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ALK CoPilot Smartphone

Top notch sat nav for Windows handsets

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Driving

With a journey entered, CoPilot calculates the route and tells you where to go. The software provides the obligatory but unnecessary 3D view, along with views of where you are, where you're going and a 'safety' view which simply lists the next turn alongside a suitably pointing arrow. Planning mode provides and additional view of the entire journey and a list of directions.

ALK CoPilot SmartphoneEven on the smart phone's small screen, the maps are clear, as are the POI icons. Driving, this is even less of an issue, since for obvious safety reasons you should watching the road not the handset. The spoken instructions - choose from male or female - given you plenty of warning, or you can set the software to tell you to turn when you're practically on top of the junction - the choice is yours.

There's one flaw here. CoPilot will flag up POIs, including the UK's notorious array of speed... sorry, safety cameras, but they're only highlighted on the screen, not over the speaker. Well, there's a buzz, but I didn't hear it, and so I missed two long-established GATSOs. Quite apart from the fact I shouldn't be looking at the screen, unless you're using the car power socket, you'll almost certainly find your phone's screen has long since blacked out on you. Even with the backlight dimmed, it can be hard to see what's going on. These screen time-outs can be adjusted, of course, but expect you phone's battery life to suffer.

The bottom line: in-car software needs to make better use of the voiceover and rely less on the display.

ALK CoPilot SmartphoneDitto voice control. CoPilot offers a neat detour facility to get you around jams and so on. Using Bluetooth to eliminate some of the wiring, not to mention Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphones' one-handed operation, makes it easier to select these options than doing so with a PocketPC, but should you really be fiddling with a phone when you're on the move? Even were you stationary, I suspect a passing policeman peering in through your window would take a dim view of it.

That said, the screen does work well when you're walking, and I amused myself using it to guide me the short distance from my local back home one evening.

Guidance will driving was generally accurate, though my attempts to throw the software's ability to cope with wrong turns, although unsuccessful, nevertheless generated some worrying 'turn around in the road' instructions. Some of the routing was unusual, too, in one instance taking me well out of the way of the route I usually take between north and south London. Until I realise I had the Congestion Charge avoidance system switched on.

ALK CoPilot SmartphoneUnlike the PocketPC software, which uses voice-synthesis technology to read out the name of roads and streets into which you're about to turn, CoPilot Smartphone appears to use pre-recorded WAVs, so you get a lot less spoken information - memory limiting how many WAVs can be stored - that you do with the other version.

Connected

Beyond portability, another advantage of adding navigation software to a smart phone is the ability to use the handset's network connection. CoPilot provides an optional link to the AA's Trafficwatch service, which pulls real time traffic incident updates across the network, filtering out anything that's not on your route. Usefully, it ties in with the software's detour facility. One (small) downside: Trafficwatch costs £50 extra.

And then there's CoPilot's own Live service, which hooks into the SMS system to provide easy to read and respond to messaging, and allows other people to monitor your progress from any PC.

Verdict

ALK has done a fine job of cramming its PocketPC navigation software - already one of the better PDA navigation applications - into a smart phone form factor. If anything, the move has improved the package, yielding a good-looking feature-rich navigation tool that makes use of the hardware's network connectivity and the OS' one-handed operation. Only the voice directions suffer by providing less directional information than the PocketPC version offers.

And the beauty is, when the software's on your phone, it's always with you. The Bluetooth receiver saves you having to drape wires across your dash. Both phone and receiver fit conveniently in bags, pockets or glove compartments. At £220 for the Bluetooth receiver and software (£150 for the software alone), it's one of the cheapest navigation solutions around - particularly since you can get a rather nice c500 from Orange for next to nothing these days. That's excellent value. And you can add maps for the whole of continental Europe for just £100 more.

The only downside - for me - is the Windows Mobile 2003 for Smart Phones requirement - only an issue if you've already invested in an alternative smart phone platform. But ALK tells me there's a Symbian version in the works, so soon me and my Nokia 6600 need never get lost again. If you're happy to go with MS' OS, or already have, CoPilot is an excellent add-on. ®

ALK CoPilot Live Smartphone
 
Rating 80%
 
Pros — Well integrated into smart phone form factor, wireless solution, one of the cheapest, best value GPS solutions on the market
 
Cons — Voice feedback limited, still no voice control, inevitable smart phone battery life issues
 
Price £220 with Bluetooth GPS receiver and in-car kit; £135 software only; Trafficwatch support £50; Complete European add-on map pack £100
 
More info The ALK Europe site

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