Technology

VZ Navigator Goes the Distance


0618_vz_navigator
Editor's Rating: star rating

Its flagship mobile navigation service goes way beyond giving driving directions, taking local search to the next level

I'm not exactly the target market for a GPS device. I don't have a car, and I live in a city where most streets are on a grid. All you really need to know when getting around Manhattan is that street numbers increase when you're traveling north and avenue numbers get larger when you're headed West. And forget about going south of Houston, where logic does not apply.

Yet Verizon Wireless has come up with a way to entice even people like me to sign up for its flagship mobile navigation service. I recently tested the most recent iteration (version 4) of its VZ Navigator GPS, powered by Networks in Motion. I found it useful not just for finding my way around but also for coming up with a host of things to do once I got to my destination. That's a huge improvement over the old version, which was limited mainly to doling out driving directions.

Great aggregator

Introduced in April, the VZ Navigator offers up alerts for concerts, movies, musicals, plays, and other activities near the user's location. The service, which like version 3 still costs $9.99 a month or $2.99 for one-day use, also includes information on traffic and local weather and even helps you find gas stations in the area.

VZ Navigator's traffic updates use information from traffic.com and a nifty feature from Networks In Motion that is designed to alert drivers to incidents as soon as there is news about them. Competing services check for traffic updates in 10 minute intervals, leading to some delays.

The service also has a new viewing option that lets users see the map in 3-D. I'm not sure it adds all that much. I found the 2-D version, available in the earlier iteration, more straightforward.

Of all the new features, the event and movie listings are by far the most impressive. I was shocked when a concert for one of my favorite rock bands, Sigur Rós, was listed in the events section. The Scandinavian post-rock band, whose lead singer croons in a form of Icelandic gibberish, isn't exactly mainstream. And the venue, the Museum of Modern Art, isn't your typical concert hall. Yet, the live performance was listed in the "Events Near Me" section, along with details about the MOMA, the ticket price, and, of course, directions from my midtown office several blocks away. The service aggregates the events from a variety of local sources.

Less useful in the car

Movie listings are another helpful feature. Not only does VZ Navigator version 4 let you search for theaters near your GPS location, a standard feature for GPS services, but it also provides local movie times, reviews, and one-click phone connection to theater box offices.

Fancy new features aside, frequent drivers will probably still prefer an in-car GPS unit such as those made by Garmin (GRMN). After all, VZ Navigator's maps show up on relatively small cell phone screens. And, while it's easy to use the device when you're outside a vehicle, the lack of a touch screen on my Motorola RAZR (MOT) made it all but impossible to take advantage of the new features while behind the wheel.

For pedestrians and passengers, however, the service is phenomenal. It takes local search to the next level, threatening to render even local New York tour guides passé. Armed with this service, I'd even recommend Manhattan tourists try out some SoHo shopping.

Holahan is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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