Cell phones have come a long way from their roots, not only in terms of design but also in the types of services offered by carriers. Each of the major providers now offers downloadable ring tones, images, games, and other multimedia fun, while Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T have launched music and video stores. And now Verizon has empowered its cell phone users even more with a helpful application, called VZ Navigator. As part of Verizon's Get It Now services, VZ Navigator turns your mobile into a GPS navigation device, providing you with turn-by-turn directions (text- and voice-guided), points of interest, and local maps. And recently, Networks in Motion (the company behind the navigation service) released an updated version that adds location-based messaging and Web site management. Overall, the service is easy to use and was helpful in our tests, accurately guiding us to our destinations and providing us with information on local attractions.
VZ Navigator offers six basic functions: Navigation; Local Search; My Places; Maps and Traffic; Movies and Events; and Messages. Navigation provides voice-guided turn-by-turn directions via the speakerphone, in addition to text-based instructions. Obviously, a cell phone's smaller screen isn't optimal for in-car use, but it does give you a good idea of your location, either via an overview map, of which you can zoom in and out, or a dedicated screen with your current instructions (for example, Main Street, turn left in 0.2 mile). In all, you can choose from three views: Dashboard, Sliding 3D, or Sliding 2D. Even with these visual cues, we relied heavily on the audible directions while driving (you can choose from two voices) and used the graphics as a secondary source. You can, however, set VZ Navigator to create a route based on whether you're walking or biking.
For more options, you can create your itinerary by the fastest, shortest, or simplest route, and you can choose to avoid highways and toll roads. Verizon Navigator 4 also brings the addition of traffic capabilities, so you can see if there are any accidents or congestion your route around the affected area. There are three options for traffic: Alerts Only, Navigation, or Don't Use Traffic. Alerts Only will notify you when there's an incident or slow down as you're traveling. Meanwhile, the Navigation mode will use historical and current traffic conditions to create the most efficient route for your trip, and Don't Use Traffic is self-explanatory. In addition, there's a traffic gauge on the map screen (regardless of what view you're in) that acts as a sliding scale of how good (green) or bad (red) the roads are at that moment. If there's an incident, you will see a little caution icon along with the distance to the congestion. Other navigation tools include automatic route recalculation and if you need to make a call or you receive a call, VZ Navigator will suspend services until you hang up, then update the directions.
For more general use, Maps displays a map of any address in the United States, as long as it's in VZ Navigator's database. You can search by address, Favorites, airport, or intersection. A feature called Follow Me will do just that; acting as a bread-crumb trail, Follow Me will track your traveled route, and you can also identify nearby places by pointing the cursor over a certain location and clicking the OK key.
The Messaging option is quite useful but there's one caveat: It only works with other Verizon phones. The feature lets you send the address and coordinates of your location via text message to your friends and family. You can add a personal note if you wish, such as "Meet me here," making it a great way to communicate if you're trying to coordinate plans. If the recipient also happens to be a VZ Navigator user, he or she can then view your location on a map, get driving directions, search for businesses around the area, or add it to their favorites list. To be fair, you can send a similar message to an e-mail address but the SMS text option is more attractive if you're trying to catch up with acquaintances while out on the town.
Local Search is much like the POI database found on in-car navigation systems. You can search from more than 14 million POI, including gas stations, restaurants, ATMs, hotels, and movie theaters, and you can have VZ Navigator map its location or provide directions from your current location. Also, if a number is listed with the place of business, you can call it directly by simply pressing the Send button twice, which is great if you want to make dinner reservations on the fly, for example. Verizon says it updates the database every several months for the most accurate information.