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Nokia Ovi Maps is Free and Reliable

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Nokia Ovi Maps is Free and Reliable

Google wowed the world of navigation last October with Google Maps Navigation, available for free, initially on the Motorola Droid, retailing at $199.99, and then the rest of the smartphones powered by Android.  Nokia has stepped in with Ovi Maps, bettering Google’s application by providing turn by turn direction for worldwide locations that are voice enabled and free –in contrast with Google’s application, which only works in America.  While the Nokia Ovi Maps has a somewhat confusing interface, it performs well, and functions easily; this is the only navigation device you will need.  This fact alone would sway most people considering the purchase of a Nokia smartphone that is unlocked, but beware some unusual limitations, UI related.

This application if free: no upfront cost, in contrast with TomTom and Navigon; no monthly payments, as there are with Verizon, Sprint and AT&T; and no costly updates, like there are with complete PND vendors.  It provides Navteq maps and navigation ability for 74 countries, including Canada and the United States, as well as event guides, including Michelin and Lonely Planet.

It is available from maps.nokia.com: navigate there, and select Download Ovi Maps.  Next, find your handset from the dropdown list and then just follow the instructions.  It will soon be available preloaded; Nokia has stated that all of their new smartphones enabled for GPS will have this app.  Currently, it works with the majority of the newer Nokias, including the Navigation Edition, available for $299.99; the X6; the N97 mini; the E72 for $359.00; the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, $359.99; the Nokia 5230; the N97, $599.00; E52; and the E55.  A Nokia N97 mini smartphone, with an AT&T SIM card, was used for testing, and bear in mind that, should you already own a Nokia device that is compatible, monthly fees are no longer necessary.

Its chief menu display 9 icons, in the pattern of a gird, and it is here that you locate your own position; locate other places; share your current locations; access your favorites; get directions for either driving or walking to a destination; check the weather forecasts; scan local events; and gather information from Lonely Planet.  A little navigation bar at the bottom of the page will display a list of settings for various categories.  The N97 will switch this bar to the right hand side of the screen when titled, and the menu will then enter landscape mode also.

Accessing POIs and entering addresses is a rather strange process, however:  the application becomes an elevated Search box.  Whether it’s a street address you’re looking for, or directions to the closest Chinese restaurant, your search terms are keyed in and the process begins.  This works well if you’re making use of a QWERTY keyboard, but falls short when the handset is on a windshield mount, since you cannot then access this keyboard.  It is surprising that no virtual, onscreen keyboard exists, with the application offering only a numeric keyboard like those used for texting; or that of handwriting recognition which is slow, at 1 letter a time. There is no easily accessible list of your recent destinations either, disabling 1 touch access.  The only way to get around this last feature is to save each location as a favorite.

To make a long explanation short, you will need to enter your desired address while holding the phone, and only then place it into the N97 mini’s windshield mount and connect it to the power cord.  Going somewhere else will necessitate you disconnecting this cord, removing it from the mount, and once again entering your new destination.  Although this procedure will not be as onerous with all handsets, users should keep this in mind.

You are able to view a 2 dimensional map; satellite and terrain information before you enter your destination, as well as simply selecting one from the map displayed.  Once you’re on your way, Ovi Maps will show your current speed; the upcoming street’s name; the distance until your next turn, and all with very clear map graphics.  In contrast with Google Maps Navigation, Ovi Maps keeps information locally, in the same way that the TomTom does for the iPhone and the Navigon MobileNavigator does as well.  Because the phone is no longer utterly reliant on signal strength, navigation accuracy is improved.  You cannot pilot via a 3 dimensional satellite view, however, and this is an element that Google Maps Navigation does offer.  There are also no indications of speed limits; nor are lane assistance graphics, useful for complicated highway interchanges, available.

In spite of these slips, the application performed comfortably during navigations tests.  The directions it provided were accurate, and accompanied by accurately pronounced street names.  Google would do well to take note of Nokia’s audio tuning, with its delivery of timely prompts in excellent English.  Should you access the Ovi Maps Options menu while driving, 12 images allowing you to change routes; check traffic information; repeat the directions as well as view other trip data.  Nokia also provides online route planning that might lure potential Microsoft Streets & Trips clients too, since the latter retails at $69.99.  Registering for an account at the maps.ovi.com website will allow you to list your favorite routes and destinations; add new places you’ve found to an already existing map; and synchronize routes with your phone.

Nokia Ovi Maps is a dependable program, with no clear competitors, and is the new default choice for phones running Symbian Series 60.  However, should you purchase an Android phone which runs an OS version of 2.0 or higher, like the Google Nexus One or the Droid, you have the option of running Google Maps Navigation, which is also free of charge.  This application offers excellent voice enabled searches, and better satellite views during navigation, as well as other great features, but it is not as efficient in routing.  The iPhone does offer more GPS application choices, many with far simpler interfaces, but none of these is free.  There’s always the choice of PND less than $200, the 5 inch TomTom XXL 540-S or the 3.5 inch Garmin 265T being 2 examples of these; but neither of these has free POI and map updates.  These do, however, grant the user bigger touch screens; POI searches that are easier; and perform more consistently on the road than other GPS applications.

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