Reg Review ALK CoPilot Live Smartphone
The PDA may have made the low-cost GPS navigation package possible but like many of its more traditional uses, this is yet another PDA application that's in danger of being taken over by the smart phone.
Sensing the shift, navigation software specialist ALK Technologies earlier this year announced a plan to step across from the PocketPC platform to Windows Mobile for Smartphones, with the result that last month it began shipping a version of its CoPilot code for handsets. And, borrowing UK network Orange's Windows Mobile 2003-based SPV c500, I decided to take it for a spin.
Functionally, CoPilot Smartphone replicates the PocketPC release, which I reviewed last April, very closely. The big differences centre on tailoring the code for the phone OS' smaller display and key-based - as opposed to stylus-operated - user interface. The results is, oddly perhaps, that the phone version looks better than its PocketPC sibling and is easier to control, since it's designed to be operated one-handed.
ALK ships CoPilot Smartphone on a MiniSD card rather, allowing you to start using it almost immediately. Just turn off the phone, remove the battery (in the case of the c500), slot in the card, put everything back together and switch on. There's no messing around with CDs, PCs and synchronisation software - it's all ready to run.
Restarting the handset installs the CoPilot application from the card. Running the installed software requires registration with ALK, but this is handled automatically by the app, communicating with its maker via the Internet and a GPRS connection.
Setting up the Bluetooth GPS bundled with the software is a little more involved, but ALK provides clear instructions, and I was getting a fix from the GPS satellites in no time. The antenna unit is very compact, being fractionally wider and thicker but somewhat shorter than the handset itself. It's very easy to slip in a pocket or briefcase, or tuck somewhere safe in the car. It's powered by a built-in Lithium Ion battery recharged using a bundled car ciggie lighter adaptor.
CoPilot provides four operational modes: Guidance, which takes you from A to B with spoken instructions; Navigating, which is the same thing minus the voiceover; Walking, which plots an 'as the crow flies' route rather than one that follows the roads; and Guidance, which is the only mode that can operate without the GPS antenna and lets you plot a route in advance.
In each case, you can add a number of stops on journey by entering an address manually, taking it from the handset's Contacts database, by highlighting the intersection between two or more roads, or by selecting a location from the software's extensive 'points of interest' database. CoPilot also maintains a list of ten Favourite locations, along with two others, Home and Work, to make regular journeys easier to select. Ironically, you'll probably end up not using these so much since by definition they'll become familiar routes if they're not already.
A neat touch is the stop optimisation facility, which re-orders the stop list to eliminate or reduce doubling back on yourself. Not always successfully - coming into London down the M1, it routed me first to a stop south of the Thames then back up north again. Still, in such instances you can easily re-order the stops manually.
Entering an address yields, after a short pause, a list of possible matches from which you select the one that most closely matches where you want to go. CoPilot will work with post codes, but it really needs a street name, which is handy for those of us who can never remember post codes.
It's pretty good at coming up with the right location, but it's not bright enough to parse complicated addresses, usually those stored in Contacts. That database's limited number of address fields can leave the Street field populated with a floor number, building name and so on, all of which confuse CoPilot. 'Suite 410, The Bon Marche Centre, 241-251 Ferndale Road', for example, yielded dozens of street names beginning 'Su'...'