When it comes to GPS navigation, Garmin is one of the most trusted names. Readers and members have voted Garmin as the most recognizable brand in the GPS industry in our Reader's Choice portion of our yearly Tech Awards. Garmin’s StreetPilot app for the iPhone has been available Stateside for quite some time now and now, a year after, it is finally available locally for Singapore and Malaysia.
The app is available from Apple’s App Store for US$29.99 (compatible only with iOS 4.0 or later) and this includes the StreetPilot navigation system as well as maps for both Singapore and Peninsula Malaysia. We decided to give it a spin to see if it's a worthy companion in our local usage.
For anyone who has ever used a Garmin GPS navigator, the interface of the Street Pilot will be instantly familiar. The main menu is classic Garmin, asking users “Where To?” or giving him or her the option of viewing the map.
Choosing “Where To?” brings up the usual selection of options such as “Points of Interest” and “Favorites” that are also found on regular Garmin GPS devices. The “Points of Interest” option is probably the one most users will select and we found it to be pretty intelligent in terms of providing relevant results. It managed to find tourism hotspots, popular food centers and even car workshops.
However, we found that the StreetPilot app can take sometimes take a long time to generate search results. On our iPhone 4S, there were instances where it could take as long as half a minute to generate results to our queries. This is an intermittent issue since there were also times when the app managed to give us results pretty quickly. This is puzzling given the amount of processing power the iPhone 4S has.
Actual navigation performance is as you’d expect from a Garmin. The maps have the familiar color scheme that screams Garmin; and it is easy to see while on the move, despite the iPhone’s modest 3.5-inch screen. The StreetPilot app also has all the modern navigational aids such as lane assist, junction view and 3D maps. The app also features voice prompts as well, which we found to be clear and easy to understand. However, languages are limited to only English and Chinese.
And thanks to our iPhone 4S’ powerful graphics capabilities, the StreetPilot app’s map view is extremely fluid to use. Scrolling through the map and zooming in and out feels very fluid and responsive, more so than standalone Garmin GPS units that we’ve used in the past.
Since the StreetPilot app comes with both maps of Singapore and Malayisa, those thinking of using the app up north will be happy to know that the maps are downloaded directly into your iPhone, which means you can use the StreetPilot app in Malaysia without worrying about incurring data roaming charges (and vice-versa depending on your residency). However, this also means that the app takes up quite a bit of storage space - around 1.7GB! Other useful features to assist while driving on the highways of Singapore or Malaysia are Highway Mode and Exit Service. The former helps display names and distances of upcoming exits, toll stations and rest areas, while the latter compliments it by helping search for restaurants, accommodations and petrol stations along nearby exit points.
Overall, iPhone users who are considering getting a GPS device for their vehicles should highly consider the Garmin StreetPilot app option as an alternative if you don't mind the small display area. The app is easy to use and actual navigation performance is first-rate. The downsides is that it can sometimes take unbearably long to search for location based information and that additional map packs cannot be purchased to complement the app - you would need to download the respective Garmin app for that particular region.
At US$29.99 (around S$38), the StreetPilot app is considerably cheaper than most standalone GPS devices, yet it packs all the features and functionality you would expect from a decent full-fledged GPS device. Furthermore, this is a one-time fee and Garmin says that map updates will be available quarterly. To end, the Garmin StreetPilot app is a competent navigator and good value for money if you don't mind having the iPhone's limited screen size as your GPS display.