When Apple announced turn-by-turn direction support in the all-new Apple Maps at the launch of iOS 6, many wondered where this would leave existing satellite navigation apps that had, at the time, been riding high in the top grossing charts of the App Store. In addition to Apple’s own service, Waze sprung out of nowhere with its more social way of providing directional navigation, live traffic and speed trap information to iOS users in a completely free package. More recently, Google released their all-new Google Maps for iOS that also includes full turn-by-turn directions that’s powered by the software company’s extensive mapping service.
With Apple, Google and Waze offering free functionality to what you would have previously payed upwards of $50 for similar functionality, some companies have had to radically change their approach towards pricing. One such company is CoPilot, which has moved its CoPilot GPS app towards a freemium-based pricing policy by providing the foundations of a complete navigation app that you can tailor to suit.
CoPilot is a big name in the satellite navigation business and has been around for many years, having been one of the first to ever develop a mobile navigation app for the Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC platform, many years ago.
Their app exists in several different flavours, a free app that includes a large amount of in-app purchases or as their “premium” app range that includes many of the features you would otherwise pay separately for. While CoPilot claim that this was in no way due to the wide range of free alternatives, it’s hard to think that apps such as Google Maps and Waze didn’t sway that decision in any way.
The app itself looks almost identical to any off-the-shelf satellite navigation system you’d find in an electronics store, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. As CoPilot is available on multiple platforms, there is the strong sense that the developers have opted to use a “write once, run everywhere” approach so that the app can remain consistent across any platforms they release it for and, likely, make development easier. Unfortunately, that approach does make the app suffer and the interface itself is sluggish to use and lacks any polish whatsoever, button presses have a noticeable delay and no action to represent if you have pressed them.
CoPilot GPS requires a CoPilot Live ID to be created or signed in so that it can keep track of any purchases and subscriptions you may have made. While I’m sure that could all be handled by the App Store, the ID does have the benefit of offering a cloud backup solution so that you can back up all your settings, saved points of interest and recent locations. If you rely upon your navigation app on a regular basis then this offers an additional level of redundancy should anything happen to your device. It also means that if you use the app on multiple iOS devices, you can easily transfer content between them (though there is no syncing functionality, just a backup & restore).
As the app is free, there is a pretty big catch. Without purchasing the additional Full voice-guided 3D navigation, you’re limited to 2D directions and no voice navigation. This purchase immediately takes you to almost the same price you could pay for the Premium app, though the Premium app itself are created on a per-region basis, meaning you can’t buy international maps. Despite the app being free, CoPilot GPS really doesn’t offer the same functionality as any other app unless you’re willing to pay for the additional features.
CoPilot GPS includes a single country (or region) for use within the app at no charge. These maps are regularly updated and saved directly to your iOS device, keeping them available for offline use. While apps such as Waze may be incredibly popular for commuters and journeys through populated areas, they still rely on a data connection to obtain mapping data as well as calculate routes. CoPilot GPS will work without any data connection at all, and this is where it already becomes a better option for anyone planning a vacation or driving through rural areas where data will be spotty, at best.
For international travellers, CoPilot GPS’ built-in store offers you the option to purchase maps for other countries/regions that you can download. This means you’re not only getting maps for offline use but also avoiding any potentially expensive data roaming costs. Each map pack varies in costs, depending on where you need them for, and covers much of the world. Russia and Asia are, however, not available. Each map pack can also be loaded and unloaded to save space, as each country or region can be between 80–250MB. The whole of Europe could take up well over 1GB alone, so being able to pick and choose each country is very useful.
CoPilot GPS offers a range of ways to plan your trip, using location information from your contacts, browsing a map or entering a street address. Full postal code / ZIP code and street name support is included, and there are thousands of different Points of Interest that can be found.
Should you purchase the Live Traffic subscription, CoPilot GPS will then factor in traffic conditions along the way, should you have a data connection, rerouting or avoiding potential traffic problems for you. Similarly, CoPilot GPS will also offer two alternative route suggestions for you to choose from, though the app tends to pick the best option for the criteria you set.
Toll road and congestion charge information is a good addition and CoPilot GPS will warn whenever a route that’s planned will include these. I tested the app by asking it to take me to central London and was warned that I would be entering a congestion charge zone. For those unaware of these types of tolls, this can potentially save you from an unexpected fine.
The 3D route navigation itself works really well and the map is quick to update. A useful Lane Selection window can appear, should you enable it, so that when you approach a junction or offramp, it will display the road layout and advise you which lane to change to.
The voice navigation funciton, however, is rather poor. CoPilot GPS includes standard voice packs that you’d expect in most nabigation apps, though it touts its Text-to-Speech voice as the best to use, being able to say street names and other navigational information that would not normally be covered by a standard voice. Siri it isn’t, and the voice sounds harsh and can be difficult to understand, both due to the speed and delivery of what is being said.
The number of settings that CoPilot GPS has are extensive, from what to display on the map to the voice and language settings. You’re even able to set an audible alert should you exceed the speed limit of the road you’re travelling on. There are certainly far more options within CoPilot GPS than there is in apps such as Google Maps or Waze, but it can be somewhat overwhelming due to the sheer amount of customisation that can be done. This is where CoPilot’s Cloud Backup function comes in especially handy as losing all of the settings you have changed could be frustrating beyond belief.
CoPilot GPS offers some fantastic navigation functionality, ease of use and exceptional route planning that certainly performs better than many of the other free apps out there… provided you’re willing to pay for it. Without purchasing the additional 3D navigation, CoPilot GPS really doesn’t compete with the likes of Waze that offer the same functionality free of charge. While CoPilot GPS certainly includes advantages over other free apps, such as full offline mapping and route calculation (which many apps actually perform on a remote server rather than locally), it doesn’t seem to do enough to compete.
If you’re someone who frequently drives in other countries or takes trips through remote areas, the additional cost of the 3D voice navigation function is well worth the money, and the cost of additional maps are very reasonably priced. Using something like Waze in another country for a few hours would rack up data costs considerably more than the cost of CoPilot GPS’ additional maps.
Ultimately, most people’s navigation requirements would be fully met with Apple Maps, Google Maps or Waze, and CoPilot GPS is probably not an app worth considering if you’re just commuting or taking the occasional trip. For frequent travellers, often driving through rural areas or abroad, CoPilot GPS is still the best all-round navigation app to provide offline functionality. Its interface may be unappealing and Text-to-Speech voice unpleasant on the ears, but the benefits of CoPilot GPS far outweigh its drawbacks… at least for now, anyway.
Despite its unappealing, and clunky, interface, CoPilot GPS is still the best offline navigation app available, though most of the functionality requires an in-app purchase to take advantage of.7
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