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The Navionics Marine and Lakes Boating GPS Navigation App for iPhone

About.com Rating 1.5 Star Rating

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Navionics App

The Bottom Line

Maybe you'd be impressed with this Navionics marine navigation app if it was your first iPhone app, since it promises an almost dizzying array of features. But if you've experienced better designed navigation apps, and then spent some time trying to wade through confusing screens and an almost baffling functionality, you're more likely to close this app and move on. After my test on an iPhone, my best advice is to send this one back to the drawing board. Perhaps it is more user-friendly on an iPad, but I doubt it. This app is just clunky, as if designed before anyone knew what an app was.

Note that this review examines the Marine and Lakes app for Apple devices only. A somewhat different version is available for Android devices: Navionics Marine & Lakes.

Pros

  • The included vector charts show more information detail than vector charts in some apps
  • You can save your track log, photos, and videos and share online
  • Includes basic chartplotter navigation functions
  • Free NOAA charts for all U.S. waters
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Vector charts show much less information than raster charts in some apps
  • Chart is very slow to load and to display when zooming and panning
  • Unwieldy, slow, multi-step process to identify objects in chart views such as navigational markers
  • Very limited and often inaccurate data on marinas and local information
  • Very limited Help screens - website Users Guide says only "Coming Soon"

Description

  • Navigation screen displays boat on the NOAA chart - with option to lock boat on moving chart
  • Free vector charts for all of US (separate version includes Canada) - but must load in advance online
  • Can create waypoints, routes, etc. for navigation
  • When connected, Google satellite images can be overlaid
  • Includes wind forecasts when online
  • Includes tides, currents, and sun/moon times
  • Supposedly includes User Generated Content and photos (couldn't locate any in a search of my area)
  • Version reviewed: 1.1.5 - updated1/18/2011 - $9.99 at iTunes Store

Guide Review - The Navionics Marine and Lakes Boating GPS Navigation App for iPhone

I was hopeful for this app after seeing its features on their website with impressive blurbs. Now I wonder if those blurbs were written about another Navionics product or before other apps came out? After my testing, I'd rank it well below other navigation apps like PocketNav or Charts & Tides.

The basic navigation functions work fine. Your boat is live on a chart and you can plot and navigate your course. All navigation programs do this much. And to Navionics' credit, their vector charts, which show less data than raster charts, do contain more detail and labeling than the vector charts in Charts & Tides. It's also nice to have tides, currents, and wind forecasts (when online) built in.

But the total user experience is much less satisfactory. The app is slow to load and start. If you pan a distance or zoom way in or out, as when planning a route, it can take seconds for the chart to fill back in - which I've not experienced with similar apps. This is irritating when you want to quickly look at other chart sections underway. I'm most concerned with the boating experience in real time. Say I'm approaching an unfamiliar harbor and want to confirm a navigational aid ahead. The Navionics chart shows a red icon - but what exactly is it? To find out, I have to tap and hold on the icon until a magnifying glass comes up - and then I have to slide my finger around until the cross-hairs center perfectly on the icon. Release and wait until a new screen comes up, listing a bunch of things. There I find the marker I want, tap it for another screen to finally show it's a red bell with a flashing light every 4 seconds. It seems to take forever to get this simple but possibly critical information, and if I miss just a nudge with the cross-hairs, I have to start all over. Imagine doing this in your boat bouncing in 6-foot seas and rain!

That example rather symbolizes what I find to be a very clunky design overall. Worse is some of the other information presented, such as marina icons in bays or rivers where there is no facility at all - put 'em in the cross-hairs to learn only "Transient Berths: NO." Huh? Even marinas that I know for a fact have transient berths are listed as not having any - and besides a phone number, there is virtually no useful marina information. Contrast this with the wealth of ActiveCaptain data within the Charts & Tides app.

As a user comments online regarding technical issues he had, "Navionics customer support is not the greatest either. If they get the technical issues ironed out, it would be much better. They may have rushed this to market without adequate testing." In a nutshell, that's it - rushed to market. Oh, and the worst technical issue I experienced? At three different times in my testing, the app simply shut down for no apparent reason - and I had to wait for that painfully slow startup and relocation of my position so I could continue navigating. I'd hate to lose my chart like that when I was approaching an unseen hazard!

Note: Your device needs a GPS to run this app. The Dual XGPS150 Universal Bluetooth GPS Receiver can be used with an iPod Touch or iPad (or Android smart phone or laptop) to provide a GPS location for navigation apps.

Check out these other great apps for sailors.

Note: It’s critical, especially when using a chartplotter app, to understand the accuracy of charts and be cautious around underwater hazards. Learn more about how to interpret chart accuracy when using electronic charts.

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