Two weeks with Ovi: Week 3

Last week I took a first look at Nokia Maps, the final (launched) part of the Ovi suite I have been reviewing recently. I had, in error, started out using the Maps 2.0 beta not realising the main Nokia site was still linking the original version 1 release… so as a favour Nokia launched it officially this week and saved me the effort of re-visiting the earlier release.

London

It is, however, a vast improvement over the earlier version – visually more polished with a better interface than the original. It also operates notably more quickly in nearly every respect than the first release which could be sluggish, particularly in scrolling around the maps. It’s now ‘acceptable’ although not brilliantly fast… still work to be done in that area I think. Although one of the most annoying lags – the time taken to update your position on a map – feels much better: one change that makes a big difference. The new application is stable too – after one worrying crash on the first time I ran it on the loaned N82 I was testing it on, it didn’t set a foot wrong on subsequent occasions.

Capability-wise the applications retains a similar feature set – road, satellite and hybrid views of a huge number of countries around the world with both vehicle and walking routing available to buy in yearly, 90-day and 30-day increments in local currency. City guides are also available as a pay-for add-on. There’s also an impressive range of ‘points of interest’ which can be displayed overlaying the maps…

Orb StreetNotable additions in this release though are:

A 3D map display, mimicking the ‘road-ahead’ view dedicated devices like TomTom’s devices provide. This feels a more natural way to view maps when on the move, but when I tested it (admittedly only with walking-speed movement) it retained the standard ‘north up’ orientation – not much use when travelling south. This can be changed manually, but really should track automatically without the need for routing license to be purchased and in-use.

More map and building detail in major built-up areas now gives a better indication of surroundings – particularly useful for navigation on foot when they form a useful point of reference.

Traffic information is coming for Europe soon. There’s nothing available for the UK yet, but it’s a promising capability and shows a commitment to developing the product over future releases.

A screenshot feature is a a further simple addition but makes it possible to share map data or your current location via e-mail or MMS.

Paired with a GPS-capable handset such as the N82 with a warm-standby start-up time of only a few seconds Maps is quickly up and running and often able to receive a GPS signal inside buildings or vehicles. However, there is also a network-based location sensing service (similar to that employed by Google Maps) which offers locations with an accuracy that varies depending on the number of network transmitters in the vicinity – in central London that gives positioning accuracy of a few hundred meters.

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So is it any good? Yes.

When talking about mapping it’s impossible to avoid comparisons with Google Maps and in many respects Google’s offering is quicker and (unsurprisingly) better at searching for locations by name. But the routing and city-guide additions put the Nokia product in a different class – particularly when dealing with ‘points of interest’ which Nokia categorise and identify individually, where Google has no equivalent. Obviously there are some areas for improvement – greater flexibility in the periods routing can be purchased for would be nice, the interface is still laggy at times and the searching feature presents too many options for simple searches, but these are minor criticisms. Coupled with the upcoming web portal and ‘social features’ Maps feels like a competent product maturing quickly.

Notes: I was reviewing Nokia Maps for S60, but versions for S40 (still version 1) are also available. It works well with internal GPS units built into advanced handsets, but I also used an external unit which worked just as well and didn’t appear to have an adverse effect on the battery over the internal unit.

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