shows a better layout of roads, roundabouts and exits.
Voice instructions are still nice and timely and, a feature I like particularly, are also clear when using a Bluetooth headset. Some other navigation systems don’t take the time that is needed to establish an audio connection to a Bluetooth headset into account, resulting in instructions that start halfway, like “….undred metres, turn right”. ROUTE 66 circumvents this problem by outputting a couple of seconds silence before the actual message is sent to the headset. Even though 2D and 3D views are very clear and display a lot of information like road names, compass, direction, etc, navigation is perfectly possible with the spoken instructions alone, without the need to ever look on the screen.
And, when you do look at the screen, you’ll find that screen display updates are also fast. I haven’t been able to detect any lag between my real position and the position that was displayed on the screen. During navigation, you can choose between 3 different status bars and the turn instruction view, by repeatedly pressing the ‘2’ key. The smallest status bar displays the current speed, the time and distance to the destination and the current GPS signal strength. The medium status bar adds the current road and next road and the large status bar adds the expected arrival time and the travel mode (fastest route, shortest route or pedestrian). Additionally, depending on the type of road and your speed, information about the next exit is displayed in timely fashion in the upper part of the screen.
The 6 different views available by pressing the ‘2’ repeatedly
What I find a bit annoying is that, in order to see the arrival time (which is more important to me than the remaining distance or my current speed) I need to select the largest status bar, but that one also takes up the most space on the screen. Speaking of arrival time, ROUTE 66’s out of the box configuration is very accurate in calculating the expected arrival time. And, if you find that you’re generally a lot faster or a lot slower than ROUTE 66 expects you to be, you can tweak the speed settings (per road type if necessary) until they fit your particular driving style. [Terrific - this is a common failing of other systems - Ed]
Like all other navigation systems, ROUTE 66 calculates a new route when you deviate from the route it has calculated. A necessary feature, since sometimes you have no choice but to deviate from the proposed route, but the implementation in ROUTE 66 is a bit annoying, since the program is very persistent in trying to get you back to the route it calculated before. Even when it is clear that continuing along the route you’re driving now is shorter or faster than turning around and following the original route, ROUTE 66 persists in sending you back. There are a couple of options here: the first is to be even more persistent than ROUTE 66 (at some point the application will stop trying to turn you back and give in); the second is stopping the current navigation and start navigation anew from your current position [ugh, very inelegant - Ed]. Alternatively, you can add your own Waypoints to instruct the application to choose a certain route that you think is better.
A wealth of settings
ROUTE 66 Mobile 8 allows you to customize the look and feel of the application through a wealth of program settings. Amongst other things, you can set the car type (personal car or lorry, where the latter supposedly avoids roads that are too small, but I haven’t tested that), colour scheme, status bar transparency, map rotation, 3D viewing angle, units, display backlight, customizable alarms, dynamic volume, different language settings for the interface, maps and spoken instructions, etc. The default settings are ok for most of your navigation needs, except for the default colour scheme, since it is very difficult to read the road names displayed on the map with these colours. I would recommend changing to ‘Shanghai’ (the screenshots in this review are all made with this colour scheme).
ROUTE 66 has a lot of free and paid extras, which you can get on your phone in two ways, either directly from inside the application or by using the bundled PC Sync application.
After reading Steve’s review I was hoping that traffic information would still be free, but in ROUTE 66 Mobile 8 traffic information has become a paid service. One year of traffic information costs 29.95 euro. Up to date information about fixed safety cameras costs an additional 29.95 euro per year.
I had the luxury of testing the traffic information for free for a month and I have to say that, compared to the previous version, this is pretty well implemented. Traffic information is fairly accurate (at least in the Netherlands where I tested the software). When an incident is detected along the planned route, ROUTE 66 calculates an alternative automatically and, depending on the gravity of the incident, ROUTE Mobile 8 either avoids the incident immediately (for example when an entire highway is blocked) or, if one or two lanes are still available, tells you it has an alternate route available and shows textual information about the incident in the upper part of the screen when you approach the incident.
Instructing ROUTE 66 to actually avoid an incident that’s not blocking an entire highway is not very straightforward: first you need to change the view to “List display”, which shows the planned route in a list, and then you need find the incident you want to avoid in the list and select “Avoid incident” from the menu. Only then does ROUTE 66 incorporate the calculated alternate route in the current route. It would have been a lot easier if ROUTE 66 would show a popup as soon as such a traffic incident is detected, giving you the option to immediately avoid it.
