Review: AT&T Navigator for iPhone

At long last (several months after turn-by-turn navigation has been ), 3G and 3GS phones can now legally support true turn-by-turn GPS navigation, with AT&T’s Navigator (TeleNav) app for iPhone. The timing of this move seems to sideswipe the highly anticipated , but IMHO it’s their fault for not releasing it closer to at Apple’s annual geekfest on June 8. In keeping with the tradition of on other GPS enabled phones, The app itself is free and requires a $10 per month subscription, which will show up on your AT&T bill. Here’s a helpful tip: If you register for the service through AT&T’s website, you get the first month for free.

To install the app (and get the first month free), go to AT&T’s website, log in to your wireless account (if you don’t have an online account, register ). Then go to “Features” and add “AT&T Navigator for iPhone”:
Once you do, you’ll get a text message with a link to the (free) app in the App Store, download it and Start the “AT&T Nav” app on your phone. It will ask you for your name, phone number and a PIN, which will be in the text, so make sure you don’t erase the test message.


Main Menu
After installing, you will need to confirm pop ups that warn you against using the device while driving and allow the app to use your location. The “don’t use while driving” warning appears EVERY TIME you start the app, by the way. This is kind of annoying but not unique to navigation devices. After confirming the warnings, the main menu will appear:
The menu contains four buttons which provide all the functionality for this app (I checked, there is no “AT&T Navigator button” in the iPhone’s settings). This is already a plus, since you don’t have to swipe past several screens of buttons.


Tools and ExtrasTo set your preferences (you should probably do this before navigating anywhere), hit the “Tools and Extras” and then “Preferences”:
You can use this screen to set the Route type (fast, short, pedestrian, etc). I couldn’t find an explanation on what these options mean and I couldn’t find a help page on AT&T’s site or the app itself, but there is a where you can probably get some answers. If you find a user guide, please link to it in the comments. You can also set units (Standard / Metric), toggle between 2D and 3D and other options. Once these options are set up you can go back to “Tools and Extras” and set your favorites (Home, Work, etc) and that is pretty much all the settings you can control. The “Maps & Traffic” button isn’t really worth getting in to, as far as I can tell it mimics the Google Maps app (shows you a map, your place on the map, and overlays traffic in green / yellow / red).



The “Search” button pulls up a categorized list of POIs (Points of Interest), as well as a search field. There are all the standard POI categories you will recognize from other GPS devices, as well as some useful ones that I’ve never seen before, such as “Gas By Price” and “Wifi spots”:

I tested the “Gas By Price” and it did seem to find the cheapest gas station in my area and display the price per gallon. I can’t begin to guess where this information is coming from, but let’s assume it is correct (and even if it isn’t, a cheaper station tends to stay cheap relative to its surrounding competitors).

If you start typing in a name in the search field, it will auto-fill out the rest as you type:

If what you were looking for (Starbucks, in this case and in many others) is in the suggested list, click on it and you will get a confirmation screen:

and then a list of all matching locations in your area:

Clicking on it will pull up the relevant information such as address, phone number and rating (if one exists) and give you options to Call, Drive to the location, View it on a map or Save it as a favorite:

All the options in this screen, including the call button worked, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that when you click on “View Map”, you get to see all the other Starbucks in the area, in addition to the one you clicked on, and you can also go back to the list or to the main Search screen. Very convenient, especially if the closest Starbucks isn’t on your way or it isn’t the one you were looking for (which raises the existential question of ).

Going back to the “Search” screen again, if what you start typing does not appear in the list below, keep typing the whole name and then hit the Search button. I did this for and the app found it, even though we are not in retail and don’t sell to the general public. As far as I can tell, the data is coming from Google Maps or from the Yellow Pages. Either way it is good to have an updated database of locations rather then a periodic map update.

Overall, I am very pleased with the Search menu and the only feature I would add here is the ability to add ratings or photos to the locations.

Drive To

The most important button in the main menu is the “Drive To” button, which pulls up a more attractive menu:

This menu lets you navigate to (and manage) your favorites, recent locations and other major POIs, such as Airports and businesses in your area. As soon as you click on a category, the list will come up, sorted out according to whatever is closest to your current location, same as in the “Search” menu:

Some features that this menu has that the “Search” menu lacks are the ability to navigate to recent or favorite locations, as well as the ability to type in or say an address or a business. I tested the typing and the calling feature. Typing is much faster and friendlier. When I tried to call in the nearest UPS location, it took me two minutes and twenty seconds to navigate through the automatic operator menu and it didn’t understand me a couple of times, even though I made an effort to speak clearly. Once the call was done, it put the business address in my “Recent Locations” menu and I was able to navigate to it by pressing the “Drive to” button. Overall this is a good feature to have but is too time consuming to be practical.

