• Jul 14th 2008 at 12:05PM
  • 85
Yes, we were among the suckers who endured the idiotic lines, activation woes and intermittent service that you've undoubtedly read about after the iPhone 3G's launch this past Friday. But our reason for suffering through myriad hassles to get our hands on Apple's newest hotness wasn't purely selfish. We wanted to see whether the iPhone 3G's new GPS functionality was worth the cost of admission or if we'd be better off buying one of the many stand-alone navigation units currently on the market. Make the jump to find out if it's worth your hard-earned cash and a place on your dash.

On Sunday, we had to make a trek to San Francisco from our East Bay "offices," and the drive appeared to be the perfect test to run the iPhone 3G's navigational abilities through the gauntlet. The route would take us through a residential area, across two freeways, the Bay Bridge and into the bowels of the City on the Bay.

We inputted the name of our destination into the iPhone 3G's Google Maps application, and just like its PC counterpart, Google had no issues searching the city and dropping a red pin on our desired destination. We selected the "Current Location" as our start point and after a few seconds of thinking, the GPS locked on to our position and dropped a green pin to identify our departure point.

Before we begin, it deserves note that the iPhone 3G does not offer real-time, turn-by-turn directions -- a major drawback compared to standalone satnavs. We've heard conflicting reports that GPS software manufacturers won't be able to use the iPhone's new GPS functionality in their own applications, something that we're convinced will change as the iPhone's popularity grows.

However, the Google Maps application still offers (non-real-time) turn-by-turn directions at the top of the screen, so knowing where to navigate simply involves pushing the right arrow and advancing the directions to the next waypoint.

Once underway, we quickly found that there is no link between the listed directions and the GPS beacon, designated by a blue dot. The screen would either show your current location (tracking the blue dot on the center of the display), your last turn or the next turn. After a few directional changes, we discovered it's best to hit the location button on the bottom left corner of the screen to get your current position and then follow the purple outline that designates the selected route. Once you've made a turn or passed the next waypoint, press the right arrow to advance the directions and then press the location button to get the blue dot back on the screen. It's a bit convoluted and almost makes having a passenger manning the map a necessity, but assuming you've got the screen zoomed out to an appropriate level, you can track your progress easily and see your next turn well in advance.

Unfortunately, while we were descending into The City we hit a communications dead spot, so the map disappeared momentarily, yet still displayed our route and GPS beacon. Once the map was back on screen a few seconds later, we were met by the cruel reality that we missed our turn. While a normal sat-nav would have re-routed us after our gaffe, the iPhone only displayed our current location and the route we should have taken. However, this is where the GPS functionality had the chance to shine.

We zoomed the screen out to show both our current location and our destination, and then made our way through the maze of one-way streets and "No Left Turn" signs, attempting to get to the red pin that would end our journey. Although the GPS beacon continued to track our course, it occasionally displayed our position in the middle of a block even though we were at an intersection. After a few seconds, it would catch up with our progress, giving us a rough idea of where to turn next.

After a few lefts and one illegal U-turn, we arrived unscathed and only half-impressed with the iPhone 3G's GPS capabilities. Compared to a dedicated navigation unit, the iPhone just can't compete with systems offering turn-by-turn directions and on-the-fly re-routing. However, its small size and ease of use would make it a competent companion for navigating through a city on foot. So aside from a few intermittent errors on both the phone's part and our own, it's safe to say that the 3G works as advertised: under-promising and only slightly delivering.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      sounds like a big piece of poop you got there.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Yeah right now it sucks for turn by turn but the current solution of Google Maps on the iPhone was never meant for in car directions.

        Good thing about the iPhone is that it has the App Store, so companies are free to port over their software to the iPhone.

        TeleNav has already confirmed they are coming out with GPS turn-by-trun software for the iPhone and TomTom has a working port of their software.

        It wont be long before you can buy an iPhone and choose your GPS map software from TeleNav, TomTom or Garmin.

