OnCourse Navigator 6 GPS

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INTRODUCTION

    iGo is a road navigation program that has been gaining popularity in Europe since its release in 2005. Its quick, smooth interface has garnered a lot of attention. It’s been customized by Mio for use in their line of devices. Until now, however, the program has not been easily available as a stand-alone application, especially here in the United States. Enter – the new OnCourse Navigator 6 – essentially iGo 2006 SE bundled with the latest TeleAtlas maps. Does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out!

WHAT’S HOT

    OnCourse Navigator 6 has a number of outstanding features including:

  • The latest TeleAtlas maps (2007.1)
  • Easy Installation
  • Extensive POI database for North America (either 3.5 million or 12.5 million points)
  • Fast routing / recalculation
  • Smooth display graphics and animations

SETUP

   Setup was extremely simple:  just pop in the SD card (mini and micro SD are also available) and follow the onscreen instructions.  This process was extremely quick and easy for me.  The program asks if you wish to install.  After confirmation, the program installs and then asks you about your location and the voice you wish to use for announcements. You also need to agree to the license. The OCN web site makes reference to the possibility of a slow first-time startup if you have more than about 25 contacts. This occurs only on the first startup. After that, the program starts up in a very reasonable amount of time.  

   Above you can see the opening options as they appear on a square screen while below is the same display on a standard QVGA display. Note that on the square screen the GPS connection information has been removed in order to accomodate the smaller screen.

   At this point, you’re able to use the program, but I recommend you perform one more task first: set your home and work locations.  You do this by pressing the Find and Go button in the middle of the opening menu, then pressing either the home or the work button.  You are then prompted to enter the address, coordinates, or other for your home (or work) address.  Once these are set, you are truly ready to explore the program.



   

Here are some of the screens you’re likely to see the first time you run the program.

   

This is an example route itinerary (left) and data entry screen (right). The data entry screens are all adaptive and only letters for available entries are active.

   

Above is an example of a POI detail screen (left) and the POI categories (right).

PRODUCT FEATURES

   If you’ve used OCN 4 or 5, you’ll immediately notice that this is definitely not the same program as its predecessors. OCN 4/5 was based on a product from Navigon. OCN 6, as mentioned before, is an entirely different product – this time it’s based on iGo 2006SE. This program is definitely faster at both startup and general operation than either OCN 4 or 5. My personal feeling is that the graphics are cleaner and smoother than those of the earlier releases of OCN, but a lot will be subject to your personal taste.

Here is the title screen of the program.

   Above is a view of the main cockpit (navigation) display. On the left are the zoom and tilt controls while on the right are the display mode (follow, north-up, and airplane mode) as well as the battery and sound indicators. Below are square screen examples of the map and cockpit displays.

   

   Aside from the easy installation, the other big thing you’ll notice about OCN6 is the extremely smooth flow of the graphics and screen-based functions like panning, and tilting the viewing axis.  For example, you can tilt the display viewing perspective anywhere from a flat, 2D map perspective all the way to a deep 3D perspective.  This is done in a smooth, nearly continuous flow.  The same is true with the zoom feature – you can go all the way from a close in, street-level view all the way up to viewing your position on a representation of the Earth viewed from outer space. Although the pan/zoom features are smoother on faster devices than they are on slower devices, the smoothness was quite nice on all the devices I used in my testing.

This is another example of the map display on a QVGA display.

   

Above you can see an example QVGA map display that shows the same location with the tilt set to flat 2D (left) and then full 3D tilt (right).

   Many items are animated.  In map mode, for example, the current point on the map flashes with a sort of beaconing effect. When in cockpit (navigation) mode, as you approach a turn, the turn arrow moves in the direction of the turn you are supposed to make.  I’ve read comments from some people who feel that this lends a “cartoonish” feel to the product, but I disagree, I think it draws your attention to what is important on the screen and gives you better sense of what is happening.  The animations and other related interface items may owe some their feel to the fact that the original iGo application upon which OCN6 is based, comes from some of the programmers associated with PDAMill (now NavNGo), which is, of course, better known for its games.  I think these same techniques lend themselves well to applications like navigation software, much as it would if you were writing a racing simulation or flight simulator.  A lot of the same type of visuals would/should apply. The end effect is a program that has a lot of attention to visual detail and to the way that you interact with it.

   

   These are square screen examples of the cockpit display and navigation in action (actually just using the "fly over" route preview option. Note that the default zoom level shown here is almost too close, but don’t worry – it’s adjustable!

This is another square screen routing display.

   One of the nicest features of the program is the fact that it is using the TeleAtlas 2007.1 maps of the U.S. and Canada (including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam).  In their October 2006 release, TeleAtlas started to incorporate a lot of data it acquired from the acquisition of GDT.  Unfortunately, they also incorporated a lot of the mistakes from that other data set as well.  This time around, the data appears to have undergone some cleanup.  I’ve still found a few errors, but fewer than were in programs using the 2006.10 data set from TeleAtlas.  This makes these maps some of the most up-to-date maps available, without many of the data holes that were apparent in products using TeleAtlas maps from just a year ago. Keep in mind, however, your results may vary depending on the specific area your interested in, but overall, it appears to be an improvement over the previous data set.

   

These two screens, QVGA (left) and square screen (right) are examples of the map screen zoomed out as far as possible. Probably not useful in normal navigation, but an exellent example of the level of detail and thought that appears to have gone into this program.

   

These two square screen displays and the one that follows are different zoom levels of the same location.