Safety camera information shows all the static speed cameras on the map while driving. When a speed camera is along the planned route, ROUTE 66 warns you with a visual and an optional audio signal and shows the remaining distance between you and the camera.
Considering the fact that the information is not completely accurate (some cameras are not reported while in other places cameras are reported that are no longer there) and that ad-hoc speed checks are not part of the service, I find the price of almost 30 euros a year a bit pricey. Especially if you consider that very accurate POI files (for other systems) with speed cameras are available on the internet for free. Unfortunately, ROUTE 66 Mobile doesn’t allow you to import these.
ROUTE 66 Sync home software
Paid extras, like traffic information, safety cameras, weather, but also map updates (new maps are available twice a year) can be bought directly from the Route66 store, which is integrated in the application. Select the service or map you want to have, enter your credit card details and you’re done. Very convenient. Other useful extras, like colour schemes, voices and Lonely Planet travel guides can also be downloaded for free directly on the phone, but if you don’t have a data subscription and the amount of data downloaded is very large (e.g. when buying a new map) then it is more convenient to use the bundled ROUTE 66 Sync home software application which comes in the box. In order to use this, you need to connect your mobile to the PC using the USB cable in ‘Data transfer’ mode. In addition to downloading all the free content and free updates, buying additional content, subscribing to services and activating items using voucher codes, the Sync home software allows you to make content backups on your PC and stay in touch with ROUTE 66’s latest promotions.
Mobile navigation systems drain your battery fast, due to the fact that the display is continuously updated and there's a connection to either the internal or Bluetooth GPS. ROUTE 66 is no exception. On my E90, a full battery would last about three hours when navigating, on the N95, the battery gave out after an hour and a half. For this reason I always use a car charger to recharge the battery while navigating. [always a good tip - after all, you've got a convenient 12V power source the whole time you're driving - Ed]
But if you don’t have a car charger at hand, you can safe some battery life by instructing ROUTE 66 to switch the backlight off completely, or show the backlight only during navigation, or even only during instructions. The last option is really convenient when you’re driving long distances, because the display only comes to life when you need to make a turn. With this setting on my E90, I managed to drive for more than four hours without the need to recharge. If you don’t need the display at all, you can simply press the red ‘Hang-up’ key on your phone. This will send ROUTE 66 to the background, but it will still play the voice instructions.
Mobile8 on an E90
Even though the E90 is listed on the ROUTE 66 web site as a supported device, the application was clearly intended to be run from the outer screen. But, because the physical size of the outer screen on the E90 is a lot smaller than the size of the N95 screen, on an E90 it’s sometimes difficult to read the information presented in the status bar.
On the inner screen ROUTE 66 suffers from the same problem as the latest beta of Nokia Maps; inverted soft keys. Pressing the Stop button brings up the Options dialog and vice versa.
A nice touch is when you’re navigating with the E90 flipped open (I know lots of E90 users that have a car holder that allows you to do that) the entire screen is used to display the map, giving you a far better view of the route you have to follow. Unfortunately, the status bar with the most useful information (arrival time) is mostly empty, but so large that it almost covers half of the screen.
Additionally, the Lonely Planet travel guides are only available in 240x320 mode, making them completely unreadable when the E90 is flipped open since the text becomes way too small.
My first impression of ROUTE 66 Mobile 8 was that it was very accurate and extremely fast, especially compared to some of its competitors. On top of that, it’s very easy to use and has tons of additional features for the more demanding traveller. But most importantly, ROUTE 66 Mobile 8 is very, very stable. During the entire testing period, the application never crashed or lost the connection to the GPS. Today, after using it for well over a month, I’m still impressed with its speed, stability and accuracy.
Now to answer the question from the beginning of this review: is ROUTE 66’s claim valid that Mobile 8 is the “smartest, the simplest and the most accurate navigation solution for mobile phones operating on the Symbian platform”?
If you own an S60 3rd Edition device that isn’t an E90 then I would say they come pretty darn close. In my opinion, the only things left for improvement are a better and more configurable status bar, editable POI’s, less persistent route recalculation if you deviate from a planned route and an easier way of avoiding certain traffic incidents. As to the “most accurate” claim: Mobile 8 uses maps stored on microSD. Some people argue that these so called off-line maps are already outdated once you get them, but the big advantage is that you don’t need a data connection to be able to navigate, helpful when you're lost in the middle of nowhere and with dodgy mobile signal. Besides, new maps are available twice a year, keeping the ‘outdatedness’ limited.
Arjen Broeze, All About Symbian, 11 May 2008
Reviewed by Arjen Broeze at