        Wait for the real players like TeleNav and TomTom to release their software on the iPhone then you will have a killer car GPS.
        • 7 Years Ago
        u got my attention...that it seriously hands down the worst gps interface review i've read. which makes me ponder this question, because i swear i've used the most recent version of googles gps nav software on my phone, and i can almost swear that it did offer turn by turn directions.

        i must say, it kinda makes you sad to be the first in line, buy something this pricey and HAVE to be locked into a contract, unless you love those ETFs, and then find out the only gps app u have access to is seriously flawed. well, i must say i've been using windows live search for my att tilt, and it 1) does do turn by turn and 2) does offer re routing 3) since its entirely data based like google, it does offer construction rerouting as well (which you're not gonna find on other phone programs like tomtom)
        • 7 Years Ago

        And that would be a fair comparison if VZNavigator was free, but you're paying a MONTHLY CHARGE for that single feature!

        Verizon FTL.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I recently took Sprint's Instinct phone on a little journey in and around Sacramento, and down around in L.A. The navigation option performed just as good as my stand-alone. The only minor inconvenience, was that I had to wear the headset because the speaker volume wasn't loud enough at max level.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I agree that it is not as good as a stand alone, but it's not a stand alone. The iPhone does a lot of thing very well, a few things good, and then still has more features that most people won't use. I would like to think that most people that own the phone will be very compitent with Google maps and be able to use it to get where they are going. Remember, this is a PHONE. If you NEED a dedicated GPS to stay on the road... then please STAY OFF THE ROAD!
        • 7 Years Ago
        X 10k
        • 7 Years Ago
        So the excuse for pathetic navigation is that the iPhone is primarily a phone? Well, so is my slim LG VX8700! Except that with VZNavigator, my phone can easily track my location via GPS and navigate with turn-by-turn spoken directions and 3-D map views! With traffic! And it can tell me those directions directly into my Bluetooth headset. Oh, it can also play stereo music over Bluetooth, voice dial, and read an SD card, three other things the music phone iPhone can't do...

        Yes, it's pretty, and has an ingenious interface. But you guys give iPhone WAY too much of a free pass. Version 1, OK. But Version 2? Come on already! Apple blew it here in several key ways.
        • 7 Years Ago

        Autoblog review cars, and iPhone's GPS is a first. Why don't you come do a review on cars?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Wow,.. that GPS funtionality sucks,...

      My Blackjack II has turn-by-turn and voice guided directions with the correct Garmin software. Free too if you can find the software from the 'right' sources. I imagine the GPS is actually fine on the iPhone, but rather the software that is crippling it the GPS capabilities. As much as I love Google, Google Maps just weren't made for voice guided purposes.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I use my Verison Wireless VZ Navigator, and change the settings to speakerphone and set it on the dash, and it works wonders. Who needs an iPhone????
      • 7 Years Ago
      If you need GPS or You want knowhow about GPS please come to here
      • 7 Years Ago
      For those arguing "It's a PHONE if you want a gps, get a gps.":

      I have an HTC TyTN II (AT&T Tilt). It's a great phone, does almost everything that the iphone does, has a keyboard AND it has GPS. With turn-by-turn directions, re-routing, etc.

      Why compromise when you don't have to? Not to mention I also have google maps, so it can do exactly what the iphone does.
      • 7 Years Ago
      When did men lose their sense of direction. The good ole days where a man would navigate his destiny by pulling out a map. Well the iphone is here to give men back their navigating skills. The IPhone will probably never replace a garmin, but it is a good substitute for a paper map.

      Technology will just make us all stupid.
      • 7 Years Ago
      In states like Washington which recently banned talking and text messaging on the cell phone in a car, is using cell phone GPS allowed?
      • 7 Years Ago
      This is probably the most honest review of an Apple product ever. Thanks Autoblog.

