Road tested: Route 66

I have seen The One killer app for Series 60, and it is Route 66.

This week, I was able to test drive the latest addition to the growing number of Series 60 navigation software packages. Route 66 is well known on the desktop, so expectations were high for the mobile version. In contrast to many other solutions, Route 66 does not require you to download navigation information via GPRS, all the data is on the RS MMC which comes in the box. This is actually my one and only complaint: there is no space left for other applications on the RS MMC, and this would basically render your expensive Series 60 multi-purpose phone useless for anything but navigation. This, plus it makes installing additional cards impossible. It would have been wiser to deliver the software on CD and offer different MMC sizes with it for the customer to chose.

But that’s it for complaining, the software is excellent. Connection to the matchbox sized bluetooth GPS receiver was painless. As soon as the connection is established, your location appears on the card in 3D view. The card material is to date, and even very small streets (like the one I’m living in) are included.

To start navigation, you enter your destination. It’s sufficient to enter a few characters (like “mai rob” for “Mainz, Robert-Koch-Str.”), and the program will show you a list of possible destinations in an instant. There was the next thing that surprised me: lookup for locations and route calculation were both VERY fast, a lot faster than the built-in $5000 car navigation system in my previous car. Same holds true for re-calculation if you leave the track. You can also pick your destination from a list of favourites, previous destinations or addresses in your contacts.

During navigation, you can select between different views (see picture), and the screen will follow your current position. There are also different zoom levels. The map will also follow your position when you’re not navigating (i.e. the program is running, but there’s no route defined) which I like a lot, because it allows me to see which places are around me while driving in an unknown area. During navigation, the screen will also show you the distance to your destination as well as the e.t.a..

A female voice will give you directions while driving. Lacking a car holder for the N-Gage, I had it lying on the seat next to me, relying on the voice commands only. The voice through the speaker of the N-Gage was loud and clear and could be heard perfectly even with the car stereo on.

You can optionally request TMC (Traffic Message Channel) information via GPRS (note: no premium costs!) that will influence your route.

There are many more things that Route 66 offers (saving routes, points of interest, GPS coordinates, etc.), but most of all it is a really really good navigation package. To me, this would be reason enough to buy a Series 60 phone – other than the PDA solutions, your phone is much more likely to be with you, and you have the GPRS connection to be warned of traffic jams, something that most PDAs will not be able to do.

My hopes for the future? More map material (up to now, only Germany, Benelux and Athens seem to be available). Map updates online, maybe with a subscription model, would be perfect and a differentiator to most other systems that require you to buy new maps every year.

The mobile phone as a technological basis also opens up other options:

  • Buy maps or partial maps with a premium SMS.
  • Offer a service for companies to make their location available to customers via SMS. A customer of that company enters his phone number on the company web page and receives an SMS with location data that triggers Route 66.
  • Same with sending locations: send your current location to a friend who wants to find you.

The combination os navigation and mobile phones offers much more potential than just being a port of the desktop/PDA version. I hope they’ll make use of that…