Running CoPilot 8 SatNav for Android

When I bought my Android phone (a HTC Hero) I wanted to be able to use it as a SatNav as well - to save me having to carry two devices around with me. The Hero has built-in GPS and as it runs Googles Android operating system it has the Google Maps application installed as standard. So that's it then - well no, not really. If you have used Google Maps on a PC you will know that you can generate turn-by-turn directions from point A to point B and overlay this onto a map. Surely when you add a device with GPS that can track your location in realtime that's all you need, well as it turns out that's not the case.

Yes you can ploy your route and yes the map will scroll across the screen as you drive but there are two major issues for me;
  1. It doesn't speak to you,
  2. As you travel along your route, this is not reflected in the directions, indeed you have to click what amounts to a 'Next' button as you pass that point on the map. So not really hands free either then.
  3. Google Maps are pulled down as required, i.e. as you drive along, which is great in one respect but if you want to use the service abroad then the Data Roaming costs (£3/MB) are prohibitive.
Disappointing, but I knew that there were other SatNav applications available which would overcome these issues and after a bit of research I opted for CoPilot Live for Android.
Now this decision was not taken lightly and frankly not easy to make, the reason? Negative comments in the Android Market saying that the application was crashing all the time and that the support was non-existent! Well my problem was that I had a trip to France in a few days and needed a SatNav with European maps on it. So taking into account that the application had a four star rating (as voted by users), that there were always going to be some people with bad experiences and that I had seen a number of good reviews (including a video review on YouTube and another for the iPhone) I bit the bullet and bought the Europe version prepared myself for either SavNav Heaven or SatNav Hell.
Unfortunately, things did not start well for me. I downloaded the application to the phone and then downloaded the CoPilot Central application which is used to manage the Maps etc. Unfortunately the application on runs on Windows - which is not my primary operating system so I rebooted into Windows 7 and performed the installation. After a confusing quarter of and hour or so I logged into my account and attempted to download my Maps - BANG!
CoPilot Central refused to download any maps, despite highlighting the ones I was allowed to download, preferring to display a Windows exception message instead! Great, I was £50+ out of pocket and had a SatNav with no maps and an application that refused to rectify the situation.
Now the Android Market has a refund policy which only last 24 hours, so I decided to contact Support and explain my problems and that if it was not resolved within 20 hours or so I would invoke the refund process. Well, The following morning (about 10 hours later) there was an email in my inbox with a link to download the maps directly and detailed instructions on how to install them using CoPilot Central (even in it's hobbled state). I downloaded the Maps, followed the instructions and behold - a working SatNav. However, the safety camera option was now disabled! So another email to support and again a prompt, detailed response on how to download the safety camera database from their site and install it onto the phone. So all sorted then, but how would it perform during my trip to France?
Well, I have mixed news on that front;
A couple of miles from the Ferry Port in Poole CoPilot reported that it had lost it's SatNav signal. Hardly it's fault I thought and I was close enough to the port to follow the signs. While I was waiting to be loaded onto the ferry and with CoPilot still having no GPS signal I flicked over to Google Maps .... and it zeroed into my location within a couple of seconds! It certainly had a GPS signal and I then noticed that the icon in the notification area was confirming a GPS fix had been aquired. Switching back to CoPilot and it was still in the dark as it were. I exited CoPilot and restarted and within a minute it found me again - odd!
During the trip from Cherboug to Central Brittany CoPilot lost GPS about 8 or 9 times, all resolved with a restart of the application (not the phone). Frustrating yes but it did take me right to the end of my friends driveway which I would not have found that easily with printed directions.
Also when I selected the 'Quick Stop' option to add a petrol station to my route (the French seem to like hiding them away from us) I did expect it to pick the next one in the direction I was heading in - but it didn't! Instead it routed me back the way I came for about 15km. Yes, I know; I could have just turned around again but I had placed myself in it's hands and it duly took me to a petrol station which was not obvious from the main road (about 3-4km off the 'motorway') and then back on my way.
It is also worth noting that some of the safety cameras displayed on the map were not actually present on the side of the road - hopefully none the other way around ;-)
The next leg of my trip took my to Versailles (not a short hop at all) and CoPilot once again lost SatNav signal but only on two occasions - and once again took me right to the hotel I was staying at. I did notice that the display appeared to freeze a couple of times, the map then zoomed right out and then back in again for no apparent reason but I was still getting voice directions from the system so can't really complain. Can't say fairer than that really, a good direct route from A to B.
Finally I needed to drive from Versailles to Calais to catch the EuroTunnel to Folkstone and then onto my home in Devon. This time the CoPilot behaved itself flawlessly, never losing signal (except in the EuroTunnel of course), not freezing and apart from wishing I had configured it to avoid toll roads I was more than happy with it.
So am I happy with my purchase? Well I have to say, yes I am.
While I understand that some people have experienced problems with the software I also understand that unlike the TomTom and Garmin devices, the makers of CoPilot are not really in control of the operating environment. Ok it runs on Android and they say that they support the HTC Hero, but they can't control what other software I install on the device or updates made to the ROM or the OS itself. Maybe these users have fallen foul of an unforeseeable conflict between two pieces of seemingly unrelated software (as a Developer I know how this can happen) or maybe not.
As for complaints about the Support being non-existent I can only reiterate my experiences; I had problems which were resolved promptly and without any fuss. These were not automated responses but a real life human being who understood my problem and my concerns.
I was disappointed that I could not select the 'Navigate to Contact' option (it is greyed out on the Android version but not on the iPhone version) but this is pretty trivial.
Complaints aside, I found the features of the software really good, in particular the use of 'Lane Assist'-like captions to ensure that you are in the right lane; useful when you're driving on the wrong side of the road with crazy French drivers trying to kill you! The Points of Interest are clickable and provide the option to simply navigate to the location or (where applicable) call the associated phone number right from the map view. Configuration options are numerous and some
I notice that CoPilot Central was updated recently but as I already have my maps downloaded I can't really see if the issue I reported above has been fixed or not.
[Edit: 26/02/2010]
Further to raising the GPS signal loss with @copilotsupport on Twitter I received this response:
We need to have better GPS fix on navigation and not just a 2D fix as we're having to do more GPS calculations than Gmaps would
So basically Copilot needs more satellite locks than GMaps does - makes sense I suppose but I will check this if I encounter the problem again as I have an app which shows me details of the satellites that the phone is currently locked on to.