      BTW. It was nice knowing you Damon. The Apple PR machine will probably have you removed for not using the words "awesome, innovative, and revolutionary" in your post about an Apple product.
      • 7 Years Ago
      You only think you want real-time updating directions, but Steve Jobs knows better. You'll get google maps directions and you'll like it and grow to acknowledge it is superior to any alternative you may have thought you wanted.
      • 7 Years Ago
      If you bought a phone specifically for the purpose of using it as a map instead of buying a GPS (OR A FREE MAP), you get what you deserve.
        • 7 Years Ago
        *WARNING* the following post creates a long debate about the camera. I suggest moving on to the next page.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Too soon Apple. Too soon. Same goes for your POS 2MP camera with crap lense and no flash.

      Where'd my old apple go? The one that left features out if they were mediocre, and instead only focused on a few things that they did really well? I miss that apple.
        • 7 Years Ago
        LS2, you are right on the mm thing... I was measuring with something on my keychain that is in 1/8ths.. not MMs... a dumbass moment for me. But you weren't totally right.. the lens is about 1mm. The glass on the outside is just a protective glass on it.

        And the reason why your friend probably went for the 12mp Nikon is because it is either a D300.. or a D3 [which is a pro camera].... Which both blow the 10d out of the water. The 10d is a 5 year old camera.
        • 7 Years Ago
        There is NO phone in the world that would take pictures of the same quality as the equally megapixelled point and shoot camera. It can make equally crappy pix, for sure.

        Google "megapixel myth".

        There's no point sticking 6 megapixels on a chip used in most phones.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'm with Vintage here.

        Other companies had better lenses and flash before iPhone even came out. Now it's a year after iPhone came out and apple is still way behind.

        I do still have a standalong camera, but when I want to take pics on the go with my phone, why can't they be good?

        My almost 3 year old phone has an LED flash and autofocus. Sony-Ericsson had phones with 5mp and Xenon flashes plus autofocus before the iPhone came out.
        • 7 Years Ago
        For the record, I would rather NOT have a camera than have a crappy one.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The sensor is typically larger than the aperture in these almost pinhole-style phone cameras.

        Also, looking at the lens on the iPhone, the aperture (not the glass) is 1.5mm. The lens is at least 3mm.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Oh and I agree his 20D (8MP? 10MP?) blows the 10D out of the water also. But if you listen to the megapixel myth folks (on here or elsewhere), more MP not only isn't better, it makes it worse due to worse signal to noise (as the "buckets" get smaller, each gets fewer photons).

        I ask him why he doesn't take his pics at a lower MP setting. I ask him that if 6MP was really better than 8MP and 8MP is just surplus pixels, can he point out a few of the 25% of pixels in his new 8MP images that are bogus. Oddly, he seems to think 8MP is just fine now.

        I know megapixels aren't the only thing. But most of the people pointing to the megapixel myth are just wanting to brag about how big their frontglass is and avoid any questions like "why your camera so expensive if I have the same number of megapixels"?

        None of this means that adding more megapixels is a bad thing, it simply means that adding more megapixels isn't the only thing.

        I've got 2 year old 3MP Nokia N80 right here that takes better pics (in good light) than my 2MP S-E (which already takes better pics than the iPhone). And it has a 1mm aperture too. So I know there's room to improve on what the iPhone has and what I have.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I don't need to google megapixel myth to know my phone that is older than the iPhone already has better pictures than it and the Sony-Ericssons with 3mp do a lot better. The 5mp ones have been a bit of a disappointment, I'll admit.

        The iPhone camera isn't just short on megapixels, it's low quality to boot.

        I have a couple friends who spend a lot of time repeating the mantra "megapixel myth". One takes every opportunity to poop on more megapixels. When he had a Canon 10D (6MP), the 8MP of Nikons was not only wasteful but actually would make your low-light sensitivity according to him. Just two weeks ago he crapped on the 12MP of the new Nikons. And yet he sold his 10D for a 20D with 8MP quite some time ago.

