Recently, the UK Mountain Rescue organisation issued a warning about using mobile phone based satnav on the hills in favour of a proper satnav. Very wise, since phones aren’t as robust and, in my experience, the GPS signal is often less stable.
Now, I’m tighter than a duck’s backside when it comes to spending money, so my car doesn’t have satnav at all. I usually just look at a map and write directions before I leave home for somewhere new, but recently I’ve been experimenting with a few iPhone satnav options, including the free Navfree, and now an offering from Wisepilot which costs 69p to install and then works on a subscription base from £5 per month upwards.
Wisepilot features a rich assortment of ways to find interesting destinations, which could suit the wanderers amongst us. This is also particularly useful when your destination is a bit random, like a particular junction or carpark without its own postcode. And of course for when you don’t actually have any familiarity with where you’re going – like trying to find the nearest petrol station.
This place-finding feature works really well when you have a good, solid internet connection since it’s pulling results from the web. It’s let down badly when you’re out of reception though, since maps and postcodes aren’t stored on the phone itself.
I’ve been using the app for both journeys I do know, and for those I don’t and comparing it to the map in my head. It’s been an interesting experience with many a moment when Wisepilot has sent me in what can only be described as perplexing directions. One time it sent me on a 60-mile journey for a destination 30 miles from home. And last weekend it sent me across a housing estate in favour of using the M1.
Slightly bonkers, but potentially my fault it appears. Within the settings of the app lies a choice between shortest and fastest route. I set it to ‘shortest’ after it sent me via on a 30-mile tour of the south coast one day, which it thought would be ‘fastest’ (It wasn’t). Apparently, negotiating a council estate and what seemed like endless left and right-turn junctions was ‘shorter’ than the M25/M1. Silly me.
Interestingly, I fired up the alternative app, NavFree, from my destination to get home and it defaulted to the motorway which took 20 minutes less time.
Despite this difference in opinions between us, Wisepilot’s a pretty app and I like the interface. I’m not sure what half of it means, and there’s a woeful lack of instructions on what some of these pretty icons actually mean. Take the below icon for example… bottom left. Does that mean there’s a traffic queue in 12 miles, or a 12-mile queue ahead? It’d be useful to know which. One time it flashed up a star-shaped symbol – I still don’t know what that meant!
I can see past all of the above as quirks in our relationship – those little bumps that need to be worked out. We need to learn each other and get along a bit better. But I’m afraid there’s one problem that I can’t see past. It’s a deal breaker.
The fact that Wisepilot requires an internet connection to calculate routes and get new mapping is a fundamental flaw for anyone driving outside of an area where there’s mobile phone reception. I’ve been caught short on a number of occasions where Wisepilot has been unable to calculate a route, lost the road completely or just plain old freaked out.
So it’s not been an easy relationship between Wisepilot and I. We’ve had our differences; we’ve slept in separate beds and been to counselling and I’m afraid I’m now seeing other SatNavs.
SUMMARY: A combination of iPhone and satnav app is no replacement for a proper satnav. It works OK where you have good phone reception, despite it taking some very odd routes to get you places. But stray out of phone reception and deviate from the route, and you’re left lost.