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No Thanks, ALK - the Google Lady Is My Copilot

No Thanks, ALK - the Google Lady Is My Copilot

My confidence in CoPilot Live was shaken when I hit some heavy traffic and attempted to circumvent the snarl via a rat-run I was very familiar with. To my utter amazement, CoPilot didn't keep up with me as I attacked the streets. It knew where I was, correctly indicating my position with a pulsating red dot on the quite elegant map. However, it didn't reroute me live.

By Patrick Nelson
11/09/12 5:00 AM PT

CoPilot Live Premium, an app from ALK Technologies, is available for US$9.99 at Google Play.

CoPilot Live

I've gone a bit mad for smartphone GPS and everything that goes with it, including back country topo maps, tablet mounts and in-car mode screen assistant widgets. If you've been reading some of my TechNewsWorld and LinuxInsider columns lately, you already know that.

I've also been kitting out my phone with some highly sophisticated GPS tools -- like cache-flushing app GPS Assist, and A-GPS download tool GPS Status & Toolbox, for rapid location fixes -- and getting good results.

One area I'm currently exploring is navigation.

Free apps, the Android-native Google Maps and sister app Google Navigation have worked well for me across the U.S. and Europe, including digging me out of urban gridlock in the second largest city in France, Mediterranean trading port Marseilles -- and I've indeed become quite fond of the Google lady's voice and her reassuring infallibility.

But I'm a geek -- I want more.

Passed-Up Players

Offline navigators Navigon USA and Sygic jumped out at me while I was browsing the Google Play app store. Navigon caught my eye because it's major-player, highly regarded GPS maker Garmin's brand. I noticed Sygic because it uses equally well-regarded TomTom's maps with cool 3D landmarks for some locales.

Both looked seductive and pretty, but they were just too expensive, in my impoverished writer's opinion. Navigon USA and Canada came in at $59.95, and Sygic's USA product at 23.99 euros (US$30.) If I'm moving on from Google's free Maps, I need a mix of features and price-sensitivity at the very least.

CoPilot Live

I settled on ALK Technologies' CoPilot Live Premium at $9.99 in the Play store, pitched as an app to turn your Android device into a "high performance GPS with offline maps, live traffic information and advanced navigation features." Hmm.

The $9.99 CoPilot Live Premium version I chose is differentiated from the free CoPilot GPS and $3.99 CoPilot Live Standard versions by the addition of a year of real-time traffic data worth $9.99.

It also has voice guided directions, unlike the free CoPilot GPS version. I found the permutations of dollar amounts, versions and features quite overwhelming, and it turned me off before I'd even loaded the app.

Clearer to me was what you ultimately, in fact got for ten bucks. CoPilot Live Premium stores maps on the device rather than pulling them in from the cloud like Google does.

To be fair to Google, I've not had a problem using its maps when out of a service area, because Google does have an offline download function. You just have to do it manually. I've also never had a problem with the Google Navigation app getting confused because of a lost mobile signal data connection -- just a lost GPS signal.

CoPilot Live replicates the windshield-mount or built-in satellite navigation device faithfully, and it includes features unavailable in Google's native products, such as on-screen lane indicator arrows and better highway exit sign info.

Trouble Ahead

Controlled testing of the CoPilot app proceeded flawlessly. Entering addresses for directions went smoothly and the app was quite capable of, and did, send me on my way around Los Angeles with little fuss.

However, my confidence in the app was shaken one balmy Sunday afternoon when, Southern California beach-side, I hit some heavy traffic and attempted to circumvent the snarl via a rat-run I was very familiar with.

To my utter amazement, CoPilot didn't keep up with me as I attacked the streets. It knew where I was, correctly indicating my position with a pulsating red dot on the quite elegant map. However, it didn't reroute me live as I penetrated the depths of the rat-run.

To add insult to injury, at the point when I approached a freeway on-ramp that would take me rapidly to my destination, the app caught up and attempted to reroute me over now also-jammed surface streets -- which would have been slower and thus incorrect.

As this debacle was unfolding, and because I have three pairs of hands, I flipped over to Google's app too, which immediately caught my location -- within seconds, proving the GPS was working -- and redirected my crusade correctly to the on-ramp.

A further disappointment with CoPilot during this on-the-fly, seat of my pants traffic avoidance was that CoPilot didn't supply an obvious quicker-in-traffic though much longer-in-distance alternative route via an alternate freeway. Google did.

In Conclusion

I'm stumped by CoPilot's inability to reroute during an ambitious Southern California vehicular offensive.

Though reasonably nice looking, I can't recommend this app. It's back to the Google lady for me -- at least for now.


Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.


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