Google Navigation comes to Canada

After months of waiting, Google Navigation finally comes to Canada. I was lucky enough to have been able to play with it in my trip to Hawai earlier this year and have to say that I fell in love with it. I first dabbled with navigation on the Android with first MotoNav which I found quite confusing and CoPilot which I found better. After all the hype with Google navigation, I couldn’t help but be tempted to try it out.

The way I use Google Navigation is really an extension of Google Maps. In fact, that’s how I typically start my search. I typically try finding the location by address or by name. Once the location is found, one of the options on any point is “Navigate”

Things I like about Google Navigation:

Simple interface. As per Google’s trademark design, the interface is to the point. You have very limited options to what you can do with the screen that doesn’t deal with navigating to a point. If it can’t pinpoint your location via GPS, it keeps you in the route view which then allows you to figure out where you are visually.

Close integration with Google Maps. Let’s face it. For most people, if we are going to look for directions, given a choice, we would naturally use Google as our means to search for anything including direction. Google Navigation makes. This really easy to do through Google Maps.

Smart announcements. One of the small but smart choices when it comes to Google Navigation is how and when it announces things. Google Navigation will announce changes twice only: around 300m and 2km before the exit instead of the sometimes random announcements that was prevalent with Tomtom for Windows Mobile. Another thing that was really interesting is that on the highway, most of the exit announcements matched the signs on the highway making it easier to know when to exit.

It’s free. It’s a free product to use costing only data charges. It also works surprisingly well even on EDGE

Things I don’t love or worry about Google Navigation

The voice is annoying. While I don’t feel that I need the voice of Mr. T or Darth Vader to navigate me on my journey, the default voice on Google Navigation is quite unclear at times and pronunciation is more or less a crapshoot.

Accuracy of routing. While I trust that Google Maps will always have the latest point of interest, I do worry about how frequently will Google update there routing information. There are a number of times in Hawaii when I was routed through a back route to a location when a straighter and simpler path existed.

It’s dependent on live internet access. It works well until you don’t have data. This is bad in the scenario where you’re driving in rural areas (which is likely when you need it most) or if your data provider runs into issues.

Points of Interests functionality is inconsistent. The functionality is also known as Categories in Google Maps. I found that it worked well for me in Hawaii, I couldn’t seem to get it to work in Richmond Hill when I was looking for gas stations.

Despite it’s cons, Google Navigation is quite a usable product. It covers the most requested features for a GPS application and it’s the whopping price of free. I’m curious to see how other vendors plan to compete with Google to make their product more compelling.