(Pocket-lint) - With a GPS receiver bundled into almost every smartphone out there, it is no surprise to find a number of software applications hoping to mimic the success of standalone satnav devices. FoxNav from Jentro is one such application, relying on Navteq maps behind the scenes.
A quick download from BlackBerry World, you'll be up and running with the application in no time at all, as there isn't much that needs installing. We tested FoxNav with the BlackBerry Curve 8900.
The main menu breaks down into icons, covering a range of your normal satnav options. Some of these will get heavier use than others, with Navigation and Directions getting the lion's share of the action. Maps will let you dive in and examine the maps independently and all of the above present the same searching methods, from the typical current location, manual entry, home, work, recent, favourites, "From web" and contacts.
Other options allow you to search for POI, or points of interest, by category, so you can search for a station, airport, restaurant, hotel and so on, either near your location or near any other address you choose to enter through all the options listed above. Parking and Petrol will give you locations for these services and also give you the option of navigating directly to them.
Safety cameras notifications are also included on your planned route and we found that driving along a route with speed cameras resulted in a warning, although some were missed, including a large number of cameras covering road works on the M3 for example, so the database doesn't seem to be as up-to-date as it could be.
In general there seems to be a problem pulling in data from your contacts. We tried searching for family members and were often told there were "too many" results, even when searching for an exact name. It seems fraught with problems and when you do find a contact it will give you, you need to hope the database fields are mapped correctly – we ended up with parts of addresses missing, countries and towns reversed and all sorts, so it isn’t quite as slick as you might first hope.
FoxNav is essentially a shell that downloads the information you need. So if you plan a route, it will interrogate the Navteq maps and return the route for you. The application warns you that recalculating the route will result in higher data charges, as you'll effectively be downloading the information again. The same applies to announced street names – it's more data, so if you don't have an unlimited package, you might want to turn some of these features off.
Navigation itself gives you several options, including taking the fastest or shortest route, with dedicated views for pedestrian or vehicle use. Pedestrian use is ok, but in reality the free offering from Google Maps will serve you just as well, if not better.
When in vehicle navigation proper, you get the normal options of a map display, "birdview" which is your normal 3D driving view, or just large arrows. Strangely the birdview visual option is rather featureless, but bizarrely there are clouds in the sky. The map view is detailed enough, including rudimentary house numbers.
Supported by timely and clear instructions, including the extra street names, we found that navigation was reasonably good, although we question some of the routing decisions taken, which differed from independently-mapped routes. FoxNav does sometimes get a little vague, offering guidance like "further ahead, turn left" and it doesn't cope with detailed sequential commands – like a double roundabout – fast enough to be clear.
If you deviate from the planned route, either through local knowledge or a simple mistake, FoxNav is quick to start telling you to "perform a legal u-turn". This is something of an annoyance, but it will eventually drop the idea and return to sensible navigation further down the road.
Another annoyance is the use of full screen notifications that can only be closed by clicking ok. Assuming you are using your BlackBerry mounted on a cradle on your windscreen, you are unlikely to want to jump in and start pressing small buttons to make these selections.
And this is a criticism of this style of navigator on the BlackBerry (except the Storm) – as all the buttons are small, changing anything whilst driving is dangerous, whereas a simple screen tap on a dedicated satnav (or touchscreen phone) might not be. Zooming on the map, for example, suggests pressing 1 or 7 (for in and out), but on a BlackBerry you have to press Alt first to enable that option: not something you can do whilst driving.
To counter this to a certain extent, there are some options that can be changed using the trackball. It is a little imprecise, but you'll be able to switch into night mode (the dark background) or turn off the audio, although it is fiddly, and whether you can (or should) do this whilst driving is a different point altogether.
The chances are, however, that you'll use the FoxNav in one of two ways. You'll use it to navigate to an address you're not familiar with, or you'll set it to take you home. Although it purports to support full UK 7-digit postcodes, we found that entering just the postcode would not find an address. To get a result, we had to use the postcode with a street name, at which point we were offered house numbers too.
There is one cracking feature lurking in FoxNav which goes under that "From web" option. If you take your FoxNav registration details and log-in to the website, you'll be able to sign-in and find addresses. These can be accessed from the device, so you can find a location and plug in the details before you leave, should you wish, or have someone in your office plug in the details for you to pick-up. The website also logs all of your planned routes in a neat summary, but you don't have to actually drive the route to get it logged, so might not stand as proof of car use with the accountant.
The GPS reception on the Curve 8900 was good enough to use for navigation purposes, with FoxNav quickly finding satellites. It does have quite an impact on the battery life, however, and from a fully charged device, we lost a bar from the battery over an hour of navigation. You'll want a cradle and car charger if you plan to use it for any serious navigation.
Traffic is included, but Jentro told us that this is factored in when your route is planned initially and then updated at 30-minute intervals along your route. However, we didn't notice any changes on route or any indicators of detected traffic as we were driving, so don't expect results like TomTom HD Traffic.
Being a BlackBerry application it is happy to run in the background which is a double-edged sword – you might be checking your emails whilst walking the street and it will announce to the world that you should "perform a legal u-turn", so it is worth making sure you cancel the route or exit the application when you are finished – that also ensures you are not still drawing heavily on the battery.
When it comes to price you will save money over even entry-level satnav devices, although it is a subscription service, so you'll incur the fees year-on-year. It will cost you £23.45 for a full year of UK mapping, strangely a few pounds more than the application on an Android handset. However, if you wish to use it abroad, there is an additional 49p charge per route, as well as whatever data roaming charges you'll pick-up. A flat rate £39.09 for Western Europe is also available, but again, there will be data charges.
Overall, although the navigation itself is reasonable, we were disappointed with the performance when it came to finding addresses or pulling in addresses from the contacts. Dedicated units have address finding down to a fairly slick process, and the FoxNav approach still feels like you have to do most of the work yourself, but there is room for improvement here.
For some the clear driving instructions will be worth the cost and the convenience of having navigation all in one device. For others, the poor performance of some features might make FoxNav a little disappointing.