Once you do decide where you’re going, the app will calculate the fastest route, taking in to account the speed limits and traffic conditions (if you enabled Traffic alerts in “Preferences”):

Calculating a route took just a few seconds when the GPS signal was good, but it seemed not to work at all when I was indoors. If you are indoors, I would suggest finding the location using the “Search” menu and saving it as a favorite for later use.


Assuming you’re GPS position is available, the app will load the Navigation screen:

The screen displays your location on the map, your next turn at the top left and toggles between ETA (estimated time of arrival) and distance remaining at the top right every 5 seconds. If you click on the direction arrow at the top left, it will repeat the last instruction, which says the street name, i.e. “Turn right on Main Street”, as opposed to just saying “Turn right”, as some entry-level GPS devices do. By default, the voice prompts come at regular intervals: a mile, 1/2 a mile, 250 yards, etc. At the bottom is your current street location and buttons that let you end your navigation, search POIs along your route and pull up a route summary. The Navigation screen itself supports pinch gestures to make the scale smaller and larger, as can be seen in the example below:

Overall, the navigation itself works well. The map view updated about once per second, which is sufficient and in line with most GPS devices. The app also recalculated the route when traffic conditions changed and when I left the planned route. I will expand on the traffic features later.

Recalculating the route when I deviated from it took between 5-10 seconds, including the time it took for the app to understand that I had deviated from the route and to recalculate a new route. I imagine this takes longer if the destination is further away but it seemed like it took a little too long to recalculate, even when I was less then 10 miles from my destination.

The sound quality is just blah. Some users described the voice prompts as metallic or “tinny”. I would say it sounded more muffled than metallic. It is still easy to understand, but just sounds bad when the volume is above medium. The prompts don’t go to the Bluetooth headset, even if one is connected. I haven’t tried headphones or an FM transmitter yet. The iPhone’s speakers may be partially to blame, but I am hoping they will be able to improve the sound quality in future versions.

Another feature that I am not in love with is the call handling. I was a bit wary of this issue from the get-go, knowing how the iPhone handles calls when it is running other apps (usually drops the app completely and goes to the call). Navigator app is no exception. When a call came in, the app closed and restarted only when the call ended. There was no map in the background and as far as I could tell, there is no setting that allows you to take a call but keep the Navigation going. This is probably this app’s biggest fault and I am curious as to how TomTom and other navigation apps will handle calls. Again, the iPhone’s limitations may be to blame. Once the call ends, the app comes back up automatically.

A workaround to this is to hit the Home button on the phone when you are in the call and manually restart the app. It will ask you if you want to continue navigating to your last destination and then display the Navigation screen with the green flashing “Touch to return to call” ribbon on top:

I am not sure how much navigation quality is affected by the call going on, but the call handling is definitely a sore point for this app.

The Summary button on the navigation screen is also worth taking a look at. Clicking on it will give you three options: Route summary, Map summary and Traffic summary:

The Map summary is a colorful, informative screen that also seems to mimic the Google Maps app functionality, displaying traffic overlays and incidents along the route and around it. The map also supports swipe and pinch gestures, albeit a bit slowly:

The Route summary is a list of the turns and distances as well as a summary of the route. This seems like an unnecessary screen, in lieu of the Traffic summary which actually provides some actionable data, but there may be further functionality here that I’m not aware of:

The most useful summary screen as far as I can tell (especially if you live in the NY metro area) is the Traffic summary:

The Traffic summary lets you see incidents and real-time travel speeds for each leg of your route, allowing you to change your driving plans if necessary. The summary also displays the “Last update” time, which is something I haven’t seen in Google Maps and provides some level of confidence (or anxiety, depending on whether you’re a half full / half empty glass kind of person…).

Even though the app does this automatically every few minutes and even says “Checking traffic… rerouting” to let you know it’s on top of things, you can manually recalculate to account for traffic (the “Minimize all delays” button):

It will then display the new route, the amount of time it took off the route (1 minute in the example below) and ask you to accept the change before rerouting:

This is a feature I found to be more reassuring then anything else, since the app does this automatically anyway. Still, it’s a nice feature to have and can be potentially useful when you are driving down the highway and see one of these ominous signs mockingly flashing your fate (I PhotoShopped the one below, don’t get any ideas):


The AT&T Navigator is a well designed, easy to use and relatively robust turn-by-turn navigation app. It relies heavily on a good wireless data collection for POI, traffic and road data (the app is only 2.3 MB). This may be its Achilles heal, as voice quality suffers and other customization options (such as skins, changing the default vehicle symbol, etc) are lacking. It will be interesting to see what future versions will be like (I tested version 1.0) and if TomTom and other apps will provide better solutions for:

1. Sound quality
2. Voice recognition
3. Call handling
4. Customization features
5. Connectivity with Bluetooth

Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Price: Considering a decent GPS device costs at least $200 and you need to lug it around in addition to the phone you have on you anyway, $10 per month is a bargain.

Bottom line: I am going on a business trip to California next week and am not packing my GPS device, its chunky mount and its fat cable. That says it all, doesn’t it?

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