Review: NDrive Navigation for South Africa

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 18 Nov 2009

Recently I decided to give my dedicated Garmin GPS to my girlfriend, seeing as she would use it a lot more than me, but I still needed to have sort of navigation system for myself, so I decided to start looking what the appstore has to offer. There are quite a decent number of GPS titles available, but NDrive was the most popular navigation app in the SA appstore. I got hold of a review copy and here are my impressions.

At $69 it is slightly cheaper than equivalant products from TomTom and Navigon, and so far I am very impressed. The interface is decent, and the routing is accurate. I have been driving with it for the past few weeks and the maps seem pretty up to date. Have to say, being a mapping company in SA cannot be easy at the moment - with all the construction going on for the World Cup, roads changes are very frequent. Luckily, NDrive worked fine everywhere I drove, and I only once drove on a road that it did not know of. Much better than the latest Garmin mapsets.

Graphics within the app is very decent, with a nice frame rate while you are driving (I was used to Garmin GPS's which only updated frames once a second, and that was a high end unit). The app also functions perfectly in both landscape or portrait orientation. My guess is most people will prefer the landscape orientation - it just suits the display of routes better.

While the accuracy of the GPS was a little off at first, it became better once I put it underneath the windscreen - I guess the iPhone does not have the most powerful GPS chip. Talking about power - I was surprised that the battery did last a bit longer than I expected, especially compared to using Google Maps on your phone. The major difference of course is that with Google Maps the phone is constantly downloading map info. For longer journeys I do recommend getting a car charger however, and maybe a cradle as well.

Driving instructions were slightly more frequent than on the Garmin - it keeps on making sure that you "keep left" or "keep right" even if the highway clearly has a turnoff, and you are heading straight. While some might find it annoying, I found it handy on a recent trip to Gauteng, where I had no idea where I was.

Finding addresses or POI's is easy enough on the app. It functions similiar to other apps - I found that it was pretty up to date, and I could easily find restaurants, banks, etc. Route calculation is quick as well. What I did like is that route deviations can be easily entered - by clicking the green button on the left, you can inform the app of roadblocks, and it it will quickly recalculate. "Safety" camera warnings are also given clearly - it also prominently displays the speed limit on the screen. The user can also enter a speed at which it should give a warning beep. So if you have a heavy foot, that might come in handy.

One point of criticisim I have for the app is the use of its own keybaord, instead of the iPhone keyboard. While it is perfectly functional, I do prefer having some consistency in apps. I spoke to the guys at NDrive, and supposedly they are working on integrating the iPhone keyboard in a future update. NDrive is also a much better product when used on a iPhone 3GS - the extra RAM makes everything a lot smoother. If you are using it on a iPhone 3G I recommend you use a memory management tool to first clear the device RAM, then it is quick as well.

Music that you want to play through your iPhone has to be selected beforehand, and tracks will then need to be changed with the "double click the home button" method. If you need to change the playlist, you need to exit NDrive, change the music, then reopen NDrive. NDrive will then give you the option to just resume your previous navigation. This is more of limitation of the platform rather than the app however.

Overall I am very impressed by NDrive - despite the limitations that the iPhone platform presents, the app is well rounded and easy to use. As a primary GPS device I think the iPhone has become powerful enough to replace the dedicated GPS unit - yes there are caveats, but nothing beats the conveniance of have having of not having to carry another device with you. As Richard Mulholland puts it - the cellphone has truly become the perfect predator - it just keeps on eating dedicated devices...

PS: I have one copy of NDrive to give away. Valued at $69 it is worth quite a bit as well. What I want from you is to give your best single tip for a South African iPhone user. It can be anything - accessories, apps to download, tips and tricks. It should only be one single tip... As long as it has a specific use for a South African... (also, dont copy other people's tips, it wont fly. So if you have a good tip, and you are first to post it, then you are eligible) Competition ends 21 November at 12:00.

Update: Well done edwinwatson - you win the app. Thanks for the tip!
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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.