   I mentioned before that OCN 6 is faster than its predecessors. I have to say that I’ve really been pleased with is the speed of the application.  The installation was certainly quick and easy, but routing and rerouting are very quick as well.  It took less than 10 seconds to calculate a route that was over 1000 miles long on a 520MHz PPC, under 15 seconds on a 200MHz device. I think the thing that surprised me most was the the performance of the program was really acceptable, even on a slower device.
That isn’t always the case with GPS and navigation applications, so it’s nice to see.

   OCN 6 also offers support for TMC receivers, although TMC traffic support and coverage is currently somewhat limited in North America. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to test this functionality, but it is built in.

   Among the other features of the program are multi-point routing, including optimization of that route, road avoidance, route flyover (including all voice instructions), a customizable status bar, and customization of the zoom/auto-zoom levels, and a number of other features.





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HELP SUPPORT

    The application arrived shipped in an envelope that included the software card (you have the choice of miniSD or microSD) as well as a 12 page Quick Start Guide. The program is fairly easy to get started with, but as you get into it you may want a more detailed operating manual. THe OCN web site indicates they are finishing up a full manual, but in the meantime, it is possible to go to the iGo web site and make use of the iGo 2006 manual for most features and options.

OTHER DETAILS

    This program will run on regular QVGA (240 by 320) screens, as well as on VGA devices and square screen devices. Be aware, however, that some information is eliminated on some screens to accommodate the square 240 by 240 display.

   

Shown above are samples of different menus as seen on the square display.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

    According to their web site, OnCourse Navigator requires a Pocket PC or Pocket PC Phone Edition device running at least Windows Mobile 2003 and up such as WM2003SE, WM 5 for Pocket PC/Phone. You need to have minimum RAM of 9 MB but they recommend that you have 12 MB free memory available (program memory not storage memory or storage card memory). You also need to have a free card slot and it needs to support SD, mini SD, or micro SD (transflash). You also need to have an NMEA compatible GPS Device connected (or part of) your PDA.

BUGS AND WISHES

   
As I mentioned before, when TeleAtlas incorporated the data it obtained from GDT in late 2006, they filled in a lot of their missing data gaps, but they also introduced a number of errors, including some that had been previously corrected.  For example, I found one situation where the program tried to route me on a road that didn’t exist (and appears to not have existed for some years), but, overall, the data seems to be much more accurate than the data set released late last year.

   Although the cockpit and map displays are highly intuitive and pleasant to work with, the menus are adequate, but not all functions are easy and intuitive. It’s very easy, for example, to create a route from your current position to wherever you want to go – simply press the "Find & Go" button on the first screen, but it’s a little harder to set up a point to point route while planning out a route in the map mode. You have to make sure no route is currently set, then press the MENU button and FIND the location you want to start with. Then you press the up triangle in the lower right corner of the screen and press the START button. Now you’ve set your starting point. Press MENU again, and FIND the other end of your route and press the triangle again, but this time choose ROUTE TO. Once that’s done you can continue to set up route through points. It’s all manageable, but not the most obvious process – especially the fact that you must make sure that no current route is set up first. Even though planning is a little harder, the primary focus of the program is to get you where you want to go now and they’ve made that very easy, but I would like to see some of the planning features become a little easier to use.

   I also have stated in a number of places online, that I’m not a big fan of the model of having the software locked to the data card it’s distributed on.  The positive side of this model is that installation becomes easier and distribution of software becomes easier for the developer since they don’t have to tie licenses to the PDA itself. Additionally, if you have to move the program from one device to another, it’s simply a matter of popping the card into the new device (you can only use it on one device at a time).  

   The negatives of the model are: One – it leaves you no flexibility within the PDA itself.   If you have only one card slot in your PDA, this app and data take up nearly the entire card.  You can’t go out and get a bigger card to put it all onto. That means you have to swap cards to run multiple programs.  Two – with these cards being so small there is always some risk of losing or damaging the card, especially since the limited overall storage space means you may be swapping cards regularly. I would personally prefer to get my software on DVDs or downloads, that way I’m not running from my original copy, I’m using an installed copy instead. I’d even be willing to pay a small premium for the option.

   Since this is your only copy of the program and data, I would highly recommend that when you receive the program, you make a backup of the data card somewhere in case it becomes damaged. As long as the card is reusable, you can recover the data and continue.

   While I found many of the default map settings ideal on a QVGA screen (240 by 320) but on the smaller square screen (240 by 240) I found the default zoom level to be a little too close (as you’ll see in some of the screen shots in this review), but, as I mentioned earlier, the zoom (smart zoom) levels are adjustable, so this is easily correctable.

   A small thing I found interesting is that the program icon is still the iGo icon rather than an OCN icon.

   The last item that some folk will miss is the lack of a "create route from contact" feature. For myself this isn’t a real problem, but for some people it may prove to be a deal breaker.

PURCHASING

   
The program is available in a variety of formats including on SD, miniSD or microSD formats, and is available in a Deluxe version (with 3.5 million POI) for $119.95 and a Premium version (12.5 million POI) for $135. BuyGPSNow.com is a great place to get the software – they ship fast and have great customer service.

PROS


  • Easy installation


  • Attractive and intuitive interface

  • Very speedy operation
  • Latest TeleAtlas Maps

CONS


  • Locked to data card

  • Still a few data errors
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall


OVERALL IMPRESSION

   OnCourse Navigator 6 has become one of my favorite road navigation programs of all those I’ve used in recent years. There are a few things I found to be confusion or non-intuitive, but for me, the way you interact with the interface is more important than nearly any other aspect of the program and this program generally excels in that arena.  It also excels at quickness, even performing well on a less powerful (200MHz) device.  As time goes on, we’ll see if the data set is cleaned up as much as it initially appears to be.  . Overall, I have to say that OnCourse Navigator is an application I highly recommend, and because of that, it receives the pocketnow.com Editors’ Choice award.




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