Microsoft has updated its Bing mobile app for Windows Mobile 6.x, and it offers turn-by-turn navigation, so I installed it on my HTC Touch Pro to see if it would be a good replacement for carrying around my Garmin GPS all the time. I'm still carrying too many devices -- iPod Touch, cell phone, GPS unit -- and reducing that to two or one device is my goal, probably to be attained when my Sprint contract expires in October and I switch to either an iPhone on AT&T or stick with Sprint with an Evo. But until then, it's three devices, unless....
So, the Bing app. How is it? Well, it's... okay, in theory. It's an all-purpose search app with maps, GPS navigation, and voice recognition. A few caveats are in order: first, the navigation isn't GPS-like, because it offers only an aerial view, like a moving road map. GPS units give you that bird's-eye view that makes way more sense when you're driving. Second, GPS offers something people like me who have aging eyes need: prior notice of cross-street names. I like being able to see what the next street is without fruitlessly searching for a street sign. And, finally, there's that voice recognition.
GPS units don't offer voice commands, but they should. It would be nice to bark out your destination instead of painstakingly pecking the name onto a non-standard keyboard; it prevents having to pull over to get directions, too. Bing has voice controls, and for some things, it works fine. "Starbucks," you say, and it gives you a list of Starbucks in the immediate area. "Target," you say, and it gives you a list of Starbucks in the immediate area. "Police station," you say, and it gives you a list of Starbucks in the immediate area. It likes Starbucks, but, then again, Microsoft's from Seattle, too.
In Rancho Palos Verdes, though, I didn't need Starbucks. Test number one was to see if it would get me from the Trader Joe's parking lot at Golden Cove to the post office up at the top of the hill. "Post office," I said. It thought for a minute, then told me it didn't understand. "Post office!," I repeated, with a little more emphasis. It responded with directions to the Home Depot in San Pedro. "POST OFFICE!," I said for a third time. This time, it gave me a list of post offices, the first one being a location in Peninsula Center that I'm pretty sure doesn't actually exist. The Deep Valley Drive office was second on that list, and third, and fourth. Good enough, I thought, and selected the second, which proceeded to correctly guide me to the post office. It took some work, but it DID work.
Time, then, for a second test, this time from the post office to the Ralphs on Hawthorne and Crest. "Ralphs," I said. The phone considered the request, then spat back "Searching for Alph's." Finding nothing named "Alph's," it asked if I wanted to try again. "RALPHS," I repeated. It responded that it didn't know what I was saying and I should try again. "RALPHS!" Nothing. "R. A. L. P. H. S," I said. It responded that there were no listings for "RJLPH'S." By this time, I was pulling into the Ralphs parking lot. One more try: "Arrrr. Ayyyy. Ellll. Peeee. Aitch. Essss." And it immediately displayed a map showing Ralphs... in Torrance, behind Del Amo mall. I was about 30 feet from the door to Ralphs in Rancho Palos Verdes at that moment. Round two was a failure.
A final test was to see if it would get me from Ralphs to my home, a short ride. I announced my street address and waited. And waited. And then it told me it was looking up "VALENTINE BRISKET," or something like that. I know Valentine was involved. I tried again. It caught the number this time, but no street. I spelled it out. Nothing. As I pulled onto my block, I tried one more time... and it figured me out. But I'm not sure that counts as a victory.
The verdict: The GPS stays. I need the larger screen, the bird's-eye mapping, the street announcements. The Bluetooth's nice, too. And while it doesn't do voice recognition, it doesn't misunderstand me, either. It may mean that I have to lug that extra brick around, but at least it won't be taking me to Alph's on Valentine Brisket.