The Navigon 1400 is a really good device. It gets GPS signal really quickly, its small and it has a great screen. It also has really smart options; such as the option of navigating to the closest parking lot to your destination, entering the street name first if you don’t know the suburb, and most impressively it even gives you the option of a route created just for you, taking your previous driving habits into account. It a real pity then that it is pointless.

Why is it a pity then? Well for a very simple reason – Google. Last year the boys from Google walked right up to all the PND (Personal Navigation Device) companies and kicked them square in the nads. They released Google Maps with Voice Navigation – for free, to almost everyone with an Android smartphone running 2.0 and up. Google have also submitted Google Maps Navigation to BlackBerry App World and the iTunes Store, for free. Free is much cheaper than TomTom’ and Navigon’s Apps, both going for around R500 on iTunes. While Google Maps does not have nearly as many features as TomTom or Navigon it is free, and it gets the job done. There is a downside though. Google Maps with Voice Navigation will only be available in South Africa in the next 3 months.

Not wanting to be left out, Bing, Microsoft’s search-engine is rumored to be working on free navigation software as well. It will run on their hotly anticipated Windows Phone 7. Note that Bing Maps is currently used with Motion X Voice Navigation.

Then Nokia got word of this and not three months later, they announced that the new version of OVI Maps, OVI Maps 3 (my personal favorite navigation software) will also be offered free to any Nokia user.

There are serious advantages to having navigation on your cellphone. Travel for one; I was in New York over new years, and I would have been totally lost without Google Maps on my iPhone, it showed restaurants, shops, streets etc. I knew exactly where I was and where I was going. It also helped that I didn’t look like an absolute ass-clown searching this HUGE map outside at -16c in the snow.

OVI Maps offers even more functionality than Google Maps, TomTom and Navigon. It has POI’s (Points of Interest) online route planning, speed and speed camera warning, 3rd party plugins, weather at your destination, and it even has free city guides from Lonely Planet. It also runs really well in the background when you receive a call, it doesn’t minimize the map like Google Maps, it keeps it open and shows a little phone icon in the corner. The instructions are still delivered softly into your hands-free, allowing you to not get lost in a part of town where they will harvest your kidneys just for fun.

The biggest advantage of these two navigation platforms – besides the fact they are free – is that they are updated on the fly. The map is not stored in your phones memory; it is downloaded right from the internet when you need it. This makes the maps, POI’s and soon traffic info extremely reliable and always up to date. The slight downside is you need to be in a coverage zone, preferably 3G for best performance, and roaming in the USA or Europe could break the bank, I racked up a charge R560 in data in two days; I then bought a T-Mobile Pay-as-you-go.

This is a major problem with standalone PND units, while they do offer the latest maps and POI’s for their devices; it is normally only free for a limited time. Just the other week I updated the Map on my TomTom, it set me back a hefty 39€. Navigon offer free map updates for three months from when you purchase a device. After that the maps cost about the same as TomTom, 39€. That is a lot more than the 0€ it would have cost me for Nokia or Google to pull the route to my destination off the internet.

“This is fantastic”, you might be thinking. But I don’t have a cellphone with GPS. Well, I reckon within the next 2 years there will be no distinction between dumb-phones and smart-phones. Everyone will have a smartphone. Why? Because it costs just as much to make a smart phone as it does a dumb-phone. So wait, I guarantee that your next cellphone will be a smartphone.

This brings me back to the Navigon 1400. Yes, it is a great device. Yes, it does everything and does it well. But it is not free, it doesn’t have live updates, it’s another thing to carry around (and lose) when you travel, and it will cost you money in the future to update the maps. While it currently offers superior navigation to Google Maps, it has its head kicked in by OVI Maps.

So (and I feel really bad saying this) do yourself a favor, get a smartphone and a cradle for your car. It will save you money and if it is a Nokia, it will be just as good as a standalone navigation device. But if you must have a standalone navigation device, the Navigon 1400, for R1 000 is the one to get.

Brendon Ambrose