        There's more to cameras than megapixels. But megapixels do matter. Take this from a guy whose previous phone had 0.34MP.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The lens on the iPhone is half a mm wide, which means its image sensor is even smaller. The image sensor is what matters when taking digital photos. And when you are trying to make things has compact as possible, you aren't going to get a good picture. I would rather have a crappy camera on the phone than no camera at all. I would also much rather have a bad picture of something rather than no picture at all.

        The camera on the iphone can take a picture on the go if needed which is the reason to have one on it. It is NOT a replacement for a dedicated camera. Was never meant to be.

        As Kitko said, megapixels are just something to draw people into buying a camera, those people automatically assume 10mp is better than 6mp, which is not the case.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I think you're right about the 1mm, even though I eyeballed it with a micrometer, it appears I messed up on the aperture. Which explains a lot since I was able to measure the glass (well, the outside of the frame around the glass) quite accurately, and it was 3mm and if you just eyeball the aperture, it appears to be 1/3rd the diameter of the lens assembly. With my previous measurements, I couldn't explain why the lens assembly wasn't 4.5mm if the aperture was 1.5mm.
        • 7 Years Ago
        how about actually buying a real point and shoot instead of waiting for that "right" phone
        • 7 Years Ago
        I think apple wanted to put out a great "looking" product that has many other capabilities. I'm personally glad that it doesn't have a flash and huge larger lens like other phones. I'm sure there was many many meetings about this fact over at apple, and when it comes down to it... there overall goal of design, simplicity, and NOT being like everyother phone on the market. Remember, Ferrari's aren't know for there killer stereos and great AC, its there overall design and refinement.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It is meant to be a phone....NOT a camera...do you understand that?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Kitko: No crap. That's why I'm not asking for a huge MP rating, I'm asking for a decent lens, a flash, and about 3MP or so. My canon SD10 takes decently nice pictures, and is very small. Once an iPhone can take pictures of about the same quality, I'll consider switching. Until then, I find phone cameras incredibly stupid.
        • 7 Years Ago
        LS2LS7, how does your old phone auto focus? Doesn't it have a fixed lens? What model is it? It sounds interesting if it has a moving lens.
        • 7 Years Ago
        My phone is a Sony-Ericsson W810i. It is over 2 years old and was predated by 6 months by the W800i, which had the same camera (plus a built-in lens cover). The 3MP K800i shipped before the original iPhone also, and has 3MP, auto focus, xenon (and LED) flash and 3G!


        It has auto-focus by virtue of having a moving lens and focusing motor. It still doesn't take great pics, but with the focusing motor, macro mode and an LED flash (it's not bright, but at macro distances it's perfect) it ends up being the best camera I've ever owned for taking pictures of electronics on circuit boards, which matters in my line of work. I've used it for taking pictures of receipts for expense reports. Just take a picture of the receipt and then throw the receipt away, you don't need to gather them up during a trip and scan them later.

        It turns out to be very useful, even though it's not as good as a real camera. I wish the iPhone could do as well.
        • 7 Years Ago
        As people have already noted, there are camera phones w/ significantly better photo capabilities (some being older than the iPhone).

        True, the photo quality isn't quite that of a dedicated camera, but some do take some pretty decent photos.

        And that's useful since, afterall, not everybody wants to lug two devices around w/ them all the time - and you never know when you might need to take a photo.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's important to keep in mind that with the iphone Apple is primarly focused on building a computing platform, not a great phone. Phone elements not critical to the computing mission are included as table-stakes, but they don't need to be good quality.
      If Apple can convince the masses that they have the best platform for interacting with facebook, surfing the web, playing games, and checkng email (primarily computing tasks for the average joe), the fact that they offer mediocre GPS software and a sub-par camera are moot. Sure, the masses will look for this stuff, but not much past "Camera? check! GPS? Check".

      If Apple can win a critical mass of users willing to pay premium OS upgrade/network/application fees, they win big, and they can afford to fix that other stuff later.

      Looking for a great phone? Keep looking.

      Wondering when Apple is going to release a game-changing 'tablet' computing platform? Pickup an iPhone, you're looking at it.
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