Most newer Android phones come with free Google Maps Navigation, which means that you can turn on the GPS receiver, enter a destination and your phone will provide you with turn-by-turn walking or driving directions, complete with spoken directions and your location on an on-screen map. There’s just one catch — the maps aren’t actually stored on your phone, and are instead downloaded on the fly. That means if you happen to pass through an area with patchy wireless data coverage, and you make a wrong turn, your phone won’t be able to help you get back on track.
There are a number of third party solutions that allow you to download maps and store them on your device, much as you would do with a full features in-car GPS unit. Typically these apps are pretty pricey for Android applications, but the folks behind ALK Technologies have just released a new app for US residents which runs just $5, so I decided to download it and give it a try.
CoPilot Live USA is available from the Android Market. The $4.99 price tag covers the full app, which means you can download the latest map of the entire US and store them on your phone’s SD card. The full US map will take up nearly 1.7GB of disk space, but you can also download maps just for the areas you need, including city and state maps which take up much less space.
A bigger problem is that the app itself is stored on your phone’s main memory. Immediately after installing the app, it took up 14MB of disk space, and that jumped to more than 23MB after I downloaded voice data for spoken directions. If you have a phone with a large amount of internal storage this might not be a problem, but I doubt I’ll use CoPilot Live often enough to keep it installed on my Google Nexus One. I also ran into a few other problems with the app itself, which you can read about after the break.
The app does provide a decent array of services, including 2D and 3D map navigation, detour options if you’re looking for alternate routes or a way to avoid certain roads, points of interest such as rest stops, restaurants and gas stations, landscape and portrait modes, and day and night modes. You can also toggle units of measure between English and Metric.
CoPilot Live USA comes with 14 days of real-time traffic information but if you wan tot keep using the traffic service you’ll have to pay $9.99 per year after the trial expires.
The CoPilot Live USA app is by far the cheapest navigation app ALK offers for Android. CoPilot Live Europe, for instance runs about $80, while CoPilot Live North America costs $20. It’s also one of the cheapest on-board navigation apps (meaning the data is stored on your device and not in the cloud) available from any manufacturer.
That said, you sort of get what you pay for. Some users have noted that the map data seems somewhat out of date in areas. I’ve also noticed that it takes a long time for map data to download to your device.The app crashed on me a couple of times while I tested it — and when trying to play a demo of a route, it got stuck in a loop making the same turn a few blocks from my house over and over.
If you’re looking for a cheap alternative to Google Maps Navigation, it doesn’t get much cheaper than this. But if you’re looking for a reliable GPS app for Android, you might want to look elsewhere.
You can find a few more screenshots below.