Alk's CoPilot Live 7.0 software can be installed on any Windows Mobile device – pretty or not – and the chances are this device will already include many of the high-end features we expect to see in today's pricey personal navigation devices (PNDs).
We've all heard the horror stories of PNDs leaving heavy-goods vehicles stuck in country lanes, cars swimming in rivers and ambulances on the moon and, although it seems feasible that any one of these drivers might be somewhat lacking in common sense, it seems pretty unfair to judge them for getting their choice of satnav so completely wrong – after all, this is a trouble that plagues almost everyone in the market for a PND.
Does a device have to be pretty? Does it have to have the latest, high-end features? Are Tele Alas maps really better for European use than those from Navteq? Should I just give up and buy a TomTom? Well, actually, all your PND needs to do is work. It needs to be easy to use and it needs to get you from A to B.
And this is where Alk Technologies has the market cornered. Alk's CoPilot Live 7.0 software can be installed on any Windows Mobile device – pretty or not – and the chances are this device will already include many of the high-end features we expect to see in today's pricey PNDs. Your handset won't be bulky, it won't distract you while driving, you won't forget to hide it from view in your Break My Window (BMW) and, more importantly, it's a step closer to the all-in-one technology dream. Indeed, the portability and communications afforded by today's mobile handsets are such a boon for satellite navigation, that we're tempted to proclaim that the future of navigation is mobile.
Of course we say 'tempted', because ditching a PND in favour of a mobile handset presents a few problems of its own. Most notably, cramming in the same amount of detail on an average 2.5in screen as is displayed on that of a PND – which is now virtually an industry-standard 4.3in – is troublesome. Alk works around this with large onscreen buttons and by letting you customise which information is shown on screen.
Unfortunately, you can't see all the information at any one time, and large buttons make for plenty of confusing sub-menus. This is a shame, since Alk has gone to great lengths to improve CoPilot Live's usability in version 7.0 – including a revamp of the user interface.
Another issue is your existing handset, and we weren't completely taken with the sluggish 02 XDA that came with our review sample. Since delivery of our test unit, however, a new version of the XDA has reached the market. Other reviewers have also been satisfied with CoPilot Live 7.0's performance on the HTC Touch.
Still, the beauty of CoPilot is that you can use whichever Windows Mobile device works best for you and, if you already have the handset, £80 is a very small outlay for decent GPS software. On the other side of the coin, if your existing handset is fit for the bin, don't expect CoPilot to work miracles. But should your mobile contract be nearing its end, you'll find today's handset prices (doubtless driven down by Apple's iPhone) make it quite feasible for you to choose a compatible model on a modest tariff. (Or alternatively, for you to purchase a handset with GPS built-in, such as Nokia's N95, but we digress...)
Although we found the CoPilot Live 7.0 software a little on the slow side at times, we found plenty of plus points too. Making full use of your mobile's network connections, CoPilot provides free online location tracking (enabling friends to check your journey progress), free and regularly updated safety-camera alerts, as well as the ability to send locations to others via SMS or MMS. There's the ability to navigate straight to addresses listed in your contacts menu and, for an extra £35, live traffic information.
With CoPilot Live 7.0 Alk has also introduced CoPilot Central, a desktop-management tool that allows devices to be instantly updated in terms of mapping and safety-camera locations, also to download new voices, skins, European maps and to plan routes. However, you needn't have access to a PC to use CoPilot Live 7.0, as the software can be activated over the air.
Safety is a big issue for CoPilot Live, and version 7.0 sees the addition of a Driver Safety mode. Selecting this setting while on the road means the map will be displayed only when a turn is to be made, thus preventing unnecessary distractions. This might also explain why Alk made it virtually impossible to select the main menu while driving – while a firm tap anywhere on the middle of most PND screens will take you to the main menu, CoPilot uses a small and awkwardly-placed button to achieve the same – although we found this more of an annoyance than a reassurance.
On a similar note, upon receiving an SMS CoPilot offers up various templated responses, allowing you to quickly get your eyes back on the road. (Note that touching the device while driving may still incur a penalty fine and points on your licence, regardless of how quickly you respond to an SMS.)
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