Tag: GPS Apps »
App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
Graphics / Sound Rating:
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Starting up Parallel Universe for the first time was rather confusing for me. It wasn't so much that it was a complicated process, but rather that I was lacking in a proper degree of understanding. At least initially. Even after rereading the press info document (repeatedly) and restarting my map once or twice in order to experiment I was still fairly lost. It wasn't until I'd messed around with it for a couple of days that things finally made sense. For better or worse.
I'll attempt to explain Parallel Universe to the best of my ability so that anyone else attempting to play around with it won't be quite as lost as I was: It's essentially a map-making "game" that utilizes location services and 8-bit graphics. When a map is created, it just sort of exists with the chosen player character (male or female) sitting in the middle of it. Sticking to a small area for a bit will result in the construction and upgrading of buildings, while wandering through the neighborhood will create roads. After a night on the town or even a day at school, portions of the map will start to appear significantly different.
Parallel Universe is most certainly a fascinating idea. The concept of creating a personalized pseudo-fantasy world through a kind of augmented reality is more than a little novel, and watching the world change and grow around my little character is pretty darn cool. I also have to admit, the looped chiptune music fits the tone quite well and manages to avoid becoming obnoxious. So kudos to the sound designer/composer.
The problem I'm running into is that Parallel Universe wasn't really designed with New York living in mind. It doesn't run in the background so as to save battery life, which is a noble gesture but it means that cities will only begin to pop up if it's left on. And walking around Manhattan while staring at my iPhone screen isn't particularly safe. Or smart. I could leave it running and just start walking, but it would still shut itself off after a minute or so. Even sticking to one spot to build cities is fairly unimpressive, as it still requires leaving the app running and constantly tapping the screen to keep it on.
I think Parallel Universe is a fantastic proof-of-concept, but it's going to need a lot of adjustments before it's really any fun. It's more framework than fleshed-out game. I could see things like RPG-style quests, the ability to link images to specific spots on the map (i.e. taking pictures while out for a walk) or even simple stat-tracking making a difference here. I really hope we see some content updates in the future because it shows immense promise.
Know those corny signs that are up in just about any tourist-heavy area which show people which direction and how far another tourist-heavy attraction/city/state is? Something like an arrow sticking out of the ground in Maine, pointing West and proudly displaying "Hollywood: 'X' miles." Well Direction Known does something similar, only with customizable lists of things to point at and a readout that updates and syncs in real-time as the user moves around.
As someone living in a major metropolitan center, I can't exactly walk a straight line to wherever it is I need to go. However, anyone who's ever tried navigating anywhere on foot ever knows that even having a general idea of where their destination is can be a huge help. Of course, there's also the option to use the device's built-in GPS to check the map.
Direction Known does have plenty of practical uses, including finding a friend at the park, trying to figure out which direction to start walking in after getting off the subway or finding one's way out of the wilderness (if there's a signal). It also has some non-practical uses, like showing the kids how much farther until they reach grandma and grandpa's house or letting said grandparents watch their family getting closer. It can also be used for purely nostalgic purposes, such as having an arrow that always points to one's childhood home. Locations can be saved in separate groups, keeping things from getting too cluttered and giving users more control over what they're trying to find.
Upon first glance, Direction Known might look like nothing more than a colorful compass, but it can be much more than that. It can be incredibly helpful in the right situation, and it can illicit a nostalgic smile in others. Ultimately it's up to the individual user to decide. Regardless of how it's used, it's available in the App Store right now.
If you really want to start using your iPhone as a money saving gizmo, getting a solid GPS app is the way to go. Sure, they tend to cost more (a lot more) than your average app, but think about the alternative. There are plenty of people out there driving around like loons, taking directions from Sean Connery voice coming from a $150 box sitting on the dash. Come on people, use your iPhone's.
But don't get stuck using the Maps app that's included in your phone. It doesn't have any cool view options, seems to only find Circle K's and 7-Eleven's when you search for "gas station, and won't talk to you when you need a friend the most (when you're lost). Only the love of a good GPS app will stick with you through thick and thin. Well, unless your battery runs out... make sure you get a car charger.
MotionX GPS Drive
The original mother of all cheap GPS apps, MotionX GPS Drive only costs 99 cents. Less than one dollar! Included in the app has live GPS Navigation, all sorts of options to change your route preferences, and best of all, an amazingly well organized search function. Instead of leaving your fate to a Google search on your area, MotionX finds anything you want around you, from airports, to restaurants, to grocery stores, to hospitals.
Voice settings are optional on the app, and unfortunately it does cost money. You can either purchase voice for $2.99 a month or $24.99 a year, depending on what you want. I know what you're thinking, "hey, that's not so cheap!", but it's still cheaper than most of the rest. The cheaper price may be due to the fact that there is no option to have Sean Connery guide you around town, but such is life.
Mapquest 4 Mobile
So when I said that Motion X was the original mother of all cheap GPS apps, Mapquest 4 Mobile took the crown by being free. Free voice, free navigation, free everything. It's definitely the cheapest of the bunch. It's a bit slow, though, and the search features really aren't that great. If you are looking for a big chain of something or another, like Sonic or McDonalds, you are in luck, but anything that is local is in the dark. I did a search for Liberty Market in Gilbert, AZ, a popular restaurant spot, and the app came up with nothing.
It's hard to beat free though. If you know where you are going, and you have an address if the place isn't a chain, this is the app to get.
NAVIGON Mobile Navigator
I always hear NAVIGON in people's lists of favorite GPS apps, and it's no wonder why. It's clean, it works without a data connection, and it offers more features than your average bear. It offers text-to-speech street names, Reality View, which shows you what lane you should be in to get off at the correct exit, real time traffic ($19.99 lifetime fee), live weather updates, and "Clever Parking" which shows you all of your parking options by your destination. At no point in using this app will you long for your standalone GPS box, and that my friends is a huge plus.
The app does take up quite a bit of real estate on your phone (1.52GB for the N. America version), but having the ability to use the app in the middle of the desert is well worth the plot. If you want to lower the land grab (and lessen the cost a bit, too), you can buy regional versions for only $29, making NAVIGON one of the less expensive options on the market.
My favorite GPS app of them all however is CoPilot Live. It's fairly affordable at only $19.99 ($4.99 if you only want the USA), and gives you the same premium feel that NAVIGON gives you. It has text to speech street names, Live Traffic (for an extra $9.99) that automatically re-routes you around traffic messes, and a live services package ($20/yr.) that gives you live updates on various gas station prices, among other things. It also has really big buttons, which come in handy when you're fumbling around with your phone while driving (which you're not supposed to do). Best of all is that CoPilot is fast. Faster than all the rest, and speed makes me happy.
In case you were wondering, CoPilot, like NAVIGON, downloads the entire app to your phone allowing for offline navigation. Also like NAVIGON, the file is huge. 1.33 GB huge to be exact.